“Are you going to finish that sentence or leave me dangling?” ~ Donna Stone

Dear Donna,

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.

In fact, in dissertation by Anne M. Newton she says this regarding you and the feminist movement that Betty Friedan talks about in her book “The Feminine Mystique”:

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.

Kristi xoxo

P.S. No matter what, you always looked gorgeous and I need to start wearing high heels around the house. 😃

“But it’s time you started living…” ~ Mary Tyler Moore Theme Song

Dear Mary Tyler Moore,

So, I don’t know if God allows computers in heaven and I’m really not sure how’ll you’ll read this letter but I’m going to give it a shot anyway.

I grew up watching you on the MTM show and wanted to be you so badly. Not only did you have this amazing apartment (where you even got to sleep on a pull-out bed…how cool was that? 😲) but good friends that were your neighbors. You were beautiful, funny, smart, empathic and loved to eat salads like I did. And you know…besides the beautiful, funny and smart parts, I’m very much like you were then.

Every show that I watched up until yours started airing was about a family…you know, the dad who went to work everyday, the mom who wore heels to vacuum in, and the darling little angels whose worse problem was getting lobbed in the nose by a football. Then you came on the scene: this unmarried woman who lived alone, had a successful career and embraced singlehood and all that it entailed. Wow. What a new concept to me.

It’s funny to re-watch these shows now because the sexism in the workplace is horrendous. Lou looking at your butt when you walk out the door…you making $50 less than the man who had your exact job but had a family to support…the men in the newsroom calling you honey and asking for coffee even though you were an associate producer. It’s hard to remember that this was normal for the 70’s and sometimes I have to wonder how much it’s really changed. We’re still making coffee…often being talked to condescendly…and have to keep doing better and better to prove that we are the woman for the job. I remember when I met a neighbor after moving into my house. He asked what I did and I told him I worked at the college in town; then he asked what department I was a secretary in. Now granted this guy was about a billion years old, but even so it shows that we still have work to do. 🙄

I took you as a strong feminist and until I started reading more about you and realized how much our views on women mesh. You weren’t a big fan of Gloria Steinem, huh? In your last TV interview, when asked about why you didn’t relate to her well, you said this:  “I believed that women—and I still do—have a very major role to play as mothers.  It’s very necessary for mothers to be involved with their children.  And that’s not what Gloria Steinem was saying.  Gloria was saying oh, you can have everything, and you owe it to yourself to have a career.  And I didn’t really believe in that, so that was a little difficult for me.”

When I read that, I actually shouted AMEN! When I was growing up amidst the women’s movement, I thought I had 2 choices: have a family or have a career. Gloria chose her career and after having an illegal abortion in 1957, said she needed to prove herself and make her life count. It was as if she couldn’t see any way to do both but you did.

Why is being a mom often seen as second to being a career woman? “Oh…you’re a mom…so you just stay at home?” Uh, yeah…I did. And no matter how much I’ve achieved on a personal level, it doesn’t mean jack shit next to the fact I raised an amazing young man who is doing such wonderful things.

We’ve gone from saying “You can’t have it all!” to “You can have it all!” but is this true? Christine Hassler wrote this in the Huffington Post in 2011: “…not only are we supposed to have it all but do it all at 100 percent: the career, relationship, children/family all while looking good, doing good and being good.”

Really? That’s having it all? Hmmmm…I think that might be having too much. After all, how can you give 100% to 5 different things? How is that possible, and why don’t men need to do the same? An article in Psychology Today says this: “It’s true that many husbands are more willing to pitch in today, but things are far from equal. Taking care of the home is still squarely on the shoulders of wives, despite the fact that many are working. Some studies suggest that women have almost three times the workload of their husbands. Interestingly, these proportions stay about the same, regardless of whether a wife has a full-time job, and whether or not her husband is currently working.”

Yeesh. Three times the workload? So let’s see: we have being a wife/partner, being a mom, having a career, looking good (which is a requisite for women in our society today), and being good which is also still a societal expectation. And then we wonder why the hell women are twice as likely to be on anti-depressants and more likely to be on anti-anxiety meds than men. Some of this is due to biology…thank you, estrogen. But like the APA says, there are life factors as well: unequal power and status, work overload, and being the victim of abuse.

Maybe the question shouldn’t be “Can you have it all?” but what your opening song says: “You’re gonna MAKE it after all.” And to me, making it means being who and what you want to be. That’s part of what feminism is to me: having a choice in creating the life you want instead of having to follow a preordained path.

You didn’t have a partner or family on the show, but you were happy. Fulfilled. Had fun experiences. You did have it all…a full, satisfying life you were living on your own terms, despite what our culture said at the time.

And in your ‘real’ life? I know you suffered with diabetes beginning in 1969 after having a miscarriage, and that this disease almost blinded you as you got older. You had a benign brain tumor in 2011 and were very open about being a recovering alcoholic. And worse of all…you lost your only son after he suffered an accidental gunshot wound at the age of 24. I can’t even begin to imagine what pain that brought to your life. Bless your heart. 🧡

You see, that’s what I love so much about the ‘real’ you..and not just the TV you. You stood up for your own beliefs. You fought battles and talked about them…were open about them…didn’t shy away from answering the hard questions about them. So really, in that regard, you were the MTM on TV…someone living an authentic life and being exactly who you wanted to be. How refreshing…and how rare.

Anyhoot, I admired you as a kid and I still admire you as an adult. Watching your show not only gives me some really great decorating ideas (like when you antiqued a piece of furniture by hitting it with a chain 🤨), but shows me that being single doesn’t have to be seen as a flaw. I don’t need to feel less than because I’m alone; actually, you’ve taught me that I’m really not alone after all: I have an awesome family, friends at school, my students, my neighbors, my pets…I’m really blessed! You showed me I can have a full, happy life with ‘just’ me at home. Being single isn’t a curse…it’s an opportunity. What a great lesson that is.

Finally, you taught me that voicing views different from others is a privilege we should all take more advantage of, instead of this ‘herd’ mentality. I can be loved…liked…and me at the same time. Confidence isn’t conceit and having a sense of self-worth isn’t selfish. It’s simply strong.

So thank you for the lessons growing up…and the lessons I’m still learning now. You know, I can picture you having coffee with Rhoda, Phyllis and Lou while trading stories about anything and everything that comes to mind. Perhaps you’ll let me join you someday. If so, I’d be honored.

Love,

Kristi xoxo

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