By Stacey Freeman
If you have been watching HBO’s new hit series, Divorce, as I have, you know it is that point in the DuFresne’s negotiations. The point where Frances and Robert are asked, like so many divorcing couples are, who did what? Not to whom. But with whom. The children that is.
“Who takes them to school?”
“Who picks them up?”
“Who takes them to the pediatrician?”
“Who drives the kids to soccer?”
“Who volunteers at the school?”
Sitting around a conference table with their respective lawyers in the opening of Season 1, Episode 9, we watch Frances struggle to justify her worth as a mother. Apart from the first responsibility, which the couple admits to sharing, working mom, Frances, hears only a refrain of “me” from Robert as he claims responsibility for the balance of the list. Frances does make an attempt at redemption, rhetorically asking and answering the questions:
“Who’s the tooth fairy?”
“Who writes the notes?”
However, she is only reminded by Robert that at 15, their son doesn’t “give a shit” about the tooth fairy.
Speaking with her lawyer, Max Brodkin, following the meeting, Frances reveals her dismay in addition to her feelings of inferiority and asks, “Hey, what’s the strategy behind making me look like a negligent mother?”
“I was as surprised by that as you were,” Max replies. “Usually those questions are slam dunks for the mother.”
For many working mothers, it is mom-shaming. It is a reality they often face during the divorce process as well as outside of it.
A stereotypical response, especially in this day and age when so many husbands have turned the tables to become the primary caretaker instead of the breadwinner for their families. Not surprisingly, Max is unmoved by Frances’ explanation that she has a “real” job so they can afford the doctors and the snake sticks.
“My advice, Frances,” he says, “it wouldn’t hurt for you to be, well, a little more visibly involved, especially now. When custody issues get heated, it’s less about truth, more about perception. I call it the cloud of unknowing.”
To Max, it is sound legal advice. For many working mothers, it is mom-shaming. It is also a reality working moms often face during the divorce process as well as outside of it, usually with little sympathy or reprieve.
Which raises the question: What happened to the partnership the DuFresne couple presumably once enjoyed? Has it evolved or, alternatively, devolved into something else as their marriage moves into its final months?
The Dufresne couple is no different from so many others who have designated specific roles for the benefit of the entire family.
Throughout the course of the first season, we learn that Frances has, in fact, put her career goals on hold while Robert, a former Wall Street executive, tries to make a go of his own. Frances does finally open her long-awaited art gallery only to face financial issues she had no knowledge of resulting from Robert’s many failed real estate ventures.
Of course in any partnership, there come risks. When one partner assumes risk, so too does the other. Likewise, when one partner meets success, the other partner comes along for the ride. We can assume the Dufresne couple is no different from so many others who have designated specific and sometimes untraditional roles during their marriage for the benefit of the entire family.
It is only when that partnership is weakened or severed that couples question these roles and begin to redefine them. The relationship once built on the strength that comes from working together and allowing each partner to thrive in his or her area of “expertise” deteriorates. And the relationship no longer is seen as a partnership but, rather, as a division of labor, the sum of which is now no longer equal to its parts.
It is here we find Robert pursuing his latest business venture, Fun Space USA, clearly out of his comfort zone, and Frances awkwardly participating in a planning meeting for the spring carnival at her children’s school where husband Robert remains the family favorite. Because of this most recent role reversal, in episode 10 son Tom and daughter Lila slip through the cracks, not knowing which house, Mom’s or Dad’s, they should go to after school. On the walk home, Lila trips, landing her in the emergency room with a bruised face and Frances with a bruised ego. In her eyes, she has failed as a mom.
It is only when that partnership is weakened or severed that couples question these roles and begin to redefine them.
Is Max correct guiding Frances to assume a role that is not necessarily the strongest use of her parenting skills? Is her role as a mom diminished because she brings value to her family in a way not considered conventional according to gender stereotypes? As the Dufresne divorce progresses, only time will tell. About one thing we know for certain: Max is onto something when he says perception matters.
“So what if he buys the toilet paper and takes the kids for haircuts.” Frances’ newly retained counsel, Elaine Campbell, tells her at the end of the ninth episode.
“Who tells them when it’s time for a haircut?”
“Who chooses the doctor?”
“Arranges the play dates?”
“Notices when they need new shoes?”
Reminding Frances and viewers that the first perception we must change is our own.
Stacey Freeman is a writer and blogger from the New York City area, a divorced single mom, a lifestyle editor at Worthy.com, and the founder and managing director of Write On Track, LLC, a full-service consultancy dedicated to providing high-quality content to individuals and businesses. A respected voice for divorce issues affecting both women and men, Stacey has been published in The Washington Post, Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, Woman’s Day, Town & Country, The Huffington Post, xoJane, Scary Mommy, The Stir, MariaShriver.com, The Good Men Project, and various well-known platforms worldwide. Stacey is frequently called upon for her expertise and insights on the divorce experience and has repeatedly been quoted in The Huffington Post’s divorce vertical. Stacey holds her B.A. in English, summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, from the University at Albany and her J.D. from Boston University School of Law. Email Stacey today at Stacey.Freeman@WriteOnTrackLLC.com or call 800-203-1946 for a free consultation and proposal. For more information, visit www.WriteOnTrackLLC.com.