Sitcom Parenting 101

Millennials know that the blueprint for parenting has changed a lot from generation to generation. In the 80’s and 90’s, the parental focus was on behavior and obtaining desired outcomes (like good grades), regardless of how they achieved them. This is a stark difference to the neuroscience and development-based styles that are encouraged today. To be fair, the internet was a novelty and the latest information on raising kids were in books or on talk shows.

I believe our parents tried the best they could all things considered, but growing up with family shows like Full House and Boy Meets World made me wish I had parents that were just a little more caring and supportive. As a parent now, does that sitcom-style parenting that I looked up to still resonate?

In the beginning, family sitcoms were meant to provide entertainment that every family member could appreciate and relate to. They also reinforced the stability of the family unit and the roles within it. As the genre evolved and edged more into dramadies, they provided a sense of an alternate reality to the viewer. And no, we’re not just saying that because WandaVision is totally killing it right now…

For parents, the exaggerated caricatures brought humor to real-life scenarios. For kids, it was like comfort food; a model for a fun, balanced family life. Sitcom parents, despite their missteps, served as a moral compass and voice of reason for their TV offspring who would frequently find themselves in a pickle. Their position on uncomfortable or tough situations came from a place of love and concern, even if the delivery was tough and rough around the edges.

When Patti and I looked back, there are a few TV parents who really made an impression on us, and are still a model of how we choose to parent. Here are some of our favorite 90’s parental figures:

Carl and Harriette Winslow – Family Matters

Carl and Harriette comforted, guided, and defended their kids when dealing with racism as well as gang and gun violence; issues that its TV show peers weren’t able to touch with the honesty and sensitivity it needed. They didn’t tell them to “suck it up and deal with it” or fight battles on their kids’ behalf, but encouraged them to be resilient.

Carl, a cop, is always there for his kids. He is hard on his son Eddie with a lot of tough love. He is also seen to be protective of his daughters, Laura and Judy, at times not realizing that they are no longer little girls as they age. Harriette, a full-time working mom, is the quiet force of the family. Her role as a mother is more of an advisor to her kids and their advocate.

What is great to see between the two of them is how they will remain calm in front of their kids when facing tough situations, but will let out their emotions, discuss them, and come up with a game plan on how to move forward together.

Marshall and Janet Darling – Clarissa Explains It All

This one is kind of a sleeper since everyone obviously loves Clarissa and she paints her parents to be the strangest people on the block (I mean, Marshall did design a building that looked like a salt-shaker). Growing up, however, this weird pair were the definition of cool parents. They encouraged Clarissa’s unique style, they bought her a computer so she was one of the first teen coders on TV, and they were supportive when Clarissa wanted to push back her first year of college to take an internship in New York. Their style of free-range parenting definitely encouraged Millennial girls to embrace their quirky side and loosen the reins when it came to being parents.

Danny, Jesse, and Joey – Full House

Yeah, you can’t really escape this one. Each episode had laughter, secrets, hijinks, and hugs for everyone. Were any of these guys the perfect dad? No, but together they created a fun, cheesy family dynamic that managed to function with nine people in a fake San Francisco Postcard Row house. Through DJ, Stephanie and Michelle, these three dads tackled peer pressure, body issues, and had to find the balance between being the “cool one” and the serious parent figure. Danny, Jesse and Joey always reminded us that you’re never too old for hugs, that hard subjects are easier when we tackle them together, and that the door is always open.

Wilson – Home Improvement

To be honest, the husbands came up with this one. Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor was not our favorite, but for every episode, he would confide in his next-door neighbor Wilson. Wilson was actually the one with all the wisdom and patience to help everyone, even Jill the Mom, out of the episode conundrum. Wilson was also a true Renaissance man once you get over the weird puns. Was Wilson actually a parent? No idea.

As we reached the 2000’s, TV parents got more dimensional with full-hour family dramas and ensemble comedies. Who are your favorite surrogate TV/movie parents, live-action and animated? Share your picks in the comments.

The Rise of the Messed-Up Parent on TV (

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