Tag Archives: guilt

What I learned from T.V. about Parenting Judgement and Guilt

Do you ever watch “Parenthood”? It is one of my favourite shows on T.V. Mostly because I wonder if they have hidden cameras in our house. The emotions and experiences of the parents, struggling to be the best parents they can be while still being human (ie. flawed), are so real. It is one of those shows on T.V. where the dialogue is so real and so moving. Even experiences I haven’t had as a parent (yet) I totally relate to their reactions and emotions.

But the last couple times I watched it, (along with some of the discussion on my “Pick em up, Put em down” post and some other posts I have read and that Erica Jong article and the reaction to it, ect. ect.), I have been thinking about the parenting archetypes the show (and other forms of media and social media) portrays.

I believe that how the media (including blogs and other forms of social media) portrays parents has a big impact on a) how we see ourselves and b) how we see (and perhaps sympathize, judge, or understand) other parents.

Probably the most common parenting (and one of the most bothersome, in my opinion) is the clueless, disengaged Dad. You know, Homer Simpson-esque? And like every Dad on a commercial where the Dad is the butt of the joke. This archtype really bothers me. Like a lot. Not that there aren’t kinda clueless Dads out there, just like there are clueless Mom’s. But it does such a disservice to all the amazing Dad’s out there to have everyone assume they are clueless, because the media tells us that all Dad’s are clueless.

On Parenthood, this archtype is played by the Grandfather of the show, and they do a really really good job of humanizing this character. It is not as offensive to me because he is so real, caring, loving and really trying to be a great father and grandfather. He knows he is flawed. He feels regret and guilt. Just like all of us do sometimes.

One of the other archetypes on the show is that of the controlling, high powered, working Mom. It is that character that often makes me shake my head and wonder- maybe I do that sometimes… hmmm…. is that what that looks like to everyone else? Again, because of how real the characters and the emotions of the show are I feel both sympathy for the characters, as well as being able to relate to them. So when they do something ‘wrong’, it causes me not to see them as the ‘other’, not to judge them or say ‘I would never do that’ (even if that is the case), but instead to use it as a lens to question my own parenting.

And along with the typically parenting archetypes; the perfect does-it-all Dad, the worried about everything slightly too involved Mom, the all fun and no seriousness Dad who needs to grow up, the Mom who is struggling to find herself, her career, her partner…; there is also a stay at home Dad– presenting a much needed perspective on something that far fewer men than women do. Showing it not only as real, but also as coming with it’s own set of challenges.

Again, I like these depiction of parenting archetypes; these characters. They are real. They are complex. They seems to cover the spectrum of how parents are portrayed in society, and makes them less like archetypes and more like real people.

I also value the archetypes they didn’t include. The ones I am not sure really exist all that much, except in the minds of those who portray them. The parenting scapegoats of society.

The lazy, disengaged, yelling, selfish Mom who never holds her child and leaves them to scream while sipping her glass of wine.

The coddling, never put their baby down till their 3, never let the kid out of a meter’s range, no boundaries or discipline, no use of the word ‘no’, martyr Mom.

If we are really honest, those two archetypes are often what is portrayed in the media and the world of social media. The two extremes on a huge spectrum with no consideration for what is in between. And I don’t even think it is intentional. It is all part of that ‘easier to make an argument when you build it against a strawmanwomen’ thing, along with our tendency to stereotype the ‘other’. It is not a coherent and coordinated attempt. But when we hear over and over again about all these mothers who let their babies scream for hours on end without batting an eye or mothers who provide no boundaries what-so-ever and spend the first 5 years always within 10 meters of their kid– well those images add up. And all the milder versions of those images make us think of the extreme– those add up too.

I get that many people feel that they have met women like that, while others feel that those parenting archtypes are a myth. There is no way to argue on that point, it is a she said/he said/she said/ he said argument. I have no idea who you know and what those people are like. I can only speak to who I know and what those people are like.

But I do believe most real people exist in the middle. And even if they don’t, they are real, complex individuals. With whom if we met and got to know for long enough; if we strove to really understand them; if we could take a peek into how they feel; the guilt and love and trying to do their best and not always doing their best and flawed human that they are; we would have sympathy, not judgment.

Yes. That is what I learned from T.V. about parenting judgment and guilt. When we catch a glimpse in the real emotions and real lives and real trials of any parenting, regardless of what category they most closely fall into, it is hard to judge. So let’s just not.

And let’s provide a space for nuance and humanity in our descriptions of parenting styles and choices we don’t agree with. Just for kicks.

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