People just can't help themselves: mom leaves the house for a business trip or a weekend away or a night out with her friends, and the comments begin. Is Dad going to be OK watching the kids all by himself? How did you get him to agree to babysit? I bet you're going to be calling every five minutes. That mindset — that everything comes crashing down when mom leave the house — is so pervasive that Disney-Pixar weaved it in beautifully with their latest hit, The Incredibles II. Amid the exhilarating superhero scenes with Elastigirl, the subplot circles around whether Mr. Incredible can handle being a stay-at-home dad, and alludes to an important question: Has Elastigirl been doing most of the parenting? If so, what the heck, Mr. Incredible?
Fourteen years ago in the first movie, the world — and the Parr kids — fell hard for Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) after finding out that, oh, she wasn't just a regular mom; she was a bonafide superhero. Feminism has moved on since then, and it seems less revolutionary that she can kick ass and also do some momming this time around. In The Incredibles II, the story opens as Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), Elastigirl, their kids, and their BFF Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) have pretty much just finished defeating evil. In the sequel, they're being told they have to go into hiding again because the world is just not ready for Supers. But, like all good movies, someone out there believes in them, and that one person is hoping to give Supers some good publicity by putting Elastigirl front and center in some precarious situations (a tense motorcycle scene; much acrobatic stretching) so she can save the day and win back the public's good graces.
Why is it so tough for Mr. Incredible to fathom being a 'single' parent while his wife works?
Feminism, right? A hardcore amazing approach to what women can do other than raising children. But Mr. Incredible? He's pretty miffed about it. And while you can say that a lot of it has to do with the toxic masculinity bred in him by society (he's so jealous of his wife's success, he can't understand why she gets to go and he has to stay home, and thinks his position as a stay-at-home dad is worth less than a career as a superhero), there's also some major vulnerability there. I mean, being a parent on your own is hard. Being a dad who's used to working outside of the home? Even tougher.
But here's the thing — why is it so tough for Mr. Incredible to fathom being a "single" parent while his wife works? Sure, a mom dealing with a husband out of town for a few weeks can find herself into a frenzy, too, but there seems to be a bit of blind panic flailing about in Mr. Incredible's eyes. You have to ask yourself a hard question here — is it because Elastigirl's been doing the lion's share of domestic labor and thought-work?
In one scene, Elastigirl is riding her boss motorcycle — literally chasing a runaway train being controlled by a villain — when she gets a phone call from Dash, her middle son. Of course, everything at home is fine, he just wants to know where his shoes are because "Dad can't find them." In the background, you hear Mr. Incredible yelling that he's looking for them and that Dash shouldn't call his mom for help. It's a quick scene and Elastigirl hangs up pretty swiftly, but it's a realistic look at how parenting is seen through the eyes of kids in homes where the balance has been off-kilter. Moms knows where your shoes are. Mom knows all. Mom's the one doing all the work. And Mom's the primary parent.
Mr. Incredible is frustrated with the 'new way' of doing math, and, as his irritation escalates, Dash calmly suggests that maybe they should just wait until Mom comes home to tackle it.
It happens again in a scene where Dash is struggling with his math homework. Mr. Incredible is frustrated with the "new way" of doing math, and, as his irritation escalates, Dash calmly suggests that maybe they should just wait until Mom comes home to tackle it. Again, Mr. Incredible loses his cool, claiming he can totally handle some math homework, and ends up waking up in the middle of the night to figure the entire thing out as his children sleep.
Later, when Elastigirl calls to see how things are going at home, a split-second pause by Mr. Incredible gives away the ~situation~ with Jack Jack; Elastigirl insists she's on her way home to "fix" whatever has gone awry. You know, like she probably always does. At the same time, she's dying to know about Violet's first big date with the boy she likes. And of course, Mr. Incredible can't tell Elastigirl that the boy doesn't remember Violet thanks to having his memory wiped after he saw her as a Super, and has to pretend like everything's OK. It's a classically infantilizing, "Don't get in trouble with Mom!" moment for this hapless dad.
The stereotype that moms do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to parenthood seems to ring true in the Parr household, as well as for the majority of families. In a Pew Research Center survey, 1,807 U.S. parents with children under the age of 18 were grouped to find out how the responsibility of parenting is split in each home. Unsurprisingly, those households that had both a full-time working mom and a full-time working dad split their responsibilities more evenly than those who had a full-time working dad and a mom who stayed home or worked part-time. But even in a household with two full-time working parents, the balance was off-kilter. According to the study, 54 percent of parents said that most of the parenting responsibility still fell to the mother, even while she works full-time.
(Personal disclaimer here: staying home with children, and being a part-time employee while also staying home with children, are totally full-time jobs, too. But you know where we're going with this.)
So was Elastigirl doing it all? Survey says... yes. Like, literally. The aforementioned survey noted that even in homes where both parents work full-time, the mom is still responsible for most of the parenting duties, and, often, the emotional labor. But in a home where the dad works full-time and the mom stays home, the balance is even more out of whack. Without giving specific statistics, the survey concluded that, unsurprisingly, mom takes on most of the parenting and household duties when dad works full-time.
It's no secret that men are routinely applauded for doing the smallest things related to parenting, like changing a diaper in a public restroom or feeding the baby.
But parenting isn't a "chore." It's not something that just gets checked off your list each day. Parenting is a full-time job all on its own, clichéd memes aside. Whether Elastigirl's been fighting alongside Mr. Incredible for months before the switch or she had continued to be a stay-at-home mom while he went off to work, the truth is, both parents should be doing an equal amount of parenting. (We won't get into the division of household responsibilities, because that's an entirely different argument.)
To be fair, Mr. Incredible really tackles his new role as stay-at-home dad the best he can. He keeps things to himself rather than distracting Elastigirl from his job, he figures out Dash's math homework so Dash can quit saying they'll "wait until Mom gets home," and tries desperately to fix Violet's boyfriend issues. But that brings up a whole new set of issues. If Elastigirl's been doing all the parenting this whole time, does Mr. Incredible really deserve that much praise? It's no secret that men are routinely applauded for doing the smallest things related to parenting, like changing a diaper in a public restroom or feeding the baby, but the frustration is even more prevalent when, before, Mr. Incredible was hiding in the kitchen while his wife handled three kids at dinner so he could read the newspaper. A concern some watchers saw as inherently progressive...
So beautiful and touching for Mr. Incredible to, you know, be the dad he actually is. Look, I'll just say it — Elastigirl was totally doing all of the parenting in that house and Mr. Incredible was just along for the ride.
But now that he's had a taste of being a stay-at-home dad, maybe he'll help out with the homework and know where the shoes are on the first try, rather than trying to prove a point to his kids and wife that he can handle it. I mean, nobody's praising Elastigirl for keeping Jack Jack alive, right? (And seriously, if you've seen the movie you know that everyone should get praised for keeping Jack Jack alive.)