So, you are probably aware that your name is synonymous with being the perfect mother and wife as seen on your TV show (and just so people don’t forget, you were an Oscar winner as well! 🤩) and you were one of the first women on TV to take on a leading role…yea! You know, when I’ve heard people mention ‘The Donna Reed Show’ it’s usually in a somewhat facetious manner though. Because of this, I assumed you were yet another 1950’s mom that always had the answers and always submitted to your hubby and kids when I had never even watched your show. But thanks to Amazon Video (you would love it 😃 ), I have now seen every episode and am gobsmacked by it.
I grew up watching ‘The Brady Bunch’ and ‘The Partridge Family’ (I wanted to be Mrs. David Cassidy badly) and while the shows were great, the problems the families faced were dealt with by using humor and minimizing the seriousness of what these issues were. Most often, they were trivial: for example, Marcia (on the Brady Bunch…I wanted her hair so bad…) getting bonked in the nose and it swelling up before a date. Yes, it was fun to watch but no, the ‘issue’ was pretty silly.
Anyhoot, I figured your show would be the same…trivial issues and perfect parenting. But it’s not! You tackled some really serious things. In ‘The Father’s Image’, Alex (your adorable pediatrician hubby who I have fallen somewhat in love with 🥰) has a young patient who has a chance of dying. It was going to take 4 hours or so of monitoring to see if the child was going to survive and while the surgeon kept an eye on things, Alex went home after an all-nighter with her. You knew something was wrong…you could see it in his behavior. But, when he said he didn’t want to talk about, you accepted that. Mary and Jeff both needed their father that day and demanded his time. He kept checking in with the hospital but put aside his worry to focus on his children and you. He forced himself to be a father and hubby during one of the worst times a doctor can face.
Not only was this a difficult issue to contemplate…the loss of a little girl…but it also showed how parents have to balance so much. Being there for work and then for children can be tricky and the show always handled such situations well.
In fact, I really liked it when you and Alex argued! The arguments were ‘real’ in that they weren’t solved with just a kiss. I really liked “The Merry Month of April” when Alex decides to complete the tax returns on his own. Needless to say, the stress is real. You had already given the papers to your accountant and question why Alex would want to do these forms anyway. The argument ensues over who is best for the task and your decision to use an accountant wins. I love that you win! So many wives on TV acquiesce to the wants of the hubby instead of standing up for what they think is best.
I also loved the episode “Mrs. Stone and Dr. Hyde” when you filled in for Alex’s vacationing office assistant. You quickly found out that hubby is much different in his professional life and his snapping and demands pissed you off! You argued with him about this treatment of you, but after a few spats you realized that he’s a doctor first in his office…it’s not time for the wife. And you quickly learned how important running his office to his standards was when an unconscious boy was brought in and Alex had to use various equipment to diagnose him.
And what I really like about your relationship is that passion. You don’t just see pecks…you guys kiss and flirt and dance and communicate and go out as a couple for that time together. That’s such a great example for relationships.
And as a mom? You rocked there too! You let your kids fail…let them make decisions and try these out without interfering all while understanding that our kids often need to learn their own lessons. Jeff picking up a raffle ticket he saw a woman drop which was the winning ticket for the prize: an awesome sports car. He told you about the ticket and you knew that the right thing to do would be to find the lady in order to give her the car. But, as would be the case with most 16 year olds, Jeff didn’t want too. And who could blame him? The car was amazing and he loved driving it. However, he saw the woman out and about with her little girl and did the right thing.
The point is, you didn’t force him. Make him feel bad. Get angry when he kept the car for a time. You let him make this moral decision himself and the lesson learned had to have been more impactful. Sometimes we have to let our kids fall down…but be there when they get back up.
I also loved how you handled Mary when she wanted to forgo college in order to begin a singing career. You got her a singing job at your alma mater’s open house…the college that you wanted Mary to attend. Instead of going to the campus in a car, you got bus tickets and Mary got a taste of what being on the road was like. You also pushed her into practicing which was realistic. And? Mary sang at the open house and you were stunned by her ability. The tears in your eyes were understandable and you realized that a singing career was a possibility…you were willing to support her in that. Finally, Mary decided singing in college was a great balance. The point? You tried to show your daughter the reality of her choice while also appreciating the talent she had.
In fact, I really liked that your kids could be…well…little mouthy shits. It was much more real that way!
You know, people called you an ‘anti-feminist’ since you were ‘just’ a housewife. WHAT? You loved what you did and being a wife and mom is definitely a job…I worked harder as a wife and mama when my son was a little guy than I do now teaching 9 classes a semester! And after all, if we work outside the home, we pay someone to do this mothering gig for us for hours a day. And they get paid. When we do it ourselves, the respect lessens 🤔. But you took this societal role and transformed it. You were strong, opinionated, compassionate, etc. You don’t have to be a NASA engineer to illustrate the concept of feminism. Women can do that in any capacity…and you chose the home as your domain. Good for you.
Although Reed foreshadowed some of Friedan’s argument, the actress did not necessarily seek to overturn societal roles. She focused more on empowering women within those roles, particularly within the home. Reed’s Donna Stone reflected the dissatisfaction with the cultural emphasis on domesticity, but her character clearly values being a wife and mother. By seeking to embolden women to demand more choices within and outside of the home, Reed channeled what scholar Christina Hoff Sommers labels the “maternal feminist movement.”Anne M. Newton
In other words, you weren’t behind the times…you were progressing through them during the tumultuous era of feminism. Yea!
Anyhoot, I just wanted you to know how much I appreciate your image of a wife and mother; your portrayal began in 1959 but is still something to look up to today. What a great legacy that is. I know I’ll go back and watch your shows again and again…I tend to do that. I’m also going to show clips in my Marriage and Family classes to illustrate a few different things. I’m sure my students will become your fans as well.
P.S. No matter what, you always looked gorgeous and I need to start wearing high heels around the house. 😃