By KATE HUNTER
Once the ante-natal classes are done and the fancy schmancy pram has been ordered, I believe all first-time parents should be sat down – forcibly if necessary – and made to watch ‘Finding Nemo’.
Not just because it’s a great movie, and not because it’s important to watch kids’ movies before your child sees them (this jury’s out on that one) but because it’s loaded with brilliant advice for parents and it’s heaps more fun than ploughing through a Steve Biddulph book, highlighter in hand.
Who’d have thought an uptight clownfish would demonstrate everything that’s wrong with helicopter parenting? Nemo’s dad Marlin is the piscatorial poster-boy for helicopter parents. But even learns that hovering does no one any good, and backing his kid is invariably a better option.
I think of Nemo often when it comes to raising my kids, and I’ve compiled a handy list of dilemmas that come up in modern family life and how they can be solved by selective reference to Finding Nemo.
1. “How can I let Imogen go on an excursion without me going too? She says she’s fine but what if she walks more slowly than the others and gets left behind?”
Wouldn’t you know it? This exact thing happened in the movie! Nemo has a ‘gimpy fin’ and tires easily, so Marlin tagged along on a school trip to the edge of the reef. Nemo was embarrassed to see his dad there and swam into deep water. The consequences were dire. If only Marlin had taken himself for a coffee or even gone to work, NOTHING would have happened. There would have been no story, but Nemo would have been safe. Telling a kid they’re physically unable to do something is DARING them to do it. And dares are fun.
2. “I tell my children, never, under any circumstances, to trust strangers.”
Well, fine. But what if they find themselves on their own? What if they need help? If they never talk to any strangers ever, how will they learn to tell the good guys from the bad guys? Both Nemo and Marlin encountered strangers – some were bad (sharks, jellyfish, crabs, dentist’s psychotic niece) but they encountered plenty of helpful, kind strangers (Dory, turtles, moonfish, a whale, a pelican, the entire Tank Gang). If they hadn’t put their trust in strangers, Nemo and Marlin would never have found each other again. Marlin would have swum bleakly into a grey ocean and Nemo would have been shaken to death by Darla the fish killer. No G rating there.
3. “Sometimes I worry I’m getting it all wrong! I feel paralysed by guilt.”
Who knows really if our kids will turn out okay? Whether the school we pick is the right one? If they go off the rails, will it be their Year 3 teacher’s fault or because I gave them sausage rolls for dinner that time? NOBODY KNOWS. All we can do is follow Dory’s advice: ‘Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. Swimming, swimming. What do we do? We swim, swim.’
4.”How do I explain the dangers of the world to my kids without them freezing with fear?”
Play a game like Marlin did to get Dory though a school of jellyfish: ‘We’re gonna race! First one out of the jellyfish wins. Rules! You can’t touch the tentacles, only the tops!’ I’ve used this technique (combined with my kids’ competitive streak) to great effect when it comes to explaining danger e.g. “Who can think of the cleverest way to get out of the house if it was on fire?” Issuing a challenge is also helpful when cleaning the rumpus room.