I was more excited to see the new movie Brave than my twelve-year-old daughter. For me, the trailers for a movie about an independent teen who balks at the idea of an arranged marriage and wants to decide her own fate is my kind of girl! But I shouldn’t have been surprised that Brave wasn’t at the top of my own daughter’s summer movie list. After all, she is entering that “I’m too cool for princess movies” phase and, as a nascent teenager (hold me!), is way more interested in the perfect soccer cleats, hair accessories, and her new-found love of the guitar. But I convinced her that since we were already big fans of Mulan — she’s smarter than the guys, she outwits the Huns, and she saves China! — and since there was a wee bit of Katniss Everdeen when it came to this girl’s archery skills, we should give the new Scottish princess, Merida, a shot.
I’m not giving anything away by saying Merida is amazing with that bow and arrow and she can ride a horse like nobody’s business. But I incorrectly assumed that Merida would be more Mulan-like, and that colored what I initially thought about the movie. I left the theater feeling a little let down, as I was expecting more feminist warrior princess than a tale of family relationships.
But a couple of days after we saw Brave, my daughter started up a conversation in the car on the way home from soccer camp that surprised me and made me grateful to the fiery-haired princess and her mother.
I’m not spilling any personal family secrets by saying that things have become a little more rocky between my daughter and me as she’s entered the world of tween-dom. I only half-jokingly say I’ve officially become the stupidest mom in America, as I see more of the patented eye-roll and have more disagreements over whether I’m also being the meanest mom around by making her fold her own laundry and for not buying her an iPad — “Mom, ALL my other friends have one!” (Trust me, they don’t!)
Now I know that these and other small disagreements are normal and are really no big thing, even though at times it can feel like it for both of us, and there are plenty of bigger teen challenges to come. But my daughter has made it clear in the past that to her, a girl who despises conflict, even the tiniest of mother/daughter fights feel like big ones to her. And I’ve started to worry about whether these to-be-expected moments might be a bit of a setback on the attachment work we did when she was a pre-schooler. In her mind, if there is fighting or disagreement or conflict, that might equal “my mom and dad don’t love me anymore.”
So when my soon-to-be seventh-grader said, “Mom, I really liked the part in the movie about relationships. Merida and her mom had some big fights, but they still loved each other,” it made my heart sing. She told me it made her feel better to know that, even though it was just a movie, that she could think about the idea that family disagreements will come and go, but that our family unit will still be intact — that we will always love her no matter what.
I know any disagreement with either me or her dad is scary to PunditGirl, and raises all those old demons about whether we’ll still love her if she isn’t a perfectly well-behaved child seven days a week. I can tell her until I’m blue in the face that I’ll always love her and that we’ll never leave her, but what we as parents say on any topic only goes so far with our kids. Seeing that families can have conflict and still love each other, even if it’s in the form of a cartoon, resonated with her.
For that, I’ll always be grateful to Princess Merida and her mom, Queen Elinor.
Read more from me at my place PunditMom and in my Amazon best-selling book, Mothers of Intention: How Women and Social Media are Revolutionizing Politics in America.
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