Why We Encourage Disney Princess-ism With Our Daughters

One of the things that has surprised me most about fathering little girls is the extent to which I enjoy Walt Disney World in sunny Orlando, Florida. This year will be our third trip in a handful of years. I love everything about that joint and when we go, we get after it and leave it all on the field. We open and close Magic Kingdom multiple days, which is something I think your family should do at least once per trip. When it is time for us to go home, we are exhausted because we have wrung every last drop of magic out of that mouse. It is a phenomenal place. Obviously with 3 little girls, our trips to the Disney campus take on a decidedly Princessy theme. This is my reality and we unashamedly dive head first into the Princess culture. We dress up. We meet and greet them all. We marinate and simmer in those stories in those settings with those characters and we pay good money for it (as anyone who has been there, well knows). Now, before I had daughters, I held strong opinions about a great many things. I knew for a fact that my children would never be allowed to disobey me in public. I knew they would sit quietly at restaurants and eat their food without making any messes. And I knew for certain that the Disney Princess universe was responsible for a lot of self-centered, overly dramatic behavior and that my children would never be involved in such things.

What a fool. As I write this, I marvel at just how much my thinking has been changed by these little ones. Like I have said a thousand times before: “There was a way I imagined my life turning out, but then I got daughtered and nothing has been the same.” My girls regularly disobey me in public, restaurant meals are a friggin circus, and those Princesses are a tremendous aid in the task of raising young girls. We embrace and encourage Disney Princess-ism for a host of reasons. And you should as well.
1. In parenting, and specifically within the realm of body image stemming from the overt media messaging that bombards girls from a young age, I will take help from allies wherever I find them. Sadly, today, the overwhelming tide of females in the public eye only gain traction or attention by relying heavily on their willingness to wear fewer and fewer clothes. It is not that we don’t have a great many wonderfully strong and brilliant women. We just don’t regularly spotlight them and that must be offensive to women and a disservice to girls. Parents who want to show their daughters great female role models have to go search them out and overwhelm their daughters’ ears with their inspiration in order to drown out the ocean of negativity that covertly and expressly tells her that her value is measured in her ability to turn heads with her body. For the engaged dad, the battle for his daughter’s eventual view of herself begins in her infancy. And he has to be relentless and willing to use every resource available. The princess characters throughout the compelling stories in the Disney vault universally value character over beauty which makes them a fantastic tool for parenting.
2. The Princesses exemplify certain traits that we highlight and exalt in our home. They give us specific, easy to understand examples to which we can point and say “Do you see this? This is how you are to act.” The best parents I’ve ever seen have this magical ability to make memorable lessons out of everything that interests their children and they do it in such a way that their kids don’t even recognize they are being taught. It is an amazing thing to behold and a talent I am trying to build in myself. So, when the girls are watching one of these movies, we are in constant communication. This is one thing I’ve learned about these little girls. Watching movies is an interactive experience for them. They ask questions so much that we can’t even hear the movie! “Daddy, did you see that?” “Daddy, are you stronger than Gaston?” “Have you ever eaten a grub?” “Why is the beast so mad all the time?” and on and on and on they go. For me, if I’m not careful, this is positively annoying. However, these times when they are engaged in these stories are custom made opportunities to infuse character training into their minds by calling attention to observable traits in these Princesses with whom they already identify.

“Girls, look at how Snow White is so kind to all those little guys even though she just met them.”
“Girls, did you see how Anna was willing to protect her sister even when she felt bad and needed to take care of herself?”
“Girls, do you see how focused and determined Mulan is?”
“Girls, do you see how Belle is so devoted to her father? Isn’t that awesome? You should all be like Belle”
Disney Princess-ism provides clear, and surprisingly rare, representations of many of the character traits we want to impress upon our daughters.

Most dads are not comfortable with the pomp and circumstance that comes with their daughters’ affinity for Disney Princesses. I know I wasn’t. And there are still days where all the different dresses and the glitter and the crowns and tiaras and the living room dramatic re-enactments and magic wands that play music are just too much. I understand. Believe me, I understand. But, dad, there is a great deal of value in your daughter’s fascination with those Princesses. Use it to your benefit and hers. You’ve been great today and you can be great again tomorrow.

Anti-Bigotry Parenting

Over the last several days, I’ve seen a bunch of different quotes and sayings about how children are not born knowing how to hate. My favorite is from Denis Leary (who I think is an underrated actor and a remarkably funny man).

Naps. Classic.

When I watch coverage of all those young men carrying torches and acting foolishly in Virginia, it angers and saddens me. However, it also forces me to think about the things I can do to make sure we see less and less of this kind of bigoted garbage. I am driven to the hope that my daughters’ generation will look back on history with a sense of wonder and say “can you believe people ever thought that way?”. I want the concept of human inequality to be such a foreign idea to them that they cannot comprehend that bigots actually existed at one time. I want racial strife to be something they only read about in bygone era histories. I want them, and all their peers, to know freedom and to cherish it.

But, I am aware of the uphill climb this will be. Especially without specific action, these quixotic hopes seem like dreaming the impossible dream. There is unreasonable hate in our country and racial hate is the most unreasonable. It simply does not make sense. And yet, Charlottesville happened. So, now, a father is confronted with the reality of this evil and he must do all he can to stamp it out in the longshot hopes of providing his daughters a world free of it. My desire, as a loving dad, is to foster continuous opportunities to turn my daughters’ hearts away from bigotry toward grace and peace.  Our little family has undertaken this in a few simple ways and I would invite every dad I know to come along and expand on these.

We highlight our history and exalt those heroes who fought for equality and peace long before us. A fundamental weakness I see among my dad brethren is that we shy away from explaining things to our young children, especially if those things require sensitivity in our cultural setting. But, as my dear wife reminds me, this is the first time my kids have lived on this planet and they won’t know things unless we teach them. They do not come prepackaged with a set of understood skills. So, we talk about our history. We explain slavery. On our most recent vacation to Charleston (phenomenal city, by the way), we visited a plantation and we had a few long talks while standing in the slave quarters. Conceptually, there are things my daughters cannot yet understand and the idea of someone owning another person still doesn’t compute in their brains. But, we discussed the evils of slavery as well as emancipation and the fight for civil rights. All of my daughters know, without question, that President Lincoln is daddy’s personal hero.  We tell about the abolition of slavery and I’ve read the Emancipation Proclamation to them multiple times. We’ve talked about Dr. King and Medgar Evers and William Wilberforce and Jackie Robinson and Harriet Tubman. They know that there have been men and women in this country who have perpetrated evil against other men and women simply for their skin tone. Now, there are times when they ask offensive and embarrassing questions when trying to process these things but that should never suppress our willingness to teach to our kids the true history of racial strife in America. We’ll just have to ask for grace and forgiveness while our kids learn love and respect from our past instead of hate and bigotry. Dad, our children need to know our history, the beauty or our triumphs, and the ugliness of our failures.

We identify bigotry and racism before their eyes and we highlight how ugly and unattractive those things are.  One of the things I relish most about this time is how much influence I still have on my daughters’ thinking. As they continue to grow and develop, I am aware of the truth that they are looking to me for cues on what is and is not attractive. From a very early age, daughters learn from their fathers what to look for in a future mate. This is just the way they are. As a matter of practice, I refuse to waste this time. When footage of the tiki torch vigil in Charlottesville appears on our television, we show it to the girls and we characterize it as ugly. We explain that boys who think and act like that are ugly and not worth our time and attention. To the one who would argue that this is akin to “brainwashing”, I would say, “Brother, refusing to influence your kid means you are the only person not telling your kid what to think”. I will not abdicate my rightful throne of fatherly influence for anything. My aim is to ensure that any young man taking an interest in one of the She-Gables better have a habit of treating all people with respect. The behavior and worldview of those supremacists in Charlottesville is rancid and it will turn their stomachs as it turns mine.

With an eye toward peace, these are the foundational parenting steps we are taking to bring about the extermination of bigotry in the world our daughters will inherit. These are just the beginning and there is, of course, much more to be done. Dads, we can continue to push racism out of this world in a thousand different ways. You’ve been great. You can be great again tomorrow.

ADHD Does Exist. It Very Much Exists.

The most toxic habit we have as parents is our willingness to shame other parents without mercy. There’s Mom-shaming over vaccines and breastfeeding and circumcision and a thousand other things. There’s Dad-shaming over another thousand things. It seems there may be no limit to the vastness of things being used to make ourselves feel superior to other parents. As a matter of common decency, I think we have to knock this off. We have to be better to each other. We must extend just a little measure of grace. For the most part, I like to mock people who try to shame other parents. But there is one arena that gets beyond my armor of confidence and just attacks my soul. When other parents make broad sweeping assumptions in this one area, it is a source of so much deep emotional pain (also called anguish) that I stew on it for days.

 

Every few weeks, I’ll read an article or see a headline or hear a comment about how Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is not real. It is usually accompanied by generalized statistics about the growth of use of stimulant drugs and always carries a judgment on the parents and doctors for this increase. I cannot speak to the increase in volume of the various diagnoses and prescriptions on the whole. But I can tell you my own experience as an engaged father of a little one who carries the diagnosis and I can relay a few truths from our family’s reality with ADHD and I’ll include some words for the critical voices…

1. This disorder is about brain chemistry and function and has nothing to do with parenting style. The idea that my daughter’s attention difficulties are a result of lazy parenting or too much screen time or some other such judgmental junk science nonsense, is both offensive and lacks any measure of understanding. In reality, brain trauma in utero is the source for us and there are dozens of other causes contributing to the disorder. Assigning blame at the feet of parental behavior for a great many of us is like a final kick in the stomach at the end of a long day of hard fighting.

2. Medication is a last resort treatment and a decision made only after much research, trepidation, and a good deal of heartache. Most of the criticism surrounding ADHD focuses on the widespread pharmaceutical treatments available, particularly stimulant drugs. Statements about “drugging your kids” and “making them zombies just so they’ll behave” are as unfair as they are pervasive.  The reality is that a parent comes to this decision only after exhausting all options (even the crazy ones) . Even further still, the truth of stimulant drugs is that sometimes they are the only way for these kids to feel actual relief. Oh, is that something you never considered? Yes, for a great number of children, ADHD is something from which they suffer. Imagine never being able to slow your own brain and focus on things on which you desperately wish you could focus. For many, there is no escape from that reality outside of pharmaceutical treatments. Perhaps there are many children for whom a good dose of discipline would go further than a few milligrams in a pill. I don’t know about that. I do know that these drugs help millions and I would argue that stimulant drugs have their place in treatment of this disorder (even in spite of your judgment).

3. There are hours of coaching and training that no one else sees. Maybe the worst thing that comes out of the “ADHD doesn’t exist” crowd is the reality that their criticism kicks a weary parent when they are already on the ground. What you don’t see in their statistical darts is any data pointing to the hours and hours of additional work and training they are walking through with their children. The truth is that kids who suffer from ADHD, many times, must expend exponentially more effort for a fraction of the progress other kids make without having to try at all. There are hours of math drills, and training social skills, and coaching situational awareness, and a hundred other disciplines. No one else sees these hours because parents don’t complain about the extra work (and it is work). They just lower their heads and keep driving ahead for their kids. And then you accuse them of being lazy. Shame on you.

 

Before you paint with such a wide brush over a disorder you have not experienced first hand, it would be wise to sit and listen to those who live their lives in the midst of it. Perhaps you could even try to muster a little grace and empathy for them. Maybe walk a mile in their shoes before you level criticism that is neither helpful nor based in any kind of real understanding. Maybe, just maybe, you could try to be helpful. There will certainly come a time in your parenting when you will need grace and understanding. When that time comes, I hope others are more willing to show that grace than you have been.

To the mom and dad who are well acquainted with the ADHD life, know that you are not alone. Do the best for your kid that you can with the resources at your disposal and the information in front of you. You were great today. You can be great again tomorrow.