Monday, January 30, 2012

Theory Vs. Reality: Parenting

I talked a little bit the other day about the reality of something being so much bigger than you can ever theorize when I was discussing our modern family.  (BTW, I have more updates on that!!!!)  And a few days ago, it hit me again. 

All the time, as a game, we hear "What would you do if..."  Sometimes we vehemently declare one thing or another.  "Oh, I would NEVER do that."  "Well, I will make sure I don't do such-and-such."  "I am definitely going to..."  Definitive statements can come back to bite you in the ass, my friends.  Never has this been more clear to me than in the last 10 months of parenthood.

When P was 2 weeks old, I wrote this post partially about the things I swore I wouldn't do and within 48 hours was doing.  But this is not about just that kind of thing.  It's about parenting in general. 

Hubby and I never really discussed ANYTHING in advance.  We just kind of let it roll over us and make decisions as they come.  We haven't fought about any of them.  Then again, we haven't hit any of the truly tough decisions yet.  But one came up the other night, one that I hadn't really even considered.

Children's movies!  We have been renting movies from Netflix and burning them.  Many of them Disney flicks.  Now, it's not like I'm not aware of the prevalence of scary step-mothers, violent evil people, and dead mothers.  It's not limited to Disney, but the older films certainly have more of that in them.  Old school fairytales are harsh.  REALLY harsh.  Now, I know that I saw them all when I was little.  And for the most part (ahem, Bambi) I don't remember being traumatized.  Perhaps I wasn't able to make the jump.  Perhaps my mother explained well...I don't know.  What I do know is that I never considered how bad some of them are.

We watched Dumbo the other night.  For those of you unfamiliar with this very early Disney movie, it is HEART WRENCHING.  And rascist.  There are some great teaching moments, yes, but the only happy time is at the end.  And again, maybe children, little children, don't view it with the same eyes.  But WOW.  I was sobbing.  I almost had to stop watching.  The emotion is so raw.  For those who are unaware of this tale, Dumbo is a baby elephant with freakishly large ears.  Everyone makes fun of him.  They are CRUEL.  In once scene, the mama elephant gets angry at the people teasing her son and goes apeshit on them, so they lock her up and he can't see her.  I LOST it.  Classic bawl-your-eyes-out scene:

Anywho, what this brought up for me is: What is appropriate for my child to see?  How do I let him see this when I can't even handle it?  At what age is he old enough to watch and understand it when I educate him about bullies and such?  And I'm not talking just this film.  Think about it.  So many of the "classics" are like this.  Scary, or violent, or upsetting.  Fairytales?  Yeah....  I know they have so many opportunities for "teaching moments", and I love those moments.  But at the same time, where do you draw the line? 

One of the best things about being a child is the innocence, the gusto for life, the open eyes and lack of fear or prejudice or cynicism. Children should have the ability to be children.  To NOT worry about these things too often.  To play, get dirty, remain positive, and love unconditionally. 

So at what point do you let them see things, watch things, that have these upsetting scenarios in them.  I plan to teach him to be a good person.  And I know that at some point he will experience the shit the world can dump on you.  I just don't know when that will be okay.  After watching Dumbo, I want to never let him see it!  But I know that is unreasonable.  And there are children's movies that I think are okay to watch. 

I never thought about ANY of this.  And now I'm overwhelmed with thoughts of what will be right for us.  What type of guidelines do you use?  How did you know the time was right to introduce the heavier topics?


  1. I watched all the Disney movies as a kid and didn't find anything traumatic/depressing/scary in any of them (beyond a sort of generic "oooh, scary", e.g., with the witch in Snow White, or Maleficent, or Ursula in the Little Mermaid). Well, I do remember being sad when Bambi's mother died, but it was also a pretty generic "oh, that's sad". But I remember, in high school, watching "The Fox and the Hound" with kids I was babysitting, after having not seen it since I was a kid, and nearly having to leave the room because I almost couldn't keep from crying at the end. The kids I was sitting for? Totally unfazed.

    I had a similar reaction when I first watched "Pete's Dragon" as an adult. OMG. Child abuse. Depression. Alcoholism. What a dark, disturbing movie that is. And as a kid, I was totally ignorant of all of it.

    I think kids have a pretty selective filter about these sorts of things. Until they learn that such behavior or these actions are sad or hurtful or harmful, they don't even register. I think part of what makes these movies so much more emotionally touching as an adult is that their emotional pull relies on empathy (I would hate it if my mother died; I would hate to see my child treated that way; I would hate to be separated from my child), and empathy is a learned skill. The tragedy of these movies only really exists when you're able to put yourself in someone else's shoes, and that's something a lot of young kids don't do.

    So, when Gwen is old enough (and provided that we even have a TV then), I'm looking forward to rewatching all the Disney movies with her, and hopefully trying not to bawl my head off during some of them! (Maybe we'll just stick with my two favorites, The Sword in the Stone and Robin Hood.)

  2. Honestly, that's the beauty of watching them at home. You don't really have to worry about the kid's reaction. Until they are at least 3 or 4, there isn't a chance in hell they'll sit through a whole movie without a stop or two. And, if you watch with them, you can explain as it goes along or even call a halt to things if the move seems difficult for your kid to handle. Just relax and go with the flow.

  3. I saw a lot of those movies when I was younger too and don't remember being traumatized by them but now as a parent, I question why my parents would let me watch movies like that.

    I remember the first time I let my kids watch Lion King, they were upset that the father lion died. But you know, it's part of life and it began a topic of discussion for us. The circle of life, etc, etc.

    I think some movies are okay as long as you are able to discuss it with him in terms he can understand. Did you ever read my post "Dear People at Disney" (or titled something like that...can't remember) but it was on this very topic after I took Bella to see the movie Tangled. After the movie, we had a long discussion on some of the things that happened in the movie.

    She had also been wanting to see "The Help" and with Martin Luther King Day just recently passing, I thought it would be good for her to see it so we could talk about it. I was impressed with how much she understood and I think it solidified the fact that all people are created equal, no matter what color, religion, ethnicity, or whatever. Everyone deserves to be treated fairly, respected and loved.

    So I think as long as you're willing to have open conversations with him about the topics he's watching (and it sounds like you're a very open minded parent), I think you'll be okay. It's when parents allow their kids to see movies or tv shows and don't have discussions with them that things can get a little scary.


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