Insights in Parenting from Finding Nemo

I originally wrote this article for another blog and posted it sometime back. But I just watched Finding Nemo again with my boys, and once again, I teared up during several scenes that poignantly present the very issues I struggle with as a parent. So I decided to post this again today.

Yes, I am writing thoughts for grown adults of spiritual insights gleaned from Finding Nemo. Don’t laugh. But this is my stage of life. No more blockbuster hits for me. No critically acclaimed dramas. Instead, as the mother of 2 young boys who love Pixar films, I find myself watching Finding Nemo numerous times of late. However, despite the 2-10 year old intended audience, I find it oddly compelling. In fact, there are several scenes in it that speak to me—reflecting my own mental battles with God over my children. I can identify with Marlin, Nemo’s dad. He’s lost his wife and other children in a violent tragedy that leaves him obsessed with Nemo’s safety. He’s fearful, and rightfully so. But his obsession with Nemo’s safety drives Nemo to an immature act of rebellion. Marlin has provoked his child to wrath.

The rest of the story is Marlin’s heroic efforts to get Nemo back and the odd group of marine life that helps him along the way. The climactic moment, at least to me, is the scene in which Marlin and Dori, his sidekick, are stuck in the whale. It’s a poignant moment in which Marlin comes face to face with his fears and the ineffectiveness of his obsessive methods for protecting Nemo. The whale becomes a God-like figure.

MARLIN We’re in a whale! Don’t you get it!? … ‘Cause you had to ask for help! And now we’re stuck here!

DORY Wow. A whale. You know I speak whale.

MARLIN No, you’re insane! You can’t speak whale! I have to get out! I have to find my son! I have to tell him how old sea turtles are! [sobs]

DORY There, there. It’s all right. It’ll be okay.

MARLIN No. No, it won’t.

DORY Sure it will, you’ll see.

MARLIN No. I promised him I’d never let anything happen to him.

DORY Huh. That’s a funny thing to promise.

MARLIN What?

DORY Well, you can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo.

And then it looks like the whale is about to digest them. It becomes obvious that Marlin has allowed his fears to keep him from trusting those who are best able to help him. He always expects the worst and keeps shooting himself in the foot accordingly …

MARLIN What’s going on?

DORY I think he says we’ve stopped.

MARLIN Of course, we’ve stopped. Just stop trying to speak whale, you’re gonna make things worse.[gasps] What is that noise? Oh no. Look what you did. The water’s going down!

DORY Really? You sure about that?

MARLIN Look, it’s already half-empty!

DORY Hmm..I’d say it’s half full.

MARLIN Stop that! It’s half-empty!

DORY Okay, that one was a little tougher… He either said we should go to the back of the throat or he wants a root beer float.

MARLIN Of course he wants us to go there! He’s eating us! How do I taste, Moby!? Huh!? Do I taste good!? You tell him I’m not interested in being lunch!… What is going on!?

DORY He says it’s time to let go! Everything’s gonna be all right!

MARLIN How do you know!? How do you know something bad isn’t gonna happen!?

DORY I don’t!

Then Marlin lets go, the whale spurts them out his blowhole, and they find themselves in the Sydney harbor—the very place they wanted to be. Of course, this doesn’t come across nearly as poignant when reading a transcript. But every time I watch that scene, I see myself, desperate to hang on to control and utterly convinced that if I don’t fix my mess myself, I’m utterly lost. I always expect the worst of others. Then there comes this point where my attempts to fix things—to correct my own mistakes or protect others from the same—crumble in my hands and fall through my fingers. My best efforts fall miserably short of the goal of fixing my problems and protecting my loved ones.

Instead of a whale, it is the Sovereign God of the Universe who calls on me to trust Him. While Marlin’s savior in that moment only helps him through that particular phase of his journey, my Savior promises to never leave me and to thoroughly equip me for each test, trial, and temptation I face. But I must come to that moment in which I let go, even though I don’t know the outcome. I let go of my control and fall into the arms of God’s grace. I don’t know how it’s going to work out, but in my free fall, I know that God is in control, He has the power to convict men of sin, and any positive change in other’s hearts or my circumstances is ultimately because God chose to work.

Letting go when I don’t know the immediate outcome is a difficult but necessary act of faith in God—especially where my children are concerned. God understands this—just think how many of Scripture’s pivotal stories revolve around parents and their children. Dealing with fears that you’ll never have children (Abraham, Sarah, Hannah). Giving up your children in sacrifice to God (Abraham and Isaac, Hannah and Samuel). Children who break their parent’s heart through rebellion (David and Absalom, Jacob and his sons who turned on Joseph). Fine if God wants to use me for His purposes—but trusting Him with my children tests my faith in a new and intense way.

I am learning as a relatively new mom that I am powerless to control all the factors that affect my children. But I know the One who can and does, and He is the best of Fathers.

Psalm 62:8 Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.

2 Responses to Insights in Parenting from Finding Nemo

  1. Wenatchee the Hatchet August 12, 2008 at 8:44 pm #

    Well, you don’t even have to be a parent or married to struggle with these kinds of things. Fear of losing control and fear of risk are something that can be both prideful and debiliting all at once. It’s something I have had problems with for years to the point where I suppose if I were less terrified of taking real risks my life would look completely different. As in I might actually have gotten a different career or maybe gotten a step or two closer to being married or risked considering grad school. But I dread risk, analogously for reasons that connect to Marlin’s experience, though not in any literal way.

  2. Wendy August 12, 2008 at 9:47 pm #

    Good insight, J. You are right–it’s not just parenting.