Lessons in motherhood, ACEs and compassion

Dr Marianne Trent watches Maid on Netflix.

Sometimes as Psychologists we like to watch things which are pure escapism, but I also like stuff I can relate to, things I can be moved by and which help me further build upon my knowledge of working with people. The Netflix series Maid is a story of adversity, poverty and determination. It is a story which effortlessly causes us to reflect on the important lessons of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. When people are not safe and do not have a sanitary and reliable place to live, it really makes everything further up the hierarchy pretty impossible.  

At its heart, Maid is a story of motherhood and wanting our own children to have different experiences of growing up than those which we experienced. Alas, it is also a story of the key importance of Adverse Childhood Experiences and poverty on child and adult outcomes. Watching the interactions of lead character Alex (Margaret Qualley) with her Mum, played by Qualley’s real-life Mum, Andie MacDowell, can feel painful at times because it allows us insight into what life would have been like when the character was growing up. The patterns of Alex continuing to parent her Mum and to outsmart her time and time again in terms of her compassion and ability to emotionally connect with others, is clearly a pattern which started in childhood and continues into adulthood.

In contrast, the relationship between Alex and her young daughter, Maddy is the real highlight of the series. It’s so warm and uplifting and convincing it will make you wonder if the little girl playing her is in fact her real daughter, or maybe her niece…? I’ll save you the Google, they’re not related but did have a lovely bond which developed over the nine months of filming and has continued since production wrapped.

Maid also offers us useful learning points as professionals for how we can act with compassion like the refuge worker, and not to confound difficulties by delivering seemingly patronising interventions (such as the parenting class offered to Alex). It further helps us clarify the position of emotional abuse as domestic abuse, and not reinforcing potentially gaslighting narratives for any stance which suggests otherwise. It also reminds us of the Oxfam ‘give a man a fish’ campaign and of the importance of work for people’s sense of accomplishment and ability to self-sustain. The way that the production team handled Alex’s finances with on-screen calculations about affordability was incredibly powerful and also at times humbling too.

Despite the adversity and the overlap with so many facets of our work I would wholeheartedly recommend that you watch Maid. I just inhaled it and the moments when they’re singing in the car, and also when Alex was dancing outside, still have me grinning from ear to ear when I think about them. Alex and her story – based on the book by Stephanie Land, inspired by her own real-life experiences – will stay with us, but hopefully for all the best reasons.

- Reviewed by Dr Marianne Trent, clinical psychologist and founder of Good Thinking Psychological Services; Author of The Clinical Psychologist Collective. [email protected]; Twitter: @GoodThinkingPs1www.goodthinkingpsychology.co.uk 

See also thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/i-had-dream-what-i-wanted-and-gave-myself-permission-do-it and look out for The Aspiring Psychologist podcast by Dr Marianne Trent on Spotify.

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