While many of us have seen the movie Mrs. Doubtfire, most of us do not remember exactly what it was about besides Robin Williams dressing up in drag to impersonate a female house maid. The movie actually has some depth to it and provides plenty of lessons regarding divorce, family dynamics and human psychology.

The movie begins with Williams’ character, Daniel, getting fired from his job for failing to perform a voice-over of a parrot who smokes. This is also the day that Daniel throws his son, Chris, an extravagant party even though his wife, Miranda, is against the idea due to their son’s poor school performance. The party unfolds and is spectacularly wild with farm animals strolling about inside and outside of the house and an array of other shenanigans occurring left and right.

Their neighbor spots the debauchery and calls up the Miranda to voice her displeasure over the animals munching on her precious flowers. Miranda, the family breadwinner since Williams was fired, heads on home from work to put a stop to the party and get things back under control. This is an early but critical point in the movie where Miranda experiences an epiphany while cleaning up the party mess. She finally understands that her husband, Williams, is a child masquerading in the body of an adult. Miranda tells Daniel she desires a divorce as they have grown apart and she dislikes the person she has become in marriage.

Daniel Loses Custody Yet Still Loves His Family

Daniel, who has been fired from work and been kicked out of the house, is not awarded custody of his beloved children. This is a common issue for married men who are divorcing. They either leave the house or are “kicked out” and it counts against them in court as they are portrayed as absentee fathers who do not truly care for their family’s well-being.

Daniel is only permitted to visit his kids one time per week, and the visits must be supervised. It is an extraordinarily painful moment that so many caring fathers experience. Yet Williams cooks up a scheme to visit his kids. He pretends he is an old British nanny so that he can be with his kids throughout the week as a full-time caretaker. The movie’s plot rings true to parents everywhere. Although many go through a dramatic divorce, their love for their children does not falter.

Sometimes Chaos is Necessary

It can take a lot of work and emotional heartache to make it through a divorce. Daniel and Miranda live seemingly crazy lives before, and immediately after filing for divorce; yet the happenings after the announcement of the divorce, ramp up the drama to the next level. Once Daniel moves out, the family is thrown off kilter. This is oftentimes the nature of divorce. It is a painful experience that takes a toll on the parents as well as the kids. It is only when Daniel’s true identity is revealed that the family’s dynamic returns to a semblance of normalcy. This is the type of “re-configuring” that families must endure after parents split up. Eventually, the dust does settle and people can move on with their lives. Yet if this sensitive issue is handled with due care, the healing process can be ameliorated and the family can reclaim the equilibrium that is so important to its cohesiveness.

Divorce is Hard on the Kids as Well

While divorce is a struggle for the parents, it can be even harsher on the kids. Observe the children in Mrs. Doubtfire, and it is easy to see how kids can feel caught in the middle of parents who split up. It is painfully difficult for Lydia to see her parents not getting along; it is difficult for Natalie to see her parents fight constantly, and it is perhaps hardest on Chris, who feels responsible that his birthday party was the cause of his parents’ divorce.

Both Daniel and Miranda want custody of the kids so they try as hard as they can to prove their worth without fully realizing the negative impact that the conflict is having on the kids. Miranda is letting the courts believe that Daniel is an unfit parent in order to teach him a lesson, but the kids are also suffering. Although it is challenging, parents must take the “high road” in the midst of a separation so that the kids don’t absorb any of the negative drama involved in the separation.

People Can and Do Change

A large component of the movie’s entertainment factor exists in Daniel’s behavior as the character Mrs. Doubtfire. He naturally makes the kids laugh but also modifies his behavior to appease Miranda. He knows her inside and out and acts in the manner she long desired of Daniel before announcing her desire to divorce. Daniel reinvents himself as Mrs. Doubtfire, a skilled domestic servant with a concern for subtleties. Daniel learns to clean, sew, and how to cook from an Amish cooking show. Consider all of the factors in one’s life that could eventually cause him to change in terms of outlook, values and even personality. These are only a few of the variables that can significantly alter one’s life as well as his marriage:

  • Changes at work
  • Desire for new experiences
  • Economic fluctuations
  • The development of new friendships
  • Lost interest in past hobbies once shared with a spouse
  • A return back to school for additional education
  • A lack of money
  • Mental or physical health problems

Daniel’s remarkable transformation proves people are capable of changing but it sometimes takes a divorce to make it happen. The unfortunate truth is that people sometimes bring out the worst traits in one another when they spend an extensive amount of time together. It is a depressing fact to ponder yet it is one that everyone should be aware of.  Sometimes people grow apart after they originally meet and fall in love. This is precisely why so many divorces occur. The person that you are at 20 years of age is not necessarily the person that you will be at 40 years of age and beyond. It is time that we accepted the fact that people change across time and understand that it is not necessarily a bad thing.

Everything Transforms in Time

If you wait long enough, just about everything in life will change, and divorce is no exception. Divorce challenges people and their lives in ways they never imaged possible. Divorce can be a strenuous and emotionally draining process, especially when there are children involved. Daniel’s initial attempts to obtain custody are swiftly shot down due to his lack of employment and a place to live, without a noticeable reaction from his wife. Later on in the movie, the judge denies Daniel’s attempt to obtain custody in his third hearing. Although he has a job and suitable home, the judge is disturbed by his desperate impersonation of the family nanny, and is denied custody once again. However, by the end of the movie, Miranda admits that the kids’ quality of life was higher when “Mrs. Doubtfire” was around. It is an emotional moment that shows how people can transform across posterity. By the end of the film, Daniel and Miranda’s relationship has changed so much that she actually requests that the court remove the order barring him from contact with his children. The moral of the story is to give things time and they will likely eventually change.

The Courts Don’t Always Know What is Best

While we all like to think that courts get everything right on the first try, this is not always the case. Courts commonly get it wrong when it comes to Father’s Rights, visitation rights, child custody and other divorce matters. Mrs. Doubtfire is a testament to the problems that fathers and husbands face throughout the divorce process. When former spouses decide to split, they can turn into myopic people who are so narrowly focused on their self-interest that they forget what is best for the kids. While Miranda seems to understand that Daniel is a caring father, she continuously loses sight of the fact that he deserves to spend quality time with his children just as much as she does. Her vitriol inspires the judge to rule that Daniel should only be able to participate in court supervised visits. Although the courtroom scene was modified for entertainment purposes, the happenings are analogous to those that commonly occur in courtrooms across the country. Judges and attorneys who have just a glimpse of family life, do not have a full understanding of family dynamics to make important decisions that impact the lives of parents and children. The truth is that a judge is not always the right person to be making these critical family choices. Sometimes, a good parent can’t afford a top notch divorce attorney or he might find it difficult to prove his merit as a parent. Yet he will still make decisions from the heart when it comes to his children.

 A Happy Family Unit Can and DOES Exist With Divorced Parents

Mrs. Doubtfire proves that parents can divorce and still raise a happy family. It is a theme that really hits home when the audience sees the kids and Miranda enjoying Daniel’s new show where he is dressed as the familiar British maid, Mrs. Doubtfire. His show, “Euphegenia’s House”, becomes a hit and Miranda congratulates him on the set. It is in this scene that Miranda speaks from the heart and admits that life was better for her and the children when he was around. She tells him that she will appeal the custody ruling so that he can spend quality time with the kids.

Now here’s the really important part — although Daniel and Miranda stay divorced, he continues to spend time with the kids (undisguised and unsupervised) and they really do function as a happy family unit! Toward the end of the movie, an especially touching moment happens when Miranda is shown watching Daniel’s new show on TV. It is an episode where he fields a question posed by a little girl who is experiencing divorce in her own family. The little girl asks about how to handle her parents’ separation. Daniel appropriately responds that families in the midst of divorce often have unique arrangements and dynamics, yet love always prevails.

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