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A TV Guide To Parenting

As a product of the 70’s and 80’s golden years of television family sitcoms, I spent countless hours in front of the family Magnavox watching how other people parent their children. The Bradys, Partridges, Cunninghams, Romanos, Keatons, and Tanners could all face some of the more typical but challenging parenting issues head on and, in the process, provide a few laughs, a resolution, and the ever present teaching moment. They made it look easy, even fun. The roles were defined, the characters kept on script, and there was always a colorful outsider like Sam, Reuben, the Fonz, Schneider, Skippy, or Uncle Jessie to bring them all back to the real world when things got too complex.

It’s easy to scoff at the unsophisticated story arch and tidy endings of these 30 minute chunks of weekly prime time or daily after school viewing, especially when compared to the “reality” shows of today that stream before us in waves of multi car pile-ups. But what’s wrong with keeping it simple? Especially when venturing into the shark infested waters of divorced parenting with as much prior experience as Fonzie had on water skis?

Good parenting starts with the basics and ends with the basics. How would the families above take on the child related issues within your pending or recently finalized divorce? A unified front developed through communication, debate, and compromise between parents before discussing the final conclusion with the children is not only effective, but crucial. Civility, levity, and a need for some finality work as well today as ever. The “to be continued episodes” should be used sparingly and only when necessary to tie multiple storylines together. Most important, just as Marsha, Richie, and even Alex P. Keaton were smart, assertive, and opinionated kids, their parents always had the final say and never gave them an equal ballot to cast at the expense of the other parent’s vote.

As a full time divorce lawyer and parent of two teens, I’m not naïve enough to really believe that all parenting problems can be solved through sitcom logic. However, most parents have something in common with the families mentioned above. Being and remaining good parents during and after divorce is just like parenting in an intact marriage, just harder. The big issues will always be there to create challenges, but nonetheless, it’s how the day to day issues and conflicts are handled between divorced parents that sets the story arc of this year’s season and on through syndication.

Judges are not Arnold at the drive-in and lawyers are not Dwayne Schneider, as much as I’d like to be some days. The best parenting comes from the collective knowledge, insight, and attributes of both parents guiding their children through their ever complex childhood. It doesn’t take sleeping in the same bed to be good parents, just ask Rob and Laura Petrie.

David C. Ainley is a Partner at Katz & Stefani.

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