Workin’ Moms

Despite all the cotton-candy bliss that is often associated with motherhood, the reality is that becoming a mother is very demanding at every level. Between the uncontrollable sobs of postpartum (both by mom and baby), the extreme tiredness (no, baby does not sleep through the night yet), and a permanent feeling of powerlessness (baby no longer has colics, but now, he’s teething), many young moms feel overwhelmed by their new role. It’s difficult not to break down, especially when trying to juggle a professional and love life. But instead of sinking into doubt and guilt, can we laugh at the difficulties of motherhood? Catherine Reitman and Philip Sternberg brilliantly rose to the challenge with their sitcom; Workin’ Moms.

Workin’ Moms cast

Crying and Laughing

As a mother of two young boys, Catherine Reitman is also the creator of the TV show Workin’ Moms, as well as the scriptwriter, the main actress, the producer, and the director (talk about a juggling act!). Her husband, Philip Sternberg, is also an actor, executive producer and director on the show. The idea behind Workin’ Moms was born at the end of a stressful day for Catherine. The young mom and actress was working on a movie set, far from home, while her first son was only six weeks old. Mother’s Day was around the corner and her colleagues decided to tease her, as Philip remembers: “They told her that she was a terrible mother. They were going to send a Mother’s Day card to our son on her behalf. She ended up crying uncontrollably in her hotel room. She called me saying that she felt guilty, shameful and humiliated.” Instead of letting his wife feel sorry for herself, Philip quickly found a way to make the best of this bad situation: “In retrospect, when you think about it, it’s pretty funny. So, I asked her: How come parents don’t talk about these things? Why don’t you write about it? So, she did.” Catherine Reitman wrote the storyline, some scenes, then a pilot script. When the project got the greenlight from the CBC, the work was just beginning.

Showrunner and actress Catherine Reitman

The Reality of Fiction

Workin’ Moms begins with Kate (played by Reitman) returning to work after her maternity leave. She tries her best to be there for her child, while trying to remain available at work to achieve her professional goals. It’s impossible not to see the parallel with what the showrunner was going through at the same time: “It was very challenging for me. It’s been an incredibly humbling experience and it’s a lot of work. The shooting days are very long, and I had a tiny three-month-old baby that I breastfed on our first day of production. I also had a four-year old who was entering kindergarten at the same time. There was obviously a conflict between my desire to have a career and to be with my children.” Despite this inner tension, it was necessary to move forward. Catherine Reitman had the feeling that her series would have the potential to reach many people: “Workin’ Moms is a show about the concerns parents have when they suddenly have to be adults. The show focuses on mothers returning to work, trying to be what they were before, with this incredible pressure to excel at everything. So, we question the expectations that weigh on women. What surprised Philip and I the most is the number of people who don’t have children, who are not married or who are not even women and who like the show. The identity crisis that the characters live seems to reach the audience, and the answer has been truly wonderful.” And now that the show is in its third season, the audience’s response continues to be as positive as ever.

Producers and actors Catherine Reitman and Philip Sternberg, with Kat Reid (Continuity), are crafting an intense delivery scene.

Finding Humour in Drama

One of the strengths of Workin’ Moms is to present sensitive and sometimes very difficult topics and bring out the comic elements to make people laugh and think. While the duo of producers know that the stories of working mothers are universal, they’re aware that a few of the story lines will play differently in countries outside of Canada, as the executive producer points out: “Catherine tackles very difficult subjects such as the overbearing stigma around motherhood, postpartum depression or abortion; and the audience understands. There is a great way of life, here in Canada, where people are very open and accepting. It’s kind of an amazing thing that we are able to do a show about complex family situations such as this one! It’s a privilege.”

Thus, Workin’ Moms reminds us that a mother’s reality is often far from perfect, but it’s perfect that way. After all, everyone tries to do their best when facing life’s upheavals. Catherine Reitman has come to laugh at herself by telling the failings of motherhood in a show inspired by her own story. A story that may, in fact, be the one of all working mothers.

Season 3 of the show Workin’ Moms airs Thursdays at 9:00 pm (9:30 pm in the Maritimes) on CBC and CBC Gem. Previous seasons are available on CBC Gem and on iTunes.