Pixar Parenting Tips: Brave

Pixar stepped into the spotlight in 1995 when it released its first full-length animated movie, “Toy Story”. Since then, Pixar has grown to be one of the most powerful movie studios in the world and has produced three of the highest grossing animated movies of all time. While their animation has always been cutting-edge and visually stunning, I think the biggest reason for their box office success is their ability to tell a great story, and I have found that many of their films touch on salient lessons for parents.

My wife and I took our son to see Pixar’s latest feature, “Brave”, last week. The animation was spectacular, and the story was engaging. The central plot (and I promise that this is not a spoiler) is the battle between headstrong Scottish clan princess, Merida and her mother, Queen Elinor. Basically, this is a story of a loving mother who has certain expectations and dreams for her child, and a young girl whose passions, talents, and slight immaturity are in direct conflict with her mother’s plan for her.

From a parenting perspective, I completely understand the idea of dreaming big things for your kid and wanting what is best for him/her, but I also understand the pressure that teens face when they have to live up to expectations that they either don’t fully understand or don’t agree with.

Some might argue that young people are not mature enough to understand the intricacies of the “real world” and should put their personal views on the shelf and follow their parents’ expectations, directions, and rules, even well past the age of 18. On the other end of the spectrum, others might argue that kids should be free to carve out their own destinies and that parents should step back and allow them to choose their own path in life. I think the best answer lies somewhere in between.

Religious or not, you may have heard the proverb from the Old Testament that says, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6). Some might use this verse as a Biblical mandate for parents to direct every aspect of the lives of their children, but the truer and deeper meaning behind this verse is very compelling and challenging to us as parents — and you don’t have to hold to a particular religious belief to see the value in this piece of written wisdom.

When the text talks about training a child in “the way he should go” it’s not saying “the way that his parents think he should go”, but “the way he is bent to go”. The word for “bent” is an archery term that refers to the specific characteristics and design of a bow. Just like it would be impossible for an archer to try to bend a bow against the way it was designed to bend and expect to shoot an arrow with any accuracy, parents who try to raise a child by pulling against his unique bent are fighting a frustrating and futile battle.

As parents, we have to be students of our children’s natural bent (and multiple children will likely have different bents). Harrison is only four, but I am already seeing characteristics in him that are vastly different from the way I was as a child. As he grows, I am going to have to be mindful of his bent and adjust certain parts of my parenting to fit who he is, not who I wish him to be. The idea that our kids may not be exactly what we have envisioned and planned for them to be is a difficult pill to swallow, but if we can come to grips with that fact, I think we will be able to raise healthier, more confident future-adults.

I love that Merida is a girl who is battling her mother’s set-in-stone expectations and that she is also a talented archer, because it’s such a vivid visual representation of the struggle and challenge that parents and children have been engaged since the beginning of time.

Who knew that Pixar and Proverbs had so much wisdom in common?

From time to time, I will forget the lessons I wrote about above, and I’ll try to bend you into something for which you are not designed. Part of that will be me genuinely trying to discover your bent, and part of it may be me wrongly trying to train you according to my bent. While there are some things that Mom and I will never stop trying to teach you (honesty, integrity, God’s love, etc), our prayer is that we are always taking your bent into consideration, and that we raise you in the way that you have been created to go.

  • Geoff

    I can personally relate to this topic as I have been a child, adolescent and now grown adult who has struggled with the tug of war act between my parents expectations of who I am and will be and with who I have decided to be. I think your explanation of the “bent” of child is spot on. I try to be cognoscent of this while rearing my own child and soon to be children. As a now adult child of stern Catholic parents in the baby boomer generation I experienced much manipulation and coercion by my parents while growing up. In their minds I was expected to be a certain person, act a certain way, believe a certain belief and cater to them a certain way that they had already dreamed up for me. I am still expected to fall into this parallel reality of theirs’ to this day. I was to have no part in the creation story of myself. My life was expected to be ” the life of Geoff according or his parents”, written by mom and dad. Now, at age 32 and over a year of psychiatric counseling I see this sick cycle that I lived through my whole life and am sad and sorry to say that my relationship with my parents is less than stellar. I am sure their intentions and behaviors were nothing pre-conceived but they had an everlasting effect on me now. So my advice to myself and other parents is to definitely learn your child’s bent sooner than later. I am sure it will help develop a life long relationship full of respect and understanding rather than guilt anger and deceit.