Parents Want To See Themselves Reflected In Sitcoms Just Like Everyone Else

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You don’t need the many BabyBjorns and digital imaging baby monitors to prove to you that parenting is indeed in. With pregnant celebrities flaunting their bellies and actresses snagging magazine covers to talk all about motherhood, parenting has without a doubt assumed a more central point in our culture than say during your parents’ era. A slew of recent sitcoms about parenting also reveal that the choices we make for our kids and our experiences of parenting are universal enough that they warrant entire television shows. But writer Heather Havrilesky makes the point that contemporary television illustrates parents to be nothing short or “lunatics,” incapable of caring for their kids.

The humorist writes in The New York Times that modern parents may be reacting to the central themes of 1970s television:

Instead of offering us adorable, bewildered children learning big life lessons from wise adults, we are now presented with adorable, bewildered parents learning big life lessons from bawling tots and jaded teenagers…The parents are the lunatics….It probably makes sense that those of us who grew up on the willful cheer of “The Brady Bunch” would eventually replace all of that sugary, self-assured wisdom with insecurity and abject dread. Still, it’s remarkable how parental suffering has become central, even essential, to family-themed TV. And given just how obsessed our generation is with parenting, it’s odd that we’re so bad at converting our obsession into TV that’s genuinely funny.

She cites the new series Up All Night with Christina Applegate as a prime example of the “culture of parenting” being reflected back at us on nighttime television. And despite how much today’s parents obsess over their every move, Havrilesky finds it fascinating that parents still crave to see that anxiety relived on screen:

We already spend much of our days fretting over our parenting choices, so maybe that means we don’t want to spend our nights watching better-looking versions of ourselves do the same.

Heather’s observations are all quite solid and to answer her quandary, I would add that this TV obsession with parenting doesn’t have anything to do with parents intrinsically. Another important factor is that we are increasingly becoming a culture that is obsessed with our own stories, our own vanities, and our own lives. The rise in memoirs, reality television, overnight YouTube sensations, and even social media confirms that from every angle.

It’s not all bad of course, as all of the aforementioned provide us with new platforms and perspectives from which to share and understand one another. But the reflection of ourselves and our own stories is something that we constanly look for, and television has proved to be no exception.

While I cannot account for the shift to anxious-ridden parenting culture, the longing to look into our screens and see ourselves is true for many of us.