The only Disney movie that’s passed the parental screen in our house is Cars. So my daughters have NEVER seen Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, Sleeping Beauty… yada, yada, yada.
They know every single thing that happens in The Little Mermaid. Why? It’s called wear-them-down-with-nonstop-badgering-questions. So, you know, that one time when you feel like – yeah, this’ll be fun – I’ve got the energy to spontaneously recite every single scene in this movie – aww, and look at how interested they are – so cute, so affirming with their big wide eyes – soaking in every word. Stop. Right. There.
It’s called Pandora’s box. And we all know what happens next.
I was in elementary school when The Little Mermaid came out. I remember singing the ‘look at this stuff’ song in the echoey halls of my school. Really loud. (Hello, Miss Oblivious.)
I LOVED her! She had red hair. She was beautiful and strong and brave. And a MERMAID!!! She was the best ever.
Fast forward to Scout’s baby shower when my friend looks at me and says, “The Little Mermaid? She’s the worst.”
And so she is.
Not because she’s a mermaid. Mermaids are rad. (Just to clarify.)
Ariel is just a brat. She’s headstrong and reckless and completely disobedient. How does she handle conflict with her dad? By selling herself to a SEA WITCH.
Petulant teenager incarnate.
Great role model, Disney. Sheesh.
Here are the questions I ask my daughters when we talk about Ariel and her self-inflicted drama. (Complete with my parentally-guided/imposed answers.)
Why do you think Ariel has all of that stuff hidden? Maybe she’s really curious about the world outside the ocean. I wonder why her Papa doesn’t want her to know about that world? Yeah, he probably wants to protect her. Maybe the humans were mean to the mermaids and he’s afraid she’ll get hurt.
Do you think Ariel should be hiding that from her Papa? No way, but sometimes we do naughty things and hide them from our parents, huh?
What do you think your Mama/Papa would do if they found you breaking the rules and hiding it? Well, I would probably be sad, and maybe mad. Yeah, you would probably get a consequence.
Would I love you even if you made a poor choice like Ariel? YES, OF COURSE.
What kind of consequence should Ariel get? Any reasonable answer works here.
Ohhh… Ariel’s Papa got really mad and smashed all her stuff. He has a temper. Do you think he should have done that? No, I don’t think he made a good choice either.
What should he do now? Yeah, I think he should say he’s sorry. It’s not good to lose your temper like that, especially if you’re a Papa.
Oh no! Ariel’s crying and he leaves her! He looks like he feels sorry, but he doesn’t say it to her. Oh my, we should always say we’re sorry when do the wrong thing and hurt someone. Do I say I’m sorry to you when I do the wrong thing? (I hope the answer here is) yes.
I guess sometimes Mamas and Papas have a hard time saying sorry. What should Ariel do? She should know that her Papa loves her and go and TALK TO HIM!!!! BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT WE DO IN REAL LIFE! TALK TO PEOPLE!
I mean, don’t yell that last bit at them, but, seriously, isn’t that the point? Ariel and her Papa just don’t talk. They don’t work out conflict in any real way that reflects relational health. If they had talked and worked it out what would have happened? Ariel’s Papa was the one who had the power to change her into a human in the first place. To give her what she wanted in a safe way, that wouldn’t bring her harm.
The point: When we talk about Ariel (and definitely addressing the whole, Ariel puts the whole ocean/world at risk because she has her own little temper fit and goes to the sea-witch is good too) this is what I want:
- to affirm healthy ways for my daughters to work out their conflicts with me
- to remind myself to say I’m sorry
- to remind them that I WILL say I’m sorry — no need for tragic heroines here
- to give them templates in their head for how to work with grown-ups who make mistakes (not deliberately harming them – unsafe people/child predator – kinds of mistakes, just the normal I’m a human being and not perfect even though I’m a grown-up kind of mistakes)
- them to know they can talk to the safe adults in their life when there is conflict
- them to know that their parents love them and will work out whatever conflict comes because we love them. This is how relationships work… and they should learn this as soon as possible so that they can solve conflict in healthy ways
Plus… and this breaks me…
Running away from conflict at home is one of the most dangerous things my daughters could do. The sea witches in our world are the child predators who are using every opening they can to develop trusting relationships with our kids — and they intend to harm them. I want to make sure when my daughters have a problem with me that they turn to ME to solve our problem, not to someone else to ‘rescue’ them.
Let’s make sure our little mermaids grow up knowing their voices can be heard, because we chose to listen to them first… even when we were the ones who were wrong.
Update: When my husband read this he said using ‘child predator’ was kind of intense. There’s a news story I was thinking about that involved a missing teenage girl running off with an older man she met online after a fight at home. Thinking about Ariel running off to Ursula after a fight with her Papa triggered that story in my head, so if that second to last paragraph seems like a random intense statement, interjected in the post… it kind of was. Sometimes I get a little carried away… usually about feminism, protecting children and inconsiderate dog owners. I’ll try to do better next time.