The Claire Debate: Is Claire a Bad Mother for Choosing Jamie over Bree?
When Outlander Season 3 episode 5, “Freedom and Whisky,” aired, some questioned Claire’s choice. Does choosing Jamie over her daughter make Claire a bad mother?
Diana Gabaldon says it herself in a prologue you all know well: “Disappearances happen all the time…Housewives reach the end of their tether and take the grocery money and a taxi to the station.” So many have asked the question: “How could Claire just leave Bree?” “How does a mother leave her child?”
It’s a question that cropped up in a new, more vocal way after Outlander Season 3’s episode, “Freedom and Whisky.” So we thought what better time than now—before the fabulous reunion where everyone will absolutely agree that Claire should have returned to the love of her life—to take a look at Claire’s decision. Here are two opposing viewpoints, or at least variations on the theme. Which one do you agree with?
Denise: Why I’m Okay with Claire Choosing Jamie Over Bree
Maybe it’s because I am around Claire’s age in Voyager. Maybe it’s because her daughter is so reassuring and independent. Or maybe it’s because Claire felt like she had put her life on hold for 20 years. But I can’t judge her for leaving and going back.
Now before I start my defense of Claire’s decision, let me make this point clear: I love my family so very much. Ask anyone who knows me. My children, all three of them, are my beginning and end. My grandchildren are the light of my day. I coordinate family reunions on an every other year basis. I LOVE my family and LOVE to be with them. But are there days when I wish I could run away? YES!! I think we all become so much of somebody’s wife, these kids’ mom, the PTO mom, the carpooler. Don’t you ever feel like just being you for a change? Doing something just for you. Something maybe no one else could ever understand, but it means the world to you.
So I feel the need to defend Claire here. How could she just up and leave her daughter? This debate is why/how she could leave her child, her Only. Living. Child. She lost one child already. Watching her say goodbye to Bree was heart wrenching in so many ways. BUT I get it…kind of. Would I ever do it? I don’t think I’d have the courage to, but I would possibly think about it. After all, I may have possibly inquired of my colleagues here to provide me with a new job in a new town and no forwarding address. Here’s why I feel Claire’s behavior is understandable if not totally forgivable.
Claire grew up in a transient lifestyle. She lived and moved with her Uncle Lamb. She didn’t really have roots. She mentions this throughout the story, and most specifically when talking about the vase. Then she was in the army during a war. She didn’t have a home for seven years. When finally settling down, she goes to Scotland and is tossed back to the 1700s. Guess what? No home there…except Jamie. Back in the 20th century, Claire tried to be happy. She tried to establish herself. She threw herself into her work, became a surgeon, worked long, demanding hours, yet I don’t think any of that made her feel as needed as she felt in the 18th century. That could have been a pull for her to go back.
Ian told Jamie that his losing Claire was equal to Ian or Fergus losing a limb. Do we not think the same for Claire? Do we not think that she was not whole living without Jamie? There are different loves in all of our lives, and one can not always makeup for the loss of another. They fill different parts of our hearts, minds and bodies. I feel like at different times in our lives we come to a crossroads. Claire has reached that point. She has lost her first love, no matter how tumultuous that relationship was. She loved Frank.
She is doing very well in her professional life, but I’m guessing she feels that, at times, she is more behind in 1968 in equality than she felt in the 1700s. I mean the Highlanders were a tough bunch to women but, in this story, the female has become the go-to for everything and everyone. She feels more respected in a way, more needed.
Despite her many accomplishments, in her 20th century life, Claire is empty. She sees Bree turning into a truly independent young lady. Claire may see so much of herself in Bree. She feels as if she has done everything for everyone and feeling like, in the process, has done nothing for herself. Claire is one to do as she feels. Maybe she is tired of being Mrs. Randall and Bree’s mom. Maybe she wants to find and feel that love that she lost so long ago. It doesn’t matter how much you love your children and their offspring, that love can never replace the feeling that is between a man and a woman. And the passion, the pulling, between Jamie and Claire is beyond this world.
Claire puts on the front for 20 years that everything is all right. What if…just what if…it wasn’t. And we all know it wasn’t. She had lost a part of her heart, her soul when she came back through the stones. I am sure not a day went by when she wasn’t thinking to herself, “what if?” What if I had stayed? What if Bree was born OK? What if Jamie did survive? What if…I ever get the chance to go back? Her second guessing the decision to leave must have only been exacerbated after learning that Jamie, in fact, had been alive all those years. All those wasted years.
I can tell you now that there are times when all of us second guess our life decisions. If you can’t say you regret at least one decision, I’d like to talk to you. There is always that “what if” moment. Claire is being given a second opportunity at love. She will NEVER love the way that she did with Jamie. They are like the moon and the sun in constant pull.
As for Bree, yes, she is her daughter. But as I see each of my own children grow and become adults, I realize the need for me to be there is less and less. I know that they would not want to live without being able to ask for my advice, pick up the phone, have Sunday dinners, etc., but I also know that they are at the point where, if needed, they could. I could see each of them selflessly telling me to go and do what I needed to do. They would be OK. My heart would break in two, but I could see each of them telling me they were grown up and could do this. That is selfless love. Bree is showing how she is selfless and loving toward her mom unconditionally.
In the end your children grow up, make a life for themselves and you are somewhat left alone. Maybe Claire was seeing this as her future and felt it was time to do something just for Claire.
Janet: Why I’ve Had Second Thoughts on Claire’s Choice
First I want to make this clear: I am not a perfect mother. I have made a litany of decisions that could be described as poorly conceived or just outright bad and damaging as a parent. Just ask my kids. (Interesting aside: Both Denise and I started our points of view by offering reasons why we shouldn’t be judged for having these thoughts….but that’s an essay for another time, ladies, isn’t it? Hmmm.)
And I also made the decision at one point in my life to live in another city part of each week for a job, a bifurcated life that I lived—happily—for nine years. I justified this professional and lifestyle decision by noting that our youngest child was a sophomore in high school and our oldest two children were either in college or living on their own when I started. It’s only two or three nights a week! They’re really mostly launched! And the youngest will actually have more contact with me than if I was home because he’ll be forced to talk to me on the phone each night rather than hide in his room.
My point in raising this personal story is that I get women making decisions that are best for them in their personal lives—choosing, for instance, to take a better job that will fulfill them but also might require more travel/less Mom time at home. I applaud this kind of personal realization and action generally.
But when I sat on the couch, my 32-year-old daughter beside me watching one of the maybe three Outlander episodes she’s ever watched, we both looked at each other when it was over and said, “A mother would never do that. I would never do that.”
It was the first time I had EVER had that thought regarding Claire, and I’ve read the books three times (and counting). While I have always thought it would be difficult for Claire to leave Bree behind to find Jamie, I never once thought “What the hell is she thinking? How could she do this?” Instead I cheered her gumption and added this choice to the ever-growing list of why Claire is the perfect role model and evolved woman. Not only is she sexually sure of herself and able to ask for what she wants, but she realizes that motherhood is not a reason to deny herself the love and partnership she has been missing for 20 long years any longer.
So why was my reaction so visceral when watching “Freedom & Whisky?” I’ve decided that it’s the episode—maybe even the medium of TV itself—that is the issue. While I have LOVED Outlander Season 3 so far, I think we can all agree it’s felt a bit rushed. Yes, Voyager is more linear than Drums of Autumn and therefore easier on some levels to adapt. But it is a long book with a lot of story line to cover. Choices are made each and every week (just listen to the STARZ Outlander podcast to hear more about how the writers and production team struggle). The result in this episode is that Claire’s struggle was underplayed a bit, with Bree giving permission, i.e. allaying Claire’s guilt in such a way that she made the choice to return seem easier and therefore less genuine.
Yes, they hugged goodbye and there were a few tears. But where was the ugly crying and sobbing that absolutely would have happened IRL, a point that for me hit full absurdity when Bree, after a few minutes in Roger’s arms after seeing her mother get in a cab and drive away for potentially ever, walked into the kitchen, put on the Santa hat and brought the tray of food in for what was apparently going to just be a normal evening. ON CHRISTMAS! No. Way. People.
In the book—and please, I know it’s a different medium and I do not hold Ron D. Moore and his wonderful team to the unrealistic standard that the show and book must be the same—but in this case, the difference is critical. Of course the book has more time to flesh out the angst surrounding the leave-taking. Got it. But the book also does something else that makes Claire’s decision to leave more plausible. Claire tries to sneak out of the house the day she is to go through the stones to avoid one last goodbye, a goodbye she is afraid she might ultimately not complete because leaving Bree is so difficult. When she arrives at the stones, Bree is there, dressed in faux 18th century garb. “If you don’t go back,” she says to her mother, “I’m going to go back. Jamie deserves to know about me.” Or words to that effect.
What could otherwise be seen as a selfish act by Claire is suddenly transformed into a sacrifice. She can’t let her daughter go through the stones, a trip that has been described like dying and which Bree has no idea how to navigate. No mother would do that. And so she leaps herself. And in that leap, a personal choice simultaneously becomes a sacrifice of sorts—an act that every mother everywhere can identify with. We forgive Claire, thinking perhaps of sacrifices we have made, and we cheer her choosing her self and love once again…
We’d love to hear what you think—how do you feel about Claire’s choice to leave her daughter to reunite with Jamie?