What Can We Learn From the Parenting Fails in Breaking Bad?

photo credit:  wikipedia

photo credit:  wikipedia

In order to get caught up on Breaking Bad before the season premier on August 11th, I’m on a strict viewing schedule.

My husband and I have been watching an episode a night for the last month or so. It’s a great show.

It’s also a really rough show. Violence, language, drug use—It’s not a show for the whole family.

Watching it marathon-style is giving me concentrated doses of Walter White’s. . . what to call it. . . journey? Sometimes I take a break from it with a little lighter fare, but watching it all at once is making certain themes stand out to me.

As a mother of 4 kids (who are NOT allowed to watch Breaking Bad), I’m always on the look-out for parenting triumphs — as well as fails that I can file away. I don’t want to be too spoiler-y here (after all, I haven’t watched Season 5 yet), but becoming a drug dealer to earn money for your family when you find out you’re dying of cancer is not a parenting triumph. In fact, it’s turning out to be a monumental parenting fail in the case of Walter White, chemistry teacher and father of 2.

Note to self: Don’t become a drug dealer.

But it’s more than that—which is the genius of Breaking Bad. It’s not that simple. When Walter White is diagnosed with cancer he feels desperate to provide for his family in case of his death. That is a good intention. But it’s not turning out so well. Walter White’s foray into drug-dealing may lose him his family — the whole reason he got into the drug business in the first place.

Some parenting fails are born of good intentions.

It’s a philosophical question, “Do the ends justify the means?” Breaking Bad is taking it’s time in answering it, but it seems to me that it will bear out this way: No.

Walter White decides to do something crazy wrong (read: cook up meth in his RV) in order to help his family. It’s not that hard to relate to Walter’s motivation. I think I might do anything for my kids. I hope the bounds of my morality are never tested in this context. Who’s to say what I would do? The “right thing” — I hope? But what’s the right thing? What lines are okay to cross in order to help/encourage/promote your kids? Drug dealing seems like an obvious no-no. What about being pushy with teachers and coaches? What about doing your kids’ homework?

Walter White’s involvement in the drug trade is not victimless. He is incapable of remaining unaffected by it. Again, without being too spoiler-y, you can chock up death, addiction, violence, and betrayal to Mr. White’s mad meth skills. He’s not doing his children any favors by becoming a monster in order to sock away their college tuition. When you’re so invested in helping or promoting your kid that your behavior crosses a line against better judgement, maybe it’s time to regroup and get out of the meth business. Still, Walter White’s teenage son seems to be a nice enough kid, even if his father is a drug dealer.

There are other parenting fails in Breaking Bad. Skyler, Walter White’s wife, has good intentions too. She wants to protect her kids from Walt’s crimes, but in doing so she deepens her resentment toward him and increases tension at home. Jesse Pinkman (Walter’s partner) has a couple of loving parents who are at their wits’ end in dealing with his drug addiction. They care about him so much, and yet they do everything wrong and end up pushing him away. Jane’s (Jesse’s girlfriend) dad cares too. He supports his daughter and helps her. He loves her and he seems to be a good parent. He loses his daughter anyway. In an exchange between him and Walter he explains that kids are their own people and you can’t really control them or make them do what you want.

I’m sure most parents of adult children have come to this conclusion, too. Because that’s what kids are—or at least what they become—people. People who, on their own volition, make good and bad choices that you sometimes influence and sometimes don’t.

If we could learn it sooner, and not through something heartbreaking, I think it would help us parent. But maybe going through the frustration and loss of control — and the occasional heartbreak — is what defines us as parents, even more than our actual children do. Maybe.

 

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