How Modern Family isn’t modern

I loved Modern Family during the first season.  It was hysterical.  TV critics said it had single-handedly saved the network sitcom, edged out by reality shows and cable television productions.  I watched it, I loved it, I rented the DVD and watched the season again.  As time has gone on I have watched it less, mostly because I don’t have time to make sure that I watch it, but also because it wasn’t as fresh after a while.  And now it is in competition with inspired shows like The New Normal, all of which have (hopefully) begun to change American’s understanding and acceptance of families that look very different from the homes of yesteryear.  Whatever that is.

But for all its breakthrough power, particularly with adoption and same-sex couples, there is a side to Modern Family that makes it seem stuck in the same pattern as the homes of yesteryear.  When I really thought about it, I don’t know why I had been so blind to it before.  Maybe because the stereotype is so commonly used in storylines that I didn’t think to question it.  I didn’t think it was so weird to see on tv.  In fact, I began to question myself and my own choices…. am I the weird one?

So what is it that pervades the lives in the Modern Family?  Divorce?  Same-sex couples?  Three generations happily living within the same school district?  Remarried older man and trophy wife?

Nope, nope, no, and nope.  It’s that each couple has a stay at home parent.  Both Claire and Gloria stay home, even though all the kids up to this point were school age (of course now Gloria has an infant).  And Cam, one half of the gay couple – and the one without a permanent career – stays home.  How is this modern?  Especially when the nation has gone through a recession that puts even more strain on families, even dual-income ones.

Maybe because I work – which means I work with parents who balance family and career daily – I don’t see this side of American life.  I didn’t go through college to start and then give up a career.  And over 60% of college students are women, and have been for the last decade or so.  So are they all dropping out of the workforce once they hit mommyhood?

Don’t get me wrong.  Given the choice, I’d much rather stay home with my little one.  But I do like working, and being useful, and using my brain.  If I were Claire Dunphy I would have hopped back in the workforce saddle the minute Luke went to pre-k.  I know people who have become stay-at-home moms and dads, but mostly because their wages were so low it wouldn’t have made sense for them to go back to work and pay for childcare.  And, most of those stay-at-home parents (both moms and dads that I know) each have some other job on the side, whether it be selling jewelry, an Etsy shop, or DJ business.  Other than Cam’s stints as a clown or drama substitute, I don’t see Gloria or Claire bringing in any kind of extra income for their broods.  So is it modern or realistic that that would be the case for any one of those suburban, middle class (one would argue upper middle class) families on that show?  I find it hard to believe, considering the cars they drive and the houses they live in.  Unless they’re up to their eyes and ears in debt.

I don’t mean to be a hater.  I thought the show was pretty quality stuff.  It just doesn’t represent my family or my choices.  It doesn’t show the heartache of going back to work and being separated from your little guy, entrusting him to the hands of strangers day in and day out.  Spending only a few hours a day with him – an hour in the morning, maybe two or three at night if you’re lucky, and you’re even more lucky if he’s awake for some of those hours.  Packing family time, home maintenance and chores, and errands like shopping into two-day weekends is just as exhausting as having to go to work every day.

But I should also be clear that I know I am fortunate to work as a choice, and not as a necessity.  And while I have moments where I’d like to be a stay-at-home mom, and I thoroughly enjoyed my three months home, I recognize my skill set as a mom.  My son is likely to be an only child.  We don’t live in a neighborhood with younger children.  His next oldest cousin is 5 years old.  I see a huge benefit in having him in day care because he is a wickedly social guy, and he gets to play with toys he doesn’t have at home, go on walks and play outside, and learn to be cared for by someone other than Mommy and Daddy.   I never felt I was missing “adult interaction” by being at home and not being at the office, but it is nice to have a place where I can solve problems, make connections, look at the wonderful students I work with and think, “How do I get my son to be just like them?”  My days home with my son are, to be super cheesy and cliche, chicken soup for my soul; my days at work are chicken soup for my brain.  Without both being cared for and nurtured, I wouldn’t feel like a whole person.  I am thankful I live in a modern enough world that I am able to satisfy both.

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