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In Defense of Disney Parents

tianaandherparentsRecently I’ve found myself in a series of conversations about parents in Disney movies, mostly inspired by Disney’s Frozen, that powerhouse film that continues to break records with its success. {Spoiler Alert} Of course the parents in Frozen die very early on in the film, shaping the entire story. Any Disney film fan knows that parents are rarely safe in Disney story lines. Belle is being raised by a widower, Cinderella loses both her parents and is stuck with an evil stepmother, Simba’s father is murdered by his own brother, Tiana’s dad dies after a short, hard life, and Bambi … that fire and those hunters. There’s heartbreak and loss everywhere. So the conversations turned to where they always turn when it comes to Disney films and parents – where are the positive Disney parenting role models?

I tend to become defensive when this topic is broached because I’m a die-hard Disney fan, from the man himself right down to the latest app release. In my mind, Disney can do no wrong. The truth is, once we get off the Disney-kills-parents bandwagon and take an honest look at the role parents play in the Disney filmography, we find a rich history of positive parenting role models.

1. Tiana’s mother and father:

Yes, I believe that both Tiana’s mother and father play a strong role in The Princess and the Frog. I admit that when Tiana’s father died, I threw up my hands in disgust. Again, Disney? However, the result of their strong co-parenting before the father’s death can be seen throughout the film, and Tiana’s work ethic is clearly derived in part from her time with her father. The message that involved, committed parenting can reap rewards after a parent’s departure is a strong one, and one that I appreciate as a parent who knows she won’t always be by her children’s sides.

2. Elinor in Brave:

Finally a Disney film with two living parents! While Fergus is a peach of a guy, my focus is on Elinor, not because she’s a perfect parent but precisely because she is not. Brave was, for me, one of those films filled with uncomfortable parenting moments. We’ve all pushed our children to be something they perhaps did not want to be. We’ve all set expectations for our kids that were maybe a bit too high and have lost ourselves in our quest to be the right kind of parent. Elinor isn’t about perfect parenting as much as she is about the possibility of parenting redemption.

3. Mr. and Mrs. Incredible:

Sometimes parenting has little to do with the relationship between parent and child and everything to do with the relationship between parent and parent. Marriage is not for the faint of heart. What do you do when you have the responsibility of caring for your family resting on your shoulders and are battling your own somewhat selfish desires for your life? If you’re the Incredibles, you work your way through the storm and come out a stronger family unit on the other side.

4. Lilo’s sister Nani:

If there’s one thing Disney has shown us time and time again, it’s that parenting doesn’t always mean being a mother or a father. Disney fans have had to get used to — or should I say sometimes have struggled to get used to — the idea that happy endings don’t always involve a mother, father, and the traditional family unit. Lilo and Stitch sends the message that sometimes life is a beautiful mess, and sometimes the best parent a girl can have is her big sister who will do anything it takes to give her little sister a life filled with love and laughter.

5. Mrs. Jumbo in Dumbo:

This may be hard to believe, but Mrs. Jumbo was one of my first parenting role models after the birth of my daughter. My girl had a rough start, born two months too soon. I faced question after question day after day from well-intentioned doctors, who told me that surely there must be something wrong with my infant because of her appearance, which they believed wasn’t “normal.” When it all became too much, I used to hold her in my arms, let the tears flow, and sing Mrs. Jumbo’s song, “Baby Mine.” If they knew sweet little you … they’d end up loving you, too. Mrs. Jumbo is a beautiful example of the power of unconditional love.

6. Marlin from Finding Nemo:

A parenting journey that begins in a moment of horrible trauma. A story of loss and seemingly insurmountable obstacles. And a parent who is guided by fear rather than love yet somehow overcomes that fear to become the parent he was meant to be. And here you thought it was a story about a fish.

These six stories are just the tip of the Disney parenting iceberg. Who do you think should be included in this list?

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