The Mad Men Finale: A Startling Reminder for Working Moms

May 20, 2015

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Don Draper had me at hello. When the series premiered, I was working in a marketing job at Procter & Gamble, collaborating with an agency team at Leo Burnett, and living in a modern day version of the world the show depicted (with far fewer cocktails, I’m afraid). I was swept up in the nostalgic glamour of it all right along with the rest of the country and I’ve followed Don and the rest of the cast through the ups and downs of the series as it swept through several decades of advertising and American history.

The show’s final episode aired this week, and while it outlined the futures of a number of characters, the storyline that I can’t stop thinking about belonged to Joan.

Joan Mad Men 2

Christina Hendricks as Joan Holloway on Mad Men

Joan Holloway, if you don’t follow the show, began the series as the office manager at the Sterling Cooper ad agency, and ended it as a partner with a stake worth millions. She is also a single mother to a young son. In the finale, she ends a whirlwind romance with an eligible bachelor because he simply cannot handle her dual ambitions – to be both a spectacular mother and a powerful entrepreneur. And believe me, Joan would settle for nothing less.

As I watched the relationship crumble, the last in a chain of romantic pairings that couldn’t contain her larger than life energy, I was struck by just how much I owe to women like Joan. I’ve literally never questioned my ability to choose to have a family and a career I love, never wavered in my expectation that my husband would happily support these dual pursuits. The misogyny so regularly endured by the women who made these early forays into having thriving careers while having thriving families still astounds me.

As a woman who was born in the seventies and educated in the eighties, and whose career began in the mid-nineties at a company regularly lauded for its female-friendly policies, I never felt hampered by my gender. I was promoted quickly, given choice assignments, and compensated handsomely, just like many of my female colleagues. I had a seat at the table and my voice was heard. That said,

I never once hid the fact that motherhood was a top priority for me.

I took 12 month maternity leaves, and worked in several less-than-full-time assignments, one of them as the leader of a billion dollar brand. Those choices are what enabled me to walk on firm footing between my two worlds. I traded money for time and then picked up right where I left off when I returned. Today, as an entrepreneur, I have even more integration between my work and home life, and I no longer have to make financial tradeoffs to get it. I also have a husband whose support for my choices is so unwavering that it could be easily taken for granted.

Moments like the one I witnessed between Joan and her beau in the Mad Men series finale remind me of this:

I cannot let one single day go by without expressing my gratitude for the women who sacrificed mightily to normalize choices like mine.

I can’t let one moment pass without making sure my husband knows that without his contributions at home and his quiet, unflappable support of my career choices, I’d likely self-destruct emotionally and give up this work I’m clearly called to do.

Beyond the role models I found at work, I also grew up with a working mother of my own, for whom teaching was clearly a calling, and I know she cherished the flexibility that career choice afforded her to keep evenings and summers free to focus on her family.

With thanks to Joan, and the countless other women like her who illuminated the possibility, I realize it’s my turn now.

I’m taking my place in the chain of example setters, forging a path that allows me to live out both of my callings – the one at work and the one at home. I hope you’re doing the same. The women who are following you and the children you are raising need your example of how to have both a career you love and a family that loves you back. Just like Joan, don’t settle for anything less.


Questions: Have you ever felt pressured to choose between your career and your family? How did it play out? What did you learn from the experience? Do you have a mentor or role model who gives you a shining example of what is possible? Have you told her what she’s meant to you? Hint: Do it today!

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