I've been thinking a lot about Jack and Jackie Harbaugh today. As a psychologist and the mom of two boys sharing a career path in film, I can't help but analyze the Harbaugh situation. When two of your children are literally at the top of their game, it's hardly a dilemma. However, it does pose enough parenting challenges to make you wish for their good old childhood days when everyone got a trophy.
All good parents want their adult children to win their biggest career games. The problem is, we don't expect they'll be going up against a sibling in the process. Thinking of the Harbaughs, I can now add one more neurotic thought to my parent to-do list -- "What if my boys are nominated for an Oscar in the same category, the same year?" Sure, statistically speaking it's not very likely, but that's probably what the senior Harbaughs thought last week. Today, I suspect the couple's had more neutrality discussions than the Swiss Confederation. That's because this exciting moment must be handled with strategy and kid gloves on four different fronts.
The family logistics of this incredible Super Bowl XLVII opportunity seem rather tricky. Sure, they've scored a double invite, but no action is going to please everyone. Parents are used to dealing with similar conflicts, only the scale is a little different here. Will Jack and Jackie divide and conquer like parents of multiples at the same high school open house? Dad goes to one home room/Superdome box and Mom goes to the other home room/Superdome box. Or will they stick together and switch it up at half-time?
No parent should root for one child over the other. And with millions of fans watching their expressions and film coverage that will air in perpetuity, Jack and Jackie are going to have to put on their best game faces. Only across the board cheering or flat neutral affect will do.
Wardrobe choices must also be child-neutral. Purple and red look terrible together, so going with a fluorescent lime green or hot pink might keep them in the clear.
When the game ends, the parenting issues may not. In order to avoid the "You always liked him better" conversations, Jack and Jackie might have to mute their excitement for the winning child when the losing child walks into the room. Yes, in their eyes "both boys are winners," but we know how well that phrase goes over with children and actors who don't get a prize.
On February 3rd I'll be watching these parents more than the game. I'll also be hoping my boys join forces like the Coen Brothers, so I won't be "Harbaughed" at the Golden Globes. Meanwhile, I have a few more suggestions for Jack and Jackie that might help keep a little peace in the family:
On game day, wear wigs and sunglasses and sit in the cheap seats where no one will be studying and filming every expression you make.
If John or Jim catches the game footage and calls you out on cheering for the other brother, remind them that you've been mixing up their names for decades.
Once the game ends, prepare to use many of those old parenting phrases again....
"It's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game."
"Be a good sport."
"No one likes a sore loser."
"Can't you guys just get along?"
And the most important one...
"Stop waving that ring in his face."