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Rachel Watkins knew she needed to be a better parent, but didn't expect to learn a big lesson in parenting from a children's movie.

My family really likes movies. I hesitate to say "love," but Fridays are usually a round robin of movies chosen by all from the youngest to Matt and me as parents and everyone in between. We rely on old favorites and strive to find new ones everyone might enjoy. There is even one movie that I dare say transformed our lives: an unlikely movie and an animated one, no less.

Though I’ve been a parent for over 30 years now, I can clearly remember the years when my parenting skills were inadequate. I parented more from emotion rather than decision. Now, I wanted to be better. I read books and magazines, and watched other, better parents at work but I couldn’t seem to find the spark I needed to spur me on to be better. I prayed to God for the light I needed to show me the way. I then saw a movie that with one line of dialogue forever changed me and how I try to parent my children.

Back in 2001, I had 7 children, ages 14 to 1, and decided to treat my crew to a movie in an actual theater with a tub of popcorn to share. This was a rare occurrence for us. Not only was the cost of a regular movie trip prohibitive, we didn’t take our children to every children’s movie based on a G rating. If we were headed out, it had to be for something pretty good (feel free to check the top 5 movies of that year and you will probably guess the movie we watched).

At the climax of the story, when you are lead to believe all is lost and there is no hope, one of the leads realizes the solution to the problem. It is so simple, and right before their eyes. “Laughter is 10x more powerful than screams.”

My children watched the last scenes of Monsters, Inc. with smiles on their faces. Me? Well, I was sobbing. There, in the dark of the theater, God spoke to me through Mike Wazowski and Sully. The monsters learned that while they thought screaming at the children was effective in securing power, the real source of power was getting them to laugh. The lesson they learned was exactly the lesson I desperately needed.

As a reminder to those who haven’t seen the movie lately (or perhaps at all) let me set the scene. The world of monsters, somewhere under our beds, gets all of its power from the screams of children. Each child has its own particular monster set to collect the scream as energy. The monsters consider these same children as dangerous and do everything to keep them out of their world. However, one small child, Boo by name makes it through the door and rather than be scared of her monster, Sully, voiced by John Goodman, she is entranced and falls in love. Without revealing all the details of this wonderful movie, the expected hysterical chaos ensues.

But, one very important detail is this: the best scarers are idolized and simulations are done by these record holders to train the newbies. Sully, Boo’s monster? Well, he’s the very best. In the big escape and chase scene, Boo witnesses a simulation from a hiding spot and is horrified to see Sully, her "Kitty," transformed into a real monster with fangs, claws, and frightening scream. She is terrified and no longer sees Sully with the same love or trust.


mom yelling at little girl


It was In this moment in time I saw my children’s faces in Boo and I was Sully. There in the dark, God revealed to me that I was relying on screaming at my children instead of consistent love and discipleship. I walked into the bright light of sunshine that Saturday morning forever changed. From that moment forward I began to think of myself as a recovering screamer. Screaming had become my go-to parenting technique, almost addictive.

With this as my better parenting spark, I began making use of not only the message and feelings from the movie but also checked out the techniques from 12 step programs for fighting addictive behaviors. From there, I include asking my children for their forgiveness from past hurts and repeating this step even now when necessary. Humbling, yet effective in stopping the behavior and healing the damage it does.


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Parenting isn’t easy, but God desires us to be the best parents we can be. #catholicmom

Now, some 20 years later with a total of 11 children, don’t think my house is one full of giggles and guffaws as life isn’t a movie. But, I’ve learned that my children will obey me when I ask with a quieter voice, even a silly voice as well as a firm voice. Of course, I slip up but I’ve learned that relying on screaming as a parenting tool is just as ineffective as it was in getting power for the monsters.

Parenting isn’t easy, but God desires us to be the best parents we can be. He wants us to lead with love in all things and especially in our families. When we realize we are slipping up, and when we ask for His help, we have to be open to when and how He will answer that prayer. It might even come from an unlikely source, such as a favorite movie.


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Copyright 2021 Rachel Watkins
Images: Canva Pro