What working mums can learn from the women of ‘Encanto’

Which Madrigal are you, and how can you play to your strengths?

Mentor Mums
4 min readSep 27, 2022

If your kids are over three and anything like mine, they’ll have been utterly captivated by the charming Columbian Madrigal family at the centre of Disney’s Encanto. I love a good musical and this — with a score by Lin-Manuel Miranda — offers a lot to like. I’d also suggest there’s a lot to learn from its myriad strong women — each of whom go on a journey of self-discovery not unlike that of mums returning to work. Wait, you think I’ve just jumped on a bandwagon to create a winning blog? Humour me.

I’ll start with our favourite little bespectacled starlet:

Mirabel isn’t blessed with a specific gift, and because of this her greatest attributes — compassion, loyalty and tenacity — are overlooked. Not only is she loved by the whole neighbourhood — who chant her name throughout the opening number — but she is a comfort for Antonio as he prepares to receive his gift, and has a dogged determination to halt the cracks appearing in the walls, despite her family’s refusal to acknowledge the problem through their own fear. Mirabel heartbreakingly sings ‘I’m not fine’ on the night the rest of the family celebrate their magical gifts, but she doesn’t let her difference set her back. She pursues solutions to the crumbling house to the end — which involves standing up to the formidable matriarch Abuela who needs to accept some home truths before things will right themselves.

The takeaway: If you’re overlooked at work because you’re a mum and are assumed to have split priorities, don’t let others’ perceptions set you back. Continue to work hard but at the same time ensure that the people who are undervaluing you are made to stop and notice.


Super-strong Luisa’s stress seems a lot to me like ‘the motherload’. Though she’s not a mother figure, the strength she’s blessed with means she’s shouldering everything others can’t. The pressure is getting to her. This reminds me of the mental soup that swims around most mothers’ brains. We’re mentally juggling drop off/ pick up schedules, vaccination reminders, school projects, birthday presents needed for kids’ parties, the food shop, the house work, and the need to be emotionally available for one’s partner, kids and friends at all times. Luisa suffers in silence because she’s not good at opening up, but maybe also because she gets a lot of her identity and validation from her physical strength. She whispers in horror to her sister that the fading magic meant she felt ‘weak’. I’d say that’s something many of us are afraid of feeling too.

The takeaway: if you’re shouldering the motherload, it’s time to look around for help. At the end of the film Luisa reclines in a hammock while her family take up some slack and it feels good. But spreading the load comes with two tough challenges for most mums:

1) Are you too attached to your ‘saviour’ identity to allow others to help?

2) Are you too particular about how things get done to relinquish control?


Isabella is the classic Disney princess — wide eyed, surrounded by flowers and prime candidate to be married off into wealth. But behind the scenes Isabella’s life is fraught with frustration. When she applies her flower-creating gift with integrity she creates a cactus — which isn’t conventionally pretty, but expresses her feelings very well. Isabella’s journey is one of learning to follow her heart, not others’ expectations of her.

The takeaway:

It’s time to stop trying to be all of the things to all the people.

1) Do you feel trapped or overwhelmed by the life you’ve created (job, kids, friends, community)? Are there ways you can tweak your approach to these areas of life to allow you to be more authentically you?

2) Are you constantly beating yourself up for not being the parent or employee others expect you to be? Can you free yourself of these expectations and redefine these roles for yourself? And can you let go of the desire to be perfect?


Finally let’s think about Abuela — the matriarch who fled a warzone with triplets and lost her husband, yet has rebuilt a life for herself and her family, and sacrificed a great deal for them all. Throughout the film she rebuffs Mirabel’s challenges because she’s afraid of a truth that doesn’t fit her own narrative. She doesn’t value her family members as they are, but only for the gifts they offer, which add value to the family ‘brand’. If you’re in a position of leadership, it’s important not to fall into Abuela’s pitfalls.

The takeaway:

If you’re the boss at work, or in family life, don’t hold on too tight, or be too result driven. Focusing on the end goal without seeing the strength, autonomy and power to innovate in others is a short-sighted strategy. At best it will lead to others’ frustration, at worst, stagnation or mutiny. Abuela’s focus on the family’s gifts prevents her from seeing Mirabel’s solution, and only when she tunes in can they rebuild a robust house.


We may not live in a Disney film, in which Mirabel is recognised for everything she has done, and the house is beautifully rebuilt because the family learn from their mistakes. I can’t promise life as a mum will be as straightforward, but if you identify with any of the traits explored above, maybe these are characters we can take inspiration from, and approaches to work that can give us more control over the challenges we face.

Post written by Annie Abelman, Charity Communications Consultant & Founder of Mentor Mums. Follow @annieabelman