Last week, Joe Jonas filed for divorce from actor Sophie Turner after four years of marriage and two children. Right away, it seemed like his team went to work weaponizing the press against Turner for being a working mom ― which didn’t sit right with many, especially other working moms.
The PR campaign wasn’t exactly subtle: First, a source with “direct knowledge” told TMZ that Jonas had been caring for their two young daughters, ages 3 and 1, “pretty much all of the time,” even as the Jonas Brothers were touring.
“We’re told Joe currently has both kids, as the group plays around the US,” TMZ wrote. (Though it wasn’t mentioned in the story, Turner, best known for her work on “Game of Thrones,” has also been working, filming in the U.K. for her starring role in the upcoming ITV series “Joan.”)
TMZ also ran a story attributing the split to the couple’s “very different lifestyles,” with a “source with direct knowledge” telling the gossip site: “She likes to party, he likes to stay at home.”
The insinuation was clear to Danielle Melton, a working mom and the founder of MOTHERboard Society, a subscription-based program designed to address the specific needs of working women: As a mom, Turner was derelict in her duties.
“The depiction of her ‘away for work’ or ‘partying’ is not only deeply disappointing but also dangerously misleading,” she said.
Given how pervasive mom-shaming is already ― a staggering 85% of millennial moms report feeling inadequate, according to one recent survey ― “it’s not just a smear to her, it’s also a low blow to working mothers everywhere,” Melton added.
The fact that Jonas, 34, and his PR team also seem to be working overtime to cultivate his “good dad” persona ― with Jonas taking the kids out to breakfast on a busy street in LA and having insiders trumpet his parenting to the press ― only makes it worse, Melton said.
“Framing his involvement as something exceptional perpetuates a deeply flawed concept: that men are secondary contributors in domestic life, rather than equal partners,” Melton said.
Melton, a mom of one who also fosters kids, talked about how the double standard plays out in her own marriage: If she takes the kids to the park, no one pays her any mind, but if her husband does it, he’s an “amazing dad” for deigning to step away from work.
While Melton said her husband, Quinton, is indeed a great, attentive father, the implied message is that his involvement is above and beyond what’s expected. “It just exacerbates the emotional burden placed on working mothers like me,” she said.
The reality is, many industries are still set up with the expectation that fathers will work as if the children are someone else’s priority, said Sarah Spencer Northey, a marriage and family therapist in Washington, D.C. That’s true even in liberal enclaves like the nation’s capital, she added.
“For whatever reason, I think mothers have an easier time explaining parenting obligations to their employer,” she said. “So, if a dad wants to play the ‘my job needs me’ card to back away from parenting responsibilities, many industries will collude with him to do that.”
“Framing his involvement as something exceptional perpetuates a deeply flawed concept: that men are secondary contributors in domestic life, rather than equal partners.”
– Danielle Melton, working mom and the founder of MOTHERboard Society
In our inner circles, we further perpetuate the double standard in casual conversations.
Dads so rarely get asked, “Where are the kids?” by family and friends, but moms hear it almost as often as “What’s new with you?” said Riona O’Connor, an actor and mom of two boys, ages 4 and 8.
“I get that question all the time,” she told HuffPost. “My husband could be next to me putting shots up his arsehole, and it’ll be me who will be asked where the kids are and looked at as irresponsible.”
O’Connor thinks there’s one silver lining to the “bad mom” rap Turner has been getting seemingly overnight: It was refreshing to see other moms ― both stay-at-home and working moms ― rally around her. (As Glamour UK pointed out, it certainly seems like people are becoming more literate in media sexism.)
“I love how, all over the internet, the strongest feedback was from people who weren’t buying it anymore,” she said. “It was such a stale narrative that insinuates that mothers can’t ever be away from their children without them being classed as less than.”
These days, moms see through that narrative and recognize that women don’t deserve a public shaming for working or enjoying themselves in their free time, O’Connor said: “You obviously can be a good mother and work and party.”
Divorced working moms tend to deal with mom-shaming even more.
Sara Davison, a single mom and divorce coach in London, said the “bad working mom” characterization is oftentimes even more prevalent in contentious divorce cases, when parenting guilt is already sky-high.
“This issue definitely becomes more prominent during a divorce as couples will most likely be splitting time with the children,” she said. “This means that each parent spends less time with the kids, so every moment you do have them becomes more precious; parents often feel more guilty when they have to leave their kids during their time with them.”
Davison said she sees a lot of clients, moms and dads, who will prioritize being with the children on their days with their child and then throw themselves into work and partying during child-free time. It is actually a great way to get the life balance you need, Davison said ― albeit a heartbreaking one, since you don’t get to put your children to bed every night.
“But the flip side is you get time to be you ― not mom ― just you,” she said.
Still, when there are aggressive, drawn-out custody battles, this can lead to one parent vilifying the other and the kids being weaponized.
“Obviously, overhearing claims that you have a ‘bad mom’ or ‘bad dad’ can be devastating and extremely harmful to the child, which is why it’s vital to prioritize effective co-parenting at an early stage,” Davison said.
Even when there’s not a contentious custody case, the judgment for being a divorced mom with an active work and social life can be a bit much.
After her divorce, Denise Damijo said she felt shamed for traveling for work. At one point in time, she was gone 17-25 days out of the month.
“People would say things like, ‘That’s a long time to be away from your children,’ even though it was perfectly fine for my soon-to-be ex-husband to be working in a completely different state,” she told HuffPost.
Damijo said she was once told that she needed to “sit down and be a mom” and that she heard other indirect comments about needing to put her children first.
“It was stressful, to say the least, but I did it so that my children could have more and so that I could be more,” she said.
There are some takeaways for everybody from the Jonas-Turner split.
Of course, there’s only so much we know about Jonas and Turner’s separation, and when it comes to celebrities, we’re often quick to project.
“I can imagine there was a lot of pressure on their marriage trying to balance two demanding careers and raising children,” Northey, the therapist, said. “Lots of couples have trouble differentiating what the problem really is, and turn on each other when facing all these outside pressures, which may be the case with the Jonas-Turners.”
Some couples may feel powerless to change their employment situation, but it may help save their relationship if they can remember that the stress is not the other person’s fault, Northey said.
From what little is known about Turner and Jonas’ four-year marriage, Northey noticed that they seemingly made the same observation-turned-accusation about each other at different points in their relationship.
In 2020, Turner called herself a “homebody” who struggled to keep Jonas, a “social butterfly,” home with her, which is in stark contrast to reports that say her penchant for partying was partly the reason for the split.
“That is what stood out for me as something I often see in my sessions: Couples stating similar complaints about each other. They are basically complaining about the same person, not realizing that the same person is also them,” Northey said.
If that last sentence was confusing, then Northey said it did its job to convey what it’s like to be in this type of dynamic.
“Couples who are able to reconcile see the commonality, gain perspective and have compassion for each other,” she said. “But if couples keep going back and forth about who really did the thing, or who did it the most, and no one takes responsibility, that path leads to irreconcilable differences, as we seem to see here.”