Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Should Society Expect More From Mothers Than Fathers?

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on August 11, 2015

Mom changes her name to Ricki, leaves her children, moves to California from Indiana, and plays in a rock band, making little money and has  little fame. Her children are deeply hurt. Her ex-husband remarries a woman who the children now consider their mom. She is called back to her adult children when one of them has an emotional crisis. The story unfolds from there. Ricki is filled with guilt and shame over her behavior and as a result is inclined to withdraw, but at the same time, she feels the pull to help out her children. Her children, both angry and grateful that she has come to help, give her painful mixed messages. Her ex-husband still seems to love her, and so he too, is filled with mixed and painful feelings. What is amazing about this movie is how Meryl Streep portrays the complicated and contradictory feelings, leaving me, the audience member, feeling as much for her, as I do for her innocent children who suffered from maternal abandonment. It is hard to “show up” for your children in ways that are meaningful, but it is even harder to do that after you have hurt them deeply. To face the damage she has done, while at the same time, attempt to repair a small piece of it, is the torment of this movie. Should Ricki never see her children again to spare herself and her children the complicated nature of hurt and forgiveness? Or, should she attempt to “mother” them despite the years and years she missed as they grew and developed into adults? These are difficult waters to navigate. The more primitive side of Ricki wants to stay away and say she has no money to see her children. The more sophisticated side of Ricki knows that where there is a will, there is a way, and so she can show up for them, in the way that she knows how to. Every parent can relate to the judgmental comment of, “how could a mother do that,” knowing the inherent gender disparity of that statement. Mothers can be hurt people who hurt their children and mothers can want to repair that. Embracing the complexity of that repair is the beauty of Meryl Streep’s acting. In the end, no one feels good, and that is not the goal. Less bad is “good enough” and after all, “good enough” is all any parent can hope for.

2 Responses to “Should Society Expect More From Mothers Than Fathers?”

  1. Shelly said

    Yes, it is true that “good enough” is all any parent can hope for, but being a parent is a choice one makes and it is life long. One can’t have children and then say, “Oh wait. I’m done. Let them bring themselves up.” Even when the kids are grown, they are still someone’s children and they deserve to have caring parents who provide them with emotional support and love no matter what. Ricki should feel guilt over what she’s done and her kids are right to be angry. Sure it’s just a movie, but having no money to see one’s kids isn’t an excuse. What about having a telephone, a computer, a piece of paper and a stamp?

    • Yes, the movie illustrates how hard repair can be. Once we fall away, how do we go back? How can she ever make it ok about what she did? She can’t, but she can try, but then that opens wounds in both herself and her children. Should those wounds be open or left to scar over? That is the question in the movie. What is moving is to witness the courage of repair. Going back, knowing that she can never get those years again, is deeply painful and yet, at the same time, deeply moving because there is still fertile soil for relationships to grow. The courage, or the psychological strength to withstand pain, is what this movie demonstrates. Most reviewers hated the movie because it was too cliche, and I see their point of view, but to me, the dramatization of how abandonment does not have to be permanent, and how connections can slowly be put together, was moving, because Meryl Streep makes you feel her pain and her courage at the same time.

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