Spoiled Children of Divorce

She’s Under His Spell

Just remembered one of my favorite movies from childhood, Dr. Seuss’ 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.  As a kid I mostly paid attention to the part of the story about how the young boy hates practising his piano lessons and I didn’t really pay attention to the fact the boy in the story is living in a single parent household and the terrors associated with that situation.  Don’t know if piano teachers are as scary now as they were when I was a kid.  But, I do remember being reduced to tears by one of mine. He  had crusty old eyes and a double nose and would beat the piano with a baton and would yell at me when I proved to him that I was indeed rhythm-less and tone deaf.

In the movie, the boy falls asleep while at the keyboard, bored by the grotesque music he has to repeat over and over and terrified because his widowed Mother doesn’t understand how awful his piano teacher is. While dreaming  he is held prisoner by the maestro and he is forced to play an enormous 500 child piano along with 499 other captured boys.  The piano teacher has cast a spell on his Mother and is holding her as his  zombie bride to be.  The boy gets help from the plumber to suck the noise out of the big performance and releases everyone from their torture.  In the end the Mother sort of gets a date with the nice plumber and the boy is free from having to practice.

This movie shows the total fear and horror of having to deal with a single parent who falls in love with the wrong person.  In the movie, the Mother becomes a spineless zombie who  doesn’t recognize her own child in order to please the evil tyrant.  Because the child fights the evil influence off he prevails.  So, maybe this is a bit of a disruptive influence for most children of single parents who aren’t supposed to have opinions about their parents’ bad romance choices (kind of weird when a divorced person jumps right back into another bad relationship but that’s probably more common than not).

Over and over again I used to wonder what the Hell my Father was doing with my Step-Mother.  It was clear that her motivations for being with him were not real pure.  I suppose this made it easier when I hit my twenties and friends hooked up with partners who I didn’t particularly like.  I didn’t think anything of it except to just stay away.  Other friends would rant on and on about how can she stay with that guy.  I never really thought that it was a topic that could be discussed.  Of course, she stayed with that guy.  She’s in love and love is blind and destroys people.  Okay, so that’s probably not the healthiest way to approach love but when you’ve spent years watching your Mother drag in every red-faced beer belly and every 9-fingered piano man that she meets in a bar, you really don’t question too much about what the forces of attraction are between man and woman.   Granted my parents suffered from extreme distortions of thought because of alcoholism and other illness, but I tell you I’ve noticed completely sober people do the same stupid stuff.

Anyway, 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.   Great movie about having a single parent.   The real Father in this movie has died.  Probably most kids in the 1950s were told their Fathers had died, whether they did or not.

3 Comments so far
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What an interesting post – many thanks for this!

I have never heard of the film and the wikipedia entry makes it sound so bizarre but your interpretation really makes sense.

It is interesting what you’ve said about kids in the ’50s being told their father was dead as (I think I’ve said in an earlier comment) this is what happened to my mother but she was told her mother was dead. I think she finally twigged that this was not true when she overheard conversations between the adults when she was growing up but she’s never shown any interest in trying to find anything about her whereas I was always desperately curious but it was a big taboo subject in our household. I have a good friend who has never met her father and for years she’s been trying to track him down but her own mother’s been tight-lipped about it.

My mother had no stepmother to deal with but I’m sure the complete absence of a mother must have had an effect. I am pretty sure it’s part of the reason why she and I have always had a difficult relationship so I think divorces can have an effect on a family that lasts more than one generation (though interestingly I absolutely adored my granddad and he was there for me when I went through a particularly traumatic period in my life yet my mother was not). I have a lot of issues with the way I was brought up and I’m now trying to make sure my own children are brought up differently to me as a result – talk about ripples and shockwaves going on for ever!

I’m sure some children of divorce must have such a horrible experience of their parents’ divorce it must put them off having relationships and families of their own. What a pity parents are not legally obliged to go through some sort of training process or counselling when they separate/divorce to drum into them the need to put the children’s welfare over their own interests or their wish to tear chunkc out of each other. Sorry – I’m going off topic again!

Anyway, thanks for ths post, I might check this film out – from what I can see on the internet it seems to be a cult classic. What I like about the story (or what I can glean from your description) is that it’s the little boy who manages to take control and save the day.

Comment by Sal

Hi Sal. Thanks for sharing your family’s stories. You’re right. If it’s not one thing it’s going to be another.

And, yes, I agree, it’s nice to see a movie about a kid who saves the day. But, in divorce, I think that a kid who tries to break up his parents’ relationships would probably be considered “spoiled” and “manipulative.” Those that go along always fare better, although they might feel like doormats for the rest of their lives.

Comment by toothless

You’ve raised a really good point here. Often kids have difficulty in being able to make their feelings heard so they often show their unhappiness by what the adults might describe as “playing up”, ie evidence of “bad” behaviour when actually the child is really unhappy but feels unable to really express this.

A bit like your example of the little girl in the diner who was screaming – on the face of it she appeared to be a spoilt brat but she was actually reacting to an unhappy situation in the only way she knew how.

It goes back to a point you’d made in one of your ealier posts about communication. kids need to be able to express their feelings and concerns openly and honestly without fear of reprisal. As you have said, bottling it up and going along with everything just to please the adults is going to give rise to problems with self-worth.

I wish I knew what the answer was here. Often the parents are working to their own agendas, especially if the divorce was recent, and children might not be receptive to an outsider, however impartial/professional they might be.

Have you ever seen the film Freaky Friday? (I mean the recent one with Jamie Lee Curtis as the mother). I know it’s not about divorce, but I thought it was very interesting because only by being in her daughter’s body did the mother gain some insight, when talking to her daughter’s friends into how her daughter really felt about her and her new partner. What a pity children and adults couldn’t really swap bodies for a day or two – maybe the adults would then realise how the kids felt!

Comment by Sal

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