by Mary M. Swann, Associate Director, Kids First Center
If you are divorced, or a child of divorce, I strongly recommend that you see the movie “Boyhood.” A beautiful coming-of-age film charting a young boy’s life from first grade to college, this movie – which won three Golden Globe awards Sunday, including best drama – tackles some of life’s heaviest issues in a refreshingly matter-of-fact style that will leave you breathing a sigh of relief.
Why? It isn’t about how to do divorce right, or how to do it wrong. Without preaching, it simply treats divorce as a life event – one of the many events that can happen in the course of an average boy’s life – and, though it’s a powerful factor, he’s not defined by this fact alone.
Having worked for over 15 years at the Kids First Center, a Portland agency dedicated to supporting families through the painful transition of separation and divorce, I have come to appreciate the complexities of the particular brand of hurt that parents and their children experience when trusted relationships end and a household separates. I’m forever on the alert for sensitive, realistic portrayals of this all-too-common and oh-so-gut-wrenching life passage. And that’s what this film delivers.
Like so many of us, this boy has imperfect parents. Dad disappears. Mom chooses bad boyfriends. Dad is unreliable. Mom marries alcoholics. Dad starts a new family. Mom is distracted.
The kids are no picnic, either. Daughter has an “[expletive] attitude,” in Mom’s words; son experiments with drugs and alcohol.
These are the very scenarios we hear in our phone calls, classrooms and kids support groups every day at Kids First, because this is reality. We are an imperfect species, and we all make mistakes.
Here’s where “Boyhood” shines. Throughout their ups and downs, bad decisions and disappearing acts, Mom and Dad not only consistently love their kids but also protect them. They put their kids first by shielding them from the animosity that surely must exist between their parents. Two hugely important accomplishments!
It’s complicated. We want to hate Dad for not being there enough, but his children worship him, and when he is there, he’s attentive and loving and builds their self-esteem. As he matures, he improves as a parent.
We want to judge Mom for moving the kids around and marrying men who make their lives even harder. But she was left to raise two kids on her own; she’s there for them and does her best. As she matures, she makes better decisions.
Kids are resilient and kids are forgiving; they learn that everyone makes mistakes. Breakups happen. Here at Kids First, we know that it’s all about how you manage that breakup that will influence how well your kids will do.
Cooperative co-parenting (when it’s safe to do so) is essential to giving your kids the best chance to “turn out all right.” Kids suffer when their parents continually argue within earshot, share inappropriate details with them about who did what to whom, complain to friends and family about each other, cannot make plans together for them or be in the same room to celebrate their milestones.
While there are no guarantees of happiness in life, one surefire way to predict your kids’ unhappiness is by making sure they know that you can’t tolerate their other parent.
There is time to get it right. You may have made mistakes in the past – we all have. Our kids just want our attention and are eager to forgive; they don’t need you to be perfect. But they do need you to co-parent effectively. This takes practice and commitment, but it’s the closest you’ll get to a guarantee that your kids won’t be defined by your divorce.