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Catherine Reitman is on a mission to depict complex, imperfect moms on TV

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Catherine Reitman, Dani Kind and Juno Rinaldi attend CBC Presents: A Night Out With "Workin Moms" at TIFF Bell Lightbox

C atherine Reitman is an actor, director, and, yes, working mother, whose show, “Workin’ Moms,” debuted on Netflix earlier this year to much acclaim. We caught up with Reitman to dig into her vision for the show (hint: she isn’t interested in the “perfect” moms that pop culture usually shows us), her personal experiences building a career while raising her two sons, running an all-female writers’ room, and more.

Read on for our conversation with Reitman.


In your experience, what does pop culture tend to get wrong about the realities of being a mother who works outside the home? What misconceptions do you hope to correct with “Workin' Moms”?
In pop culture, the most harmful misrepresentation of working mothers I have witnessed is perfection. Most mothers I know, whether they are working or not, have to make endless compromises every single day. As working mothers, we are too often expected to present as fully dedicated, independent workers at the office and somehow full-time mothers once at a school function. There are not enough hours in the day to fulfill both of these roles perfectly; however, check any celebrity Instagram page and you are too often reminded that it is, in fact, attainable, and that you are merely failing. I have found this very discouraging as a working parent as I have NEVER had the time or energy to build an adorable bento box for a school lunch or hand-sew a Halloween costume.
I desperately wanted to see flawed female characters, who refuse to compromise their vision of achieving a whole life, on my TV.
With “Workin' Moms,” my goal has never been to create a "how to" show. While I love reading comments that people have picked up tricks on how to navigate these tricky waters, the truth is that the show was born from a place of pure frustration. I desperately wanted to see flawed female characters, who refuse to compromise their vision of achieving a whole life, on my TV. This doesn't mean that these characters don't fail (they do! big time!), but they also get to explore territory that in the real world, might get you labeled as “selfish.”
There's a poignant scene in the pilot where your character, Kate, breaks down in front of a group of male coworkers after one of them teases that her infant son is going to start calling his nanny "mom." You've said that this was inspired by a real-life experience of yours. Can you share more about the inspiration for this scene?
When I returned to work after my first son, I was experiencing an identity crisis that no one had prepared me for. I would look at the people around me, who I usually felt in sync with, and believe that I was no longer worthy of holding their company—that somehow, since giving birth, I had lost my value. On my first Mothers' Day away from my baby I was surrounded by comedians who were teasing me and I felt worthless. The scene, in the first episode, where Kate breaks down at work, was birthed from this feeling. All I knew was that I had to stand my ground. Even if it meant crying and revealing my vulnerability, I was going to stand my ground in the face of my greatest fear: that I was no longer worthy of going after my dreams. This battle cry moment is then personified by Kate screaming at a bear moments later in the pilot.
For the first two seasons of your show, your writers’ room was entirely women. How have your experiences influenced the way you run a workplace? And what led to your decision to include men in your writer's room in seasons three and four?
The first two seasons' writers' room was truly magical. Season one I was very pregnant and surrounded by women as excited as I was to tell stories about flawed, ambitious women with so much at stake. There was an electricity in the air as we felt that this subject matter had yet to be properly traversed. In season two we were able to expand on that and add flourish. By season three, I was feeling much more confident about the stories we were telling and wanted to make sure that the male voices on our show were being given the same authenticity that the female voices were. The writers I have been lucky enough to work alongside have taught me so much, not just about storytelling, but about myself.
In the pilot, Kate asks the head of her mommy and me support group, "What's the trick to making all this work? I'm trying to stay positive, it's just, having it all seems a little impossible." How would you answer Kate's question?
Ha! That there is no answer! The idea that I, or anyone, could give anyone else a prescription on how to do this is a joke to me now. I was so hungry for this answer for so long and the irony is that I have been living it — sometimes well and sometimes terribly.
The demands (and disappointments) that you will absolutely face as a working mother must be faced with compassion, not just for yourself, but also for those who are trying to help you.
From my own life, I can say that having it all is not impossible, however, it requires an enormous support system that must continue to evolve as your children and your career grow. It also requires a great deal of self-love and self-respect. This is where I struggle big time. What I would give for a hundredth of Lizzo's self-love! The demands (and disappointments) that you will absolutely face as a working mother must be faced with compassion, not just for yourself, but also for those who are trying to help you.
According to the World Economic Forum, at the current pace of change, it's going to take another 208 years to achieve gender equality in the United States. How do you think your character, Kate, would react to this news?
By taking to the f'ing streets! Something I love and admire about Kate is her entitlement to work. She is not someone, like myself, who gets bogged down by the cost of her ambition. She sees the impossible and figures out the framework to achieve it.

Posted: October 23, 2019
Edition: Disrupt

The ideas and views reflected in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Evoke or Melinda Gates.