Imagine being a single parent and having a teenage son hospitalized with severe mental problems. In desperation, you’ve sent him away to get the help he needs. Instead he burns down the hospital cafeteria, injuring a fellow patient and is sent home. Diane Després faced that situation with her son, Steve; in the French-Canadian film Mommy.
Steve has Attachment Disorder, which is broad term to describe children who have difficulty connecting to others and managing their own emotions. In the film, Steve throws tantrums, destroys items, and curses people if he feels misunderstood, doesn’t get what he wants, or feels unsafe. When Després accused him of stealing a necklace he bought, he yelled, “I’m going to kill you, I’m going to kill you!” while destroying everything in the room. Després had to hide in a closet until his violent behavior calmed down.
Steve also has Attention Deficiency Disorder or ADD, a chronic condition that includes attention difficulty, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness. When Steve and Després’ neighbor, Kyla, tries to tutor Steve for the first time, he goofs off, sings songs, and bounces off the walls. Kyla is patient at first, tugging at him and telling him that he needs to work, but that wears off. She loses her temper and yells at him, saying his dead father wouldn’t appreciate what he’s doing. He cries and pees in his pants because of his shock and fear of her sudden anger.
I’ve dealt with students who were emotionally difficult, but not at the severity of Steve. If I were in Despérs situation, I would create boundaries between Steve and me. Després doesn’t do that. In one scene, Després and Steve are dancing to old Celine Dion music and he jokingly tries to touch her breast, but she swats it away. It’s disturbing because that type of intimate touch is meant for boyfriends and girlfriends, not mothers.
I wouldn’t continuously argue over meaningless things, like what Després does with Steven. There are certain situations where arguments are meaningless and the best thing to do is let the person who started the argument win or else it will go on forever. Third, Steve needs to attend therapy. Therapy’s important because it helps him get a grip over his emotional problems, and tools on how to handle unpredictable situations.
Després does dubious things to support her son. She goes to dinner with men so they can help her provide food on the table for her and Steve, but at least her intentions are good. Steve, on the inside is a sweet teenager who only wants to please and protect his mother, but his emotions get the best of him.
Watching the film made me realize that even though their relationship is often volatile, it’s obvious they love each other through their humor and their ability to repeatedly forgive each other. These are some of the underlying foundations needed to deal with anyone who has mental illness.