The Incredibles (Potential Spoilers!)
Fourteen years ago, Michael and I went on our first date! He took me to a nice restaurant, and then we went to watch “The Incredibles” in the theater.
You know the plot if you’ve seen the movie. The “Supers” become illegal, and Bob and Helen Parr and their family are forced to hide their super abilities and live “normal” lives. Bob has a miserable job at an insurance firm where he tries to perform a menial job without sacrificing his integrity. The firm doesn’t appreciate his heroics to save their clients from the pitfalls of the bureaucracy, and he is otherwise miserable.
Meanwhile, Helen is a stay-at-home mom, using her super skills to raise her family, and their children are conflicted by the messages of limiting themselves in spite of their talents, wanting to be something more.
Flash forward ten years, and Michael and I have three kids. Our oldest happens to be a girl, followed by two boys, so they like to pretend to be Violet, Dash, and Jack-Jack. Little did they know how real the story felt to us.
Soon after Michael and I were married, we were quickly reduced to surviving on a menial job with minimal income. Michael was basically underemployed. He has a Master’s degree that has done little to propel his career. I began to learn what it means for a man who has incredible skills and credentials with no outlet and little recognition.
While my super powers have been useful in the home, his powers seemed to atrophy and we longed for a time when our skills had more utility. We were both getting out of shape and submitting to this somewhat pathetic reality, just like Bob and Helen. We were to stick to the script, and make ends meet, while trying to figure out our real ambitions.
There was a moment when it looked like we were going to be rescued. Someone came along and offered Michael a job that promised skill development with a high paycheck. At first, it did. He had plenty of work, and people who valued him. We felt secure and the future was bright.
Five years in, and it isn’t looking too promising anymore.
The other day, we went to see “Incredibles 2” and I realized that our saga continues. In the sequel, Bob is back in the doghouse. His employer that seemed to be promising turned out to be a villain, and his family is broke. An unconventional opportunity presents itself, and Bob and Helen are asked to reverse roles. Helen is assigned the task of superhero work, while Bob stays home to parent and manage the home.
The movie discusses this idea of two roles: basically, the spotlight, and the backend. You watch Mr. Incredible, who is normally in the spotlight, struggle to cover the huge responsibility of managing the home and family, maybe not quite realizing how challenging that role is. The reality is that the perceived backend role is so often unheralded that we forget how powerful that role really is! This is evident in the discussion Elastigirl has with Evelyn Deaver who appears to be in the shadow of her brother Winston who runs their company. The spotlight is a powerful frontman who propels the mission forward, but the backend is the one with the plan!
I heard Dr. Hank Smith say in a speech he gave at the LDSHE conference this year that it’s as though he and his wife are riding a tandem bicycle where he pedals the bike, but she steers the handlebars. While dads generally preside in the home, they provide support for moms who lead out in a lot of ways to nurture and teach their families.
Who is really in the supportive role here? Neither. They are both crucial!! Sometimes, parents find themselves in this situation where the roles are reversed, and they struggle. The truth is, both roles are powerful and needed. And, I think the ultimate message of the second Incredibles movie is that these roles can be shared. It’s not just mom’s role to nurture and teach the family, and it’s not just dad’s role to mentor and provide.
The main goal for parents is that it is necessary that both parties come together to agree on their roles, and also agree to share these roles in many ways. That’s what defining your family culture is all about. Families who come together and define their values, vision, traditions, and roles will see how all the pieces fit together to make one family unit.
I am finding myself in this role of figuring out how to be a provider, without diminishing my essential role of mother, and while not undermining Michael’s capacity, skills, and viability. The reality is, that just because one of us takes on a piece of the role that is “supposed to be” the other’s, it does not mean either is less capable. I take issue with a culture that views dads as “babysitters” instead of parents, or an extra child instead of a partner. I saw this article the other day about a husband who says he doesn’t “help” his wife because they are partners! They are mutual partners in parenting, providing, maintaining, cleaning, managing, supporting, and leading. This is also the issue with husbands who feel threatened by wives who have more successful careers. The argument is obsolete, as long as neither role is neglected. Let’s show each other a little more appreciation for what we are both trying to accomplish.
Does this mean that our roles are more confusing? Does this mean that our roles are less defined? Does this mean that one role is more important than the other? No. The task of deliberately establishing our family culture falls to mom and dad to sit down and define the family’s needs and define what part of each role they will both fulfill.
I’m not much of a hero in my capacity to provide, yet, and Michael is still in Syndrome’s detention cell. I guess our story hasn’t quite reached the sequel. I’m still suiting up. I’m just getting started, and Michael is refining his super powers. We still have obstacles to tackle, villains to defeat, and internal battles waging on. How I pray that our path will open up soon! And, that our skills and capacity to serve others will provide utility and abundance for everyone involved.
That’s what I hope to provide for you, my audience. I want to help you in your journey of defining your roles, your values, and your stories that strengthen your families. If it saves your family then I know I’m on the right track. Maybe this is my super identity!
Please note: I do not disagree with predefined, customary gender roles. I simply believe that if you’re going to thrive, your family needs to agree on how to fulfill the needed responsibilities, and the needs of your family members.
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