Judging Judging Amy

What is family? Well we all know it as a mother, a father, and their children. Then there is the extended family, like Aunts and Uncles, Grandparents, and some cousins too. But the close family, parents and children, that is what we know as the family. Family is defined (at least on the Statista website) by the Canadian census as:

A married couple (with or without children of either and/or both spouses), a common-law couple (with or without children of either and/or both partners) or a lone parent of any marital status, with at least one child. A couple may be of opposite sex or same sex.

There are around 10.21 million families in Canada, according to statistics from Statista.

Divorce rates have nearly doubled since 1970 in North America, with Canada’s rate of divorce sitting at 37% in 2019. 2.68 million people filed for divorce last year compared to 1.88 million back in 2000 according to Statista. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), less people are getting married throughout the world, and on top of that, the average marriage lasts 7 years in the United States , and 14 years in Canada. With divorce rates continuing to increase, and less people getting married, single parents are becoming a norm in our society. In Canada alone, in our country of 37 million, there are around 1.4 million single parents. They have to work full time to make ends meet, while also juggling the responsibilities of a parent. But because our society isn’t built with single parents in mind, they struggle in more ways then one. Whether balancing their chequebook, finding a babysitter when they have to work late, or to help their children with their studies while also preparing dinner, lunch, and perhaps breakfast once they get home from work. It is tough, and it can explain why some children have problems in school, and later on in life. The stigma seems to of dissipated, but the tools to succeed are still missing.

My parents got a divorce when I was about 11, and my Mom gained sole custody of me and my siblings. As a result, my Mom was caught in many situations where she was on her own. Whether working a full-time job and a second job to make ends meet, finding time to shop for groceries or other needs of ours, cooking dinner, or helping out with school. However, once I got into high school, she settled down, and I found myself cooking for my siblings, or filling that role of a parent in her stead. Maybe she was burnt out. I don’t envy her situation, but I do have gratitude for what she did.

However, kids need to be free to be kids, that way they can learn to move forward with their journey, not to be left in situations where they have to self-parent, which is a possibility with single parents. But because we offer very little in terms of guidance or acceptance of a journey of parenthood for singles, single parents can often be overwhelmed and end up mistreating their children, unconsciously or otherwise. That is, unless you have a community of people helping out.

I started watching a show called Judging Amy, and it stars the shows creator, Amy Brenneman, as the strong-willed Amy Gray, a juvenile court judge that was a former corporate lawyer. The shows starts with Amy getting separated from her husband and moving back to her mother’s home with her daughter. A large part of the show displays her struggles of being a single mom, coupled with living with her mother again. With the side stories being cases she judges, along with her mother’s life as a social worker for child services, Judging Amy is a drama that highlights Amy’s relationships with her daughter, mother, her two brothers, and her co-workers. The show’s inspiration came from Amy Brenneman’s mother as a juvenile court judge.

As the seasons drift on, all the characters find themselves in less than desirable situations, failing many times in their personal lives, while also learning and growing from those events. Amy constantly struggles to understand her daughter, Lauren, and how to be a good mother. Maxine Gray, Amy’s mother, lacks much connection with people as she brushes emotion aside to fulfill her duties as a Department of Child and Families (DCF) clerk. Vincent Gray, Amy’s younger brother, has difficulty with his vulnerabilities and that of others, and struggles to find a path in life, eventually becoming a writer and successfully publishing a book. Peter Gray, Amy’s older brother, seems to be living a “normal” life, married and living comfortably with his wife and running the family business; but him and his wife Gillian struggle with having a child because she is infertile, and the show talks about adoption and the struggles of doing so. Even Amy’s cousin, Kyle McCarty, has problems associated with his numerous addictions while seeking residency as a doctor. And it doesn’t end with family. Amy’s court services officer, Bruce Van Exel, is also a single parent that has struggles with racism and his own parenting issues. There is also a clash of beliefs between Amy and Bruce since Amy is an atheist, while Bruce is a Catholic. The predicaments the family go through can appear minute at times, but they are real life struggles that I find aren’t highlighted enough with the professional world, and with single mothers namely.

There is an episode I watched that I think deserves some attention. See, Amy is a strong woman. She is intelligent, assertive and to the point, while also being financially independent and excellent at her job. The scenes with her in residing court cases are there to contrast her troubling social life, along with learning more about delinquents and childhood trauma since she was thrust into her role as a juvenile court judge. Anyway, Amy is a strong woman no doubt, but is awful with her relationships. She is the equivalent of a single person that gives great advice about dating, yet never ends up in a relationship. Usually, her cases cause her to think of her own daughter and the potential for her to perform delinquent acts. The irony is her need and want to help her daughter goes the route of not trusting her and assuming she is going to do wrong. I am no parent, and may not find myself in that situation, but that doesn’t sound like a great way to help your children, which Amy learns along the way.

This episode starts with Amy arriving to court feeling good about life. She is in a committed relationship with a Lawyer named David McClaren, and she is pregnant with their child. Previously, they were shopping around for a house, and David proposed to her as well. Things are looking pretty good for the normally distraught Amy Grey. However, while on a break in the washroom, she feels a cramp and some pain in her belly. What could it mean? While hearing a case about a young girl that got into a car crash that inadvertently killed her best friend, Amy experiences more pain and discomfort, so Bruce calls a recess so she can go to the hospital. Turns out she was bleeding a large amount, and ended up having a miscarriage. Talk about devastating. However, Amy has always struggled with being vulnerable, and the next day she went right to work, acting like nothing was wrong.

This woman I tell you, she always pushes feeling aside, and struggles with being open or vulnerable, and so it was no surprise for her to act in this way. The case she was residing went to the ruling, and Amy dismissed the case, and instead, requested the defendant reside in probation with counselling. While speaking with the defendant and the victim’s mother, she spoke of loss and how it can be difficult to move forward from someone you love. And for the first time in all the episodes I have seen, she got emotional and almost lost it at the bench, because the loss of her own child was hitting her like a ton of bricks. This was a big deal to me because all these other shows I have seen, like Grey’s Anatomy, Station 19, and numerous other late night dramas, show the people not only being emotionally troubled, but being downright incompetent at their jobs along with maintaining any form of professionalism.

Station 19 is the best example of this as the drama of the show lies in the actual job itself, not in their daily lives, with the drama from the job being easily preventable from the viewer’s perspective.

“Oh no, we are trapped in this room with no way out!” says the fire chief.

“What are we going to?!” screams their senior captain.

And that will be half the episode, with some flashbacks thrown in to help explain how they are feeling at the moment. The present dilemma will occur with the simultaneous knowledge that the team put themselves in that situation for no real reason and lacked any common sense. Lazy writing if you ask me.

But Judging Amy has a character that is good at her job, maintains her professionalism throughout her day (with Bruce witnessing her personal struggles more then anyone else, and helping her deal with them if he needs to), and makes an honest decision in her cases. In this one instance, Amy gives way to her emotions, and before really breaking down, leaves the court and retreats to her chambers. I think this is a little more realistic then the constant breakdowns that happen on Station 19 and Grey’s Anatomy. We are only human and a lot of people can have a lot going on in their lives, but the characters of those shows can be really self-centered and make their issues incredibly important over everyone else’s, like the problem they have is an excuse to be shitty to the people around them, and those shows reinforce that, that it’s ok to be shitty to people if life dealt you a bad card.  

Amy leaves early and decides to go on a drive to the beach. She has a party to attend that night as it is her 40th birthday, but she is overwhelmed with all she is going through. While sitting on a piece of driftwood at the beach, a man approaches her wanting to talk with her. She asks him kindly to let her be as she isn’t interested in talking, but he insists and continues to try to chat her up, being playful and flirty even. She gets up to walk away, but he continues to pursue her, saying things like it is hard to not want to talk to a beautiful woman like her. Amy finally snaps and explains that she just had a miscarriage and is turning forty and wasn’t in the mood to be hit on by him, and just lays into this guy. You see this kind of thing in television and movies all the time, guy pursues girl, girl is dismissive and not interested, but he presses her enough to get her to change her mind and gives him a shot. It becomes a reality to a lot of men that you must work hard to impress a woman, or to be perfectly blunt: no means yes. She might have some things going on and it is important to respect that, and her for that matter.

Amy walks into a nearby bar and asks to use the washroom, which she uses to cry as those feelings continue to consume her. Afterwards, she heads back to the bar to have a drink when that guy from the beach shows up. He apologises to her as he felt awful about his actions, only to start asking about her miscarriage, continuing to chat her up. She once again lays into him as it seemed he didn’t learn his lesson at all, continuing to want to pursue her. He acknowledges this right away, and just sits there and has a beer for himself. I wonder how often this happens to women, the continued conversation from a man when a woman specifically asks him she isn’t interested in talking. Like I said, for men, we are taught that it is better when it is harder to get, so for her to respond the way she did must’ve been a breath of fresh air for female viewers as she probably said what they were all thinking.

The scene cuts to late evening, where she is still sitting at the bar in self-loathing and self-pity. The man asks her if there is anyone around for her to talk to, any people in her life. The thing with Amy is that she feels alone a lot of the time since she shrugs off her feelings, and trudges along on her own despite living with her entire family (really, she, her brothers and her mother along with her daughter all live together). She has a difficult time needing people or being vulnerable with them as she has to maintain this strong demeanor for her work and her daughter. His words spark a memory though as she has been actively working on her communication with those around her and decides to head back home.

Huh, I just realized she would’ve driven home with a few drinks in her…whoops on the writer’s part!

The episode ends with her watching her friends and family through her kitchen window, with her reflecting with her mother about the miscarriage and her feelings associated with them, then walking in knowing she has people that support her, despite always forgetting that is the case. This brings about healing for her as she speaks of her vulnerabilities with her mother, and that being vulnerable is the path to take when you want to heal from trauma. She actually says this to Vincent in the previous episode, but like I said, she struggles to listen to her own advice. The scene before had Amy’s daughter, Lauren, cry out in sadness while preparing a cake because she felt responsible for Amy’s miscarriage, which she wished for (the baby disappearing, not the miscarriage). Maxine herself has been learning about compassion for her family as she is normally iron willed and tough on her children (which is partly why Amy is the way she is), saving her compassion for her child cases, and provides words of comfort and truth for Lauren.

I have grown to really enjoy this show, even love the show, because of the honest portrayal of their personal struggles and their masking appearances for the sake of their job. I often had compassion for my clients, patience for them, and would actively listen to their stories and tribulations of their day while helping them, yet didn’t carry that with me into my personal life, usually failing to listen or understand those around me, especially those that loved me and I loved back. It is kind of like going to church to absolve yourself of any wrongdoing, while continuing shit on your neighbor’s doorstep. Going to church doesn’t make you a good person, your actions do. Sure, I can be kind and courteous with my clients and patrons at the gym I trained out of, but it is made null if I didn’t carry that with me into my daily living. And that is what Judging Amy has, people in professions that are good natured and make someone out to be “good,” but actually make horrid decisions and fail to be kind to those around them. We see Amy fumble constantly, but her growth and learning are worthwhile, and a lesson for the audience as well, especially when we think of a judge as having their life together, we are reminded that everyone has something going on, even a judge.

Going back to single parents and the idea of family, the characters of Judging Amy are all invested in the child of the show, Lauren. Whether Peter, Vincent, Maxine, Gillian, or Kyle, they are all able to help and support Amy when it comes to Lauren, and it isn’t really highlighted, almost like this is the way it should be. I found it interesting, but I don’t think a family raises a child, a community does. We can think it is our family, and it is great when we have that amount of support, but we are all human, and we are all on the same boat that is life.

Judging Amy tells the story of a single mother that is trying to be the best mother she can be, learning to build bridges with those around her, and tackle the juvenile court system and the flaws within it. The perspective Judging Amy provides on the single mother is one that allows for compassion and understanding for their situation. With more acceptance of the single parent and their struggles, whether with the work force, religion, or amongst friends, we can better help the children, which are largely affected by parents that struggle.

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