“Why Netflix’s Maid made me appreciate my single mum so much more”

Written by Naomi May

Netflix’s hit series Maid has been streamed more than 67 million times in its first month on the streaming platform. One writer reflects on why its portrayal of single motherhood is so important.

My first cognisant memory of my mum is a snapshot from the first house I called a home – she was all flowing black hair and a trill of a laugh, humming to herself as she whipped up a batch of jam tarts with I, her sous chef, standing proudly in the wings. To me, she was magical and brilliant, like a sorceress unaware of the power she wielded.

These vignettes are old now, over twenty years so in fact, and I can’t be sure whether they’re my mind’s own memories or whether they’ve been coopted by other’s recollections. What I do know is that in these glimpses of my early life it was my mum and I, the two of us against the world. 

I would write scripts for two-man shows for us both to act in. I would teach her the words to my favourite duets for us both to sing. When I was four and asked to paint a portrait of my best friend at nursery, it was her inky black hair, beaming smile and twinkly eyes that I depicted.

Writer Naomi with her mum.

As is often the way though, life unfurled and our relationship changed, the same way we did, and as hormones began to course through my teenage body, our relationship became untenable. A string of broken bonds and broken hearts that never were quite pieced back together.

It was only while watching Netflix’s Maid that I saw for the first time in my adult life a snippet, a dark teaser, of the trials and tribulations of single motherhood that my mum faced. Of being entrusted with the keeping and nurturing and unconditional loving of a tiny, beating heart that is your responsibility to care for, and yours only. 

Maid tells the story of Alex, played by Margaret Qualley, a young, aspiring writer who falls pregnant in her early twenties to an abusive partner, which she eventually escapes with her three-year-old, Maddy, in tow. Her love for her child was such that despite having no job, no resources and no real family to lean upon, she left with a clear determination to provide for her child.

During the 10-episode miniseries, we see Alex fall in and out of jobs, homes and government support meetings, all with a view to paving the way to a better life with her daughter. Watching Alex shed quiet tears while rocking Maddy to sleep and trying to fight her way through a system that wasn’t truly made to support anybody, let alone mothers like her, resurfaced a sadness I haven’t felt in years, a numb but gentle drumming that only ever flares up in situations relating to my mum. 

“I live for my daughter,” Alex repeats during the series, Maddy often clutching her hand, which reminded me of the blind spots of my young memory. That the life of a single mother, much like Alex’s, was lived and felt by only my mum, who I chastised and berated as an adolescent as I basked in the glow of, and grew to envy, my friend’s two parent families. Maddy and I were there to hold hands, but were largely shielded from the drudgery of parenting on your own.

Weaved into the fabric of Alex’s life is her complicated relationship with her mother Paula, an artist who lives with undiagnosed bipolar disorder. The dynamic is one that will resonate with anybody with a flighty, flaky parent, with anyone who has ever felt like they’re the adult in their parent-child relationship. Watching the trio’s dynamic play out on screen hit a chord with me, Alex so determined to not repeat the mistakes that scarred her mother’s past.

Maid on Netflix

As tears tumbled down my face during the credits of the last episode, I thought back to the parties, parents’ evenings, school plays and sport’s days during which my mum would, like Alex, juggle her degree and her full-time job but still be there beaming by the side of the track to see me win.

There are moments I can’t take back, words and actions that I wish I could, but what I have now for the first time is appreciation. Appreciation for the strength and the sacrifices that my single mum, and Alex, and maybe yours too, have shown, all in the name of love for their child and an unwavering belief in a better life for them, for us.

As a character so pertinently reminds Alex, “I think your daughter’s lucky. That’s what I think. She’s got you.” 

Maid is streaming on Netflix now.

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