The Middle is the funniest kind of Hollywood verisimilitude—it offers a healthy dose of reality, couched in humorous situations that have the ring of truth. The show’s working-parent characters try to present a united front as they manage careers, home life, and three quirky kids. The Middle offers a realistic look at how work flexibility factors into the life of a working-class family from varying viewpoints.
The Heck family lives in the fictional town of Orson, Indiana. The parents at the center of it all, Frankie and Mike Heck, offer a realistic look at how a working dad and a sometimes stay-at-home mom deal with career aspirations and the financial strains that come with trying to hold on to a solidly middle-class life. Mike offers a stable base for the family with his traditional job, while Frankie faces more career challenges—and comedic escapades—she’s something of a job-hopper in her efforts to find work that meets her goals, fits her family’s life style, and helps pay the bills as well.
A look at the working parents in The Middle offers an amusing look at work flexibility on TV, through the lens of a zany but lovable fictional family.
Frankie Heck: Frankie is the Heck family’s emotional and psychological compass—not to mention the one who does the laundry, cleans the house, cooks, and “keeps the trains running on time.” Frankie’s days are chock-a-block with managing multiple schedules, keeping everybody on track, and handling the day-to-day needs of her three children, Axl, Sue, and Brick. The good news? Many of her mom skills translate to job skills; even though Frankie and her family all acknowledge that housekeeping isn’t her strong suit, she still functions as the family’s center of gravity in many ways—a tribute to her skills at juggling many tasks simultaneously. With her kids all reaching their teen years, Frankie is eager to get into the job market and contribute to the family finances. She takes on a whole host of seasonal and short-term jobs, as well as longer-term positions at a dentist’s office and a car dealership.
The takeaway: Frankie’s motto is: “You do for family”—another way of saying she’s a caregiver whose priority is achieving the best balance she can between home life and everything else, included career. Frankie never finished college, but that doesn’t stop her from pursuing her career interests when life allows. At the same time, she committed to being there for her children’s school events, dealing with older families members, and doing her best to facilitate at holiday times. Fact is, her flexible jobs help with work-life balance.
Mike Heck: A stalwart family figure who works as a manager at the local limestone stone quarry, Mike has a droll, poker-faced sense of humor that plays well with his wife’s more off-beat sensibilities. From all appearances, Mike’s job has fairly steady traditional hours—but while he’s not around during the day, he is able to make time to be around for kid and family events. In a twist on “take your child to work” day, Mike takes his oldest son Axl to the quarry as punishment for skipping school, but it turns out Axl actually enjoys the work his dad does—so much so that he starts to consider it as a career for himself.
The takeaway: Mike and Frankie’s work-life arrangement provides a model that may be familiar to many working parents: one parent holds down a traditional job (which usually provides healthcare, life insurance, and other benefits), while the other works in a more nontraditional role primarily as homemaker. Sure, they’re a fictional family that’s supposed to be semi-dysfunctional (and whose family isn’t?), yet the Hecks day-to-day life offers an example of how television has shifted from the idealism of the old “Leave It to Beaver” types of TV programs, to a perhaps more grounded and up-to-date depiction of working parents and family life. Plus, we get to see work flexibility on TV in a way that invites us all to laugh.
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