Celebrity Mom: Sophia Petrillo

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By Tracy G. Cassels

Okay, okay, I know that Sophia isn’t real, but that doesn’t stop her from being a bit of an Evolutionary Parent.  I don’t know how many of you watched the Golden Girls when you were younger, but I was an avid fan – the whole family would sit down to watch as it truly was one of those shows both young and old could enjoy (though you certainly get much more out of it when old).  Knowing this, my wonderful husband got me Season One on DVD for Christmas which is just, well, awesome and has led to me plowing through it like mad.  In many ways, it’s been a real joy to witness this show from a parenting perspective and the myriad ways they supported evolutionary parenting principles.

I have to remind myself that the writers were probably very accurate in the depictions of how these four women raised their kids.  When they were giving birth, it was in the midst of the formula craze whereby women were told formula was better than breastmilk for their babies.  It shouldn’t be a surprise when, in one episode (“Transplant”), we witness a conversation between the ladies about how far formula has come and how they all made their bottles the hard way.  It’s kind of shitty to think that that was the norm and that so many people lost the benefits of breastmilk, but it is what it is and can’t be changed and so I can hardly fault the writers for this.  Especially as Sophia then pips up and declares that she breastfed all of her kids – and maybe it’s just me, but there was a nice little tone to it suggesting her being pleased at not having to go through the hassles Dorothy, Blanche, and Rose are all reminiscing about.  Of course, the writers take it to task and Sophia states that she breastfed Phil, her son, until he was 12.  She finally had to stop when he wanted to come home from school for lunch.  What I was most pleased to see, though, was that even when trying to make a joke about full-term breastfeeding, it didn’t come across as such.  Sophia didn’t look ashamed or upset about how long her son breastfed, and none of the other girls made any comments whatsoever.  No shock, no horror, no “I could never do that!”, nothing.  Yes, 12 is old and the picture she paints of a boy in grade six coming home for lunch is ridiculous, but in watching the entire scene unfold, you leave with the sense that she raised her kids her way (the old school way) and it was great.

A second scene in this same episode is the following (note, this is the episode where Blanche has to decide whether she’s going to give one of her kidneys to her sister Virginia who will die without one):

Sophia: You gonna give it to her or not?
Blanche Devereaux: Sophia.
Sophia: What’ll it mean, a little less bourbon?
Virginia Hollingsworth: Sophia, it’s a difficult decision.
Sophia: She’s family, if you can’t count on family, who the hell can you count on?

I’m not religious, but amen.  In the individualistic culture we’ve become, we’ve lost the sense of family and connectedness that Sophia so clearly understands.  Perhaps it’s her Sicilian nature, but she gets the importance of having a support network through thick and thin.  We don’t choose our families, but we should support them.  Sadly, it’s so lost these days as children don’t grow up with a sense of connectedness, most likely because of the lack of touch we’ve decided is appropriate for children these days.  How can we expect people to want to be there for each other when their entire upbringing was spent keeping them apart?

The last episode that made me realize what a wonderful mother Sophia was depicted as was in the episode “On Golden Girls”.  The storyline involves Blanche’s troubled grandson coming to visit and wreaking havoc in Miami.  We get to view Blanche realize she failed in many ways as a mother and is watching her daughter make the same mistakes she did (a very powerful recognition of how hard it is to overcome the failings of our parents, though not impossible).  On the flipside to this, we get Dorothy and Sophia sharing a room so Blanche’s grandson can have his own room.  At one point we see them getting ready for bed, many quips included, when Dorothy mentions that they hadn’t slept together since she was a little girl (yeah co-sleeping!).  They talk about the bad dreams that would bring Dorothy to her mother’s bed as a child and Dorothy comments how safe and secure she felt when she was sleeping with Sophia.  (In usual jest, Sophia says she felt the same thing when Dorothy was three.)  While it’s unclear if Sophia ever co-slept regularly, it’s very clear her children were welcome in her bed if they needed it.  And Dorothy’s comment about the positive emotions that experience elicited – strong enough that they brought back happy memories all those years later with love in her voice and a smile on her face – was mellifluous.  I admit I was holding my sleeping daughter while watching this one so it was particularly salient.

In this episode we also learn that Sophia ensured her children had responsibilities.  In an age when people seem to mistakenly think that to parent your child with love and affection means you also absolve them of any accountability it’s great to witness the opposite.  Sophia’s children were expected to do chores and be responsible around the house, but as we also know from before, they were breastfed full-term and co-slept at least part of the time and learned the importance of family.  If only modern depictions of strong mothers could be so kind as to show the world that you can care for your child lovingly and without judgment, but also instill the notion of independence and hard work.

To Sophia Petrillo, one of TV’s great moms!

[I want to also add that the Golden Girls as a whole emphasized EP practices.  For example, in another, later episode, we witness Blanche’s daughter opting for a natural childbirth and telling her mother she’s having her baby in a Birthing Centre because that’s what they emphasize.  They also don’t shy away from the women acknowledging things they might have done better and demonstrate a willingness to grow and learn.  And finally the show really emphasizes the importance of community.  While Sophia focuses on family, family is what you make it and these women highlighted that time and time again.  If you never saw the show, go watch it.  If it’s been years, I strongly recommend going back to enjoy it in a whole new light.]

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