Being a voracious reader, I’ve worked my way through pretty much every book I could beg, borrow and buy. When Z was born, I started reading to her almost from the start. It didn’t matter if she could understand the words or not, but I like to believe the sound of my voice droning on about whichever book I’d grabbed, soothed her on more than one occasion. Certainly, I found it calmed me down and a calmer mother is half the battle won in parenting.
Three years hence, my daughter is more in love with the wonderful world of stories than I am. Her collection of books rivals and might possibly even exceed mine. Unfortunately, and it is unfortunate in my opinion, she’s also a huge fan of fairy tales.
I try not to let my thoughts and opinions rub off on her, but I can’t help but cringe every time she reaches for Sleeping Beauty or Snow White or any of those hundred and one stories we all grew up on. Yes. I know. I’m the one who bought them.
We all read them as children, we all enjoyed them and at some point or the other, we probably fancied ourselves princesses who would find their prince and live happily ever after or princes who would rescue the poor heroine and make her a Queen. Reading these stories as an adult though has completely changed my point of view.
But the world has changed and so have we. So has the onus we bear as parents and the awareness our children possess. Or maybe that was always the case but we’re more aware of it now.
I truly wish Z wouldn’t, even indirectly, absorb some of the underlying messages these stories send out. Like needing a prince to get to the happy-ever-after or that happy-ever-after is a given once you’ve found your life partner.
I would love for her to grow up knowing that there is only one person responsible for her happiness and that’s her. She can build and create her own happy ever after or even happy for now but the important part is that she will be the architect of it. I want her to know that there is more to life than finding a partner or a Prince so to speak. That you can WANT someone in your life and build a stable, happy life with them but that you don’t NEED him for that stable, happy life. He or she, as it may be, is not a necessary component for your happiness. They are just a part of it, if at all.
Another more troubling concept that fairy tales struggle with is consent. Living in a world that has ensured I need to explain to my three year old that no one can touch, hug or kiss her without her consent, it drives me batty to see her engrossed in a story about a Prince who kissed Sleeping Beauty while she was asleep and had no way of consenting. Or Snow White who was unconscious for God’s sake!
Also, what if they woke up and decided that the Prince wasn’t their type? Happens to the best of us right?
Also, every single princess is the most beautiful and prince the most handsome. Every time she stands in front of a mirror and says, “I’m so beautiful, mama. Just like a princess.” I want to reach for and burn every single book we have that espouses the same.
Unfortunately, it’s not just books, TV and the like that say it. It’s all around us. Whether it’s the t-shirts that have ‘pretty little princess’ printed on them or the fancy dress costumes that mostly give you options of princess, fairy and angel. I opted to wrap toilet paper around Z and send her as a mummy. An Egyptian mummy not the harrowed mummy she has at home.
And so, that’s why in our household, fairy tales have their own little twist to them. Cinderella and Snow White and the sundry other heroines spend a lot of time debating their choices and rescuing themselves and sometimes even the Prince.
We even discuss how Sleeping Beauty aka Aurora’s parents just had to talk to her about the curse and to stay away from spinning wheels and she would have been just fine. Unless she was a risk taker and still decided to take up spinning as a hobby.
Luckily, we’re still at the point where I’m reading and she’s listening. The day she reads to herself is the day this house of cards collapses.
But on a more positive note, there are some amazing children’s authors out there who are writing incredible, empowering stories that are everything my heart could wish and hope for. And it does my heart glad to see Z reach for those books too. To read about girls who want more than a Prince and his castle. To read about boys who learn ballet and are best friends with the girl who is headlining their dance recital. To read stories that tell you what the world is really like, that everyone doesn’t have to live in a castle to be happy and that your happiness is not dependent on everyone but on just one very important person – You.