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Five Parenting Lessons I Learned from Mrs Doubtfire

Why a fictional movie character is the best nanny ever

“Ever since my children were born, the moment I looked at them, I was crazy about them. And once I held them, I was hooked. I’m addicted to my children, sir. I love them with all my heart, and the idea of someone telling me I can’t be with them, I can’t see them every day… it’s like someone saying I can’t have air. I can’t live without air, and I can’t live without them.” – Mrs Doubtfire

When people ask me who my parenting icons are, I always get funny looks when my immediate response is “Mrs Doubtfire.” On the surface of it, I can understand why people think it strange. If you haven’t seen the film (and I highly recommend you do), it stars Robin Williams as Daniel Hillard, a voice actor whose wife, Miranda, leaves him because she thinks he’s too unreliable. She gains full custody of their three children and Daniel will only get to have shared custody if he can get steady employment and his own place within the next three months.

When Daniel learns that Miranda is looking for a housekeeper to help with the children, he decides that it’s the perfect way for him to spend time with his children. Using his voice acting abilities, he poses as a number of unsuitable candidates before calling as Mrs Euphegenia Doubtfire. Impressing Miranda with ‘her’ down-to-earth and no-nonsense attitude, Daniel gets the job and with it the opportunity to be close to his beloved family.

There are so many reasons why the character resonates with me. Firstly, I’m a huge fan of Robin Williams and was absolutely devastated when he passed in August 2014. While many attributed it to his struggle with depression, it was subsequently revealed that he suffered from Lewy body disease, a form of dementia which causes an array of symptoms, including changes in sleep, behaviour and cognition. That particularly struck a chord with me because of my experiences of having a brain tumour and the impact that had on my physical and mental health. I was lucky to receive treatment; there is no cure for Lewy body disease and the life expectancy after diagnosis is a mere eight years.

Knowing what Williams would eventually go through adds an extra layer of emotion to all his films for me, which gives Mrs Doubtfire an even greater significance for me. But that’s not the only reason why I love the character so much.

The lessons Mrs Doubtfire can teach us

There’s a lot we can all learn from Mrs Doubtfire.

  1. You can have a good time together and still discipline your kids

As Daniel, he was the fun parent, in contrast to Miranda. This was one of the reasons for the breakdown of their relationship – she was tired of having to be the disciplinarian, while Daniel got to joke around and be playful all the time. As Mrs Doubtfire, Daniel manages to strike a balance between the two approaches. Mrs Doubtfire plays games and enjoys spending time with the children, but she’s always the one in charge. She never loses her sense of authority, and the children respect her and what she says.

  1. Parents are allowed to make mistakes too

How often do you say to your child, “you made a mistake and that’s okay”? We understand that children will mess up because it’s part of the learning process, yet we don’t extend the same understanding to ourselves. Daniel learns that he made mistakes as a parent, but he learns from them so he can do better as Mrs Doubtfire. Being a parent is a constant learning curve. Every stage brings new challenges and new mistakes. It’s okay! You’re only human. Learn from them and keep doing your best. It’s all any of us can do.

  1. Your child will always come first

While Daniel and Miranda had very different ideas about what it took to raise a family, one thing united them: the children were always their highest priority. Daniel went to extreme lengths to be able to spend time with his children after he was told he might lose access. As a parent, you (probably!) won’t have to disguise yourself as a nanny to be with your kids, but the moment they’re born, you know you’ll do anything for them.

  1. Humour is key to parenting

The number one thing that kept me sane during those crazy early years of being a parent is having a sense of humour. Being able to laugh at yourself and not take life too seriously makes for a much easier parenting experience. When you make sure you have fun with your children and actively enjoy being a parent, you build fond memories which will last a lifetime. Children forget what you got them for Christmas, but they’ll always remember the feeling of being surrounded by love and laughter.

  1. Your kids will always surprise you

One thing that strikes me about Mrs Doubtfire is how good she was at thinking on her feet. As a parent, you always have to be prepared to improvise. Children can be unpredictable, so you need to be able to go with the flow – even if you end up faceplanting into a cake. It doesn’t matter how much you think you’ve got this parenting thing sorted, there’s always going to be something which throws you a curve ball. Having the capacity to accept things as they come and be with your child at their level will make life so much easier.

I’ll admit that I’ve had those times when I’ve asked myself What would Mrs Doubtfire do? It might seem like a strange source of inspiration, but I hope now you understand why I love her so much. If you haven’t seen the film yet, go check it out – and take notes so you can improve your parenting skills!