'Everything I know about being a parent I learned from a small fish.'

Nemo and Marlin


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.

Darla the fish killer.

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.


5.”Since I had Tarquin, I never allow myself to lose control.”

But sometimes it’s good for parents to get a bit loose – as long as you’re not in charge of kids at the time. One of my favourite scenes is when Dory and Marlin get ‘narked’ when they swim too deep. It’s what happens to scuba divers at great depths. It feels similar to being a little drunk. Judgement is blurred, unfunny things seem funny and for a while you are happeeeee. This, in my opinion, was just what Marlin needed.

6.”I was uncomfortable when a man gave Eugenie skateboarding pointers at the park. He seemed nice enough, but he looked very rough.”

Tricky, but let’s think of Gill, the beaten-up stripey fish (species: Moorish Idol for the curious) who became Nemo’s mentor in the tank. He’d seen it all, done it all. His torn fin meant he was literally, rough around the edges. No way would Gill have been friends with Nemo’s dad. But he gave Nemo confidence. When Nemo asked Gill about his bad fin, all Gill said was, ‘It’s never stopped me.’

7. “Myfanwy wants to go camping with her best friend’s family but she’s only nine. Is that a good age? When do I know she’s ready?”


This situation requires the advice of a 150 year old turtle. Crush trusts his turtlets to trust their instincts: “The little dudes are just eggs, we leave ’em on a beach to hatch and then coo-coo-cachoo, they find their way back to the big ol’ blue.’ You might want to take this piece of wisdom with a grain of (sea)salt.

The writers missed the bit about only one in a thousand baby turtles makes it to adulthood, but the point is valid, nonetheless. Especially when you consider Crush’s response when Marlin asks how you know your kids are ready to be on their own, ‘Well, you never really know,’ says the ancient turtle, ‘But when they know, you know, y’know?’

8.”It’s my job to protect my child. If anything ever happened to him I’d never forgive myself.”

Yes, but it’s also your job to give your kid an interesting childhood. To let them discover things for themselves – so they have stories to tell their kids. No good story is without danger. As Dory put it, with her beautiful, vague eloquence, ‘Well, you can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for ‘lil Harpo.’

So next time you find yourself wringing your hands about what to do when your kid wants to do something, spend 90 minutes with Nemo and his fishy friends. There might be some answers along with the laughs, and not many parenting books can do that.

What movies do you think parents should watch?