I've watched Finding Nemo and Finding Dory multiple times, but it didn't hit me until recently that both Nemo's and Dory's parents are special needs parents and they have different approaches to raising their children that have encouraged me in the way I parent my own special needs children.
Nemo's dad Marlin, is very fearful and overprotective, longing to keep Nemo close and afraid to let him try new things. At one point Marlin even tells Nemo, "You think you can do these things, Nemo, but you just can't!"
You can see the hurt in Nemo's face. If Nemo had believed his dad, there would be no Finding Nemo or Finding Dory. It would be a boring, lonely story of staying safe in their sea anemone home.
But Nemo is determined to prove his dad wrong. And slowly, bit by bit, Marlin bravely gives his son opportunities to try new things. To grow and learn on his own. To not hold him back because of his "lucky fin."
Dory's parents, Jenny and Charlie, also protect their child, but they know the best way they can protect her is to teach her strategies for remembering important information due to her "short term remembery loss." They could have kept her close, told her not to leave, as Marlin tried to, but they knew Dory needed to learn to stay safe and be able to find her way back home. And they clung to the hope that their daughter would be able to remember all they taught her.
When Dory eventually does find her way back home, using the methods her parents patiently taught her over and over again, they told her "You did it! You know what this means Dory? It means you can do anything!"
Ah, the power of encouragement. Of believing in your children and bravely encouraging them to try things on their own. Of not limiting them because of a diagnosis or disability. Of telling them that they can do things, though it may be challenging for them, if they keep trying.
I want my children to be overcomers, not over-protected. I want to encourage them to grow and bloom in their own unique way. I want them to be brave.
Sure, it may be a lot harder for them to do things than it is for the other children, but I want them to believe they can do anything. And I want them to know that the persistence they are learning now by having to work hard to do things that come naturally to others, is going to be helpful to them their entire lives. I want to nurture that fierceness, that persistence, that courage in them.
I want to encourage them to "Just keep swimming," and I want that to be a philosophy they live by. To keep persevering and experience victories along the way.
Who knew you could learn so much about brave parenting from some tropical fish?
Do you find yourself parenting more like Marlin, or more like Jenny and Charlie?