Our self-help columnist Gemma Rose says they can make our life a misery, and yet so much more entertaining.
One of my favourite comedies is Modern Family, an American sitcom based around three middle-class families who are part of a larger clan. At the head of the family is Jay, a businessman in his 60s with his beautiful and half-his-age wife, Gloria and her son Manny. Then there is Jay’s daughter Claire, married to Phil, with their three kids. Finally, there’s Jay’s son Mitchell, married to Cameron, with their adopted Vietnamese child, Lily.
The show has been a big hit for many years now, partly due to its mockumentary style format (think The Office), which gives the audience a more personal, closer inspection into the functionality and dysfunctionality of these families. Another reason is that it remains true to the hilarity of having parents, namely those occasions when your parents are just really embarrassing.
There is one scene where Claire and Phil are helping their eldest daughter, Haley, unpack in her dormitory on her first day at university. Phil enters the room, Haley is not there. Upon seeing a slim, blond woman from the back, he thinks that she’s Claire. He then proceeds to caress her arse.
The woman turns out to be Haley’s roommate. Enter immediately the roommate’s father, Claire and Haley, and chaos ensues. Whilst trying to clear up the misunderstanding, Claire accidentally knocks over Haley’s handbag, with its contents spilling out onto the floor. The contents are mostly condoms, which Claire had secretly stuffed in so that Haley could have a safe but good time at University, just like her. Haley is rightfully mortified at the whole fiasco and tells her parents to leave.
Embarrassing parents are also pivotal to some of the best children’s stories. Who can forget Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾, who regularly accounts his parents’ cringe-worthy behaviour? As he astutely points out, parents ought to be “not seen or heard”. How about the many embarrassing parents in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, like Mr and Mrs Salt, who overindulge their daughter Veruca to such an extent that she becomes a monster?