Cederick Tardy is the author of four books for mothers raising boys. He is also the founder of STRONG Inc., a nonprofit focused on Strengthening, Training and Redefining Our Next Generation. “I love movies about single moms because they often highlight the qualities that help single moms raise confident, successful kids,” he says. “Having been raised by a single mother, I know the job can seem overwhelming. Mothers, especially moms of boys, may feel like they’re doing well just to get their sons through adolescence alive and with no criminal charges.”
I interviewed Tardy about what mothers and their sons can learn from the movies.
Do you have a favorite movie mother?
Sarabi – Simba’s mother from “The Lion King”
A favorite bad example?
Just turn on the news to those reality TV shows. Smokey’s mom in the movie “Friday” was pretty bad.
What are the best movies about single mothers that are based on true stories?
One of my favorites is “American History X.” It shows that boys who grow up without their fathers are more easily pulled into dangerous behavior no matter what neighborhood you live in.
Can you give some examples of single moms in movies who teach their sons important lessons about being a man?
“The Karate Kid” is an example of a boy dealing with transition, bullying and identity. In this story his mother allows him to use a mentor to overcome his difficulties. That is a life lesson everyone should be taught.
What are the biggest challenges single moms in movies face in raising their kids? Are they the same ones real-life single mothers face?
The reality of single mothers from movies like “Boyz in the Hood” is not the reality for every single mother in America, despite the stereotype. Many deal with bullying issues, as seen in “The Karate Kid,” or with the loss of a father, shown in “American History X.” Nevertheless, somewhere in America a mother is dealing with all of these issues and even worse ones, as depicted in “Notorious” by Angela Bassett, who played Volleta Wallace, the mother of legendary rapper The Notorious B.I.G.
What lessons can single or married moms learn from the movies?
Moms can learn a lot about their teenagers by watching movies. If my mom watched every movie I liked as a teenager, she would have been more aware of my influences. Today’s parents should also be familiar with the internet videos their children are watching.
What lessons can their children learn about their families?
I don’t believe children should learn about family from movies or television. It isn’t realistic. They could be encouraged to think all situations are solved in less than two hours or even 30 minutes. And, if they like drama in their media, they may pick up worse habits.
What are some of the best examples of single moms on television?
My favorite single mother on TV is Courtney Cox in “Cougar Town.” She loves her son and they can talk about anything. The worst mom on TV has to be Mary-Louise Parker, the mom on “Weeds.”
What’s the best way to encourage kids to talk to their moms about what they see in films?
I believe it is up to the parents to build an environment that fosters communication. For example, if they want their children to talk with them about movies they will need to watch the movies their kids are watching. This gets them familiar with the central topics of conversation. They need to be able to see the movie from the kid’s point of view as well. Once the kid feels like a favorable conversation will arise he or she will be encouraged to talk to their parents about a movie or anything else.
Tardy’s five favorite single moms in the movies:
• “The Karate Kid” (1984) – Single moms should ensure their sons have strong male role models and, while Lucille LaRusso didn’t actually find Mr. Miyagi for her son, Daniel, she allows the relationship to flourish, Tardy says. “They don’t get better than Mr. Myagi, the Army veteran and Medal of Honor winner who teaches young Daniel karate.” It’s not enough to simply provide role models and hope some good rubs off, Tardy notes. “As with Mr. Myagi, there should be a plan, a mission, something specific your son can learn that will move him closer to his goals.”
• “Erin Brockovich” (2000) – If kids’ basic needs aren’t being met, you can’t expect them to be able to focus on the higher pursuits for which leaders-in-the-making must aim, Tardy says. “The first thing Erin does right in this movie is to doggedly pursue getting a job,” he says. Then, though she’s just a legal clerk, she discovers a puzzling case file and follows her intuition to dig into it and learn more. She eventually uncovers a large company’s complicity in contaminating a town’s water supply. “Erin believed in herself – she knew her questions were valid and she pursued them. And she thought for herself – she didn’t accept the big company’s pat answers,” Tardy says. “What I especially like is that this movie is based on a true story.”
• “Forrest Gump” (1994) – Forrest Gump appeared to have a lot of disadvantages, starting with a low IQ, but his mother, Mrs. Gump, believed in him and never stopped teaching him valuable life lessons, including, “Life is like a box of chocolates … you never know what you’re gonna get.” Tardy notes that she communicated with Forrest in the way he best understood. “That’s important for all parents,” he says. “Everyone has a communication style, and it’s up to parents to figure out what works best for their children.”
• “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (1991) – Targeted for death by a nearly indestructible killing machine in the first movie, Sarah Connor not only survives, she is impregnated by a man from the future and then slays the terminator. In the second film, we find her institutionalized during her son’s boyhood because everyone thinks she’s crazy. Despite all of that, when she is finally able to reconnect with her son, Sarah throws herself into teaching him how to be the leader of the human resistance. “Sarah is focused, unyielding, and determined to teach her son John all he needs to fend off a robo-apocalypse,” Tardy says. “You gotta love a mom like that!”