What Claire Dunphy Taught Me About Parenting

Or how I came clean to my kids

What Claire Dunphy Taught Me About Parenting

I used to subscribe to the “Claire Dunphy School of Parenting.” The one she unapologetically shared in Season 2, Episode 2:

“Your kids don’t need to know who you were before you had them.They need to know who you wish you were, and they need to try tolive up to that person. They’re gonna fall short, but better they fallshort of the fake you than the real you.”

It wasn’t until I heard Claire utter these words that I realized this was exactly the approach I had taken while raising my twin daughters. It was frightening that she articulated what I didn’t even know I was doing until she looked straight at me from behind the 24-inch flat screen TV. It was 2010. My girls were just shy of their 7th birthday. Today they are quickly approaching 21.

Claire, I love you, but I’m finally exhausted from being who I wish I was as a parent, so girls, meet your mother.

It began on a crisp winter’s day in New York. A Monday. I arrived on my due date and have been on time ever since. But this much you know.

Here is what the real me wanted you to know, but the fake way in which I went about it:

1. Drugs and alcohol lead to poor decision-making: So I may have given the impression that I never did drugs or drank. Well, that’s not exactly true. Scratch that. It’s not at all true. Although I was a late bloomer—I didn’t do either until I was 18 (the legal drinking age back in the day was 18, not 21 so I wasn’t doing anything illegal. Oh wait, the drugs. Never mind.)—let’s just say this is especially not true during my junior year of college. Although I liked alcohol less, it didn’t stop me from drinking bottles of beer through a straw so I could get drunk faster. Whew! Now that that’s off my chest, I no longer have to hide my college photo albums that have lots of dopey shots of me on dope.

2. Cursing is lazy: I guess the only way to explain this one is by admitting I am one lazy bitch. Yes, even today, I see you look askew at me when adults and your peers use the “B” word, the “S” word, and the “F” word. While I still don’t advocate that they become part of your everyday vocabulary, I get it. Sometimes there is just no other way to express frustration or anger, emotions that apparently dictate my daily self-expression. In my defense, however, I’ve only used the “C” word like three times in my entire life. I have fake standards to maintain, after all.

3. “No” is a complete sentence: Although Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” to drugs campaign was a colossal failure (see #1), I still wanted you to know that “no” really was enough of an explanation for anything you didn’t want to do (and not just a response to what I didn’t want you to do.) I really, really, really didn’t want you to fall into the same trap that I did—that is, doing anything for anybody just to be accepted. Slow (and stubborn) learner that I am, it took me decades of paying a lot of consequences before I realized that every time I said “yes” when I really wanted to say “no,” I gave a piece of myself away. What you saw as an impenetrable exterior was a disguise for the skeleton I really was, a person who felt naked all the time and stripped down to her bones. Be better than I was at channeling your inner 2-year-old selves. Say ‘no’ more often.

4. Play by the rules: This is a tricky one because rules are important. They prevent chaos, right? Maybe, but I still regret that you didn’t play hooky from school in 3rd grade. Remember? I was traveling for work and your Uncle wanted to take you to the movies instead of bring you to school. Where I stumbled was behaving in a way that led you to believe that I was so rigid (which I am) that I wouldn’t want two 8-year-olds to spend the day with one of their favorite people (which I really would have) and worse, that you would get in trouble for it. Try to understand, as a single parent, I had to be more rigid, more firm, more everything. Don’t be like me. Break the rules. Play hooky from school, from work, from life—just promise me you’ll graduate, get a good job, pay your bills, vote, and take care of me when that time comes. Chaos is one thing; complete anarchy is another.

5. Be who you are: Trust me, I realize the irony of this. I had absolutely no right to say this to you during your formative years given my own failure of doing the same, hence these full disclosures. Just know that even though I fell short of what it meant to be my true self, doesn’t mean you have to. Always know you really are enough. You do you because no one else can.

So WWCDD (What Would Claire Dunphy Do) right now? She would most certainly tell you to appreciate the fake me for who I tried to be even though I fell short, but what I really think she would say is, “Be more like Phil. I wish I was.” I wish I was too.

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Elissa Einhorn
See all posts by Elissa Einhorn