What's a Parent To Do?: Watch 'Modern Family' and Learn

Modern Family Portrait

'Modern Family' captures and holds my attention like few sitcoms.  Part of it is its humor.  Part of it is Phil Dunphy (so sweet, so cute).  Part of it is how they tackle current parenting issues with wit and aplomb.

My own family looks nothing like the Pritchetts.  I don't have a hot Columbian step-mother; I have a dead mother.  I don't have a sassy, gay brother-in-law; I have a mostly humorless, tense brother-in-law who really doesn't like me.  I don't have three kids that are distinctly different and yet perfectly complementary; I have a toddler son and a daughter who is buried in the earth.  I don't have a fancy home in close proximity to my father and sibling's fancy homes; I have a condo with neighbors that make too much noise. Sigh.

Sometimes real life sucks.  Perhaps if a humor writer took a hand at Mary Tyler Family, there would be less cancer, less loss, less fracture.

Whatever.  My point is that I look forward to those twenty-two minutes a week that I can suspend my own family issues and laugh with the Pritchetts.  Big belly laughs.  Full on laughs that both have me identifying with the parenting issues of the week and cringing just a bit by the bold honesty of it all.

In the past two episodes alone 'Modern Family' has covered leashes, or "child safety tethers" on young kids, aging, failing marriages and compromise, lying and cheating kids, infighting over different parenting methods, and marital jealousy.  Sounds depressing, but it's not.  It's refreshing, which is so much better.

There is an openness and bright light that 'Modern Family' brings to modern parenting that I completely appreciate.  A week or so ago a friend with a blog (hard to believe, but I have dozens of those), made what I thought was a pretty innoculous Facebook observation about seeing a toddler in a leash. Yes, a leash, not a "childhood safety tether."  She had never used one herself and wondered, innocently enough, if kids in leashes are getting enough exercise.  Well, the Internet parenting snipers reigned down on her.

Scout's honor, this gal is on of the sweetest, most rationale, and loving women I know.  Her observation was directly in line with the content of her blog (family nutrition and health) and the judgment in her words was non-existent.  The comment thread was full of vitriol, much of it geared towards her.  How dare she? was the common denominator.  How dare she ask such a question.

In modern life, judging has somehow become equivalent to stoning.

Modern Family handled this leash/tether issue with grace and humor.  Cam, the stay-at-home dad of young Lily, "a bolter," was all for it.  Mitchell, her working dad, hated it, mostly because of how it would be perceived by others.  Well, Mitchell, of course, was right -- as he was judged by family and strangers alike.  That's what I call equal opportunity judging.  When the weight of all that disapproval got to be too much, the leash came off and Lily bolted.  Of course.  What's a parent to do?

That simple question -- what's a parent to do? -- and the fact that it is asked in the first place, is why 'Modern Family' is courageous television. Truth is, there is no right answer and there is no easy answer.

In last week's episode Cam, good old, well-intentioned Cam, informed Claire, his Type A sister-in-law, that they were using a new parenting method and no longer saying "NO" to Lily.  Naughty Lily, who was a guest in Claire's home, and doing naughty, annoying, wasteful things.  In modern life, there is no such thing as the "village" that Hilary Clinton immortalized.  It no longer takes a village to raise our children, it takes tomes and tomes of parenting theory books.

These books and parenting theories work hard to answer that question of what's a parent to do?  They do it by telling us exactly, precisely, and definitively what to do.  Problem is, these parenting books are like bubblegum -- they come in a hundred and one flavors and lose that flavor quickly.  Claire and Cam, in a tense and hilarious exchange, come to blows over her not respecting his new rule.  He leaves in a huff, his parenting ego bruised, angry at Claire and no doubt embarrassed at the exposure of his new rule as bunk.

And this is where the good folks in 'Modern Family' differ from my own family.  Somehow, someway, they continue to love and respect one another in their differences.  Their individual styles and quirks and failings and parental idiosyncrasies are tolerated, and better yet, acknowledged and laughed over.

In my family, our idiosyncrasies turn into a bunch of idiots, sins, and crazies. Sigh.

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  • Hey, MTM...Always love your ways with words! My take is In some ways, "Modern Family" is this generation's version of "The Brady Bunch." For reasons beyond comprehension, it's comforting to see these zany, crazy characters that bear only slight resemblance to our families figure out their way through the stepping stones of life. It's a break from reality, and yet, teaches us some ways to deal with interesting challenges.

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    I have not see the leash episode of Modern Family. However, I do use a "leash" (lion backpack with attached strap) with my two year old son. I am not ashamed of it, and I am in a place where I don't care what other people may think! My son doesn't like to hold my hand, and he will RUN without any thought! It is absolutely for his safety and my sanity. I already have one dead child (heart and lung defects, not running away), and I don't need another being hit by a car.

    As for getting enough exercise. . . that doesn't even make much sense to me. My son walks a lot more with his leash when we go places than if we just strap him into his stroller (so again, he doesn't run away.)

  • In reply to Leisl:

    Leisl, so sorry to hear about the loss of your child.

    You MUST check out the leash episode of Modern Family -- it is called "Disneyland." Just hilarious in how they deal with such a lightning rod of a issue.

    As for my blogging pal, her question was an innocent one -- she wanted to know and learn. Asking questions, even if the answer is obvious to you, is how we learn from one another.

    Thanks for reading and commenting. MTM.

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    In reply to Mary Tyler Mom:

    I apologize . . . I didn't mean to come off as rude. That was just my reaction to that question. I might not have know the answer years ago. I was very excited when I found out leashes for kids exist! :) Thank you. I love to read your blogs/articles/columns. I will look for this episode online, too.

  • I am still laughing, a few days later, at Claire's comment: "every generation thinks they've cracked the parenting code." If I had a dollar for every parenting book I bought or borrowed, read a few pages of, and then set aside...

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    Wow, MTM, this blog is so full of important points. I'm so tired I can't write much, but it really got me thinking. I'm sorry for what you had to go through to get to where you are, but I think you are really insightful. Sometimes those of us who take our children's health, and continued existence for granted, need a reminder that every day is precious :)

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    "In modern life, judging has somehow become equivalent to stoning."

    Amen. Particularly when the judgers are annonymous internet commenters. They are a nasty, vicious bunch. I'm trying to blog and so far, my followers are all my friends who are positive and supportive and love me. But I put myself out there on a more public blog for a Mother's Day post and the people were vicious. You can't judge someone's entire life (past and present) by a 500 word post that is meant to entertain. Yikes.

    And I love Modern Family (and The Middle). Real people, real issues, and superb writing (although I think last season was better).

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    And by "real people", I mean blended families, younger second wives, kids who try their parents' patience, type A personalities (guilty as charged)....there's no Sophia in my family and since both my father and my husband's father have died, there won't be one. Unless one of my brothers or my husband's brothers trades their wives in for a more voluptious model.

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