Dr. Phil is having the wrong discussion

I like Dr. Phil, but he’s still in show business

I’ve been watching The Dr. Phil Show from the beginning.  From before the beginning, really, because I watched him on the Oprah Show before he had his own show (remember “Tuesdays with Dr. Phil”?).  And I like him.  He’s full of common sense.  But when watching him you always have to remember that first and foremost, he’s in show business.  Yesterday’s show was a case in point.  It was a show pitting SAHMs (Stay At Home Moms) against Working Moms, a sure ratings winner/conversation starter (his blog post on the subject had almost 600 comments, last time I checked).  At least, I think that’s what it was conceived as, which would have been bad enough.  I mean, do we really need to keep having this discussion?  So when I was contacted to be on that particular show, I wanted to be the voice of “Can’t we all just get along and do what’s best for our own families?”

After three long phone discussions with two different producers, I was pretty sure I’d be making a whirlwind trip out to L.A. for the taping, and I started making arrangements for who was going to get my kids to and from summer camp (this episode taped in August).  But in the end they decided they didn’t need me.  After watching the show, I’m pretty sure I was “replaced” as the middle-of-the-road mom by Heather Armstrong, the queen of all Mommy Bloggers, and I can’t really blame them.  She has a huge following.  I wasn’t really disappointed, because while I’d love to be on the show, I’d prefer it be for something that I have a stronger opinion about (being the voice of reason is sensible, but it’s a hard position to argue with any passion).

Now that I’ve seen the show, I’m relieved that I wasn’t there.  Instead of being SAHMs against working moms, it pretty much ended up being everyone in the room against Jessica Gottlieb, who took the position that if you can afford to stay home, but choose not to, then you shouldn’t have kids, period.  You can imagine how that went over.

Jessica’s a friend of mine.  We’ve met at a couple of blogging events and gotten to know each other, and despite the fact that I think most of the things she said on the show were ridiculous, I admire her for not pulling any punches.  She knew that she was walking into the room with an unpopular opinion and she stuck to it (and there really wasn’t anyone in the audience capable of matching her debating skills, which is why they eventually brought a few of the show’s female staffers out to go against her).  Being an outspoken voice of opposition works for her, if you’re measuring in blog traffic and media opportunities.  She’s a big girl and she knows what she’s doing, and nobody should feel sorry for her getting ganged up on.  It’s not her first time on the show and I’m positive it won’t be the last.  If I ever end up on a show with her, I hope I can hold my own and that we can walk away still friends.

Let’s start asking different questions

I have no interest in jumping in to the discussion that’s going on about what’s best for kids, a mom who stays home or a mom who works or a combination.  I know that I did what was right for me and my family.  But what bothers me is that many – most? – businesses still operate as though most of their employees don’t have kids.  I’m extraordinarily lucky in that I don’t have to work.  Even though I’m blogging full time and taking advantage of other opportunities that stem from that, I can still control my own schedule and be there for the kids when I choose to be.  The kind of work I’m doing is worlds away from a mom who is at the mercy of an employer.

What struck me about the Dr. Phil show was what his own staffers were saying about how their roles as moms are supported by their employer: not missing plays and special days, kids coming to work, it sounds wonderful!  But unless I’m completely out of touch, it sounds rare. I know many women who had to keep their pregnancies secret until they were popping out of their clothes because they were afraid of what the repercussions at work might be.  Many businesses still act like employees belong to the company from 8 to 6 because someone else is home waiting at the door with a cocktail and a foot rub for the one-and-only breadwinner.  The world doesn’t work that way anymore.

So Dr. Phil, you have a lot of power and influence.  Instead of using your platform to pit moms against each other in discussions that go round and round and don’t solve anything, I’m asking you to use your position to help empower moms in the workplace.  The dilemmas that working moms face when they have a sick kid at home, or a school event they want to attend, or drop off and pick up issues, wreak havoc in moms’ lives (and don’t even get me started on the dads, they totally get the shaft because they’re often not even expected to be present and responsible for any of that).

The working world needs to wake up and face the fact that a huge portion of their workforce has another job waiting for them at home.  This trend is only a few decades old, and they need to catch up.  Moms who aren’t stressed about sick kids and schedules would be better employees.  But how do moms approach their employers about better schedules and childcare without being looked at as just a mom who isn’t dedicated to her job?  How about a show helping women navigate that?  Or what about a show highlighting companies that help employees be good parents and have good careers at the same time? I’m sure they would have lots to share about how it’s helped the company as a whole.

Dr. Phil, you could really help women, and get good ratings at the same time.  Maybe not quite as high as when you encourage fights between moms, but you’ve been saying all summer that you want to do shows this season that give people actionable steps to help improve their lives.  I think we can all agree that the better cared for kids are, and the less stressed parents are, the better the world runs.

Originally posted on Selfish Mom.  All opinions expressed on this website come straight from Amy unless otherwise noted.  Please visit Amy’s Full Disclosure page for more information.


  1. says

    Good lord, I’m glad that I didn’t see that. I’m not sure that my blood pressure could have handled Jessica’s opinion.

    Yes, we should be making things easier for mothers because so many of us are in the workplace and it just makes good business sense. But what happens when the child-free feel that it is unfair that moms (and dads!) take time off to go to a school play, to a (non-emergency) pediatrician’s appointment, etc. They don’t get the same time off, because let’s face it, “my cat’s throwing up!” doesn’t have the same emotional tug as “my baby’s sick!”

  2. says

    @Marinka – That’s an excellent point, and I don’t think that things should be easier on parents at the expense of the childless. But I know people who work for companies that give ALL employees flexible schedules, let them work at home when possible, and make other allowances. Because let’s face it, sometimes your cat is throwing up, and you need to be home.

  3. says

    Marinka, you beat me to the point I was going to say in response. As someone who is “child-free”, I have to be frank and admit that when co-workers with children are given special privileges and flexibility, it pretty much makes my blood boil and I will speak out against it. I’m not heartless but we’re all paid to be here, and the playing field should be level. I have to say, as someone who works full-time, I *do* think my employer pretty much owns me from the hours of 8 to 5. That’s what the pay’s for (I wouldn’t be here without it).

    But I know it’s definitely a problem. There’s a book just out about women and feminism, “When Everything Changed” (it’s about how women’s rights didn’t change for 1000 years or so, and only did in the last few decades) by Gail Collins. I heard her interviewed the other day, and basically the interviewer and she were saying, we’ve grown accustomed to the idea that we all deserve a middle-class lifestyle: two cars, house, everyone can go to college. But now, in order to achieve that, for the most part, you need two incomes, and this more than anything has opened up the workplace for women. That’s all good but the one part we (society) neglected to address was — where are the kids all day, when everyone is working?

    I can’t put it all on employers; they can’t always be as flexible as we’d like. Some can and don’t, and that’s crappy but — esp. right now — most places are really hurting. They’ve got to pay the bills and stay afloat, and can’t often accommodate everyone’s scheduling, or afford to provide daycare, even if they want to.

    What’s the answer? Wish I knew. B/c I think it’s a bigger, more systemic problem to the way our society is currently set up, touching a lot of bases — expectation, consumption, attainability — with no easy fix.

    Interesting topic

  4. says

    Great post, and I am surprised that I was chosen for the show, because I was coming from the same place. I was on the show and only in the first 10 (oops 5 since it got edited) minutes. When I was being interviewed I kept telling them I was NOT a corporate shark who worked 60 hours and week & had kids in daycare. I was mislead by why I was there (thought it was more about a post I had written, my business, life/work balance). I was blown away by the topic (I know Jessica too) and yes Jessica knew what she was doing, what she was saying and it’s what she thinks. It was a very bizzare experience – but I agree with you, I would also rather get my 5 minutes of fame for my blogging skills or my business.

  5. says

    @Toni – I hear you. When I was a waitress I had a chip on my shoulder about the other servers who would take off for ten minutes every hour or two to go outside and have a cigarette. I would make a snotty point of asking for “fresh air breaks.” If one employee is going to get some kind of exception or benefit, everyone should.

    If it’s not sick kids and school schedules, it’s a sick relative, or maybe even something good, not bad.

  6. says

    I am not understanding why people were surprised that the topic became as incendiary as it did, I mean…it’s DR. PHIL, not a legitimate, socially responsible, educational show? I mean, it’s crap t.v. And I believe that some of the ppl on there actually make a living from being controversial? It’s “their thing”, what they are known for, for which people love or are disgusted by them…whatever. Dr. Phil is having the wrong discussion, but no one is clueless, it makes for good ratings, tons of hits, and possible call backs.

    “Tough provoking”? No. Rage inducing, sure. “Intelligent”? No. Provocative and judgmental, of course…all keys for high numbers for all involved. Win-win…except for the stereotype now given to mothers and female relationships. Whatever, I will file “Mothers who work are a-holes” in with “Bi-racial and Gay couples shouldn’t marry”, “Women shouldn’t have abortions” and “People who are popular are smart”.

  7. says

    You can’t miss me, I am the one standing behind Jessica when she said hello to Dr. Phil (I was/is Jamie). I didn’t remember you wrote for SV Moms too (I am based in Silicon Valley). We got the same email about the producer on the show looking for Moms. No need to get out your DVR – my sis put it on youtube, it is all of 30 seconds of me.

  8. Danielle says

    I’ve been searching the web for information related to yesterday’s airing of this episode, and came across your blog. Sorry to hear you were replaced, but thanks for your summation of the issue.

    It is so important for everyone to have options, whether you make the choice to stay-at-home and work (kids are a job!:) or to earn a paycheck outside the home. You’ve hit on a key point – employers nowadays are not as loving and benevolent as Dr Phil, and the options are limited in fighting them. This should be the issue that bridges the gap and causes us to join causes in a fight for family.

    Several years ago, our non-profit organization appeared on the original two parts of Dr Phil’s Mommy Wars, and the spirit of togetherness was attempted to be portrayed, but as you stated, the show is about ratings, and after cuts and editing, no forward motion was achieved. (http://www.familyandhome.org/drphilshow.html)

    I hope the day comes soon when we can stand up and demand choices, options, and inclusive policies for all moms (and dads).

    Thanks again for a rational presentation! :)
    BoD, http://www.familyandhome.org

  9. says

    Amy, I too am friends with Jessica and I had no idea she had that opinion and I laugh because I can easily say she is the most ballsy person I have ever met! As a mom who chose to start her own business when my child was one, and not b/c I needed the money, Jessica and I could certainly go head to head on that one. But I’m with you, cheers for her and being strong and I love it!

    I am also 100% with you on the fact that someone needs to do what works for them and their family. Period. I do believe people need to work to help people be more fulfilled in the workplace no matter WHAT that looks like. There is study upon study that a happy employee is a productive employee and that adds to the bottom line. So few companies take this to heart. Especially in times like these, where “catering” to the employee needs seems to be the last thing on an employer’s mind. But it should be the first thing, because at the end of the day the employees are the ones that will make or break your company.

    Off my soapbox now. Thanks for a great post Amy!

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