Odd Parenting in a Crooked World

Review of The Odd Life of Timothy Green, Directed by Peter Hedges


The odd life of Timothy Green is not the odd part, but rather how he is parented. Odd not in a bad way, but in the way it contrasts with the broad goals of worldly parenting.

Cindy and Jim Green are a married couple who are told, after an extensive line of attempted solutions, that they are not going to conceive a child. As they contemplate a childless existence, they decide not to give up. They write down different traits they hope their child will have and bury these pieces of paper in a box in the garden. Later that night…out popped Timothy!

The film reminded me of a 1990s family film, with its quintessential mix of wholesome comedy as well as realistic tragedy and drama. A coworker and I went to the screening and both left agreeing that it was thoroughly enjoyable. No complaints on my end.

The strength of the film was the strong thematic element of different parenting styles. Cindy Green’s sister has perfect children—musically talented (classical instruments of course), athletic (soccer), and all around very good. But you get the sense that they’re dour Pharisees. They follow the rules and their righteousness spurs their condescending attitude toward Timothy, who’s oblivious of himself and genuinely interested in others.

Jim Green’s father is the stereotypical dad who wants his son to excel in sports and pushes and pushes and pushes in the belief it will help him achieve his full potential. The actual result is an insecure son who toils to gain his father’s approval, which must be earned. Even as an adult, Jim is still sensitive to his father’s perception of how he’s raising Timothy.

But Cindy and Jim have vowed to themselves that they won’t fall into these patterns of parenting. At one point in the movie they agree with each other that making mistakes and learning from them is part of parenting. They also implicitly commit to not viewing their child through the paradigm of worldly achievement. Athletically, they work hard at training Timothy, getting him onto the soccer team, and await great prowess to sprout out of his limbs. When these expectations fall flat, however, they don’t make Timothy feel as if he’s failed them. Musically, following an impressive piece by Cindy’s nephews and niece, Timothy gets up front and merely starts rhythmically pounding a percussion instrument. Instead of being embarrassed, Cindy and Jim join him and start goofily dancing and making a ruckus, to the chagrin of Cindy’s sister.

The most important line in the film occurs during a heated conversation between Cindy and her sister. Cindy declares that Timothy has a “good heart” and that’s enough for her—worth more than academic, musical, or athletic ability. More than career. More than success as others define it.

In many ways, the Greens exemplify true Christian parenting (though, as you will see in the film, they make parenting blunders, which merely strengthens the film by avoiding naiveté). Reflecting the way God graciously parents us through the gospel, the Greens don’t require Timothy to earn their approval. In fact, they’re quick to be proud of their son for the small things. Reflecting God’s priorities, the Greens appreciate above all Timothy’s compassion and honesty.

The Odd Life of Timothy Green, like most movies, makes parenting look too easy and this could be a true critique of the film. Of course the Greens can parent in this way—Timothy’s the perfect kid! Nonetheless, the film is a calling for parents to care for and disciple their children in a way that looks odd to the crooked world around them. And the model presented resonates with the audience because it demonstrates God’s character and the way He deals with His children

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