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