It's rare that I see a movie that brings me to tears. It even more rare for me to sit through a movie that is over two hours long and for me to remain riveted and on the edge of my chair. That's why I was so surprised that the movie Boyhood had that effect on me. I've heard many, many stories of the struggles to raise happy and healthy kids in the most difficult of situations. I've known and worked with many resilient and gritty kids who describe having grown up in the most uncomfortable and wrong environments. So, why, I have had to ask myself, did this "coming of age" movie about Mason Jr., his sister Samantha, and their frequently single mother Olivia get to me at such a deep level?
I will tell you why. I know firsthand the pain of clawing my way out of a less than optimal childhood. I also know what it is like to raise a child as a single parent to the best of my ability despite feeling so scared and so tired. I know about the struggles of parents, children and teens from my work as a clinical psychologist and from my life as a child, teen and a mother. None of these roles are a cakewalk. And, they are particularly not a cakewalk when kids are moving frequently, getting new parents through marriage and divorce and when you are running the family show on your own.
The movie drove home some excellent points about good parenting and I'd like to underscore them for you. I would love, of course and as usual, for you to weigh in with your own unique perspectives.
1. At every point in your parenting life it is more important to love your child than it is to let them know how dreadful and disappointing your ex is/was. Trust me when I tell you that they will learn about the positive and negative qualities of their other parent on their own. It is not your role to point out the shortcomings of their other parent. Use your energy to LOVE them instead of to berate your ex.
2. Take care of yourself as a parent. Your kids are watching you. They need to see that life is worth living as an adult. It's hard for kids to be happy when their parents are sad. I remember going through my own divorce and my daughter asking me why I never smiled. I will remember that moment for the rest of my life. I smile a lot now. Life is good and there were many magical and bright moments during that period as well.
3. Be the biggest member of your child's fan club. In the movie, the mother listened carefully when her kids spoke, even when it meant that she might have her feelings hurt or that she might have to consider making some life changes. Boy, did she know how to love. I could and can relate. I am very aware that most parents can. I know that. You tell me. You've been crying and laughing in my office for almost three decades.
4. Encourage the sibling bond rather than turning the kids against each other. In the movie, Samantha and Mason had each others' backs. That is exactly what siblings should be doing for each other. Guard carefully against claiming one child for yourself and another for your ex. Please. Thank you.
5. Don't despair. Love your kids and stay attuned to them through all that life hurls in your direction. They will be grateful. They will more likely than not grow into young men and women who have developed lovely and heartwarming skills through observation and problem solving.
Keep on keeping on. It will be worth it. Trust me.