For six years, Modern Family has been entertaining viewers and making history. Not only did Modern Family break records by winning five Emmys in a row for best comedy, but they've featured a wide range of family dynamics. What I love most about this show is that it doesn’t treat its characters like props or novelties. The show’s two gay characters, Mitchell Pritchett and Cameron Tucker, played by Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet respectively, are portrayed just like every other couple — complex and facing the same challenges any other character does.
Watching the show one night with my husband, I couldn’t help but notice how much I identified with Ferguson’s character Mitchell Pritchett. He always seems to be just on the cusp of letting go and letting loose, but his Type A personality usually derails those plans. The more I talked to my partner about this little revelation, the more I wondered what kind of parenting tips his character would have to offer, the more I wondered what parenting like Mitchell from Modern Family would be like.
I decided that I would take some of Mitchell Pritchett’s best (and maybe even worst) parenting moments from Modern Family and incorporate them into my own parenting style. I was curious to see if all the challenges I encountered would have the same kind of happy ending you see unfold on TV. My husband brings out my adventurous side and our child is super sassy, so we were already more than halfway to being just like the Prichett-Tuckers. I figured this experiment would be a fun way to see how we really compared.
I set the timer for a week of life like Mitchell, and here's what happened.
Day 1: How To Handle A Missing Toy
In season three of Modern Family, Cam and Mitchell accidentally lose their daughter Lily's favorite stuffed bunny on the subway. While Cameron tries to take the sensitive approach, Mitchell makes up a story about the toy having gone on a trip to visit another stuffed animal. His main motivation was to help Lily move on and learn how to deal with challenges.
I wasn't even particularly thinking about this episode, but when my son's favorite bear, Bradley, went MIA, I immediately thought of this moment. Taking a page from Mitchell's parenting book, I attempted to distract him by saying that Bradley went away for a little bit but would be back soon. Admittedly, my son seemed skeptical at first, but when I brought him a different toy and changed the subject, he actually forgot about it! Thankfully it bought me some much-needed time to finally locate Bradley (who somehow made it into the fridge).
It was definitely a relief to not have to face the issue head-on immediately, but it did make me feel a little guilty that I used this Modern Family tactic. But then I realized that if I actually found something that helped make my parenting life just a teensy weensy bit easier, then I should be ecstatic not ashamed.
Day 2: Take Some "Me Time"
Mitchell gets a bad rap for being a bit too focused on his work and responsibilities, yet even he knows it's healthy to cut loose every once in a while. It's good to take a break from the pressure of parenting and the need to always be "on." And though he may look a little straight-laced, he can have fun, too.
Recently I was getting a little hung up on juggling work and parenting, and I felt like my partner and our son could feel that. So, just like Mitchell, I uncharacteristically opted to go out for dinner and drinks at the last minute. I still couldn't completely pry myself away from work, checking my phone from time to time at the table, but it felt really nice to take a little kid-free break.
Because I really identify with Mitchell's over-achiever personality, I felt like this fictional character in some small way gave me permission to exhale for just a bit. It may sound silly to say that, but sometimes we need encouragement to step outside of our comfort zone — even if that encouragement comes from a fictional place. Unplugging allowed me to feel freer in a technology-crazed world that seeks to check-in, poke, and tag me at every turn.
Day 3: Stopping To Appreciate My Partner
Parenting is no joke. There are such huge moments of exasperation, helplessness, and exhaustion that I feel incredibly lucky to have someone there in the trenches with me. Yet Mitchell and Cameron, just like my husband and me, have fights and get frustrated with each other. But one thing I've always thought was sweet was how, at the end of the day, they really do appreciate one another. Whether it's Mitchell honoring Cam's trophies and achievements or Cam making more of an effort to remember the little things, like turning off the lights when he leaves the room, they're constantly growing and learning how to show each other they care. When you have a young child, it can be hard to be as sweet and affectionate as you once were.
So I made more of a mindful effort to outwardly express how grateful I am to my husband for sticking with me as an equal partner in both parenting and life. From remembering to take the laundry out of the dryer to surprising him with Starbucks at work, I wanted to show him I'm listening when he tells me what bugs him and that I do appreciate him and all that he does for us. He loved it, and TBH, I loved showing him in the small ways how much I care about him.
Day 4: Don't Bottle It Up
One of the personality traits Modern Family really highlights in Mitchell is his tendency to hold in his feelings. It's not necessarily that he's repressed; it's that he knows he can be a bit harsh with his criticisms and figures it might be best to stay silent. But, usually, with a little prodding from Cam, he'll eventually open up and everything gets resolved. Seems to good to be true, right? Only one way for me to find out.
The biggest thing my husband says he gets annoyed by is when he asks me what's wrong and I say "nothing." I know my feelings can come across as judgmental, so I decided that the next time I was upset, I wouldn't deny the problem — I'd address it head-on and see if I still got the TV-style happy ending. I was mad that my husband had turned down the air again after I specifically told him I was already freezing (we live in Florida). Normally I just roll my eyes and put on a hoodie, but this time we hashed it out and I got to vent (no pun intended) that it seemed his comfort level was more important than mine.
As it turns out, a 15-minute argument might temporarily suck, but getting everything out into the open is so much better than keeping things bottled up. It may not work every time, but for once, my problems really were solved in less than half an hour. We met halfway and I got to keep warm by burying my toes under his legs.
Day 5: It's OK To Break The Rules
Most of the time when Mitchell decides to get a little wild and break the rules, it's in an exaggerated or intentionally comical way. Though we didn't exactly have a cookies and wine break, I did try to channel my inner Mitchell and be cool with occasionally being a little bad. When my son became a ridiculously stubborn picky eater, I ignored my insecurities and just rolled with it. I gave him what we wanted to eat instead of what I wanted him to eat and just let things happen.
When you're a parent, it's so easy to feel like every little thing you do is either being judged by others, potentially ruining your child, or both. But when my son, who was recovering from a recent ear infection and getting his two-year molars, was refusing to eat anything except raspberries, I decided to let him. Sometimes it's not only OK to break the rules, it's absolutely necessary. If the worst thing that happened that day was that my son ate an inordinate amount of berries, then that's really not such a bad day.
Day 6: Know Your Strengths And Your Weaknesses
Remember when I said a little something about learning from both Mitchell's best and worst moments? One of his not-so-great moments came when he tried to put his foot down with Lily only to realize that she, and everyone else, weren't buying it. When Lily discovered the joy of saying a certain four-lettered word, Mitchell made an empty threat to take away all of her toys if she ever said it again. It's best not to pull stunts when trying to discipline your child.
In our house, I'm definitely not the firm one with our son. My husband is more the type to lay down the unwavering law. So when my toddler went into full-on tantrum mode and I attempted to be stern, it was a complete and utter fail. He wailed and moaned because I wouldn't let him climb and stand on the table (I know, I'm so cruel) and even I could hear the insincerity in my voice. "Hey, no. That's not OK. Hey!"
Luckily my partner came in and my son instantly changed gears and was no longer interested in the table. Lesson learned. Though it was annoying, I was glad that my partner was there to help navigate the situation. I'm not the disciplinarian, and that's OK, but I still need to let my son know what's not right and not safe.
Day 7: Have A Spa Day With Your Child
Sure, they probably thought it would just be funny to do a father-daughter spa day and give her some sassy dialogue. But it really captures something great about the dynamics of Modern Family. It's not about playing into the played-out trope of a gay man doing what some might call a feminine activity; it's more about a parent and child bonding.
As parents, sometimes trying to spend quality time with your child can be like trying to put a holiday sweater on a cat. But when you find something you mutually enjoy — or even just something they enjoy — it becomes less forced. My son loves trying on my hats and making a mess of the closet in the process. Yet I found the delight in playing dress-up with him to far surpass any stress I would have about my hats getting mistreated or the closet getting torn apart. If only I could get him into spa days, but I think he's still a little too young for that (sadly).
Does Life Imitate Art?
Yes and no. Obviously, Modern Family is a show and Mitchell Pritchett is a fictional character, yet the underlying message of stepping outside of your comfort zone, embracing your true self, and appreciating your support system is universal. I'll most likely always be a little anxious and particular, but that's OK. I'm just thankful I have a partner to remind me to loosen up from time to time and a feisty toddler who will never let me be bored.
I learned that, just like Mitchell, I have many strengths and weaknesses especially when it comes to being a partner and a parent. My Type A personality may drive some batty, but at least I know it means we'll never leave the house with a less than stocked diaper bag. But sometimes when I try to take on the world at no one's behest but my own, I realize just how much I rely on my partner, my mom and sister, my friends, my mother-in-law — my very own modern family.