A friend recently mentioned watching the original version of The Parent Trap with her kids. You know, the 1961 comedy featuring teenage Hayley Mills, playing twins Sharon and Susan, and the gorgeous Maureen O’Hara playing their mother. Haven’t seen it? Well, perhaps we’re showing our age here, but it’s very cute and lots of fun for kids (even kids these days!) with one notable exception. The divorced parents get back together in the end.
This is not exactly a new phenomenon. Tons of movies feature divorced or estranged parents who are brought together by mischievous children, hilarious circumstances or unexpected twists of fate. They suddenly remember why they fell in love all those years ago and forget why the relationship didn’t last. Enter: wedding bells round two, or at least the joyfully romantic reunion. The question we are forced to ask is: why?
We’re not asking why people get back together, we already know that while it’s rare, it does happen. What we’re wondering is why there are so many movies aimed at children and families that emphasize getting back together after a divorce. We understand that movies are about fantasies and best-case-scenario endings, but they are so very common, that it almost seems unfair to children, don’t you think?
Children whose parents get divorced, struggle terribly with the fact that their family is breaking up. They frequently have a lot of anger, self-blame, fear and anxiety to work through. After all, their family is falling apart and they have no control over the situation. Ask just about any kid whose parents are in the midst of a divorce what they want most, and they’ll tell you they want their mommy and daddy to get back together and be happy. Need visuals aids for that? Just watch All I Want For Christmas.
Think about it. Mr. Popper’s Penguins, One Fine Day, Mrs Doubtfire, the list goes on…. Movies about parents whose marriages fell apart because of careers, selfishness, affairs, you name it. In the end, they rediscover the love they have for their former spouse, and their family is beautifully healed in the process. A sweet fantasy to be sure, but not a likely reality.
Movies are not real life. They are Fiction. Fantasies. An imaginary escape from the daily grind.
Or at least, that’s what we tell ourselves. In truth, while we know that they are not real, and yet our sense of reality and expectation is often affected by what we see in films. Little girls learn a lot about what they think romance should look like from movies. This often leads to unfulfilled expectations and disappointment in real life, when their “prince charming” doesn’t continually sweep them off their feet and fill their days with candlelight and roses.
Movies mirror what we want from life, not necessarily what we can expect. No one makes movies about nice ordinary people who live nice, ordinary lives that go on to….continue living nice, ordinary lives until they die. It doesn’t sell. Movies about nice ordinary people tend to focus on how those same people go on to do incredible, extraordinary things. After all, that’s what we want. We want to be inspired. We want to laugh and cry and be shocked.
So if you are enjoying a movie night with your kids in the wake of your divorce, we recommend that you choose movies that don’t feature improbable reunited couples. While you may understand that it’s just a movie, kids haven’t yet figured out that Hollywood and Real Life are at best, distant cousins. Watching movies about divorced parents getting back together with your children after a divorce (especially if it was recent) may make the divorce harder for them. It may also plant hope in their minds where their is none, which will only lead to more pain and resentment down the road.
So until you have all healed and moved on, which may take a while, we recommend sticking to the movies that celebrate kids with single parents. The Karate Kid (the remake), Three Fugitives, The Pursuit of Happyness, About a Boy, Fly Away Home, Finding Nemo, and practically all of the early Disney films. There are tons of options available out there that portray wonderful uplifting stories of single, and in some cases remarried parents, whose children grow up loved and celebrated. Do yourself and your kids a favor – Teach them to thrive despite setbacks, and love the life you share now!