SPOILERS! IF YOU WATCH NBC’S “PARENTHOOD” AND HAVEN’T SEEN LAST NIGHT’S EPISODE YET, DON’T READ THIS IF YOU DON’T WANNA KNOW WHAT HAPPENED.
I have just a relatively scant eight month’s experience as a parent, versus 43 years being parented. But my folks were awesome, and they imparted to me, by example and by drumming it into my little head, that it was their job to prepare me for the world, because the world was too busy to worry about preparing for me.
“Parenthood”‘s Kristina Braverman really sucks at that.
NBC’s family drama, now finishing its last season, follows the extended Braverman family and their various domestic and romantic situations, and I find most of those situations relatable, which is to say that I want to alternately hug them and pop them upside their stupid heads. Kristina (Monica Potter) triggers my popping reflex more than anyone else, both as the mom of a son with Asperger’s and as the administrator of a new charter school for kids with behavioral issues, including her son.
For the non “Parenthood” devotee, Kristina and her husband Adam (Peter Krause) have made Max so much the focus of their lives that you would be forgiven for assuming that their other two kids were kidnapped by wood sprites and being held for ransom that’s never gonna come because MAX IS HAVING A PROBLEM. And girl, Max is always having a problem, and his parents (and maybe the “Parenthood” writers) might think that his Asperger’s-related traits – he’s incredibly, sometimes uncomfortably literal, doesn’t recognize social cues or other people’s emotions and is detail-oriented to the point of being rigid – are the reason that he’s often a pain in the butt.
Nope! I am not a disability expert and I don’t meant to speak definitively about it, but I love many people with them, and know that disabilities alone don’t make you a jerk! Parents who don’t set boundaries for their kids in the name of protectiveness and letting them be their own special selves make you a jerk! And that’s what’s happened to Max. Adam and Kristina – specifically Kristina – have a good track record of explaining to their extended family (and by extension to the audience) some of the things they might expect from Max. But they’ve done a poor job of explaining to Max that even though it’s not fair and he didn’t ask to have Asperger’s, that he has to try to see things from other people’s perspective, to be responsible to other’s feelings, and that there are social expectations of him that no one who doesn’t love him is gonna think is cute.
When Max pitched a fit because he couldn’t use a printer that his aunt Sarah had rented on her own dime for an important work project at the exact time he wanted because Sarah needed it, Kristina expected her to apologize for upsetting him because she couldn’t keep to his schedule, rather than saying “Max, I know you’re disappointed and that Aunt Sarah is using the printer when you’d been told you could, but she’s the adult, it’s her rental for work, and you’re gonna have to suck it up and deal.” When they didn’t it was disappointing, because they not only disrespected a relative who didn’t have to let him use her stuff in the first place, but because that doesn’t do that boy any favors.
And last night, when Max found his crush Dylan kissing another boy, he marches into his mother and principal’s office and demands the kid be expelled. That doesn’t happen, but when Max then passes around a flier detailing the other kid’s supposed crimes still insisting on that the kid get kicked out of school, then starting a fight with hin. Kristina’s response should have been to immediately discipline him, call the other kid’s parents and had a talk about, telling him in no uncertain terms that he was wrong and that he can’t lie about other kids because they disappoint him.
But of course she didn’t, leaving Max feeling justified to escalate things by making a creepy kidnapper collage of photos of Dylan, interrupting her lunch to declare his love for her in front of her friends and refusing to stop when she asked until she blew up and told him she was never going to love him and to go the heck away.
You should have seen me – I was literally standing over the TV, just knowing that this – THIS – had to be the moment where Kristina would be forced to be a parent and a daggone administrator by, as clearly as she good, telling Max that what he did to Dylan bordered on harassment, that while owning and relating his feelings is not only important but a few breakthrough for him, that he can’t force someone to feel the same way, and that when they ask him to stop, he must. But noooooo. She hugs him (a breakthrough for the touch-averse Max) and tells him that she’s proud of his candidness, but that he’s not in trouble, at which point I yelled some non-friendly words at the TV because come on. The Bravermans operate on the assumption that Max’s issues compel him to act a certain way, but they never seem to fill in the other piece, that he, like all humans, is responsible for the way that those issues affect other people. Not telling him this is not protection. It’s setting the stage for him to one day get punched in the mouth, or worse.
Max isn’t the only Braverman family kid whose shenanigans don’t get called out nearly enough. Adam’s sister Julia and husband Joel are going through a divorce, and their daughter Sidney, already a screamer-yeller, has gone straight into bullying classmates and losing her crap all over the place. Her reaction to her family crisis is understandable, but her parents’ response is to try to explain to the parents of the girl she terrorized how hard things were for Sidney, who has just given a snotty fake apology and run to the car without accepting any real responsibility for anything.
The victim’s dad, however, wasn’t buying it, telling Julia and Joel that he didn’t really care what Sidney’s problem was, as long as they were spilling over on his kid. This is what I want to see somebody – anybody – say to Adam and Kristina, and to Max, that things being hard for you doesn’t give you the right to take them out on other people, and that if Max proposes to not live in a cave, he’s gonna have to work that out.
I guess this affects me so much because I see all around me, in the newspaper I write for, the TV I watch and in the malls of the world, the philosophy that the world is supposed to conform to everybody’s wishes – that it’s OK for kids not to say “please” or “Thank you” because they’re “shy,” or that it should be alright for kids to bump into you in the mall, or be rude to strangers, because they’re “just kids.” No, they’re not. They’re future adults, and if the people in their lives don’t impress upon them their responsibility to check themselves enough to not cause harm to others, no one is going to like them. Many people are going to want to punch them.
And it won’t be a TV show.