Fairy Tales and Happy Endings

Caroline’s favorite movie is Disney’s The Princess and the Frog.  Consequently, I have seen it at least 85 hundred million times.  Low estimate.

Whenever I watch fairy tales with my daughter, as a single mother, I have to stop and think, is this really what I want her to learn?  That her happiness in life hangs on finding some elusive prince who will whisk her away to her happily ever after?  That her happy ending is completely dependent on someone else?

The happy ending is always mysterious, of course.  Those movies always end with the wedding.  No one wants to see the years of marriage, where the prince maybe gets distant and the princess maybe gets bored and they both start to wonder whether they should have dated for more than a couple of minutes on the dance floor before committing to a lifetime of mediocrity with someone they hardly knew.  (I’m just sayin’.)

I think I would prefer that she learn to be a strong and self-sufficient woman, who will maybe find a partner (male or female) who is right for her and with whom she can live a happy and fulfilled life.  But if she never finds that person, her life will be just as joyous and complete.  Where’s the fairy tale for that?

I suppose that one of the reasons I ended my marriage and decided to raise her on my own is so that I could be that fairy tale.  So that I could show her that it is possible, even desirable, to go it alone.  Certainly that it is preferable to a partnership that is not healthy.  Disney doesn’t have any examples of that, as far as I know.  If I want her to learn it, I am going to have to be the one to show her.

But for now, I let her have her fairy tales.  We watch the movies.  I read the stories to her before bed.  Because there is a certain magic to them, after all.  If only it were as easy as a cute guy finding your missing shoe.  If only you could stumble upon some hairy beast who turns out to be a total hottie with a sweet mansion.  Part of childhood is believing in magic and picture-perfect happy endings.  I’d like her to learn to be a strong and independent woman, but at the same time, I don’t want to ruin the fairy tale.

Hopefully someday, I will figure out how to teach her that whatever path she chooses in life, if she is fulfilled, then that is her happy ending.

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  1. by Jennie

    On June 4, 2011 at 7:46 am


  2. by Berit

    On June 4, 2011 at 9:25 am

    I hear the princess phase is unavoidable. Sounds like you’re doing a great job of thoughtfully teaching by example.

  3. by Erinn

    On June 4, 2011 at 3:43 pm

    I didn’t model myself after a fairy tale to look for my happy ending. I modeled myself after my mom. Don’t worry – Let her have her fairy princesses and her knights in shining armor. She knows who her REAL role model is.

  4. by Julie

    On June 6, 2011 at 8:30 pm

    Don’t sweat it, she’ll learn more from the real role-models in her life. But, Princess Tiana isn’t that bad she works 2 jobs and dreams of owning her own restaurant which she does with some help from a gator. She and her prince fix the place up themselves. If you are looking for a Disney movie without a wedding ending, try Finding Nemo that one has little if any romance.

  5. by Katherine

    On June 7, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    I don’t understand why people are always down on Disney movies. Do people not realize that there were fairy tales and love stories before Disney made movies out of them? Guess what, the world is still turning! Women have continued to make social progress! I loved growing up with the Disney princesses and enjoy watching my girls go through it. Should we stop letting little boys play baseball, or watch superhero shows? Odds are they will never be professional sports figures, and the chance of them becoming superheros are even slimmer.

  6. by Jules

    On June 7, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    I was raised with happily ever afters, I came to terms that they dont just happen, but you have to make your own story, your own “happily ever after” Sure the Disney romace is fanciful, but I think it’s ok to have hopes like that, puts your standards higher and makes you strive for that fairytale wedding at the end… idk but thats just me

  7. by Kathleen

    On June 7, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    I’ve been thinkign the SAME thing as my 3 year old now LOVES princesses. I want her to learn that lifes not ALL about waiting for Prince Charming, but at the same time do I really want to ruin the fun and magic that are fairy tales?? I really relate to this write up. And as far myself, my sisters and my close friends are concerned, none (ok well MOST lol) of us waited around for Prince Charming to come, and are all strong, independent women, and I’m sure my daughters will fall into the same footsteps.

  8. by Chelsa

    On June 7, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    I think the fact that you think this way IS the balance you are looking for. She may be in love with these fairy tales and want to be a princess, but she will inevitably look to Mommy for guidance and you are doing a GREAT job in my opinion :) And for the fairy tale that delves into the ho-hum life AFTER the happy ending, look into the musical Into The Woods. It combines all of the popular old fairy tales (Cinderella, Snow White, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood…) and shows what happens to them afterward. It may be something to save for her when she’s a little older, but it is very cool and very funny! My theater dept. in college did a rendition of it and it was a lot of fun!

  9. by Jessica

    On June 7, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    I absolutely and completely adore and agree with every word in this article.

  10. by Blanca

    On June 7, 2011 at 12:19 pm

    I LOVE THIS POST! You said it perfectly! I am in the same position and feel exactly the same way.

  11. by sara

    On June 7, 2011 at 12:22 pm

    I feel the same about Fairy tales. I grew up watching them but know that I have kids I question them for the same reasons. The Disney movies That are kind of like princess movies is Tinker Bell. I really like the message it sends.

  12. by Lisa

    On June 7, 2011 at 12:28 pm

    I know what you mean, but that’s why I loved Princess and the Frog. Tiana works 2 jobs, supports herself, saves her money, and has an ambitious dream that she is steadily working to make a reality. And, oh yeah, she gets the prince in the end too. What could be better?

  13. by Gary

    On June 7, 2011 at 12:30 pm

    Actually, there are a few Disney movies with a single parent. Chicken Little has a single Dad and all three Toy Story movies have a single mom. Admittedly this fact is not made apparent unless pointed out.

  14. by Casia

    On June 7, 2011 at 12:38 pm

    If you think about it, Disney has come a long way since Snow White…Belle was an intelligent and courageous heroine, Ariel, Jasmine, and Milan refused to accept what their parents and society thought was the right way to live and found their own happy endings in their own choices and Tiana believed in the value of hard work and making your own dreams come true. I say let your daughter watch the movies but make sure to point out those qualities to her so she can begin to build her character on those positive aspects of the princesses instead of just on the prince and happily ever after part.

  15. by Lynsey

    On June 7, 2011 at 12:44 pm

    I agree that some of these fairy tales do not give the right role models, but as my daughter is 3 I have also watched the Princess and the Frog a million times. The first time I watched it I loved it for the fact that Tiana teaches the prince about hard work getting you where you want to go. What I think this article should be about is the adult jokes that are in these movies.

  16. by Christie

    On June 7, 2011 at 12:45 pm

    I grew up watching the Dinsey princess movies, and while I won’t blame Disney entirely for the mindset that I grew up with, my family was responsible for that, what I’ve discovered is that watching princess movies certainly can influence a young girl’s way of thinking. The whole, I’m a weak woman that needs a man to rescue me mentality, the I can only be happy IF I fall in love and get married does tend to sink into a girl’s subconscious and without having a strong female role model in their life can give them that mindset, and make them feel as though they NEED a man to be complete or have self worth. I myself had that mentality, and it wasn’t until after a particulary bad/damaging relationship that I -through therapy for the abuse- learned how to rely on myself and discover that I do have self worth. I now have a two year old daughter, and have not permitted princess (save for Tangled – her life ambition was not to find a man, it was to leave her tower.) movies to be viewed. Instead my daughter enjoys Toy Story, Cars, Monsters Inc. Tinkerbell, Dora the Explorer, Ni Hao Ki-Lan, Mickey Mouse Club, Handy Manny and Veggie Tales.

  17. by Heidi

    On June 7, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    It’s funny that you bring up The Princess and the Frog, tghe main charactor, Tiana, is doing anything BUT waiting around for a prince to save her! She IS the strong, independent woman that you want your daughter to be, but then she finds love and realizes what her father meant when he talked about what is “most important” in life; the loving relationships we form. And those certinaly can include friends, children, etc., but everyone really wants to find true love, it’s normal to want that. Love is what makes it possible to get up in the morning and face an uncertain world full of hard work and often harsh conditions. if nothing else, you have your daughter and she has you, maybe for you that is your happily ever after. And maybe you will still find another happily ever after with a good man, there is nothing wrong with wanting that.

  18. by Aly

    On June 7, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    I think that this is all just a little overthought. Your example and lifestyle will be the bigger influence. Movies and books are just stories, and as she gets older and matures there will be that realization. It sounds like she has a fantastic mother who will always care about her well being and she will never outgrow that. For now let her dream of princes, wear dress ups and believe the world is magical.

  19. by danielle

    On June 7, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    I have to disagree with the person saying that there are few disney movies with single parents. On the contrary if you look at fairy tales in general many of them loose a parent, bambi, finding nemo, cinderella, snow white, sleeping beauty (taken by the fairies), hansel and gretal (stepmother wanted to leave them in the woods), rupunzel(taken from parents), beauty and the beast and the list goes on. In regards to the article I understand why some people feel that princess romantics might be harmful to a girl’s self esteem, but that is the same as saying if they read Harry Potter they might want to become a warlock and its evil. It all depends on the parents, whatever your child is watching and listening to, you should be talking to your kids about what is real and what is fantasy and helping them on their journey. The whole point to those movies is the fantasy. None of you can say you don’t watch a romantic movie and somewhere in your mind hopes it would happen to you. Thats what makes the journey so fun – dreaming about what may come but having your feet planted firmly in case it doesn’t.

  20. by tressa

    On June 7, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    That’s why they’re called fairy tales and not reality tv. As long as we do our best at being our best, our daughters will look up to us and not the princess on the screen. Good luck mommy, you go this :-)

  21. by Erryn

    On June 7, 2011 at 2:33 pm

    I liked this write up. My little girl is almost 4 and loves the movies but more for the get ups than the prince. Honestly she loves to dress up as a princess and once in a while she makes daddy pretend to be the prince or knight who kills the dragon. My girl passes over the marriage part and goes straight for the dress,shoes and every accessory known. LOL

  22. by Amy

    On June 7, 2011 at 2:34 pm

    Excellent reading. The point in it all to remember is that it is a FAIRYTALE. at a very young age that’s really irrelevant.its when you become a young adult that you need to be aware that there is a big difference between fairytales and reality. And movies dont teach that. Parents and others must teach that through words and their own actions. Reminds me of the poem “Children learn what they live”.

  23. by Jennifer

    On June 7, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    I’m sorry — but did you miss the part of the movie where Tiana worked hard and saved for her dream? Did you miss the ending where she achieved her dream with her own money (not her Prince bailing her out by writing a check). Did you miss the part where they worked side by side – together – to run that business. Good grief people – what’s next? Tearing apart Hansel & Gretel because it had a child-molesting cannibal living alone tempting children with candy? Take it for what it’s worth – as entertainment – and use it as a tool to teach your children about reality vs. fantasy.

  24. by Julia

    On June 7, 2011 at 3:17 pm

    I love the comments! Thanks everybody for reading and sharing your opinion. I’m afraid that a few people have taken my post a little more literally than I would have intended it to be taken but that’s okay, I put it out there. Honestly all this was, was me sitting on the couch one morning watching a movie with my daughter and thinking about the message behind it, from the perspective of someone whose marriage has so recently fallen apart. I love Disney movies and we’ll continue to watch them. It’s all about balance, really. I suppose what I want for my daughter is for her to learn that there is more than one path to happily ever after.

  25. by Cynthia

    On June 7, 2011 at 4:14 pm

    For the people looking at other Disney videos for more realism, I like Lilo & Stitch. Granted it IS another movie where the parents die so the kids can grow up faster (my own pet peeve); and there IS some romance; for the most part the focus is on staying with your family through the good & the bad. The big sister yells at her little sister, they fight, they struggle; but they stand by each other. Plus they aren’t PrincessPerfect in appearance either. :)

    As for setting a good role model for your daughter, as everyone said, RELAX! You are the best role model your child will have. Live as you want them to live & they will (eventually) follow.

    I personally don’t think there is anything wrong with wanting to find a prince. I know I feel more complete when I’m in a healthy relationship & I also feel it’s very important to nurture your relationships with all your fellow men (be it a spouse, friendships, or just neighborly behavior to everyone). IMHO, the key for the best happily ever after is in finding yourself FIRST & being happy with your life as it is, then accepting love WHEN (not if, it will come if you are open to it) you are lucky enough to find it. Of course realistic expectations help; as does remembering, “No one gets left behind or forgotten.” You won’t get your good times if you give up during the bad. Happily Ever After’s only exist when you focus on the good times & weather through the storms only to later forget about them (barring the three a’s… abuse, addiction & adultery; and even then the first one is the only absolute, NEVER accept from anyone for me, for last two a’s there are exceptions when you should STILL keep on trucking).

  26. by jessica

    On June 7, 2011 at 5:38 pm

    you are teaching her that. you are teaching her that by setting an example with yourself. she is paying attention to that a lot more then her fairy tales. i had fairy tales when i was little, and i never thought that that was how life was going to be. i didn’t wait for my prince to come rescue me. instead i looked to my strong mother and learned from her example. you did an amazing thing when you decided to become a single mother because you knew your relationship wasn’t healthy. that is true strength, and she will set her example to you and not a cartoon.

  27. by Danielle

    On July 24, 2011 at 3:34 pm

    I know what you mean! But at the end of the day, she knows the Princess is a cartoon and that you are a real person. It may encourage fantasties of falling in love someday, but I’m sure when it comes to practice she’s going to learn from you, not from the movie she’s watching.