During these past months of quarantine living, we’ve been binging on past episodes of Modern Family. The show was never part of our prime-time repertoire, but we’ve certainly made up for lost time! We find ourselves watching the show numerous times a day, including from 12 a.m. to 1 a.m. in our bedroom before we go to sleep. Oops. With no alarm clocks needing to be set, COVID-19 has certainly made some late nights for us.
For those unfamiliar, the premise of the show revolves around three related families living in the Los Angeles area – one nuclear family, one step family, and one same-sex family. The patriarch, for lack of a better word, is Jay Pritchett. Jay is divorced from his first wife and is remarried to a much younger woman, Gloria. (Random thought – Jay is played by Ed O’Neill, who also played Al Bundy on Married With Children. I hated Al Bundy with a passion, but I admit to having an odd crush on Jay Pritchett!). Gloria is a Columbian immigrant who has a son, Manny, from a previous marriage. Jay and Gloria have one biological son together, Joe. Jay’s daughter Claire is married to her husband, Phil, and they have three children. Jay’s son Mitchell is married to his husband, Cam, and they have one adopted daughter, Lily, who is Vietnamese. At the very end of the last season, Mitchell and Cam also adopt a boy.
Recently, my 12-year-old daughter and I were watching one of our late-night episodes. She turned to me and asked, “What is so modern about this family?” Don’t your children always ask those stump-worthy questions when you least expect it? I asked her for a little clarification. What she meant is that modern refers to something “new,” and she didn’t understand what was “new” about the family dynamics on the show. Aren’t they just regular families?
Interesting. She’s right. I never thought about it that way. A modern approach is looked at as a departure from traditional styles or values. Therefore, a modern family is one that is a departure from traditional styles or values. Until recent years, the make-up of the families on Modern Family was unlike the majority of the families we’ve seen on television on or in the movies. Probably similar to our real-life childhoods too.
To my daughter though? Nothing phased her about the families or relationships on the show, which felt incredibly refreshing. This is the life of her generation. A family with an adopted baby of a different race was not modern. A same-sex couple wasn’t “new,” nor was it out of the ordinary. Mixed marriages are not unconventional.
Our children learn from us, which includes who and what we expose them to. Did my husband and I create a culture of acceptance? Organically, yes, and in some respects, it may be the result of what we didn’t do. We didn’t look at familial relationships that differed from ours as anything else but a fellow solid family. We recognize and celebrate diversity, but whether it’s bi-racial; same-sex; single parent; blended; divorced; unmarried couples living together; adoption; foster; etc. – family is family. What gives society the audacity to look at it in any other way?
On a side note, I’ve heard some criticism of the show for stereotyping of same-sex couples and Latina women – I wanted to recognize that, and I do understand that observation. As a viewer though, I believe the show tried to normalize social issues and promote the true acceptance of all types of families – gay marriage, divorce, blended families, adoption, second marriages, step-children, parenting later in life – and all with some hints of different ethnicities and backgrounds. Sure, it could have done better, yet I anticipate the show may have even changed some minds out there and strengthened some relationships. What is modern to our generation is just regular life for this next generation. How awesome is that?
I’m proud that my daughter didn’t look at any of this as out of the ordinary. It gives me hope that my daughter doesn’t think Modern Family is truly “modern” – not in the year 2020. It’s just life. It’s just family. The phrase of “a mother, father and 2.2 children” is no longer the picture of a typical family. And it probably hasn’t been that way for a very, very long time. If my daughter and her friends are any indication, I’m optimistic that generations to come won’t gesture at the thought of two mothers or a bi-racial marriage. Let’s keep encouraging that open-mindedness! And remember that we can learn a thing or two from them.
To my daughter, the families on Modern Family are just that. Families. If a 12-year-old can recognize that – so can you.