In recent seasons, How I Met Your Mother has become more and more problematic in its approach to its female characters. Robin has become increasingly one-dimensional and irrational, Lily hasn’t had many plotlines of her own, and Barney’s treatment of “dumb girls” has been celebrated far too many times.
Which is why I was really surprised to see the show take quite a bold and honest approach to motherhood in last week’s episode, Band or DJ? How I Met Your Mother became the first show I’ve seen that admits that motherhood is hard. Even though Lily loves her son, and loves being a mom, sometimes, she tearfully admits, she just wants to run away from it all. She misses being her own person, with her own ambitions. She used to dream of being a painter, and now that all seems to have disappeared in the way of motherhood.
It was an emotionally powerful scene, not least because Lily was admitting things that a person (especially a TV person) is never supposed to say, or even think. It was an admission, first and foremost, that motherhood is hard. It’s not always an amazing, loving experience where a woman feels nurturing and selfless by her very instinct. It was an admission that women, even mothers(!), have ambitions of their own, outside of their children, and that they need to be able to pursue those as well to feel happy and fulfilled.
It’s an interesting statement in a show that is all about chasing down the elusive “mother,” a figure who, in our imaginations, is defined by the fact that Ted will love her, and that she will be the mother to his children. It seems unlikely that “The Mother” will ever be anything more than that, as assumedly the show will end as soon as we actually meet her, so I think it’s really valuable that the show considers the other side of motherhood, and what it actually means, through Lily.
I only hope that we’ll see this perspective continue (possibly with a change of career or a return to art for Lily) in the next few episodes.