Today, parent educator Hetti Wohlgemuth shares parenting points gleaned from the movie Away We Go:
"When I heard about Away We Go, a film about parenting, I asked my husband to join me to see the movie. Bob, a good critic, said, "I liked the movie. I liked the characters too, but I didn't see much point." I, on the other hand, thought the movie offered good acting but also heart, comedy, and romance. The New Yorker said the movie has a "ruminative" tone and I agree. After seeing the film I began to ruminate on several fine points of parenting the movie raised.
Keep expectations to a bare minimum. Others may turn out to be less helpful and less involved than we expect. In an early scene in the movie, the pregnant couple (Burt and Verona) arrives at the expectant grandparents' home for dinner. Excited talk about the baby's arrival ensues and the expectant couple feels that they need to dampen at least some of the grandparents' enthusiasm. Then, the couple learns that the grandparents are moving to Belgium a month before the baby is due. "You know this has been our lifelong dream," the new grandfather offers meekly. This message reminded me of a seminar in graduate school where we spent two hours discussing the difference between hopes and expectations. Our professor maintained that there is a huge difference between hopes and expectations and that ardent expectation may cause hurt and disappointment. So, as we raise kids, we can hope that parents, family, and friends will be there for us, but we need to apply the brakes regarding our expectations of people's involvement.
What looks like perfect parenting often isn't. In the movie, once the expectant couple finds out that Burt's parents are off to Europe, they wander North America looking for parental compatibility, parental role models, and parental bliss. After a few funny false starts, they think they find bliss and role models in Montreal. They arrive at their college friends' house and see that the exterior is impressive; inside, several children of varying ages play happy and imaginative games. However, during an evening out with the two couples, we find that the mom is full of angst and melancholy. This fictional example reflects an emotional reality: sometimes we expend way too much energy (energy we don't have a surplus of) thinking the grass is greener on the other family's lawn.
We'd like a village to help raise our children and there are footholds out there for us all. Burt and Verona search far and wide for their village. They long for a foothold and in the end learn that their stability was right there for them all along. As soon as my first child was born, I joined a mom's group and we kept meeting (without the kids) once a month at local restaurants for a dozen years. After nearly two decades of professionally facilitating new parents groups, moms continue to tell me their groups still meet, now including husbands and siblings. When my own parents moved to Florida, we joined a temple -- not because we were religious in any traditional way, but because we wanted a community. We also joined a babysitting co-op for bonding with other young families and for an occasional, essential night out. And this very website offers an incredible online community that offers advice, stories, and opportunities for events and connection. The village and the footholds we long for exist. Possibly not in the form or permutation we fantasized about, but never the less exist and in wonderful and unexpected ways.
The need to accept that uncertainty is our only definite. Ultimately Burt and Verona decide to settle at Verona's childhood home. She finds that you can go home again; it's just going to be different. Her parents have died and the home -- with a backyard that extends into the sea -- is a beautiful setting to raise a child. Finally, Burt sits on the back step and says, "This is perfect. Absolutely perfect." And Verona sits next to him and says, "I don't know if it will be. I'm just going to hope so, though." And now I'm reminded of my daughter Emmy's 27-month stint in the Peace Corps in Africa, mostly not within reach of a computer or cell phone. What got me through was putting one flip flop in front of the other, accepting the uncertainty, but believing all would be fine. It was. We need to accept our uncertainties. That's all we have...and away we go."