Hollywood endings and the effects of divorce on children

Ever notice how Hollywood movies always end in divorce reconciliation? Two recent releases, “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” and “Stupid Crazy Love,” have this as their underlying theme. In both movies, estranged spouses reunite after they work out their differences and realize they’re still in love. No relationship problem seems too big for Hollywood to overcome. On Tuesday abcNews.com brought up an interesting conversation of the pros and cons of the fairy-tale happy ending and the effects of divorce on children.

So called “comedies of remarriage” have been around since the 1930s, but the most famous and influential is The Parent Trap (1961), which has been remade several times. Interestingly, most of these movies cater to children and perhaps reflect the growing normalcy of divorce in children’s live. The effects of divorce on children are difficult, and many often long for parents to get back together. According to psychology professor Christy Buchanan of Wakeforest University, this type of fantasy wish fulfillment can be dangerous. “It’s not unusual for kids to have fantasies of reconciliation,” she says, ”So to the extent that Hollywood perpetuates the notion that this can happen for kids who are experiencing this type of longing, that could be difficult for families.”

In other words, it creates false hope and false expectations that can make the experience of divorce even harder on children. Remarriage after divorce is extremely rare and often ends in another divorce. By focusing on nostalgia, these stories worsen the effects of divorce on children by preventing kids and families from moving on and accepting change as a potentially good thing.

At the same time, other psychologists and experts disagree. “Hollywood is about fantasy and happy endings, and the downside of disappointment is more than offset by the uplift of hope,” says psychologist and author Dr. Robert Epstein. There’s nothing wrong with a little escape into a fairy-tale ending, he argues. Children are smart, and can separate reality from fantasy.

So what’s the alternative to reconciliation fantasies? Some movies have gotten it right. “Mrs. Doubtfire” (1993), for example, shows a divorced couple negotiating their new situation and a father (Robbin Williams) making a concerted—and hilarious—effort to remain a part of his children’s lives. This more accurately reflects the possible positive outcome of a divorce situation.

Power of Two strives to prevent divorce in marriages that can be saved with a little be bit of TLC, lots of dedication, and skill building. We believe a healthy marriage is a positive and beneficial thing for everyone.  At the same time, whether or not a divorce has occurred, what’s important is to show parents treating each other respectfully and lovingly. (Best of all, treating everyone with love and respect). Movies that show couples working through their differences and setting a positive example for their children–whatever their relationship–are good! Knowing that mom and dad still like each other despite their reasons for divorce, and are happy to be part of their kids’ lives, will help lessen the negative effects of divorce on children.

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