Meredith O'Brien: Parental lessons learned from ABC's 'Lost'

Meredith O'Brien

Haven't watched ABC's hit show "Lost" and plan on catching up on episodes in the future? Be forewarned: Spoilers ahead!

It has made millions of heads ache with its mind-melting twists and turns. It has featured time travel, flashbacks, flash-forwards, flash-sideways, killer black smoke and people who can see and commune with the dead.

"Lost," the ABC drama about a mysterious island, which ends its wild six-year run this month, has provided its rabid fans with much to ponder during its tenure. While "Lost" devotees may debate its overarching story line – good vs. evil, destiny vs. free will, whether redemption is possible – one thing’s for certain: The consequences of bad parenting are long-lasting, especially in this saga.

Over the years, "Lost" has featured many stories about the damage wretched parents have exacted on their children. Most of Lost’s characters have either been victims of inept, neglectful or downright evil parents, or have done a number on their own children.

As the series draws to a close, I’ve been thinking about the parenting lessons I’ve gleaned from the show along the way. Here are a few of them:

One of Lost’s marquee bad parenting victims is a character named John Locke. John was born to a teenage mother who suffered from schizophrenia, leading to John being bounced through a series of foster homes. During his adulthood, John’s mother, who hadn’t had contact with him, sought him out, but not to exchange hugs or Christmas greetings. John’s swindler father – whom John had never met – paid her to lure their son to his door for the sole purpose of conning John into giving him a kidney. Mother and father of the year ... not.

John’s father later shoved his son through an eighth-story plate-glass window after John threatened to reveal his con artist history to a potential victim. John was rendered paralyzed, until he landed on that crazy "Lost" island and regained his ability to walk. Lesson: Don’t tick off a con artist dad while standing near a window. He could become violent.

Meanwhile, spinal surgeon Jack Shephard -- considered one of the show’s flawed heroes – remains haunted by his father’s repeated declarations that Jack didn’t have what it takes to succeed or be a leader. Jack, who feared his father as a child, spent his adult life trying to prove him wrong. One such way was to inform hospital administrators that his dad had operated on a patient while drunk. After losing his medical license, his father fled to Australia and drank himself to death, something about which Jack felt guilty.

When Jack himself became a father, his own teenage son hid the fact that he was auditioning for a spot at a music conservatory because he was afraid of not making it or failing in front of his intense father. Lesson: If you tell your kid that he can’t do something, repeatedly offer advice or become overzealous, you’re going to be blamed for being a dream-crusher and your kid’ll wind up hiding his music auditions from you.

Another child of an alcoholic father, who also emotionally and physically abused his kid, took another tack: He grew up and killed his paternal tormentor. Ben Linus, one of the show’s enduring villains, had a father who blamed Ben for killing his mother during childbirth. When his father’s life didn’t turn out the way he’d hoped after he and Ben lived on the island for years, Ben shouldered the blame, grew increasingly angry and later gassed his dad. Lesson: If you don’t treat your kids right, they’ll wind up poisoning you.

However, when "Lost" showed us what could’ve happened had Ben’s father decided not to live on that bizarre, depressing island for decades, Ben grew up to be a mild-mannered history teacher who took care of his ailing, aged father. Addendum to the previous lesson: If you’re nice to your kids, they won’t grow up to poison you. They might even change your oxygen tank when you’re old.

One of the characters -- who is called the “Man in Black” and who some believe is the devil – blames his “crazy” mother for the fact that he became a killing machine capable of transforming into lethal black smoke at will.

“She was a very disturbed woman,” the Man in Black whined. “And as a result of that, I had some growing pains, problems that I’m still trying to work my way through, problems that could have been avoided had things been different.” Lesson: Crazy mommies who don’t help their kids with their “growing pains” could wind up with children who become sinister black smoke monsters.

The most conflicted "Lost" parent was Michael Dawson who, throughout the series, always did what he thought was best for his son, Walt, even when it was morally questionable. When Walt’s mother broke up with him and moved overseas, Michael initially fought for custody, but eventually acquiesced to her, even allowed the child’s mother to marry another man and let him adopt Walt so his son could have a stable home.

However, when the mom died and Michael got custody of Walt and they wound up on the wacky island, Michael did everything he could -- including commit murder -- to protect his son. And what did Michael get in return? His son’s scorn. Walt couldn’t forgive him for what he’d done. Lesson: Sometimes, as a parent, you’re just screwed.

On that bright note, I can only hope that by the time we reach the series finale, the messages "Lost" sends about the consequences of parenting won’t be as bleak and hopeless as all of that. One thing’s for sure, I’ll have to frequently remind my kids of how nice Mommy has been to them lately so they’ll invite me to their auditions and help me change my oxygen tank when I’m old.

Columnist Meredith O’Brien blogs about parenting at the Picket Fence Post ( and about pop culture at Notes from the Asylum ( Follow her on Twitter: MeredithOBrien.