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Words of Encouragement for You Incredible Parents} ?> When Elastigirl says she has to “save the family by leaving it,” her words hit me right in the feels—my heart broke every time I left my kids to go to work when they were small. Of course, that was mostly because they would stand at the window screaming and crying. I later found out that as soon as I was out of sight, they would go about their business like I never existed. Little monsters. But, that’s what kids do. Elastigirl knew that in order to make a path for herself, her husband, her children, and all supers to have the option of a super future, she needed to be away from her kids for a time. And that’s where Mr. Incredible comes in.
Mr. Incredible and the Stay-At-Home Parent
When my family and I were discussing Incredibles 2 after seeing it in theaters recently, my boys felt that it was the “Elastigirl Movie” because she did all the heroic stuff. They saw Mr. Incredible as having a very minor role in the whole thing. I couldn’t believe it. Yes, Elastigirl was shown in superhero garb fighting bad guys more than the rest of the family, but to me, what Mr. Incredible did was far more heroic.
My kids don’t have an appreciation for the challenge that being a stay-at-home parent brings. And I know why—they think they’re an absolute dream to be with. Of course, I think they’re right; there’s nowhere I’d rather be than hanging out with them (most of the time). But, they only remember the nice times from the children’s perspective. They have no sense of parental angst, the terror of not knowing what you’re doing—most of the time guessing at what the right thing to do is—the guilt, fear, pain of getting it wrong, and the fatigue of keeping those wild little buggers alive while keeping the house from spontaneously combusting.
Both of my boys were like Jack-Jack, and if you blinked for a second, there was a real possibility they were doing something that actually could set the house on fire. And don’t get me started on keeping food in stock, cooking said food, laundry out the wazoo, trying to keep the house in some sort of state of cleanliness. Mr. Incredible, thrown into that chaos, including a daughter who is suffering from adolescence, dealt with everything that came at him so amazingly well; to me he was the true hero of the movie. He even figured out the new math! He’s got me beat there.
Elastigirl and the Working Parent
Like Elastigirl, I did everything I could to be with my kids as much as possible after I went back to work. When they were young, I arranged to have two office days per week, and then worked from home the rest of the time. When they were in school, I arranged my hours around their school day, made sure we ate dinner together, and then went to my evening meetings after they were all set for the night. It was important to me that I was present as much as possible. When they weren’t with me, they were with my mom or my husband. They are my vocation; I believe that God intended me to be their mom and to raise them with the values that my husband and I hold close to our hearts.
But, like Elastigirl, I have two vocations—one of which means that I have to be away from them sometimes. As much as I wanted to be with them, I felt equally called to do parish ministry. And my two vocations inform and nurture one another. I can’t be fully me without having both of these jobs. Besides my personal need to work because of my calling, I needed to do so to put food on the table. Our reality is one of most North American families—even families who choose to live simply. To keep the family afloat, both parents have to work. Staying at home wasn’t an option for me, just as it wasn’t for Elastigirl.
She was happy in her work while she was away, but she was still worried about the kids and how her husband was doing with it all. She was happiest when the whole family was able to join her and defeat the Screenslaver together. Lucky for me, I’m now in a position to do the same. My family often joins me at work volunteering or being part of our parish.
Be the Heroes they Need
Whether a parent is staying home or fighting crime out in the world, parenting is heroic, even if our children don’t see it that way. Providing love, guidance, shelter, basic human needs, and all the other things that parents give to their children—often with great sacrifice—is an important job. It requires having powers that border on super, and even things that seem routine mean the world to kids who are loved and cared for.
And, as we see in Incredibles 2, perfect parenting isn’t necessary; kids know when you’re trying, and they appreciate more than they say. I know my boys won’t fully understand the struggle that parenting is until, if they so choose, they are in the thick of it themselves. But, it’s my job to be, not the hero they want, but the one they need—and despite the challenges of superheroism (a.k.a. parenting), I’m glad I get to do this heroic thing.
Often, parenting and superhero’s lives share the same activities: keeping people alive, keeping crimes from occurring (stealing, fighting, vandalism, cutting the cat’s tail off—yes, I did stop that one just in time), righting wrongs, and putting people in time out. Other times, it’s mundane; even mind-numbing. You can only read the same book so many times and listen to the same stories that kids tell before you lose your mind. If you find it a struggle; if your house feels more like Arkham than home, hang in there. Heroes don’t clean up cities in one day, kids are a work in progress—and thank God, so are we.