Mamarama: Breaking Bad ≠ Responsible Parenting

The other night I was catching up on episodes of AMC’s Breaking Bad, an Emmy-award winning television series. I’m not spoiling the fun by telling you one simple fact and what it made me think of: The middle-aged dad in the story finds out he has inoperable lung cancer. With no means to pay for his “out-of-network” treatment, and even less means to provide for his family after his death, he, as a gifted chemistry teacher, starts cooking crystal meth as a way to earn fast cash.

Watching this drama unfold made me think, “Wow…if this poor guy had just had a decent life insurance policy he’d never be in this pickle.”

“A decent life insurance policy” — magically responsible, adult words. As a parent, you are thrust into a role of responsibility and provision. We do the best we can, making sure our kids have the most current DS and iTouch device — and sure, we buy them clothes from Target and feed them some healthy food. But many parents sidestep what often becomes a burdensome and prickly subject: insuring ourselves, just in case.

I know there are some parents who got all their planning scored away the moment they saw the plus sign on the pregnancy stick. But more often I meet parents who haven’t managed to address some of the important planning that is part and parcel of being a responsible adult — and yes, a provider.

Walter White, Breaking Bad‘s main character, didn’t expect to be diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. That’s the point: no one does. Every so often, right here in Jersey City, I learn of a parent who unexpectedly succumbed to an embolism or heart failure, and I can’t help but think, “That poor family — I sure hope they had a decent life insurance policy.”

The things that are helpful to have in place once you’re a parent are not that complicated, nor are they terribly expensive. But for many parents (and I’ll throw myself in that bucket) the thought of seeing these things through can be stressful to just plain incomprehensible. I forced myself to learn this stuff and not only found it mentally digestible, but realized that it felt really good to have my planning in place.

New parents often wonder, should I have a 529 college savings plan set up? I should have life insurance, but what’s the right kind to have? What about a will? Who do I see for all this stuff?

Answering the last question first, you really shouldn’t expect yourself to figure this out on your own with a dog-earred copy of Suze Orman by your side. You should see a reputable financial advisor and let that person cater to your needs, budget, and expectations.

Let’s go back to life insurance: The thing about this, is it IS just in case. Chances are you won’t need or use a term life insurance policy (this is meant to expire after a particular time period — generally till your children are over 18). And policies differ greatly from company to company. To put this in perspective, when you purchased say, your flat screen TV, you did some research and made your selection based on quality and reputation. You didn’t buy the “QuixZar” budget flat screen television because you have no idea if it’ll fall apart in a year. So, do the same research for life insurance because the stakes are higher and it matters to your family.

As parents we are compelled to provide and protect. Sometimes, even with our best intentions, we may overlook how far the protection extends. If you are the bread-winner in your family and suddenly you perish, how would your family fare? Would the house need to be sold? Would your partner have to move in with a relative or go back to work? Would the kids have to switch schools? Who would even pick them up from school or pay for the therapy they might need upon losing a parent?

These are really tough questions, and frankly, no one LIKES to think about bad things happening to those we love, or to ourselves. It helps to sort of remove yourself emotionally from the equation. Think in the abstract, not in the concrete. Your protection extends after your life is over, and that’s a notion many of us fail to acknowledge, because it is almost too abstract to recognize. Yet it’s there and it’s a sobering fact. Our children will outlive us and what legacy will we impart, aside from some good moral fiber?

Regarding the Breaking Bad model, this isn’t just an entertaining television show with edgy drug lords and occasional chemical explosions. This is really an exposé of love and a fiercely driving sense of protection that the main character feels for his family. He will not leave his family saddled in debt and financial ruin upon his death. And in a sense, he has nothing to lose when he confronts a drug king-pin and demands payment…yet we all know he has everything to lose. As we root for him and think “that’ll never happen to me,” there is certainly satisfaction that comes with knowing that just in case something unthinkable does happens, you will have it covered.

Photo courtesy of AMC.

Jayne Freeman

is the host of the long-time public access show Mamarama as seen locally on Comcast Cable (channel 51) and on YouTube. In addition to her parenting program she is a certified childbirth educator and regularly writes about the parental experience.