Artie and Diane Decker have not seen their daughter, Alice, and her family for nearly a year. They travel across the country to babysit Harper, Turner, and Barker so that Alice and her husband Phil can travel together. Diane is determined to win the love of her grandchildren, and Artie eventually warms up to the idea. However, Alice and Phil are very particular about how their children should be raised.
How is This Relevant to Adoption?
Many adoptions are completed within families. Grandparent adoptions are not uncommon. Parental Guidance isn’t about grandparent adoption, it’s just about kids being babysat by their grandparents for a week, getting used to them, and starting to love them. Still, some of the pertinent issues to grandparent adoption are present – or at least, sort of present. Artie, Diane, and the kids need to adjust to their new relationships – instead of being far-off, out-of-touch relatives, Artie and Diane are now responsible for the children. They’re stuck with the very real task of balancing their own adjustment to the kids, their desire to develop a positive-feeling relationship with the kids, and the need to provide the structure that the kids need.
Parental Guidance does have the potential to open conversations about family dynamics, which is particularly important in cases of same-family adoption, but also in regular life. Artie and Diane are scared of being judged by Phil and Alice – they feel as though Phil and Alice disapprove of them. Interestingly, Alice fears their disapproval.
Alice and Phil are super-busy. They barely have time for their children, and have no time for each other. Diane reminds Alice of the importance of her marriage.
Phil and Alice appear to raise sheltered but highly-driven children. In one scene, Alice’s daughter Harper is upset that she cannot attend a party on the eve of an audition. Harper explodes, “I hate you and I wish anyone else was my mother.” Later, Alice allows Harper to skip out on the audition, since Harper did not want to do it in the first place. Harper takes back her hateful words.
By the end of the movie, Artie and Alice are able to communicate with each other about their feelings. We are also given insight into Artie’s father, and can see that, although Artie wasn’t a perfect father, he did make improvements over his father’s parenting style. It’s quite true that some changes in family dynamics take multiple generations to accomplish. I was surprised to see something that profound alluded to in a movie that featured a song about constipation.
Artie is a piece of work. He encourages an eight-year-old to fight another boy, puts his own career in front of the safety of his youngest grandchild, and suggests that a woman is too ugly for her fiancé. Artie regularly bribes the children to behave, and also bribes them to keep secrets from their parents. Artie threatens to spank one of the children for misbehaving, and raises his hand to strike him before stopping. He explains that the he would not have struck the child, but that the threat was effective because the child did not know he would not be struck.
Some toilet humor might be offensive to some families, and Diane’s reasonably modest pole-dancing exercise routine might also be a bit much for young kids. A child is mocked for stuttering.
Questions for Discussion after the movie
What challenges would grandparents face if they had to inherit the role (or at least the function) of “parent”?
Parents typically do need to balance “fun” and “structure.” In what ways might the balancing act be more difficult for foster/adoptive parents who are parenting older kids? Is it any different if the foster/adoptive parents are also the kids’ grandparents?
Which relationships in your extended family have “cooled down” lately? Why? Which one might be helped by an open, mutual expression of feelings?
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