Life is full of lessons, and while we can be honest with ourselves in admitting they're not always fun to learn along the way. As adults, not only do our life lessons land on our plate, but setting an example of the importance of specific life lessons for our kids winds up there too. Think of it as eating your vegetables; while you don't always hate them, some are great, but you'd still often prefer that cookie over the steamed cauliflower. The good news is there are plenty of ways to make these life lessons much more palatable for the whole family.
Take the lesson of perseverance, an important life skill and lesson to understand. Various definitions can result in a simple understanding of finishing what you start and pushing forward despite setbacks or complications. Often closely related to a variety of other concepts, including resilience, motivation, drive, determination, grit, passion, and conscientiousness. Perhaps one of the most notable family movies to showcase what this might look like in action is the Pixar movie Finding Nemo. A movie immersed in lessons the whole family can learn from regardless of age. While on the surface, Finding Nemo is a story about family, loss, friendship, and not giving up; the tales and turmoil found throughout Marlin and Dory's journey to find and rescue his lost son Nemo go much deeper than the first appearance.
Dealing with Loss
From the movie's beginning, we are hit with the sad reality of life. Bad things are bound to happen. Excited to be new parents, we admire the view from Marlin and his wife Coral's new home within the sea overlooking the drop-off of a coral reef. Below them, their clutch of eggs lies hidden in a small hole. While basking in their joy, they discuss baby names, with Coral expressing her fondness for "Nemo." Distracted by their enjoyment of their moment, the appearance of a barracuda suddenly draws Coral's attention. Ignoring Marlin's order to hide, Coral moves to protect her eggs, and the barracuda lunges. Marlin rushes in, but the barracuda knocks him out with a flick of its tail, sending him back into the anemone. When he comes to that night, he discovers that Coral and the eggs are gone but manages to find a single surviving egg with a scratch on its right side. Vowing to protect it, he names the codling Nemo.
Life Happens Beyond Our Comfort Zone
When Marlin loses his wife and remaining children, his life becomes about his son Nemo. Driven by fear of anything happening to Nemo, he is unaware that his love for Nemo is blinding him to how his worries are causing him to seek control. As a result, he is seen throughout the movie as he struggles with the concept of giving up control, his place of comfort. He is working to keep Nemo from any harm; he does his best to shelter his son from negative experiences. After Nemo has ultimately rebelled against his dad and gotten lost in the process, Marlin sets off to find him and, with the help of his friend Dory is able to help find pieces of himself he was missing along the way.
Beyond this, she gives him whispers of hope to push him past his comfort zone and find the resilience within to continue his journey, even as he starts to lose hope. So, she does what any good friend would and offers him the truth. "Well, you can't never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him." It's evident before meeting Dory that he never thought of things this way. This opens his perspective and allows Marlin to start living with more awareness of his limiting beliefs.
Parents aren't Perfect
One thing that Dory does well throughout the film is offering new perspectives on which to view situations and the world. She provides simple reminders that all of us can benefit from hearing, such as "Whoa, whoa, whoa! Hey! Relax. Take a deep breath." During moments of worry, doubt, and anxiety, Dory helps remind Marlin that taking things one thing at a time is often enough to help us remain calm.
Her perchance for perspective is ongoing as she converses with Marlin. During their journey, reminding him and us as viewers that there's always more out there than our current view of a situation with the brilliant line "It's the ocean, silly, we're not the only two in here." By reminding him that the world is bigger than him and any problems he may face she reminds us that by remaining open to more than ourselves we open ourselves up to a much larger pool of possibilities.
As Marlin battles his automatic negative thoughts, he also finds that he is beginning to bond with Dory. Through this, he can discover trust, companionship, and strength in their newfound partnership. As he is still battling the nagging feeling of despair that they may never find Nemo, Dory again opens his eyes, urging him to stay positive. "Well then, how are we gonna do that unless we give it a shot and hope for the best?" This is all it takes for Dory to convince her friend that giving up isn't an option, and if they want to find a way, they must keep going, try, and hope for the best. This is all before convincing her friend that the path to Nemo may require trusting a whale to help them out and they are being swallowed to what Marlin is certain is their demise. Still, Dory's ability to remain optimistic and hopeful leads them closer to Nemo and reminds all of us that sometimes the only thing we can do is try.
Focus on the ABILITY, not the Disability
The running theme of perseverance is still prevalent in Nemo's moments away from his father and his attempts to escape his tank prison in the dentist's office he's found himself in. On the first assessment of his situation and options, Nemo displays doubt and fear in the name of concern over his injury. When he gets stuck in the fish tank filter, he tells Gil, the leader of the tank gang of fish, that he can't do it as he has a bad fin.
Gil replies: "never stopped me," a line that completely resonates with the tenacity and perseverance to be found within all of us. Nemo tries and tries and becomes free of his hold, a determination that proves his abilities, allowing him to continue his attempts to escape. Gil watches the incident unfold and eventually Nemo despite his injured fin, can be seen struggling against the water flow trying to stop the filter in his tank prison. Nemo fights past his self-doubt and limitations. He allows his determination to reunite with his dad and his belief in both Gil's words and abilities and escapes at last.
Just Keep Swimming
When kids face challenges, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and frustrated. This can cause them to shut down or feel anxious; sometimes, they can even present bad behaviors. The best way to keep these feelings at bay is to help your children develop perseverance. Reminding them of moments they have pushed through difficulty in the past is a great start to cement this idea in their minds. You are reminding them of their value. Remind them and praise them for their efforts as much and as often as you praise them for strengths and triumphs and show them, you believe in them by allowing them more opportunities to attempt things independently. Allow them to witness you try something, even as you, too, struggle. Aim to avoid giving up on tedious or challenging tasks, as this modeling opportunity will allow you and your child to build your own resilience and perseverance.
At its heart, Finding Nemo shows us that striving for something and not giving up helps win the day. On the opposite side of this, we see Marlin and Dory, two very different characters on what seems like a hopeless quest. When nothing appears to be going well, Dory utters one of the most iconic animated lines ever as a means to spur Marlin on to find his son: "When life gets you down, you know what you've got to do? Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming. What do we do? We swim, swim." Dory knows that no matter the situation, you should never give up.
A self-described geek, Maria Laquerre-Diego is a CEO and Owner who is committed to increasing access to mental health services and breaking down the stigma surrounding therapy services. As a therapist turned CEO, Maria has developed a unique perspective when it comes to mental health and the barriers surrounding mental health treatment. Influenced by her time at New Mexico State University in the Family and Consumer Science department, and University of New Hampshire’s Marriage and Family Therapy department, Maria has turned her dedication to giving back and supporting future generations of therapists. In addition to supporting mental health providers, Maria takes an active role in addressing the continued stigma of mental health services through the use of pop culture – everything from movies and television shows to superheroes and Disney characters. Maria has spoken about mental health at several local events, has served as an officer on professional boards and has provided training to clinicians all over the country while maintaining her and her family’s roots as Aggies! Outside of the office, Maria can be found spending time with her family and loved ones, exploring the world through travel, and creating cosplays for herself, her husband and their two little ones. Maria is always happy to talk about Star Wars, Marvel and mental health and can be contacted through her practice website www.anewhopetc.org