Twice in the past year, I’ve found myself with an injury that has me resting on the couch more than I’d like. In addition to board games and stacks of books, I’ve taken advantage of streaming TV and re-watched a series that I haven’t seen since I was Rudy’s age: The Cosby Show. On more than one occasion I found myself wanting to buy the series so that I can have it on hand for easy referral whenever a parenting crisis comes up in the future.
****EVERYTHING AFTER THIS IS FULL OF SPOILERS*****
1) When in doubt, role play. Your son tells you he doesn’t need to live up to his potential because he wants to be “regular people”? Pull out the monopoly money and give him a rundown in cost-of-living. Sure, a “regular” cab driver makes $1200 a month, but once you start subtracting rent, food, clothes, etc.…an empty hand will send the message home that working harder now will have rewards in the future.
2) Don’t be afraid to school your kids’ friends. Cockroach, Kenny, Elvin…these are boys who meant well but had been led astray, frequently opening their mouths and spewing forth sexist gibberish they had learned from even less enlightened boys. Cliff and Clair never hesitated to set them straight, as in this clip from the first season:
It wasn’t the only time, but it was one of the best.
3) It’s ok to freak your kids out now and then when the lesson is really important. At one point, Vanessa was hanging out with some friends, caved to some peer pressure, and wound up losing the Alphabet Game. Despite efforts to hide her astronomical drunkenness, Cliff and Clair weren’t fooled. A day or two later they played a family round of the Alphabet game, including little Rudy. Vanessa was appalled that they were doing it in the first place, but even more so when Rudy missed her letter and had to do a shot. When Vanessa missed her own letter, she promised up, down, and sideways to never do something so stupid again, but her family insisted she do her shot…of tea. (The bonus here is they decided her drunk-sickness and subsequent hangover were punishment enough. Natural consequences ruled in the Huxtable household.)
4) Punishment should be a last resort and should fit the crime. In the seventh season, Cousin Pam decides one night that she’s going to break curfew and take her punishment only to be told that rules aren’t broken arbitrarily and that punishments are a last resort. The next season, Rudy and her two best friends decide to sneak into an underage club. After being ratted out and then chaperoned by Cousin Pam, Rudy returns home to a message from her parents letting her know that they knew everything and that since she and her friends were so keen on hanging out with older people, then they could plan to spend their next six Saturdays volunteering at the local retirement home. Lesson learned.
5) When you’re just too mad to see straight, it’s ok to send your child out of the room while you calm down. It was rare, but the kids always knew it was serious and respected the space.
6) Every single incident in your life can be handled with humor, intelligence, and respect. When Pam confesses that she’s heading out with her friends despite her curfew and she’ll just take her punishment, Cliff tosses out to Clair: “Did you tell her about the machine in the basement?” Then they have a quick chat about why the rules are there and invite her friends to stay and have some snacks and hang out.
7) Parents can be fun (and funny), but they’re mostly in charge and that’s ok. When Theo got his ear pierced without permission, Cliff asked him if he’d been tagged by the wildlife society, treated the infection, and referenced an (unseen) punishment for his rule-breaking.
8) It’s ok to be excited when you have the house to yourself. It’s even more ok to take advantage of an empty house to do things that consenting adults enjoy doing…whether that’s eating cake or heading upstairs.
9) Fill your house with love, laughter, music, family, and inspiring people. Guest stars included B.B. King, Lena Horne, and Miriam Makeba, the last of whom taught Olivia how to say both of their names in her native language and then sang with the family. They encouraged their elders to recount stories of their experiences at everything from a 1960s soda fountain during the Civil Rights Movement to World Wars and live jazz sessions.
10) Don’t be afraid to do what you need to do for you. In the final season, Cliff surprises Clair with plans for adding an office to the house (she counters by insisting they bring the kitchen up to his standards) so she will have a place of her own where she can get some peace and quiet since their children are determined to never leave their house. When it’s finished he gives her the tour: a dedicated phone line, fully sound-proofed walls, French doors to the back yard, and an alarm. She can finally work somewhere other than whichever table in the house is free without worry of interruption.
If you’ve got the streaming capabilities, I highly recommend getting your Cosby on. It’s truly appropriate for every member of the family, and the Laughter Parenting will seep into your subconscious and leak out just when you need it most.
All photos belong to the author.