Fighting Ageism in the Boomer Years, “Parenthood” Style

By Michelle Seitzer / Posted on 21 November 2012

Photo courtesy of NBC.com/parenthood

About a year ago, a friend got me hooked on the NBC sitcom, Parenthood. With each new episode, I’m falling more in love and crying at least once during the hour-long show.

I’m especially excited about the storyline following the boomer parents — played by Craig T. Nelson and Bonnie Bedelia — of the four Braverman kids, all of whom seem to be in their 30s and 40s. There are eight grandkids too, ranging in age from 2 to 22, and the episode that aired on Tuesday, September 25th featured a scenario that is probably quite familiar to boomers everywhere.

What started with a happy ride home from school in Grandpa Zeek’s station wagon ended with the grandkids being picked up from the local police station by their concerned and confused parents. Grandpa Zeek had been arrested for driving with an expired license, making an illegal u-turn, and aggressively confronting the young police officer who pulled him over. *As an aside, this is not the familiar scenario to which I was referring. Hang in there…

The grandkids were fine; if anything, they enjoyed the afternoon’s adventures.

Their parents were not as thrilled, immediately jumping to their own conclusions about what went wrong and whether Dad should continue driving.

A subsequent scene shows the four siblings voicing their concerns about Zeek’s health, mostly assuming the worst. Their next step? Sit down with Dad to express these concerns directly.

Sound familiar, boomers?

The family meeting scene is brilliantly done (you can watch the full episode for free at nbc.com/parenthood; this particular segment begins about 19 minutes into the show), with all four kids talking, sometimes shouting, at once, as their Dad sat at the head of the table, head in his hands, fighting back until he could take no more. Frustrated, hurt and angry, he leaves the room. The adult children, feeling awkward and uncertain about what to say or do next, are soon confronted by their mother, who doesn’t comfort them but rather chides them. “He’s not an invalid. He’s not ready to be put out to pasture. Not even close… shame on you,” she says.

A later scene shows Zeek acing his driver’s test after he and his wife discuss how ridiculous their childrens’ reactions were to the whole situation, given how badly each of them had driven as teenagers. Their conversation is refreshing, honest, funny, and also such an accurate portrayal of the “us against them” attitude that creeps in when children feel the need to parent their parents. This attitude, and the ageism that lies beneath it, is no laughing matter though, and an issue that needs to be addressed. (The episode also did a great job of highlighting the ageism that is inherent in our society at large, not just in family units.)

While I’m not trying to accuse adult children of being ageist when they would probably defend their position as concerned, caring family members, we could all be found guilty of ageism — easily. When we’re driving on the highway and get stuck behind an older driver. When we’re waiting in line at the store and a senior is writing a check or gathering coupons. We are quick to judge, sometimes without even thinking.

However, the same goes for boomers and seniors, who at times may have negative views of younger people. To learn more about this “reverse ageism” concept, read my post on a short film that shows it in action.

Sadly, I don’t think ageism will be going away anytime soon, especially given the fact that there will be more older people than younger in the coming decades. But I am happy to see mainstream shows like Parenthood representing these issues in a realistic, relatable way. It’s a great step towards opening more dialogue about ageist attitudes, dispelling myths, and promoting a more positive view.


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