How 'Mary Poppins Returns' Changed The Way I Parent

by Brandi Jeter Riley
Originally Published: 
LEFT: Walt Disney Pictures, Lucamar Productions, Marc Platt Productions; RIGHT: Brandi Jeter Riley

I haven’t been the best mom the last few months. It’s not due to lack of trying. I’ve just been overwhelmed a lot. Somehow I forgot what it was like to have a toddler after my first child, and I wasn’t prepared for his level of activity and opinions. Between my 19-month-old, 4th grade daughter, work, volunteer obligations, and my husband, trying to do it all has affected the way I do everything. Of all of my duties that have suffered, parenting has probably fared the worst.

When my daughter was a baby, I prioritized giving her a great childhood over everything. I worked full-time and she went to daycare, but I’d still do fun little projects with her to make sure she was well-rounded. We’d go out to the zoo or museums on the weekends to make sure her little brain was being stimulated and we were creating memories.

It wasn’t just about her having a good time, either. I relished those moments, and loved researching new places for us to go and things to do. Experiencing life through the lens of my baby girl made everything we did extraordinarily special and fun. No matter how many times I had done something before, doing it with my daughter made it feel like my very first time.

Most importantly, I listened to her. I took the time to decipher her jibberish when she was a toddler. As she learned to speak more eloquently, I asked her questions and talked to her about everything from her feelings to her favorite things. Somehow, over the last few months, though, I had not been that mom.

About a year after my son was born, I was diagnosed with postpartum anxiety. The medication I was prescribed took away the anxiety, but unfortunately left me feeling apathetic about most things. I never sat completely out of parenting, but the spark I had as a mom the first time around was gone. My son wasn’t getting the art projects and early morning trips to the playground that were the norm with my daughter. Instead, I’d putz around the house all day counting down the hours until my husband got home.

It finally dawned on me that I wasn’t myself anymore. I talked to my doctor and was prescribed a different dose of my medication. After I switched, the fog was lifted, and I looked at my kids, grateful that I hadn’t completely ruined them during my time away from myself, but not quite sure how to get back to the mom I was, the mom I wanted to be.

It’s weird to admit, but I didn’t know where to start being a better parent.

Then I saw the premiere of Mary Poppins Returns a few weeks ago. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but that movie has changed the way that I parent in the short time since I saw it. I’m not kidding.

In Mary Poppins Returns, the children, Jane and Michael Banks, are adults. Michael is a widower who has three children. Mary Poppins (played by Emily Blunt) is as spectacular as ever, but watching this movie as a mom gave me some insight into parenting that I was not expecting when I walked into the theater.

Like most folks, I saw Mary Poppins when I was a little kid. I loved the music and watched the film a million times over the years. I’m a real fan, but I’ve always been most interested in Mary Poppins and the kids. I didn’t think much about Mr. Banks, the father in the film. Watching Mary Poppins Returns, all I could focus on was the father and what he was going through: The duality of having to struggle with adult things while keeping your children innocent. Trying to balance wanting your kids to be carefree and expressive with needing them to just be still sometimes. The moments when you react without thinking and your tone is too sharp or your voice is too loud. You know, those times that you feel like you’ve failed as a parent.

I’d been feeling like that a lot. I was been too embarrassed to check in with my daughter to see how she perceived what was going on with me as her mom. Then I watched the movie and saw how the Banks kids bounced back after difficult interactions with their dad, and remembered how resilient my own children are.

In the film, a particularly tough scene between the dad and the children is followed by a big musical number. The kids had all but forgotten what had transpired with their father just minutes earlier and were able to “trip a little light fantastic”on the streets of London. Yeah, I get that it’s a musical, and that’s what musicals do, but still, it made me think about how at times I stay stuck in a dark place when I can get up, move, dance, sing, play, anything to try to find joy and happiness and light, just like the Banks kids did, just like my kids do.

There’s another scene where the father finally breaks down in front of the children. Too exhausted to hide what he’s going through anymore, he actually talks to them. The kids remind him — through song of course — of all that he has even though he feels like he has nothing. That’s when I lost it. With tears streaming down my face, I realized I needed to trust my children, especially my daughter, more. I needed to let go of this idea that she expects me to be a perfect mom, and just be a mom. Talk to her. Involve her. Listen to her. Be open to the brilliant and wildly simple ideas she has to solve problems because kids are just so matter of fact.

I couldn’t stop thinking about my children during the entire movie. All of the lessons learned in the film, all of the problems solved, were initiated by the children. Whenever the children were heard and involved, wonderful and magical things happened.

Watching the movie was a wake-up call for me. It shook me out of a fog that wasn’t allowing me to see my children as fully formed, incredibly capable humans. Our family isn’t just me as a mom. We all have roles that are equally as important to each other, and valuable for making our family run smoothly. Everyone in the family has a right to know what’s going on and to have a chance to contribute to whatever is happening.

When I got home from the premiere, I sat my daughter down and told her about the anxiety I had and the medication I was taking. She was grateful to know what was going on because she had noticed a change but wasn’t sure how to talk to me about it. We talked about my goals and I shared some of the things that I felt were holding me back. She offered to be my accountability partner, and stays on me to do what I say I’m going to do. She’s really amazing! I’ve been asking her, and even my toddler, for their opinions on things around the house from where should we move the couch to what should we eat for dinner. They love having input and being involved. I should have done this sooner.

I didn’t go to Mary Poppins Returns looking for parenting tips. The only thing my musical-loving self was expecting were new songs to sing in the shower. Instead, I came out with a whole new blueprint for how to be better for my kids that’s practically perfect in every way.

This article was originally published on