The Blame Game: Parenting Edition

After watching a few episodes of Mad Men, it’s clear that Betty Draper isn’t going to win “Mother of the Year” anytime soon. Betty is never seen taking her kids to the park or over to a friend’s house; instead, the only activities she suggests are to “go to bed”, “go watch TV”, “go upstairs”, or even to “go bang your head against the wall”.  The defining of Betty’s parenting is a scene I’m sure none of us will forget: Sally wearing the dry cleaning bag. Clearly not worried that Sally might suffocate, Betty simply says, “If the clothes from that dry cleaning bag are on the floor of my closet, you’re going to be a very sorry young lady.” While the audience is staring at the television screen with its jaw on the floor, Betty continues to smoke a cigarette and gossip with her friend Francine leaving Sally to play with the plastic bag. 

Betty’s parenting techniques have not gone unnoticed. New York magazine took note of Betty’s questionable parenting skills, putting together a compilation of Betty Draper’s best parenting moments. Watch the video below and be thankful for your mother’s superior parenting:

This video forces us to question Betty’s child rearing: why is she so harsh when it comes to parenting? Recently, Dr. Stephanie Newman released a book entitled Mad Men on the Couch: Analyzing the Minds of The Men And Women of The Hit TV Show, which gives the audience insight on why Betty is so cold when it comes to being a mother. From the New York magazine video, it’s clear that Betty’s missing some sort of an emotional component when it comes to parenting; when Sally or Bobby do something wrong Betty doesn’t ask why, but merely seeks an apology. Newman points out that many mothers fail in the empathy department. In Newman’s book, she mentions a study done by psychoanalyst Harry Harlow about rhesus monkeys, which have tendencies similar to humans, to examine the workings of maternal love. Harlow ultimately concluded that nurturing a child is crucial in the first months of the infant’s life; if the child is neglected emotionally, then he will have problems connecting with others. As a result, babies who were neglected by their parents exhibit the same behavior once they become parents. 

When looking back at season one, it seems that Betty had a similar upbringing to her own kids. Betty shares with friends that she used to be overweight as a child and how difficult that is for a child to go through but Betty constantly remarks about how Sally looks fat in pictures. When in bed with Don, Betty shares how her mother’s appearance was very important and Betty adopted similar habits, always trying to fit into the mold of the ideal housewife.

What Newman is telling us is that it’s not Betty’s fault that she isn’t a great mother; it’s her parent’s. So the next time you see Bobby reprimanded for touching the record player or hear an insolent comment about Sally’s weight, think about how Betty was treated as a kid. Newman implies that parenting is a skill that’s partly intuitive but mostly a skill indirectly taught by one’s parents. So this serves as a message to everyone who has ever considered having kids: learn from your parent’s mistakes and adjust. I’m sure you’ll be thankful in the years to come.



Newman, Stephanie. Mad Men on the Couch: Analyzing the Minds of the Men and Women of the Hit TV Show. New York: Thomas Dunne, 2012. Print.

1 comment:

  1. Rachel Smilan-GoldsteinOctober 26, 2012 at 10:58 AM

    Betty's poor parenting skills have stood out to me throughout all five seasons of Mad Men. I agree that this partially stems from how she was treated as a child. I would also contend though that most mothers of the 1960s were ignorant toward health and safety risks. I do not believe that Betty was alone in her lack of concern over her children playing with plastic bags--people at the time probably did not consider the suffocation risks. Another common, yet dangerous behavior of the '60s was that children did not wear seat belts in cars. Additionally, mothers at this time smoked and drank while pregnant, and constantly exposed their children to second-hand smoke. None of these faults in protecting the health of children can be directly attributed to Betty as they reflect culture-wide norms. Thus, the true problems with Betty's parenting are her iciness, lack of compassion and blaming of her children.