Parenting Lessons from Full House

Today, as my timeline is flooded with people wishing their moms a “Happy Mother’s Day”, I can’t help but have mixed feelings about any celebration of motherhood (or even fatherhood, for that matter). For women of my mother’s generation and those beyond, and even for so many women in today’s times, motherhood is not considered a choice, but a milestone in life. Motherhood is something that needs to be done, otherwise, as a woman, you haven’t achieved much in life. Bollywood is definitely flooded with narratives about women being incomplete unless they are model daughters, wives and mothers. I’ve had so many instances where people don’t seem to understand that it’s okay for someone to not want children. It’s also alright if someone does not like children. Not very long ago, there was a show named How I Met Your Mother where Robin, one of the protagonists, did not want children – they were not a part of her “plan” – and I know many people, in my own circle of friends, who just could not understand how could a woman not want children? Even when Carrie and Mr. Big mentioned in Sex and The City 2 (not at all a good movie, by the way!) that they did not want children for themselves even though they liked kids, they were greeted with scorn and awkwardness. Even if you do not mean it, applauding mothers for the sacrifices they make or have made is, at a lot of levels, nothing but a patriarchal glamorization of burdening women with roles and duties she is compelled to perform.

Today, I look at Mother’s Day and choose to make it a celebration of the creator that exists in each one of us – it does not matter if you are a man or a woman, a boy or a girl, we are all creators of our own reality in more ways than we even realize. For everyone that has created and destroyed (for destroying existing structures is the first step to creating something new) aspects of themselves, their environment, societal constructs, and the world, at large, Happy Mother’s Day! The nurturance and love that you have for yourself is the fuel that runs your world! Make today a celebration of that! For mothers who became mothers because they loved children, for mothers who chose to abort or had a miscarriage, for mothers who are single, not married, or did not wish to become mothers and still did, Happy Mother’s Day! For all mothers who struggle  and feel they aren’t good enough as mothers, we all know what struggling feels like; Happy Mother’s Day to you too! And today, let us look at some beautiful lessons we can learn to make mothering, or parenting, easier not from conventional mothers, but from three very unconventional men, Danny, Jesse and Joey, from Full House who, in their own, unique ways parented three girls (DJ, Stephanie and Michelle) after their mother passed over.

Full House was a show that originally aired between 1987 and 1995. I was barely six years old when the show ended, but I got a chance to watch its reruns on Netflix recently, and to be honest, I was very, very impressed. At first glance, the show did seem to be quite dated (I mean it has Beach Boys, weird acid-washed jeans, and that hairstyle of the cool Uncle Jesse would be the opposite of cool today!), yet the characters were so wholesome, so warm that it did sustain my attention, and I must say that some of the themes that were depicted and the way they were handled holds relevant even today – and despite the sensitivity and the delicate ways in which complex issues are showcased, the show still ticks the boxes for humour. One can be funny and, at the same time, thoughtful – comedy, these days, needs to relearn this lesson!

Decades before Modern Family, it was Full House that portrayed one of the first non-traditional families on television. Full House had a father, an uncle, and the father’s best friend living together to raise three girls. A house with three adult men (and no constant female presence until Jesse’s future wife moved in many seasons later) doing all household chores like cooking, cleaning, even diaper-changing  is rare even today. Full House even handled issues like body image, drunk driving, smoking and other issues that emerge in adolescence with ease and in such a heartfelt manner that at no point did it feel like a moral science class being shoved down the throat.

Some of my favourite episodes not ranked in any order are:

  • Stephanie’s classmate confides in her and talks about getting physically assaulted by his father and forces her to promise that she won’t share it with anyone. Stephanie struggles keeping that secret and ultimately confides in Uncle Jesse who reports the abuse. It’s depicted so beautifully and really encourages children to speak up if they suspect abuse. In a world that often tells children to be seen, not heard, this episode particularly brought to light how silence is not always golden (S06E17).
  • DJ starts crash dieting and excessively exercising because she feels she needs to look prettier for her friend’s pool party, and this is a practice, almost everyone can relate with, because we live in a world that constantly makes us feel insecure about our bodies and the way we look. For a show that old, depicting aspects of eating disorders like bulimia nervosa, and actually enabling healthier discussions around body positivity, is a big win (S04E08).
  • Stephanie starts clinging to Danny after an earthquake hits the town and, despite his initial resistance, Danny takes her to a professional therapist to help her work on her issues. Seeking help from a mental health professional is something considered taboo even today as the stigma against mental illness is still strong in our community (S03E11). I know many parents even today who shy away from seeking professional help for their children because of the biases and prejudices that exist against therapy. Danny’s journey from denial that Stephanie doesn’t need help to him taking her for that session makes for a beautiful episode.
  • Michelle and Aunt Becky build a race-car, and Michelle gets upset about being a girl when a boy in her neighbourhood tells her that she cannot win because she is a girl. Danny steps in and makes her realize that there is no “boy” or “girl” thing and she can build and drive cars just like her Uncle Joey can do ballet (S07E20). We need such shows that break gender stereotypes even today!  

Danny, Jesse and Joey are definitely on the list of fabulous “mothers” ever depicted on television! We are all mothers in our own ways – mothers come in all shapes, sizes, ages, and genders! Here’s wishing all the unconventional mothers out there, who mother themselves and others, at different points in time, Happy Mother’s Day!

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