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#161 Mary Poppins

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Since I’ll be on vacation for the next two weeks I decided to repeat a past blog which also includes a beloved movie character. It is my favorite movie of all time–well, that and Gone With the Wind.

Mary Poppins presents a pretty ideal psychological profile. She has some pretty strange ideas about tea parties on the ceiling and such but other than that she would be a great nanny. It’s appropriate too because we are going to England for 10 days.

Wouldn’t it be great if we all had a Mary Poppins-type person who lived with us? She would magically teach the children to behave and the household help to love each other (That is, assuming that we had household help.) She would encourage the father to spend quality time with his children and inspire the mom to be more aware of their needs.

When I was growing up I read a book about Mrs. Piggle Wiggle’s magic. She was a similar sort of person who miraculously organized the household and even taught the children how to enjoy eating oatmeal. Then in college I read a science fiction story about a Total Electric Grandmother. (My soon-to-be husband had introduced me to science fiction.) After the mother died, the father of a family ordered a robot grandma from a catalog. (It’s fiction, remember?) She had cold drinking water from a spigot in her finger. She read the children bedtime stories and only cooked their favorite meals. She saved the youngest boy from being hit by a car. She was always there when they got home from school. When the three children grew old they moved back to their childhood home and unpacked the robot grandma to care for them.

It’s a dream we all have. But it doesn’t always work out that way, does it? So let’s look at who we have to work with to build this dream family. We have to make do with harried parents and unruly children who are snotty or mouthy or throwing up on the bench at the bowling alley. Just how do we turn this motley crew into a working organization? The answer I am proposing is that we work together. Each contributes according to his or her abilities. Sounds easy enough, right? There are even checklists that tell you when children are able to do various household chores. Each child is assigned suitable tasks and even suitable rewards for doing said tasks. So it all works out! Mother is not over-worked and Dad can relax in the evening—watch some football or whatever.

How come it USUALLY doesn’t work out? My take on the problem is that in our culture we think of families first as individuals and second as group members. I even wrote my book Family Entanglement: Unraveling the Knots and Finding Joy in the Parent-Child Journey ( as a study in, first, nurturing and supporting the individual and, second, recognizing the group entanglement. In other cultures the family is perceived as more of a collective. My guess would be that it would result in achieving better cooperation among its members.

So let’s think for the time being of our family as a collective—a group of people with similar goals and objectives. Our first task then is to agree on our goals and objectives!!! So we must first THINK cooperatively and then WORK cooperatively. From our study of organizational behavior we know that organizations small and large work most effectively when all members participate and have a voice in formulating the over-riding mission of the group. A family would be no different. If all members have an investment in the group objectives then all will be much more likely to participate. Let’s hope that SANITY is one of the over-riding goals!

I’ll be talking about more movies when I get back. I would love to  hear others’ favorite movies–especially those that provide positive life lessons!

#161 Mary Poppins

Ellen Toronto, Ph.D.

Dr. Ellen Toronto is a licensed clinical psychologist/psychoanalyst in the state of Michigan.

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APA Reference
Toronto, E. (2018). #161 Mary Poppins. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 24, 2019, from


Last updated: 4 Feb 2018
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