For those who’ve yet to see the BBC Christmas advert, Wonderland, the one that’s caused a furore, it’s a heartwarming tale of a harassed mother bunking off from work to hang out with her child, which, unwittingly, employs a somewhat unfestive good mum/bad mum narrative.
Bad mum is first seen (selfishly) prioritising her career (translation: leaving for work) over her teenage son’s desperate yearning to hang out with her at a funfair. However, while bad mum is in the office, coldly neglecting her family, cackling evilly over her keyboard (I may be embellishing slightly here), she’s struck by a revelation (and some time-stopping gimmick) about “What Really Matters”, and runs off to meet her son and go on the dodgems with him. By which point, she’s become good mum – whether that’s good sacked mum for leaving the office during what appears to be a frantically busy working day remains tantalisingly unclear.
Even in the realm of yuletide adverts (increasingly an annual creative vortex where all bad, cynically soppy ideas strangle themselves on festive tinsel and die), this one fritzes like dodgy Christmas tree lights. Sure, some parents have the option of leaving work on a whim – they’re called things like the owner or the boss. If this mother is a key breadwinner, shouldn’t she be supported and appreciated? What about the mysterious father/stepfather, seen only once, eating breakfast – in the interests of realism, shouldn’t there be at least one heated parental text exchange, arguing about who should go to the fair, and berating each other for being useless?
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Would a teenager even want to hang out with his mother that much? Over many decades, teenagers have acquired quite a reputation for, let’s say, preferring their own society – could someone kindly inform the BBC about this?
However, the main problem with the advert is the anti-working mother message that’s been rightly berated as a guilt trip. That a woman’s decision to work is self-centred, unnecessary, disruptive and ultimately harmful to children. That a working mum’s only hope of redemption is to feel relentless and corrosive maternal guilt. And that, when mothers decide not to work, or to put work a distant second, suddenly all is well, the sun comes out, and little bluebirds start fluttering around the family unit.
In many cases, it’s only because mothers go to work that hard-pressed families manage to survive at all. Then, there are mothers who (whisper it) enjoy working. In fairness to the BBC, there’s nothing wrong with addressing some of the harsher realities families face, or for trying to produce a more realistic kind of Christmas advert – one that isn’t just about beatific nuclear families lolling around in unicorn onesies, rejoicing over Morecambe and Wise repeats.
Maybe, one day, a working mum will be cast in a positive light, portrayed doing her job, because her family probably needs the money, but also, because maybe she enjoys it. Now that would be a true Christmas miracle.
• Barbara Ellen is an Observer columnist
This content was originally published here.