Hello, I’m Beverley Wang co-host of Stop Everything!
Welcome to my new column for ABC Everyday, where every month I’ll merge two of my dominant preoccupations — parenting and pop culture — to see what lessons (I think) we can learn from scrutinising the parenting of a fictional character.
(Because doing this to a real-life person would be defamatory.)
So, pour yourself a splash of fruit wine, or for the non-drinkers, a green smoothie with no greens, and consider this your spoiler alert.
We’re decamping to the Canadian hamlet of Schitt’s Creek, where the riches-to-rags (though actually never in rags, ew!) Rose family — parents Johnny and Moira, adult children David and Alexis — along with a temperature-controlled cargo container’s worth of wigs and several dozen hastily packed suitcases stuffed with designer clothing, have taken up residence in the local motel as they recover from the whiplash shock of losing their vast wealth.
Motherhood and Moira Rose: The Motherening
As the Rose family matriarch, television’s Moira Rose constantly pulls focus.
This is a woman whose emotional vocabulary extends to her wig collection and highly reflective wardrobe.
Moira is at times a brutally indifferent parent.
She brought the wrong baby home from the hospital, spent an entire year away for an international campaign for Looky Loo Binoculars and doesn’t even know Alexis’s middle name. Emma? Hannah? Elspeth?
But I can’t help but appreciate that though Moira is a mother, she doesn’t — and never has — perceived herself wholly through the prism of motherhood.
It’s clear that Moira never lost her sense of self in the exhausting fog of early motherhood.
There’s no hint she ever sat dead-eyed in a mother’s group, wordlessly taking in forensic audits of baby sleep cycles while wearing an accidentally-inside-out jumper.
And I’m absolutely certain that she never, without any prior spoken agreement, became the chief scheduler for her children’s social lives.
Moira’s virtuosic individualism reads like a triumphal declaration of self-love. And in the context of motherhood, this is an act of resistance.
For every woman who’s ever bridled at the weight of assumptions that come with being a mother — that it’s a natural, easy and willing immersion in play dates, parenting forums, activewear and #mumlife — with not much left over for yourself, Moira offers an alternative model.
She’s a sitcom mother who’s never held a washing basket, driven a minivan, or stood in front of a hot stove, except that one time she and David tried to make enchiladas.
Their motel room doesn’t even have a kitchenette.
Moira Rose doesn’t do drudgery. In the role of Sunrise Bay’s Vivian Blake, she was “the most projected nominee to have never actually been nominated” for a Daytime People’s Choice Award.
As she settles into life in Schitt’s Creek, “the slice of paradise she likes to call, the town where she currently is”, Moira pursues her own interests — town council, the Jazzagals — and enjoys a loving, supportive relationship with Johnny that exists outside their roles as parents.
Above all else, Moira lives her truth by letting her light shine bright, even if it means pointing it straight in the eyes of David and Alexis, pre-emptively assuming the role of Stevie’s understudy in Cabaret, or having a one-week lie down in a closet to ugly cry over the shelving of The Crows Have Eyes 3.
Moira is a rare individual in television and real life, a strong female lead allowed to bloom into the full flare of her personality and self-belief, however ridiculous it may be, without being punished for it.
A pearl in an unshucked oyster
But freely championing yourself means you will also screw up.
In Moira’s case, her flaws flow from the same source where she draws her strength — unapologetic self-love, also known as having a really big ego.
“There are certainly hints of what we call a narcissistic parent in Moira in the beginning of [Schitt’s Creek], and that’s often represented in a parent who is jealous and envious of their kids’ growing independence or success,” says Chris Cheers, a psychologist who specialises in working with artists, arts workers and the LGBTIQ+ community.
A narcissist? Moira? Picture Johnny, David and Alexis’s reactions as they absorb this revelation.
While Moira is unafraid to express emotion, Mr Cheers notes those moments are often centred around her own experiences.
“In relationships, there are useful expressions of emotion, and then there are less useful expressions of emotion. And I think Moira certainly represents that kind of unhelpful, narcissistic expression of emotion for most of the series.”
But through the series, meaningful shifts in Moira’s relationships with her children take place after conflicts.
At these moments of conflict, Mr Cheers says, family members can either pull back, or lean in through the mess, toward connection.
After years of distance between them, the Roses are forced into togetherness, living in cramped quarters and becoming entangled in each others’ lives. This presents an opportunity for parenting redemption for Moira, and to a less conspicuous extent, Johnny.
“I would say they’re forced to a place of being useful parents,” Mr Cheers says.
“Within those four walls of the tiny hotel room, they are forced to continually come together after conflict, which is one of the most important things.”
An empathetic narcissist
So, take it as a mark of progress in season six, when Moira says to Alexis, “I may have been wrong, and you may have been not wrong” as she orders a last-minute return to Alexis’s film premiere idea, in the hopes that it will turn out well for herself.
By the finale, we see Moira giving Alexis an unprompted compliment, “have I ever told you how bewitching you are?” and ugly crying her way through officiating David and Patrick’s wedding while dressed like a high-camp Abba-inspired pontiff.
Moira is still 100 per cent herself, but she’s learned how to (ugly) cry for someone else.
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