stress and “the good wife” -- 9/10/21

Today's selection -- from Sunshine Girl: An Unexpected Life by Julianna Margulies. When Julianna Margulies began her starring role in her soon-to-be megahit TV series The Good Wife, she struggled to balance her work with her family life:

"After the show was picked up [in] … New York, I … struggled with trying to find balance. I wanted more than anything to let [my children] Keith and Kieran know I was there for them, that they were my first priority. But weekends were the only time I could demonstrate this. I would plan dinners, shop and cook for them, hoping that if I created a warm, homey retreat on the week­ends, it would spill over until the next weekend. All the while I was trying to recover from the sixty-plus hours of work I had just put in and prepare for the next week coming up. Like a revolving door, I just kept going round and round.

"On a television show we call Fridays 'Fraturdays' because the production can film all night long, well into Saturday morning. This would mean (especially in the first season), that we would shoot until five in the morning on Saturday. When I came home I would tiptoe past Kieran's bedroom, praying he wasn't awake yet so I could fall into bed and get a few hours of sleep before our day began. If he was awake, how could I ignore him? I couldn't walk by his room without going to him. I needed to hold him, play with him, fix him breakfast. He was my baby, he needed his mother. This is how I rationalized my ceaseless state of exhaustion. Keith would tell me to just wake him up so he could take care of Kieran and I could get some sleep, but I could never do that. Even when I tried, the guilt would worm its way into my dreams, waking me up.

"During the workweek, if my pickup time was an hour later than usual, I would make every effort to show Kieran how much I loved him by making art out of his breakfast. Oatmeal was never just oat­meal. Instead I would carve, shape, mold fresh fruit, berries, any­thing nutritious I could find and create pictures for him in his bowl. I needed to make up for the time I wouldn't be spending with him that day, thinking that through my laborious creations he would somehow understand how much I loved him. If Keith left early and Kieran was still sleeping, I would clean out Keith's closet, organiz­ing his shirts the way I used to at the shop on South Molton Street in London, putting them in color order, placing each sleeve in the vee of my fingers and putting them down so his closet resembled a store rack.

"I took pleasure in doing these things when I had a spare minute. I needed them both to know that I was there as a mother, as a wife. I was so afraid they would feel abandoned, not realizing that the only person I was abandoning was myself.

"Time was a luxury I dreamed about. Sleep was something I craved every day. Looking back, I have no idea how I managed any of it. I threw myself into my work with such force sometimes I didn't recognize myself. My plates were always spinning, torn be­tween work, baby, husband, parents, friends. I was climbing a mountain every day and never reached the top; I was always behind. I am a person who likes to stay ahead, write lists, check the boxes, be organized, so life is calmer and easier for me and everyone around me. There was no room for error. Ever. Yet I couldn't complain. I was living the dream, even though all the while I was so busy spinning plates I was barely present for any of it, always thinking about the next thing I needed to do.

"Kieran's first sentence was 'Mama work.' His next one, 'Mama tired.'

"When the marketing campaign for The Good Wife launched, my image was suddenly on buses all over Manhattan. Kieran would be out in his stroller and he would point at them. 'Mama bus!' he would exclaim with a mixed look of confusion and delight. I was plastered all over the city, on billboards, sides of buildings, subways, wherever you looked there was his mama in a red dress staring straight at him. He saw me more during the week on posters than he did at home. In a strange way I was somehow present for him even though I wasn't there.

Julianna Margulies and husband, Keith Lieberthal, at the Metropolitan Opera in 2008

"When we began to do publicity for The Good Wife, often with the whole cast sitting in chairs in front of the journalists, Chris Noth and I both had boys the same age, and at every press junket a jour­nalist would ask me how I juggled motherhood with my workload. I instantly felt a stab in my heart. I answered as honestly as I could, explaining that I tried my best but was always worried it was never enough. I told them I struggled with the guilt I carried because I wasn't home as much as I would like to be, that I struggled to find time to sleep, letting them know that there is no such thing as 'bal­ance' when you are working fourteen to fifteen hours a day. Not once, in the seven years of that show, did Chris ever get the same question. Granted, his role on the show was less demanding than mine, but it always struck me as odd, and a bit irritating, that men are never asked that question.

"I walked away from those press junkets feeling more anxious than I had when I walked in. And I was already wearing a heavy weight of guilt around my neck.

"My mother recently told me that her friends who were stay-at-home moms are chastised by their adult children for not having a career. My mother, on the other hand, was criticized by all three of her daughters for putting her work and herself before us. 'You can never win,' she says, laughing off the irony."



Julianna Margulies


Sunshine Girl: An Unexpected Life


Ballantine Books


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