This site is dedicated to the professional and academic work of Dr. Angela Dye.
Part III of Room: A Lesson on Parenting.
As discussed in the previous post, I was feeling some kind of way when Joy (one of the main characters in Room) was exposed in an interview as being less than perfect. Seeing her rise above her victimization, I thought her commitment to survive was heroic.
As much as I was determined during the movie to see her as a hero, I woke up the next day feeling differently. The more I thought about Joy-the-mother as opposed to Joy-the-victim, I appreciated the tough questions asked by the reporter. I realized that in my celebration of Joy’s survival, I had somehow minimized Jack’s (Joy’s son).
I am sure my change of heart was influenced by my informal research surrounding child abuse (specifically emotional abuse and neglect). In my readings, I have learned about personality disorders (affecting 10% of the population) and how those who suffer (where many go undiagnosed unless they are also experiencing a mental disorder or crisis) have distinct traits as parents. These traits can lead to long term deficits in their children leading up to a shortened lifespan (will discuss this more in Part 4).
Let me be clear. This post is not about tagging Joy with a disorder. But, it is about considering the impact on human development when children are exposed to caregivers with questionable behaviors. It is an opportunity to think about parent choices as related to the health of their adult children.
When I woke up the next day after seeing Room, my mind replayed scenes that made me question Joy’s parenting in a way that I did not do initially. I found myself thinking about the research and, with the visuals offered on the big screen, entertaining some possibilities that are not readily discussed by regular education teachers.
In reading specifically about narcissism (located in the B cluster of personality disorders), I learned that even if a parent does not officially meet the formal conditions of the disorder, having only a few traits can have a significant impact on their child’s development.
One trait of narcissistic parenting is when a parent sees the child as either a threat or a resource. While seemingly different, in that a resource is different from a threat, they have the same impact on the child’s development. When the parent sees the child in either of these two ways, they cannot commit to giving the child what he or she needs. The focus is more on what the parent needs and children often experience emotional abuse and/or neglect.
While I don’t think anyone could reasonably argue that Joy was a narcissist in the movie (and I have already clarified that this is not the intent of this post), it can be reasonably argued that Joy saw her son as a resource. Jack was not only a resource in their escape out of captivity but he was a resource in his mother’s survival.
Let me explain.
When Jack came in to the world, he gave Joy an identity. Being abducted from her home at age 17, Joy was no longer a student, a track star, a friend, or a daughter. She was a person with no existence to the outside world. She simply served as an object, a physical outlet, to her abductor who was also her rapist and her abuser. During the early years of captivity, she was reduced to nothing. Yet upon his birth, Jack restored her worth. He made her good. Because of Jack, she was a mother. When she was nothing else, a least nothing positive, she was Jack’s mom.
Jack also gave her love. In the movie, you can see a strong bond between mother and child and you can see that while malnourished and socially under-developed, emotionally he was balanced. Jack offered Joy someone to love and at the same time, Joy received love in return.
Finally, Jack gave Joy purpose. While stuck in the room, she created a routine for Jack’s learning and development. There was cleaning time. There was reading time. There was creative time. And, there was even time for physical fitness. All of this came under Joy’s direction. Starting each day knowing that the physical and social extent of her existence was limited to that room, Jack gave her a reason to live.
I believe that parenting does add value to the life of an individual and I see nothing wrong with a parent celebrating this new identity. I also believe that there is nothing wrong with a parent giving and receiving love through the act of parenting. And finally, I believe that there is nothing wrong with an individual having new found purpose as a parent.
But, I do believe that there is something wrong when that parent’s identity, need for love, and purpose for living is satisfied solely through that of a child. It is something wrong when that parent puts his/her need for worth, love, and purpose first before the needs of the child. Children aren’t born to serve their parents. Children are born to be served by their parents. When this direction of care is distorted, becoming child to parent as opposed to parent to child, then the child’s development is disturbed or disrupted.
This distortion is what the reporter revealed when she asked Joy why she did not fight for her son to be released at birth. Through Joy’s simple and pure response, that Jack had her (suggesting that he did not need the outside world), the viewers saw (whether we wanted to or not) a mother who was no longer heroic. We saw a glimpse of a mother who could not see her son as separate from her existence. Instead, she saw him as a resource to her existence. In this one moment, the reporter revealed that Joy needed Jack more than he needed her.
Through this lens, it truly was hard to hold onto Joy-the-mother as a hero.
Tomorrow, in the final installment of this series, I will consider the lifetime impact on children when parents emotionally neglect their children, seeing them more as a resource (as was possibly the case with Joy) or as a threat. Thanks for staying with me.
Click here to read Part I.
Click here to read Part II.