Mrs. Doubtfire’s Divorce and A Quote to Live By
Like so many of us, I was very broken up by Robin Williams’ passing.
I resolved to honor him by watching some of his movies, and among the movies I’ve watched is Mrs. Doubtfire. I hadn’t seen it in years, but it was just as good today as it was the first time I watched it. In fact, as a divorce attorney, Mrs. Doubtfire’s divorce impacted me more than ever.
It’s such a funny movie, that I’d forgotten the underlying story. A mother (Sally Fields) files for divorce, and the Court awards custody to her and Saturday visitation to the father (played by Robin Williams). The court places conditions upon the situation pending its reconsideration of the case in 90 days; Robins character just needs to find a place to live and hold down a job.
The thing that really shook me was the father’s vehement resolve to see his kids and maintain his relationship with them. It reminded me so much of my clients who’ve gone through similar situations; these men would do anything to spend time with their children, yet are being restricted. This is heartbreaking.
And, where most clients don’t end up assuming the role of a female British housekeeper, I have no doubt they’ve considered it.
The movie made me think about the changing dynamics of American family life and structure. Women are outpacing men in education by attaining more advanced degrees. Marriages often have two parents working, and it’s not irregular to see men staying at home more and more to raise the children.
Williams was amazing in that he broke down social constructs of what it means to be a father in today’s American society. Sure, there are times when he’s stern, but his first goal is to make sure his children know he loves them.
Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve seen the scenario as an attorney or the fact that Williams is so charismatic, but by the second court scene at the end of the movie, I found myself wishing I could sit beside his character and help him. Just like Robin’s passing, it broke my heart.
I think the most profound take away from the movie comes from the last lines of the movie. In them, Williams reads a letter, as Mrs. Doubtfire, from a child whose parents separated. He goes on to discuss the nature of divorce and what it means for the children.
‘”Dear Mrs. Doubtfire, two months ago, my mom and dad decided to separate. Now they live in different houses. My brother Andrew says that we aren’t to be a family anymore. Is this true? Did I lose my family? Is there anything I can do to get my parents back together? Sincerely, Katie McCormick.’
Oh, my dear Katie. You know, some parents, when they’re angry, they get along much better when they don’t live together. They don’t fight all the time, and they can become better people, and much better mummies and daddies for you. And sometimes they get back together. And sometimes they don’t, dear. And if they don’t, don’t blame yourself. Just because they don’t love each other anymore, doesn’t mean that they don’t love you. There are all sorts of different families, Katie. Some families have one mommy, some families have one daddy, or two families. And some children live with their uncle or aunt. Some live with their grandparents, and some children live with foster parents. And some live in separate homes, in separate neighborhoods, in different areas of the country – and they may not see each other for days, or weeks, months… even years at a time. But if there’s love, dear… those are the ties that bind, and you’ll have a family in your heart, forever. All my love to you, poppet, you’re going to be all right… bye-bye.”’
Robin has left us with a legacy of his work. Mrs. Doubtfire’s divorce is one of the most important works that Robin ever did. It taught us the most important thing parents should be considering during their divorces:
For more on redefining your relationship with your ex during divorce (for your children), listen to this podcast.