As a child, Disney movies offered lessons of friendship and possibility, sing-a-longs with beloved characters, and catchy phrases that I would repeat 800 times over because it was funny every time (I’m sure that wasn’t annoying at all). Fast forward twenty years to parenthood. I now live in a home that is under the rule of a 20 pound dictator and no longer hold the dream that I will magically transform into a flawless princess and inherit a 30,000 square foot castle with a talking cup.
Watching Disney movies as an adult still provides entertainment and lessons to be learned, but the perspective has changed and I find myself repeating the parenting advice that is hidden within these movies like mantras to propel me through the tough moments.
- Fake it until you make it. When my son was first born, he found great joy in waking up at 5:00 a.m. bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to take on the day, or at least the first few hours of the day. I, on the other hand, was like, “I warn you, child. If I lose my temper, you lose your head! Understand?!” (Alice in Wonderland). His defense was usually a goofy toothless smile that threatened to melt my heart and forced me to surrender any lingering alliance with my bed. That is when I realized I needed a new strategy. With Genie’s help, Aladdin pretends to be a prince, marries Jasmine, and bam; he’s a prince! Surely if Aladdin could become a prince simply by pretending to be, I could become a morning person by doing the same. From that point on, I found solace in the mantra “fake it until you make it“, to be the happy, bubbly parent I wanted to be in the morning. And whenever that fails, theres always coffee; making dreams come true since 1582.
- A little fun makes life pleasant for everyone. It didn’t take my son long to learn the art of protest. There is nothing more enjoyable than trying to put pants on a baby who is violently kicking his legs and turning into a purple-faced siren. By some happy accident, I learned that my son actually enjoyed these same activities if I simply made them into a game, and I often found myself singing, “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, the medicine go dowwwwn, the medicine go down!” (Mary Poppins). To get him dressed I simply put a twist on the hokey pokey, to get him in his car seat I did a seatbelt song and dance, to file his nails I pretended I was a beautician, accent and all. To my amazement, he suddenly completed these activities with joy and I soon found myself cherishing these moments. It’s as if my son was saying to me, “Come with me where you’ll never, never have to worry about grown up things again.” (Peter Pan).
- It’s okay if we have different goals. My son’s goals at this stage are often quite simple; feed self, inspect object, and stand up, but even at this early stage there are times when our goals conflict. For example, his goal of feeding himself undoubtedly conflicts with my goal of keeping things clean. I swear it looks like the kid was trying to force-feed the highchair by the time he is done. Another great parenting lesson from Disney. A Goofy Movie teaches us not to be a Pete. Demanding that he let you feed him with the spoon the way you want to do it is only going to create a battle of wills. Take it from a Goofy, “Once I eased up, things just clicked.” So I do myself a favor and just “Let it go, let it gooo!” (Frozen).
- Trust your child to figure things out. After spending months growing this miniature person from nothing but cells in my body, I was handed this fragile helpless blob that depended on me for everything. I knew instantly that I would do anything to protect my tiny blob, and I did. At some point, that helpless tiny blob grew into the little boy I have now. He grew interested. He began to explore. He began to move. He began to scare the living daylights out of me! How was I supposed to protect my tiny blob who was now moving dangerously toward the edge of the couch with a wild look in his eyes!? Disney teaches us that you have to let little Nemo/Chico/Elmo/Bingo/Fabio figure things out for himself sometimes. So although he may always be my squishy and I will always do what I can to keep him safe, I will TRY to give him some space to figure things out on his own. I’m sure living this lesson is only going to get harder as he gets older, but I’ll always have Finding Nemo to reassure me.
- Every day we are making memories. I watched Inside Out recently with complete awe and appreciation for the whole concept. The way emotions and memories were depicted as they interacted and influenced the developing personality was just inspiring. This weighed heavily on me for days as I thought about the memories I am making with my son and how our life decisions are and will impact him through his development. Once I dug myself out from the crushing pressure of the responsibility that implies, I thought of the numerous lessons learned from the very wise Winnie the Pooh (A. A. Milne). Lessons of how love, friendship, and quality time are the very best gifts we can give.
- Love is almost always the answer. Love is the magic that can turn a beast to a prince, wake a princess from from an eternal slumber, and stop a young girl from getting hypothermia. The ultimate parenting secret, the answer to almost any question, is showing love. If I can manage to show my child love and compassion, even when he is screaming in my face and wiping his snot in my hair, then I feel I am succeeding at this whole parent thing, at least for that moment.