I know this may sound odd coming from a psychiatrist, but sometimes it's great to escape the emotional needs of others. Of course, the more consumed we are with our own emotions, the less available we are for the emotional needs of our friends and family. In this episode Kristina is overwhelmed by her own emotional needs. She is dealing with her cancer. Her mother is unavailable or unwilling to provide emotional support. Her husband and mother-in-law try to be helpful, but they also each have their own emotional needs. Much of their need is to make things easier for Kristina, which ironically just makes her life more difficult. Being the very concerned and empathetic person she is, Kristina tries her best to meet their needs while still trying to meet her own.
It is Max who provides a safe space. Max, who generally requires so much energy, and generally needs so much, doesn't demand that his emotional needs be met. In fact, he has few emotional needs. He's happy to have his mother pick him up, happy to get a treat out of it, and just happy to have things "normal" for just a little while.
Living with Frankie, I have come to appreciate his view of the world. Like Max, he has some very complex needs, and few if any of these are emotional. Our typical 14 year old, however, is a completely different story: the teenage shifts in mood, over-the-top drama, and back-and-forth between wanting emotional attention and then insisting on no emotional involvement can be utterly exhausting.
Each son brings his own joys and challenges. And Frank, of course, can also be exhausting. But living in a house with two teenage boys, I am glad to know that only one of them has the capacity to be a drama prince.
How each person in a family brings his or her complete selves to their family role is what makes Parenthood such a wonderful show. I often encourage families struggling to embrace the joys and struggles of living as a family with autism to watch the series. Autism becomes just one other difference with both positive and negative attributes.
This episode gives Max the role of being the "strong one." He is the family member who Kristina can rely upon to give her what she needs - a companion who doesn't require an emotional toll. Max is just another member of the family.
I strive to create that sense for both of my boys. I hope for them to be fully developed, fully engaged, happily individuated members of our family. I'm glad the creators of Parenthood have the same goal for Max.
Written by Roy Q. Sanders, M.D.