In honor of Halloween, today I present to you the model family: The Addams Family.
Sure, they’re creepy and they’re kooky, but I submit that the Addamses are the most functional family in TV history and a role model for families everywhere.
NB: For this argument, I am using only the original series starring John Astin and Carolyn Jones and the movies starring Raul Julia and Anjelica Huston.
Morticia and Gomez’s Love Affair
Morticia and Gomez Addams are, without a doubt, relationship goals. They’re so in love they don’t even notice other people. In a time when TV couples were still relegated to twin beds, Carolyn Jones and John Astin decided that Tish and Gomez should have a “grand romance”. Although still bound by 1960s censorship – the kisses were almost entirely confined to Tish’s arms – they managed to imply a passionate, fiery marriage that clearly included an incredible sex life. Gomez even gives her a nightgown so sheer and lacy that Morticia mistakes it for a bat net! In the more permissive 1990s, Huston and Julia continued the passion with even more (and more blatant) innuendo, even adding a layer of kink to their very obvious sexual relationship.
This says something really important about Gomez and Morticia, namely that after 13 years of marriage (Morticia’s Romance, Part 1, 1965) and two children (three in the movies), they are still madly in love and their relationship outside of being parents is fabulous, thank you very much! Where so many sitcoms and movies are built on jokes about sex ending after marriage or after kids, playing on the fact that a married couple loses their passion in the face of everyday drudgery, Tish and Gomez offer us another option: to maintain the relationship that gave rise to the family in the first place, to keep up that love and passion in spite of parental obligations, day-to-day stress, and plain old familiarity breeding contempt. That’s a fairy tale we should all believe in!
Gomez and Morticia are the backbone of the family and the groundwork upon which the rest of the family is built. The next level is the extended family living in the house.
Uncle Fester was Morticia’s uncle in the series and Gomez’s brother in the movies. Either way, he is always shown as the bachelor uncle who is frequently little more than another child. Even in the 21st century, it’s rare for a married couple with children to allow a developmentally delayed adult relative to live in their home. But for the Addamses it’s not even a question; Uncle Fester is family, so he belongs with them. Nobody considers Fester a burden; he’s treated with respect, and everyone is very concerned with his happiness. He plays with the kids, teaching them about dynamite and wounds, he backs up Gomez in all his schemes, he generally takes great joy in being part of his own family, and in return, they take joy in him. Much of Fester’s story involves looking for love, on both the large and small screen, and in all cases, Tish and Gomez are supportive and encouraging, whether the object of his affection is the new nanny or one of his many penpals.
Grandmama (or simply MaMa) was Gomez’s mother on tv and Morticia’s mother in the movies. Again, it makes little difference to the character, as she is consistently shown to be helpful around the house and a good counselor for the family. And it hardly matters whose mother she is, because how many spouses of either gender would allow their mother-in-law to live with them? Not only is this arrangement somehow completely frictionless, but Grandmama has an honored place in the family as the wise elder. She teaches the children until they go to school, and she can be counted on to have some potion, powder, or spell appropriate to any problem. The rest of the family respect and appreciate her skills, from love dust and fortune-telling to cooking and diagnosing suddenly-golden-haired infants.
Servants Are Family, Too
A wealthy family like the Addams naturally has a staff, but they’re such loving people that they don’t draw distinctions between the family and “the help”.
Lurch is the Addams’ butler, but he’s as much a member of the family as anyone else. When they find that he’s lied to his mother about his position (spoiler alert for a 50-year-old show), Tish and Gomez play servants to Lurch while his mother visits. They encourage his music career, despite the hordes of groupies on their lawn. The whole family tries to teach Lurch to dance for the Butler’s Ball, and they build him a new harpsichord after his is destroyed. There are families that don’t treat blood relatives that well.
Then, of course, there’s Thing. Thing is part pet, part servant, and…well, he’s their Thing. Despite being a sentient disembodied hand, Thing is also a cherished member of the family. As Morticia sings, “it’s so nice to have a Thing around the house”. He brings in the mail, he always pops up when anyone needs a bit of help, from outing a hidden Lurch to offering a pair of scissors to helping to rescue Morticia and then Fester from their respective villains. When Thing appears to have been hand-napped (more 50-year-old spoilers), the household is turned upside down by the loss until he returns. Sure, any family would be upset at losing a pet, but how many would pay ransom in diamonds for the family dog?
Gratitude and Generosity
One of the outstanding features of the Addams Family tv series is the repetition of two words over and over in every episode. No, not “You rang?” – I mean, yes, of course, that’s there in each episode, but I’m talking about “thank you”. Watch a few episodes of that show and count every time someone says “thank you”. It would make a great drinking game. “Thank you, Thing”, “Thank you, Lurch”, “Thank you, darling”, and on and on.
It seems to stem from Morticia, who thanks pretty much everyone in her orbit at every opportunity. Everyone thanks each other quite a bit, but Morticia is the most consistent about it, and it appears that she sets the tone for the rest of the family, especially because Wednesday and Pugsley both mirror her, right down to her phrasing. Gomez also thanks people often, but his phrasing tends to be variations of “thanks, old man”, and such. Fester and Grandmama are frequently heard thanking Thing or each other, and even Lurch is occasionally heard to say “thank you”. This family thrives on showing appreciation for each other, making every family member feel valued, and it pays off in their lack of resentment, limited quarrels, and quick forgiveness.
I challenge all of us to do this in our own lives. Just try it for a week – say “thank you” to everyone in your family at every opportunity – and see how that affects your relationships and your feelings toward the rest of your family.
While Morticia leads the family in gratitude, Gomez leads them in generosity. He gives away money and stocks without a second thought. In an early episode, Gomez mistakes a pair of bank robbers for trick-or-treaters, but (half-century-old spoilers again) upon seeing their bags full of money instead of candy, he immediately gives them stacks of cash and an apology for being cheap! He buys insurance from his neighbor just because he thinks it’s a nice thing to do, he hires a professional stage director for Wednesday’s birthday play, and generally spares no expense to help people with their dreams and projects.
If we could all cultivate Gomez’s attitude of “it’s only money” and give what we can to others for no reason other than that we can, what might happen? Would our generosity spur the same generosity in others, and spread like ripples in a pond? The holiday season is coming up, and everyone gets a bit more generous at that time of year. Maybe try keeping that up past New Year’s and see if you notice any changes in your world.
Loving, Respectful Parenting
Gomez and Morticia love their children almost as much as they love each other and they raise Wednesday and Pugsley in accordance with their family’s values. They take family outings to go bat hunting, encourage Pugsley’s inventions (tv) and Wednesday’s fascination with electric chairs and guillotines (movies), and use discipline very sparingly.
The Addams children are raised with an absolute certainty that they are just fine the way they are and their parents will always support them. When little Wednesday comes home from her first day at school sobbing about a fairy tale in which a dragon was killed, her parents immediately go up against the school for exposing their child to such terrible filth. On Halloween, when a neighbor traumatizes Wednesday by telling her witches don’t actually exist, again Tish and Gomez go to bat for her (pun not intended, but I like it, so it stays).
Pugsley wasn’t so easily traumatized in the series, but he did give his parents an awful fright once when he went through a “normal” phase. Gomez was horrified and Morticia was heartsick, both wondering where they had gone wrong, but on the advice of a psychiatrist, they supported and encouraged Pugsley in his aberrant behavior in the hopes that he would grow out of it.
You’ve probably already drawn the parallel between that episode of Pugsley becoming a Boy Scout and the kids going to summer camp in Addams Family Values. Leaving aside the fact that it was based on a lie, let’s focus on what happened from Tish and Gomez’s perspective. As far as they knew, Wednesday and Pugsley desperately wanted to have this “normal” experience that went against everything they had tried to instill in their children. They were shocked and appalled but it was what their kids wanted, so they made sure it happened. In the scene where they drop the kids off at camp, it’s obvious that Gomez and Morticia aren’t happy about it, but they’re trying very hard to be supportive.
Think about your parents or your own children. Would it be easy to accept your children becoming the complete opposite of what you raised them to be? If you’re religious and your child became an atheist or vice versa, if your child grew to hold political ideas totally opposed to your own, could you support them? Have you been supported by your parents in spite of diverging from the way you were raised? Even in 2018, many LGBTQ kids are thrown out and abandoned by their families just for their orientation, so I think that Morticia and Gomez’s example of not only tolerance but unconditional love and support for their children is a great model for everyone to emulate.
Manners and Acceptance
Another way Morticia leads the family is in her impeccable manners as hostess. While perhaps she doesn’t read other people so well, she makes every effort to make her guests comfortable in her home, offering the “good chair” and cups of henbane or tea with “lemon, cream, or…saccharine” (the last dispensed from her poison ring, naturally). When the Ladies’ League question if her gardening techniques would work for daisies, Morticia is obviously disgusted but covers with a very polite “I wouldn’t know, I’ve never raised…daisies.”
In the later movies, this is mostly compressed into Morticia’s interactions with Margaret Alford, (spoiler alert for a 27-year-old movie) later Margaret Addams, and the phony Dr. Pinder-Schloss. Tish wants Margaret to be comfortable and enjoy herself in the Addams home, and she is warm and welcoming to Dr. Pinder-Schloss when she brings Fester back after his long absence. There’s a great payoff with Margaret at the end of the movie when she becomes really at home with the Addamses and seems much happier for it.
This idea of being gracious and trying to make guests comfortable expands into the general Addams theme of acceptance. Anyone they run into is accepted just as they are, regardless of how “normal” or “weird” they are (which is which depends on one’s perspective in this context). On tv, the entire Addams family embraced a beatnik who was hated by his father and Tish and Gomez were quite fond of “that nice Mr. Hilliard” who first forced the children into school and later ran for local office. In the movies, this is best illustrated by Debbie Jellinsky. When she arrives, they welcome her as one of their own (see that bit about the help being family), despite her being such an overly normal person. Gomez and Morticia are supportive of Fester marrying her, and if it hadn’t been for her tearing the family apart, she would have made a great addition to the Addams clan.** Even at the end, (25-year-old spoilers) when she’s giving her villainous monologue to the tied-up family, they acknowledge her feelings and motivations and validate her right up until she tries to electrocute them. Talk about turning the other cheek.
It’s worth noting that in the movies, Wednesday and Pugsley are decidedly not so widely accepting. Wednesday, in particular, gave some of the best sass to various blonde normies. But the point was made that Wednesday and Pugsley embraced the outcasts at camp: the nerdy Joel Glicker and the other non-blonde, non-white, or generally non-conforming kids who were also cast as native Americans in the pageant. So I can accept that maybe Morticia’s extraordinary tolerance is something they will come to as they mature.
In the Addamses, we find a family that appreciates each member for who and what they are, extends the definition of “family” to include everyone they are close to, practices continual gratitude and generosity among themselves and those they interact with, shows constant love and affection, supports and encourages each member no matter what choices they make, accepts people as they are without judgment, and welcomes all comers into their home. They rarely have problems among themselves, and when they do it’s mostly based on misunderstanding and is easily resolved and quickly forgiven. This is the most functional, well-adjusted, neurosis-free family I’ve ever seen, and I believe that everyone would like to be part of a family like that.
I’m not the first to make this assertion. John Astin (who is still living at the time of this writing) says that at the time of the tv series psychiatrists wrote articles much like this one, extolling the health of this family’s dynamic. He also claims to have called Gomez and Morticia “the best-adjusted couple on television” in a promo. Check out his take on Morticia and Gomez’s relationship here and the full interview here. You will not be disappointed.
**Debbie Jellinsky is also the object of Morticia’s greatest shade:
“You have married Fester, you have destroyed his spirit, you have taken him from us. All that I could forgive. But Debbie…”
Bits like that are why I want to be Morticia Addams when I grow up!