Monday, July 27, 2015

Thank You TV!

"Everybody Loves Raymond" promo shot of Doris Roberts, Peter Boyle, Patricia Heaton, Ray Romano, Brad Garrett, Madylin Sweeten, Sawyer Sweeten & Sullivan Sweeten

I'm convinced that television is, on balance, a negative thing for young children and, to the degree it has become our national hobby, I bemoan it's mind-numbing, fear-mongering, couch-potato influence on adults as well. I haven't owned a TV for the past five years and the only time I miss it is when there are sporting events I'm eager to view or when something historic is happening. But as for regular programming . . . Well, there was Mister Rogers Neighborhood, perhaps the greatest single argument in favor of serial television, and we would all be poorer, I think, without Mythbusters, Bill Nye the Science Guy, or Cosmos. And then there are those magnificent comedies like M*A*S*H, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and Everybody Loves Raymond . . . 

Everybody Love Raymond? Okay, so it really doesn't belong on any list, but it was while watching this program that I had one of the most significant parenting epiphanies of my life. I was in Santa Monica, staying in a hotel while working with the good people at Kid's In The House (if you're interested in viewing all of the videos I made, click here) to shoot a series of "parenting tips" videos. Since I don't have a television at home, one of the "treats" of staying in a hotel, alone, is to imbibe in the narcotizing effects of the medium by unwinding with some mindless programming before dozing off. I was not surprised, of course, to discover that there were a 150 channels and nothing on, so I settled on sitcoms.

This particular episode (season 7, episode 15, The Disciplinarian) was about disciplining the children with punishment and as the twin boys sat out a particularly irrational one, the adults debated. As they did, they each, one-by-one, wound up confessing their own youthful indiscretions, carried out despite punishments or the threat of them. In fact, they realized, that the main things punishment had taught them was how to be sneaky in order to avoid or get around them. In the penultimate scene, Raymond says to his boys, "We know that you're going to get older and you're going to do things and we know that there's nothing we can do about it."

There were some jokes and schmaltz after that, but that confession, on a stupid sitcom, was so full of truth that it blew my mind. When Raymond's wife Debra sighs in the final wrap-up scene, "All we can do is love them and set a good example," I realized that my life as a parent had changed forever.

Ultimately, no one can control the behavior of another person. No one has ever stopped another person from doing something they really want to do short of putting them in a cage. Our children are going to rip off their tops at Mardi Gras and sneak peppermint schnapps from the liquor cabinet, and even if we stop them today or tomorrow, there will come a day when we turn our backs or they get too sneaky for us, and that day will always be sooner than we want. We might stop them today or tomorrow, but if a person, even a child, really wants to do something, they will.

I'd rather my child be honest with me, to know that we can discuss anything without histrionics, lectures, or reproach. And the way to do that is to be honest with her and to fortify her my best advice. I won't get that opportunity if I've forced her to be sneaky.

Other than that, all we can do is love them, and strive to set a good example. And we keep doing that no matter what.

Thank you TV!

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