The best part about writing a series of articles about parenting in Disney movies is that my family loves to do my research with me. When we finished watching Brave I spent some time discussing possible talking points with my husband. We talked about how we hurt those we love the most, how it is important to support your spouse in front of your children, and that sometimes role-play can be helpful.
We sat in silent for a few minutes and then he said, “This is a story where they learn to communicate when they can’t communicate.” Good golly, I love him. That is the point of the story and the best parenting lesson we can learn from Brave.
Our four-year-old son has Down Syndrome and Autism. He is nonverbal. He says “Momma” and “Dadda”—that’s it. For the most part, though, he manages to make himself understood. Do I know when he is angry? Absolutely. But I also know when he is happy, tired, hungry, sad, excited. We have found a rhythm, a means of communication that is unique to us. Don’t get me wrong, I am so looking forward to the day he says “eat” or “milk,” but sometimes words are overrated and words are what seem to get in Merida and Queen Elinor’s way.
“This is a story where they learn to communicate when they can’t communicate.”
There is a sequence in the movie, following an argument, where we get to see these women say what they should have said to each other face to face. We see that they obviously love each other, they both want what is best. We see that while they can talk to one another, they have completely lost the ability to communicate. In this moment, Disney throws in the catalyst to change for our story: Merida kind of accidentally turns her mother into a bear. Now that they have completely lost the ability to talk to one another, they have to learn to communicate.
Watch the movie again and notice how learning to communicate requires both of them to step really far out of their comfort zones. Mom has to live in the woods, Merida has to act like a queen. They have to rely on the other’s skill to be successful. Queen Elinor learns to hunt; Merida learns how to command a room. They both learn the value of the other’s skills. It reminds me of the Albert Einstein quote, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
During this time of nonverbal communication, we see Queen Elinor recognize Merida’s genius and vice versa. And that is the beauty of this story: they have always loved each other but now they also understand each other. That acceptance, forgiveness, and ability to rely on each other is what mends their previously broken bond.
The successful author and writer Peter Drucker said, “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.” I think Queen Elinor and Merida would add to that, “And learning how to say what isn’t being said.” In my own family, the day may never come when our son can sit down and talk with us detailing what is on his mind; that makes me sad. But as I learn from his genius, I continue to learn how to say what isn’t being said just by loving and saying nothing at all.