Wednesday, November 2, 2011

An Assist from "The Help"

The movie The Help has a major racial prejudice theme that overrides a powerful sub theme on parenting styles. Set in the 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi, The Help is a classic story of pre-desegregation domestic life in the Deep South. The movie is based on the novel written by Kathyrn Stockett who was inspired by her Mississippi up-bringing. She thrusts the southern cultural practice of wealthy white housewives employing African American house-keeping nannies into the spotlight of a compelling story. The characterizations are strong. In the film Aibileen, more mother than house-keeper, cares for an infant daughter of detached white mother. Her character is central to the powerful sub theme of a dysfunctional parenting practices. The movie implies that this particular mother has suffered from post-partum depression and Aibileen is making up for her deficiencies. This relationship adds emphasis to this dysfunctional cultural reality throughout the movie. At one point Aibileen is seen performing a nurturing ritual of tenderly whispering to the small child that she is, among other things, "kind and smart."

Dr. Corsini gave us an overview of attachment theory as it relates not only to relational development but also to spiritual development. He acknowledged that attachment theory asserts that how formative relational questions are answered during the first 18 months of our lives dictates how we will form and respond to relationships as adults. There were two basic questions we discussed that form the internal working model for relational development for every infant. The first question is focused on self- "Am I worthy of care and capable of getting help?" The second question is others centered- "Are you trustworthy and can I rely on you to care for me when I need it?" Our discussion focused on four styles of relating that stem from an infant's experience with getting these questions answered. The triangularized parenting relationship in the movie showed a child who could not get her needs met by her mother but found a willing and able care-giver in 'the help', Aibileen. You can see the confidence the child had in Aibileen; as long as she was around her needs would be met. The moments of harsh correction from her mother encourage the child to exhibit an avoidant style when relating to her. At the climax of the movie there is a heart-wrenching moment when Aibileen is reciting a nurturing word ritual with the child, for apparently the last time. As she leaves the home in tears the child, who appears to be between 18 and 24 months old, begs her not to go.

My questions, as I reviewed this movie through the lens of attachment theory, were centered on how this loss would affect this child's relational style. I wondered if the forming had taken shape developmentally due to her age. The child's questions had been answered consistently with affirmation for her whole life. I wonder if the 18 month developmental timeline would prove valid or would her experiences with a detached mother move her to an avoidant or ambivalent style? As I move to view this topic through a biblical world view I marvel at the inter-play between our dependent response to God and how our parents cared for us when we were utterly dependent on them. God Attachment theory has fascinating conclusions to explore. As I consider the gospel's depiction of those who received from Jesus Christ, I am reminded of vivid accounts of men and women who were aware that they could not meet their needs. They risked ridicule, careers and reputation to publicly run to Him, trusting that their needs would be met. It is fascinating to consider the influence of nurture received during the first 18 months of life as the determination factor for that kind of response. The more indicative aspect discussed in class, pertaining to God Attachment, was the biblical concept that God is the pursuer; which gives us hope if we are troubled by our own attachment driven relational style.


  1. I saw "The Help" just the other day. Very powerful kind of film. You make an interesting point about attachment. I wonder what these kids grew up like? They are alone with their parents at night, but during the day they are constantly attended to by a person who not their birth mother.
    I wonder what kind of attachment style a child grows up with when he or she is given a good amount of care and attention, but the person giving the attention and care is not the person the child knows as mother. I have no idea if it makes any difference at all, but it is an interesting point.

  2. The end of this movie when Aibileen had to leave the daughter broke my heart. The mother went on and on about how ugly her daughter was, while Aibileen constantly told the girl, "you is kind, you is smart, you is important." I so desperately wish that I would have had at least one person in my life as a child that conveyed that message to me. I find that my attachment style is lies in the anxious kind, where I am just waiting to get hurt by people because my parents didn't provide a safe environment to be myself. I think that the little girl in that movie could have turned out great, but when Aibileen her source of her self-worth left, I'm willing to bet that little girl grew up feeling horrible about herself.


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