Even Betty on “Mad Men” Wants to be a Loved Mom

Betty is *so* over this field trip (tv.com).

Betty is *so* over this field trip (tv.com).

“Do you think I’m a good mother?” Betty asks second husband Henry Francis, as she cuddles in bed with sleeping Gene, her youngest child. “Of course,” he reassures her.

Henry is a savvy politico by day and charms his wife by night. After all, who thinks Betty Francis is a good mother? This is a woman who alternates between ignoring and dressing down her children. There is no warmth, no unconditional love.

Betty fired her children’s long-time, beloved nanny just before a major move because the nanny dared to let Sally say goodbye to a neighborhood boy she would miss. Betty also immediately imploded her first marriage after learning about Don’s past, rather than taking any time to work together on repairing the marriage. Betty’s myopic selfishness hurt the rest of her family and managed to make the womanizing Don look sympathetic by comparison.

It’s not clear that she belongs to the legions of housewives Betty Friedan hoped to liberate by publishing The Feminine Mystique, as Betty Francis has no apparent professional ambition, but Betty has also never seemed fulfilled by stay-at-home motherhood. Betty mostly exudes the ennui of a sheltered woman who’s moved from her wealthy father’s house to her husbands’ well-appointed homes and doesn’t quite know how to spend her endless time or money.

As for her exchange with Henry, it is set in a wholly different era. It also transpires between two people who committed to a relationship many modern couples couldn’t fathom. In both Don and Henry, Betty found men who were traditional breadwinners, willing to crown her parent-in-chief. Even though she lacks other work, Betty still prefers to delegate most of her parenting responsibilities to hired help and the television.

It was therefore surprising to hear Betty’s end of the conversation with her gal pal Francine in the latest episode. Francine, whose children are both in school, is now working part-time and represents the 51% of mothers who were working outside the home by 1967.

Francine loves her new role as a travel agent and tells Betty that her work is rewarding. Betty replies, “I thought they [the children] were the reward.” Coming from Betty, this sounded more like a memorized talking point than a genuine expression of fondness for her children or her way of life. But even uttering these words seems to fuel Betty’s interest in volunteering to chaperone Bobby’s field trip, when she learns about it that evening. It’s suddenly important to be, or at least act the part of, the doting mother.

Of course, Betty manages to ruin the trip for her middle child by shaming him for trading her sandwich for gumdrops. When Bobby offers to remedy his mistake by re-trading his treat for her lunch, she acts as if the situation is irreparable and adamantly insists that he eat the gumdrops, which no longer tempt him. This is not a woman who relishes, or even takes in stride, the ups and downs that are simply part of parenting.

Betty’s simple and unexpected question to her husband at the episode’s end still offers some hope, though. While it may simply be the query of an insecure and self-absorbed mother frustrated that her children’s thoughts don’t revolve entirely around her, there is another possible explanation: Competent people periodically worry about their competence, whereas the truly incompetent never worry that they might be lacking.

This means Betty might actually care about being loved by her children and being perceived as a good mother. If so, that would certainly be good news for the three of them.

This article appeared in Acculturated.

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