As Seen On TV Parenting; The TV that Influences

Do you aspire to be any of the families you see on TV today? This week we're talking about the shows that influence our parenting.

As the Joni Mitchell song goes, “I really don’t know life at all.”

Parenthood has taught me, and keeps on teaching me that.

My son recently turned 5 years old, and the absolute joy of this age has been having conversations with him that reveal all of his curiosity and character.

It’s also been humbling.

He asks me many, many, many questions each day, and shares just as many observations. Many are mundane, and then suddenly, a startlingly profound one pops out of nowhere.

In these moments, I sometimes find myself scrambling to respond in any way resembling “wisely.”

Others may draw upon the examples set for them by their own families, friends, and perhaps faith, but I realized (with no small measure of embarrassment) that my first thoughts have often turned to TV.

This realization came after one particularly achingly innocent and “deep” conversation with my son recently about finding his future spouse, when all I could think of was, “I really need to go back and watch some Wonder Years reruns to figure out how to field this stuff.”

I guess I must really be a child of my latchkey TV generation, because when I think “parenting wisdom,” I immediately think Cosby, Seaver, Keaton, and Arnold.

That was pretty much the picture of parenting I tuned into on the four channels I had growing up. (Explaining so few channels to my child has hilarity all its own.)

Now as a parent, I find myself looking back to these old shows for a little inspiration, because my youthful memories of them are ones of families finding their way with no less fumbling than today, but with an absolute commitment to functioning.

Today, parenting is all over the television screen, too. But, “functional” is not a word that readily comes to mind.

I don’t know when the shift happened, but I’m pretty sure Al Bundy and the FOX network is to blame.

In their hands family dysfunction became ratings gold.

The Bundy’s were followed by The Simpsons, and later Malcolm in the Middlewhere families seemed to be bonded both because of and in spite of their dysfunction. 

America laughed—I laughed—because we all can see people and ourselves we know in those characters.

When I asked some local friends what shows today inspire them, they pointed to NBC’s Parenthood, and ABC’s Modern Family.

Interestingly, the same actor who immortalized Bundy on Married With Children, Ed O’Neill, now plays an “old school” dad finding his way through a thoroughly modern frontier of family dynamics on the audience favorite, Modern Family.

Parents like Jennifer French of Danville told me they like these shows because they identify with them.

 “The show's characters all have vulnerabilities and weaknesses that are relatable on some level to everyone,” she says of the show, Parenthood. “There isn't a 'perfect' or 'problem free' character.”

Modern Family brings out the “slapstick” of parenting, she says. She loves the way the show makes fun of “ridiculous” parenting moments, and inspires “totally been there laughter.”

Unlike in the past we also have so-called “reality” depictions of today’s parenting in the mix, but I find that the vast majority of these shows either makes you feel defensive or superior.

Had a bad day in the trenches? Flip the channel to Toddlers and Tiaras. At least you aren’t doing that to your kids.

I guess what I miss when I look back to the older shows versus today’s is someone giving me an example of what a family could look like, a family that is worth emulating.

Amidst all this so-called reality, I’d really just like something aspirational to watch as a parent.

So I guess for now, I’ll fire up the Joe Crocker tunes, and visit my old friends, the Arnolds on Netflix.

As a mom, I’ll watch characters that didn’t always get it right, but never left their audience wondering what was most important to them: their family. 


Harry Jenkins April 20, 2012 at 04:32 PM
I hope you don't look back to the Seavers as any sort of family that should be emulated. The two brothers spent an entire season torturing and teasing the sister about her weight. In fact, it was the dominant storyline for that entire season and helped propel the actress who played the sister into an anorexic period. There are even several shows where she is painfully thin (gaunt, in fact) and the two brothers are still making "fat" jokes. If my kids treated any family member with such disrespect and bullying, they would find themselves in a time out until the age of 18. I found that show to be the upper middle class version of "Married with Children". I also never understood how a child goes to bed as a baby and wakes up as a six year old. Did the writers think the audience wouldn't notice? That show about the Seavers was just goofy and uninspiring. (Although, it did have a great theme song. Whatever happened to theme songs? That's what I want my kids to learn...the theme songs from the 80s)
Harry Jenkins April 20, 2012 at 04:39 PM
Oh and by far I'd pick "Who's the Boss?" as a terrific show for some parenting insight. It showed a mother who worked outside the home (even going on to start her own company) and a dad (didn't he basically become a surrogate dad to Jonathan, even if he and Angela weren't married?) who was quite capable of raising kids and taking care of the domestic chores. He wasn't shown as being a clueless male who's been left in charge of the kids through some fluke or mistake (the image so often shown in comedy today). The show provides balanced images for both young boys and young girls, showing that people can be successful at non-traditional gender roles.
Terry Parris Jr. April 20, 2012 at 05:10 PM
Good call on "Who's the Boss?" What about some modern shows that show non-traditional families? "Modern Family"? "Two and a half men"?
Kirsten Branch April 20, 2012 at 08:53 PM
Certainly never meant to imply that shows I referenced in the post were "perfect," or as I said got it right all the time. I agree about those theme songs, they still are good!
Kirsten Branch April 20, 2012 at 09:02 PM
I watched Who's the Boss as well, and enjoyed it! As well as Charles in Charge. I also liked in the shows I talked about that women were given the ability by their partners to have careers outside the home if they wished, and I'm pretty sure every single one of them did. That impacted me as a young girl to find a partner who would do the same for me (and does). What I liked about the shows wasn't so much that they were "traditional," but that they dealt with everyday life in a family in a way that found the funny, but not primarily with an eye to lampoon family life, which seems to be what I notice when I tune in these days. Thanks for weighing in!!


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