I’ve recently become addicted to the TV show Mad Men. Nerdy, I know. In fact, I can almost hear you uttering ‘get a life’ under your breath right now. But when the summer TV doldrums hit, I went to the video store and innocently enough hired the first ‘Season One’ dvd and I was hooked. However, it wasn’t the antics of the Pee-Wee Herman Pete character, or Christina Hendrick’s admirable-even-if-you’re-a-woman cleavage or even the dashingly handsome Alpha male Don Draper that kept me hooked; it’s his long-suffering wife Betty. And I continued watching in the name of research and in hope of gaining some insight into parenting like its 1960. Here’s what I’ve learned, thanks to Betty Draper.
1. Sending the kids off to watch TV is okay. Wouldn’t it be good to have lived in the era when TV was the latest, greatest invention and there was not yet in existence a library full of research about the detrimental effects of too much time in front of it? There is more than one occasion when Betty orders the kids to ‘just go and watch the TV’. Ok, so her marriage was having some problems and maybe she just needed some ‘me’ time. But since this was pre-Sesame Street days, it means the kids were probably watching soaps. Therefore, we can stop feeling bad about letting our children watch TV shows that have been designed by a fleet of early education experts and actually make an effort to teach something. So there. Now go put on Dora and read your magazine.
2. Don’t fret over the kids’ nutrition. From what I’ve gathered from my close watching, Betty seems to dish up mostly meat and three veg with some convenient food mixed in: fluffernutter on Wonderbread, mac and cheese. Fretting over what our kids will and won’t eat has become an overly-inflated concern of the worried well. How many times have you been at the playground and overheard some yummy mummy yabbering away on her iPhone something along the lines of ‘I just can’t get Ethan to eat soy burgers OR brussel sprouts. I’m so worried I called my nutritionist today…’? Or ‘I can’t bear to even think of letting Jayden/Brayden/Hayden have anything with red food colouring/xanthum gum/preservative 21 until he’s at least seventeen.’ Well ladies, according to Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, here are the daily nutritional requirements for a toddler: 2 cups of milk or its equivalent in cheese, yoghurt or (LOVE this one!) ice cream; 2 oz. of protein (meat or egg) or iron-fortified cereal; 1 oz of orange juice or fresh fruit; 1 multi-vitamin, to cover for uneaten veggies. One ounce! Rest easy, mamas. Here’s my three-prong nutritional advice, and I think Betty would agree: worry if your kid’s in Haiti right now. Make them eat everything they should first – and I mean make ‘em. Don’t let them eat too much processed stuff. The end.
3. Her house is not overrun by toys. There are no toys visible in the Draper household. I did see Don building a cubby house and drinking 87 beers in one episode and this was the era when it was still considered safe to let your kids play outside mostly unsupervised. But the only toy I’ve seen on the show is Bobby’s robot, which Don later throws against the wall and breaks. People just didn’t have as much stuff back in 1960 and that includes toys – and you know what? They didn’t miss it. This should be a reminder to all of us that just because stuff is cheap doesn’t mean we need to fill our houses up with it. Pass up that bargain next time.
4. Teaching your children their way around a drinks cart is okay. Betty knows the secret to successful entertaining is keeping everyone liquored up. While you’re busy with kitchen duties, mother’s helper can be mixing the drinks. After all, nothing is more fun when you’re eight than a pressurised bottle of soda water. (Is it any wonder that as a society, our interest in food has risen now that we can’t drink as much? We used to get too drunk before the food was served to care what it tasted like – but now we need our tower of fig and gorgonzola lasagne with a burnt ashtray reduction. Although this was a golden era of ignorance and denial, there is a lot to be said for a good stiff Manhattan to whet the appetite – and dull the tastebuds. Betty knows the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, especially when it’s gin-soaked.) The point is, as Betty knows, it’s okay to have your kids be a part of the entertaining duties, only now with trays of canapes instead of Old-Fashioneds. It gives them a sense of responsibility and makes them feel a part of the action. One caveat – just make sure they know when it’s time to go to bed: an overly precocious child is never a substitute for good adult conversation.
5. Uses line ‘Wait till your father gets home!’ Ok, so I don’t use this one. This is a little old-school even for me. My justice is swift, a la the hand. But it shows that Betty and Don are a united front. Even if they fight about how they discipline the children, which they do in one episode, at least the kids think both their parents are playing on the same team. Very important, since most kids work out the old ‘divide and conquer’ approach sometime during their second year of life.
6. Allow yourself some ‘me’ time. Wine with dinner. Riding lessons. Lunch with the ladies. Ok, so once again, Betty has the advantage because she was just on the tail end of the era when (white) people still employed domestics to help them. (Try springing this one on your man the next time complains about how good the Don Drapers of the world had it back then. Make sure to add that he doesn’t have the same smouldering good looks either.) Make some time for yourself, even if it means you have to lock yourself in the toilet to read your People magazine once a week. This is a hard one for a lot of us, but we need it. Husbands, are you listening? Our pedicures are not frivolous and indulgent, they are necessary in order to prevent us from killing either you or your offspring. Now do you get it? Me Time is the secret to Betty looking so fresh - that, and the 37 relaxing cigarettes she sucks down each day.
7. Look nice for your man. Even though in Betty’s case he’s a cheating bastard, she still loves him. But that's another discussion. Most importantly, look nice for yourself. We can’t all do this everyday. But you will feel like you’re doing a more worthwhile job this way – and being a mother is a more important job than that of any CEO considering your product is another human being. I’m not suggesting combing through second hand shops for Doris Day dresses and aprons, but make a little effort. Yes, you can stay in your sweatpants all day because no one sees you. But don’t. As Jerry Seinfeld once had to remind George, sweatpants say to the world that you have given up on life. Now go put some lipstick on.
8. She knows how to deliver a good bitch slap. Seriously, how many times have we wanted to do this to someone, someone who insulted your abilities as a mother? In other words, someone who no doubt deserved it with a capital ‘D’. Having the looks and class of Grace Kelly means she didn’t even come over all ‘Springer.’ What more can I say? Betty Draper, Old-School Mum, we love you!