As 2011 comes to a close, I’ve reviewed the lessons that TV parents taught us over the past 12 months. Some were insightful, some were delightful and others were dreadfully obvious.
Come on board into the 2011-in-review machine and catch a glimpse of the child-rearing teachings TV has offered us:
Lesson: Don’t try to ban your kid from dating someone without a really, really good reason or else you might as well send your kid an engraved invitation to sneak around behind your back.
On NBC’s Parenthood, Adam and Kristina Braverman attempted to forbid their teenage daughter Haddie from dating an older guy who had been an alcoholic and had his own apartment. At one point after Adam and Kristina threw down the gauntlet after catching Haddie sneaking around, Haddie ran away to her grandparents’ house.
Lesson: Speaking of trying to force your teenager to do something . . . yelling and attempting to literally drag your kid out of the house aren’t exactly effective techniques to get what you want, especially when the teen is embarrassed by something she did and is using the home as a refuge from her humiliation.
Such was the case with the final season of Friday Night Lights where Julie, the eldest daughter of Eric and Tami Taylor, dropped out of her first semester of college after an affair with a married teaching assistant ended disastrously. Her parents tried to get her to return to campus, but she refused, regardless of in how many different ways her father tried to make her. At the tail-end of the season, Eric and Tami found themselves trying to talk Julie out of moving to Chicago and marrying her high school sweetheart. When the series ended, Julie was living in the Windy City.
Lesson: Parents should free themselves from being slaves to their children’s insane whims. They shouldn’t be at their offsprings’ beck and call, nor should they pamper them by driving the children to school all the time, bring forgotten homework to school or always being willing to put themselves last. Take back your adulthood. It’ll make your kids more self-reliant.
It was kind of inspiring to watch The Middle’s Frankie and Mike Heck declare themselves no longer unreasonably beholden to their kids’ demands, which left the parents treated like unpaid servants. Frankie and Mike vowed to “take back” their house. They recruited other parents to their cause. Sadly, Frankie and Mike’s declaration of parental independence, Occupy the House, was short-lived.
Lesson: You try your best to give your children good lives. You feed them well, praise them, love them, hug them, offer homework help, drive them everywhere and buy them cell phones. And then what happens? When those children go to fill out their college applications, they complain that they’ve never been challenged in their lives because you’ve been such a doting parent.
The reaction that ABC’s Modern Family’s Claire Dunphy’s had to her eldest daughter’s complaints that her life has been too cushy, leaving her with no tales of woe to put on her college application, was fantastically overboard. Claire brought her daughter to the middle of nowhere, took away her kid’s phone and left her there to fend for herself so she’d have something to tell colleges about what she’s learned in her life.
Lesson: Parents should have locks on their bedroom doors.
This was another child-rearing lesson that Modern Family gave us this past year in one of the funniest episodes of television I’ve ever seen. It was called “Caught in the Act.” Yes. It’s what you think it is.
Lesson: If you are waiting for an adoption to be finalized, it’s unwise to act like a maniac, particularly in front of the social worker. Don’t lie about, say, getting fired, or suddenly being estranged from your husband with whom you planned to adopt the baby because you’ll eventually be found out and the fact that you deceived the social worker may result in the termination of the adoption.
Take it from Grey’s Anatomy’s Meredith Grey, who was crushed when the state of Washington reclaimed Zola, the baby girl she’d wanted to adopt, terminating her claim to the child: Meredith’s lies about her personal troubles and her disappearing act when the social worker wanted to see Meredith and the baby were bad ideas.
Lesson: You and your longtime spouse get separated. You have five children between you who now must split their time between you and their father. Should your estranged spouse start dating, you should avoid trying to compete with the girlfriend or attempt to be “more fun” than she is. You’re the mom, not the play pal.
Just ask Lynette Scavo from ABC’s Desperate Housewives who, when she became threatened by her estranged husband Tom’s relationship with a woman who got along really well with her kids, tried to one-up the girlfriend and put a wedge between the gal pal and her impressionable, eldest daughter. Yes, it ended in an ugly fashion.
Lesson: Say you’ve finally kicked your philandering, lying husband out of the house and, at the same time, you’re trying to make partner at your law firm while also parenting your two teenagers. Oh, and throw in a new love affair which you’re working really hard to hide from people, particularly folks at the firm because your lover is also your boss. All it takes is one disaster to throw everything out of whack if you’re not an expert juggler.
In the case of The Good Wife’s Alicia Florrick, she decided that she couldn’t have all of these things all at the same time. It took the disappearance of her daughter (who was later found, safe), when Alicia feared that her work defending criminals may have endangered her children, that prompted her to make some changes in her life. Shaken because her daughter had gone to a seedy locale for the express purpose of getting baptized – Alicia had no idea about this — Alicia decided to break up with her boyfriend (and boss) Will Gardner, and focus on family and work, no matter how lonely she was.
Lesson: Once you have kids, it’s kind of pathetic to try to pretend that you’re thoroughly hip and that you party all the time, like on a weekday night, especially if you a) have a baby who’s not yet sleeping through the night b) you’re chronically sleep-deprived and c) you have to go work early in the morning.
Chris and Reagan Brinkley from NBC’s Up All Night discovered this the hard way when they tried to pretend that they were as cool as their childless neighbors across the street. Bottom line: They weren’t.