Lately, my daughter has been watching The Cosby Show. "It's hilarious!" she tells me. During one episode where Rudy broke a household appliance, Claire pulled her daughter up onto her lap and gently talked to her about what had happened. My own daughter glanced back and forth between me and the screen as if to ask me why I didn't whisper sweetly to her when she was in trouble. Rudy is six, I thought, and I did handle things that way when you were six. Besides, that mother has a script, vetted by a child psychologist. Eventually, I told her I was sorry she didn't have Cliff and Claire Huxtable for parents. She was noticeably silent.
Oddly enough, Cliff and Claire influenced me too - as did Mike and Carol Brady, Elise and Steven Keaton, Jason and Maggie Seaver and Shirley Partridge. These paragons of parenting could solve any problem, resolve any issue or untangle any dilemma in 30 minutes, minus commercials. And just in case you needed the other end of the spectrum, there was Archie Bunker, the perfect illustration of what not to do.
Who are our parenting role models now? Charlie Sheen's brother Alan on Two and a Half Men? Homer and Marge Simpson? The Desperate Housewives? Sure, these shows are funny - maybe even hilarious at times - but they provide us with plenty of Archie Bunkers and very few Cliff and Claire Huxtables.
Granted, if we are looking to television for parenting advice, we are pretty desperate indeed, but if the shows we watch are considered a reflection of the times, they are surely a reflection of how times have changed. Rob and Laura Petrie were confined to separate beds on The Dick Van Dyke Show, while twenty years later, Cliff and Claire had romantic moments that make me cringe when I watch the show with my 13 year old, but they were within the confines of a committed relationship. And above all, they communicated love and respect, not simply temptation and desire.
In the end, I'm glad my daughter has discovered Cosby, even if I'm not Clarie Huxtable.