Confession — I’m a child and adolescent therapist and really don’t love kid movies. It’s not that I find them boring or silly, or really anything at all…it’s just I got seriouslyburnt out by several kid movies as a kid myself.
Back in the pre-streaming, pre-iPad days, my brother and I would share a portable DVD player on family road trips. We’re nearly eight years apart, so you can only imagine how challenging it was to find a movie that satisfied both a six year old boy and 14 year old girl. Enter, Shrek. One of maybe 4 DVDs my family owned. And the ONLY DVD we could agree on.
My second seriously burnt out movie? Finding Nemo. Now, I actually LOVED this movie when it first came out…but for whatever reason, so did my school district. Last week of school? We watched Finding Nemo. Celebration after standardized testing? Finding Nemo. Loosely connected science lesson? But of course, Finding Nemo.
Oddly enough, both movies have made their way into counseling sessions. The most recent being the infamous trench scene from Finding Nemo.
In case you’re not familiar, Dory and Marlin approach an underwater trench on their quest to find Nemo — clownfish Marlin’s son who was taken by scuba divers. The movie revolves around a series of challenges the fish face as they quite literally scour the ocean in hopes of being reunited.
“Something tells me we need to swim through it, not over it,” said Dory as she and Marlin come upon a trench. Marlin protests, insisting they simply “go over it” — only to find themselves now facing a host of jellyfish, and deeply regretting their not-so-easy-way-out decision.
As I sat with a longtime teenage client of mine, the image of Marlin and Dory immediately came to mind. We too have to go through the trench, not over it.
Life is full of trenches — painful, uncomfortable, difficult feelings that we’d simply rather avoid. Some of our trenches are dark. Others are deeply unsettling. And most are painstakingly unpredictable. But that’s the thing with trenches, to move past them, we oftentimes have to go through, not over. There’s not really a way around. It didn’t work for Dory and Marlin, and it doesn’t work for us either.
Sometimes we may try to avoid our trenches altogether. We play it safe. We stand down. We hold back, believing that if we just stay away, our trenches can’t touch us. And hey, it kind of works! It does bring us some semblance of relief. But as time passes, that relief doesn’t last. We end up feeling discouraged and disconnected — the ultimate stuck.
Other times we try to go around our trenches. Maybe if I just work harder I can get out of this? Maybe if I pretend it’s not bothering me, it actually won’t? Maybe, just maybe, by shear force or willpower this trench WILL go away? So we overwork ourselves, as if running endlessly on the treadmill — we feel as though we’ve completed a marathon, but yet we haven’t really moved at all.
Much of my time as a child and adolescent therapist is spent helping young people cope with trenches. And better yet, learn to embrace, and even befriend them as the powerful forces they truly are. The truth is, difficult emotions aren’t bad, they’re just that…difficult, but also key players in our journey.
You know this to be true too.
We can’t heal unless we allow ourselves to fall down sometimes.
We won’t learn if we refuse to make mistakes.
We’ll never really feel joy if we don’t experience moments of sorrow.
So parents…take a deep breath in and exhale a sigh of relief — you don’t need to shield your child from each and every tough feeling. And you certainly haven’t failed as a parent if your kid encounters a struggle.
What can you do? Offer a flashlight — helping remind your child or teen that there is a light at the end of the trench — even if they don’t see it now. Feelings are not forever AND there is a big difference between incapable and uncomfortable. You’ve got this, and your kid does too!