Helen Parr’s Messy Work-Life Balance

I wrote this yesterday on a whim, but didn’t feel like sending out anywhere. So, I’m publishing here…

It’s been fourteen years since the last Incredibles movie as the actors remind us in an unnecessary promo in the beginning of the Incredibles 2. What’s happened in that time to the characters? Not that much. The teenagers are still being teenagers, surly and shy. Bob is still a knucklehead. With the large age gap, Jack-Jack is the classic “ooops, we forgot to use birth control” baby. In this movie, he’s still toddling around and developing his powers.

Like any superpower movie, there are bad guys who want to destroy the world. The public is annoyed with the inevitable clean up afterwards, as they were in Spiderman Homecoming. Like the X-Men films, the supers have to deal with the general distrust of those with weird powers.

But those themes are secondary to the real drama, which surround Helen’s role as a mother and her itch to work. Can Bob take over as lead parent for a while? Can she ramp up her career and join the ranks of other career women? Can she still save the world and look good in Lulumon spandex with the perimenopausal spread of her hips and boobs? Can she travel for work without calling home a million times?

In the first movie, Bob is frustrated by doing a dumb job just for the money, rather than pursing his passion. Helen has embraced her job as a stay at home mom who vacuums the hallway and provides “leftover night” dinners for the family. She reluctantly goes back to work to save her husband by temporarily outsourcing the childcare to a babysitter and trusting the teenagers on their own in a cave.

But as any parent of a teenager knows that leaving them on their own only leads to cases of Bud Light, red solo cups, and ping pong balls in the basement, so Helen’s return to work was short lived.

In the Incredibles 2, Helen gets a great opportunity from the Elon Musk character. Bob tells her to take the job and he’ll take care of the kids. He’ll be lead parent, which in the lingo of Gen-X parents, means the parent who keeps track of homework, doctors’ appointments, and the never-ending drama over the mean girls on Instagram.

At first, he bungles it. He interferes too much with Violet’s crush on the boring boy. He can ’t figure out Dash’s new math homework.  Everyone hates Common Core math! And Jack-Jack has special needs – excessive super powers. But Bob figures it all out and ends up rocking the Stay-at-Home Dad thing.

Meanwhile, Helen is finally using her brain and her abilities, after stagnating for years in the school pick-up line in the mini-van. She is able to schmooze with Evelyn, the “power woman” who managed to get the top-ish of her profession. Sure, the main job goes to the flashy guy, but Evelyn’s comfortable with her glass ceiling. She’s the real brains of the operation. And Helen relishes every minute of her grown up time away from the dumb debates about peanut free lunches in the PTA meetings.

Even with Bob managing the home front, he’s still needed to save the day. How is going to manage it with the kids? It’s “Bring the Kids to Work Day”! With all five Parrs working together, passing off Jack-Jack in the stroller like an old football, they’re able to defeat evil and save the day.

So, like any Gen-X family dynamic, work and family happen. Helen and Bob “have it all” just not necessarily at the same time and not necessarily neatly, but good enough.

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6 thoughts on “Helen Parr’s Messy Work-Life Balance

  1. Nice essay.

    The only thing else I heard about this movie is that Anthony Lane was creeping on Elastigirl’s butt or something. Honestly, I saw the first one, but I really don’t have any strong memories of it and my desire to see animated movies in general is close to zero.

  2. I haven’t seen it yet (sooon), but I have to say that Elastigirl shouldn’t have issues with her figure, seeing as how she’s Elastigirl and all.

    I find Jack-Jack terrifying. How has he not incinerated/lasered his entire family to death yet?

  3. My sister, our friend’s daughter, and I all independently thought of the Bechdel test during Helen and Evelyn’s conversations (though I suppose that Helen’s conversations with Violet count as well). It’s amazing that movie conversations between women that don’t relate to boys/men are so unusual that this actually occurred to all of us.

  4. Also, Baby Jack-Jack could not possibly ever go to normal daycare.

    He probably also couldn’t go to preschool or pre-k, and I suspect kindergarten and 1st grade would still be a stretch.

  5. I’ll be a party pooper and mention that I never liked The Incredibles and have no desire to see the sequel. I also thought that the storyline about the stay at home dad and the working mom trying to juggle both work and family went out with Mr. Mom.

  6. Wendy said,

    ” I also thought that the storyline about the stay at home dad and the working mom trying to juggle both work and family went out with Mr. Mom.”

    Well, I haven’t seen it yet, but it may just be a reversal of the first movie, in which Mr. Incredible discovers he can’t go it alone.

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