Never did I dream I'd be writing a post about Disney princesses, adopted Disney characters, and blended family movies, but kids change everything, right?
At age two, my daughter loved Dora. Soon after that, the Disney princess obsession hit. While Barbies and other "big kid" toys now fill the Christmas list, she still stops to examine anything with Elsa on store shelves and sleeps with stuffed versions of Jasmine, Merida, Mulan and Sleeping Beauty.
Sometimes Disney catches slack for the abundance of Caucasian, long-haired, fair-skinned females that seem to dominate their movies (although over the years they've begun to include more diversity). And while there's still work to be done in this area, one thing I appreciate as an adoptive mom is the abundance of nontraditional homes, step-parents and adopted families throughout the Disney stories. There's a lot of opportunities for discussion.
Disney Princesses Whose Families Were Different
I grew up in what most consider a "traditional" family so I didn't catch the nuances in these stories until I became an adoptive parent (and actually my family became blended, too). As my daughter Mae's gotten older, I've used these stories to talk to her about being different.
If you find yourself also wanting to talk to your daughter (or sons if they don't mind the princesses) about differences, try giving these stories a whirl. I've included conversation tips below... you might need to adjust the questions if he/she is older or younger or if their backgrounds require sensitivity toward some of the topics brought out in the movies.
** Note: I am using the main Disney movie as a guide. Some of the original novels, sequels and screenplays to these stories provide backgrounds or future characters I've not included in these summaries.
*** All images used from Disney Wiki.
Raised by a single dad who remarried and later passed away. Her step mother and step sisters make up her blended family and function as an adoptive family. (Unfortunately they were very mean.)
- What made Cinderella's family different? Do you think that was easy or hard for her? Why?
- Cinderella's pets were great friends! Who are some friends who you like to talk to the most? Why is that?
- If you ever feel unsafe, do you know who you can talk to?
[If you have a blended family]
- Cinderella had step siblings and a step parent like you. They were mean to her. Do you feel like your step family is mean to you? (Be willing to hear the real answer.)
- What are some of your ideas for things we can do as a family together?
- What are some things you like about having a blended family? What are some things you don't like?
Raised by a single, older father. Their family was treated like outcasts by others. She felt responsible to care for him.
- Why do you think Belle and her dad were so close?
- What are some ways we can have fun together?
- You don't always have to hang out with me. Who are some people you also want to spend time with?
- It's important to me for you to be safe, what are some ways we can make sure you're safe if you're not with me?
Raised by an overbearing, overprotective single mother (who happened to steal her). It's unknown if she herself was aware she was (sort of) adopted but viewers understand Mother Gothel was not her (birth) mother.
- What are some things that made Mother Gothel mean?
- Are there things you wish you could do that I won't let you do? (be willing to hear)
- Why do you think Rapunzel snuck out of the tower?
- Do you ever have dreams like Rapunzel? What are they?
(If you're Christians, you can use the analogy of her royal mom and dad to introduce the idea that we as believers are part of God's royal family.)
She lives in a single-parent family household with a busy father (happens to be a king) and a lot of sisters. She is babysat by a lot of different people telling her what to do and what not to do. She wishes she was different.
- What do you think life is like when you live under the sea?
- Ariel had a lot of people watching her (and even bossing her around) like you do - who are some of your favorite people to watch you? Why are they your favorites?
- Do you ever wish you could go someplace new? Where!?
- Ariel had to build trust with her dad. How can we build trust between you and me?
She has a traumatic background and is taken away by three fairies who act like foster parents. Under their care, they raise and protect her. Despite even more traumatic events, in the end, (through a series of magical and coincidental events), she is reunited with her biological parents.
- Do you think Sleeping Beauty missed her parents? What kinds of questions do you think she asked the fairies?
- What do you think life with the fairies was like? What are some fun things they did?
- What are some fun things we can do together?
- Do you ever feel sad that your home is different from others?
[if you have foster children]
- In what ways is our home like the home of the fairies?
- How do you think Sleeping Beauty felt about the fairies? How do you feel about being in our home? (be willing to hear)
- What do you think Sleeping Beauty dreamed about? What do you dream about?
Similar to Cinderella, her mom passed away and her dad remarried an evil queen. Then, her father died leaving her orphaned. Seven different people helped raise her (somewhat like foster care), yet she could never shake some people from her traumatic past.
- There were lots of people helping care for Snow White! Can you name them?
- Who is your favorite dwarf? Why?
- Out of those who care for you, with whom do you feel the closest? Why?
- What are some things that make you trust someone?
- How can we build trust between you and me?
She lost her mom, but she carries her spirit with her. Raised by a single dad who's got a busy job and a big tribe of people who act like her family, she loves adventures. Her adventures eventually lead her to meet people who don't look like her and think outside the tribe.
- Pocahontas had a lot of dreams! Do you dream? What do you dream about?
- It was hard for Pocahontas to talk to her dad. Do you ever think it's hard to talk to me? How can I listen better?
- Pocahontas loved exploring. What are some things you love to explore?
- Pocahontas met people who looked different than her. What were some of those differences?
- What are some things that make you different from others?
- In what ways is everyone the same?
(Use this as a way to explain differences don't make us better or worse than anyone, and in the end we're really all the same.)
Elsa & Anna
As teenagers, they lost both of their parents at sea. Although they stayed in their family home, they struggle with the loss in different ways. Elsa especially becomes anxiety-ridden and wishdrawn. Their social support network of Kristoff, Olaf and Sven become incredibly important.
- What do you think it would be like to live in a castle like Elsa and Anna?
- Elsa and Anna handled their sad time very differently. Elsa wanted to stay inside and Anna wanted to go out into the world. Who do you relate with the most?
- What kinds of things do you think the sisters did to remember their mom and dad? (If your child has faced loss: What can we do to remember your mom/dad?)
No Such Thing as Normal Family
It amazed me that out of the current Disney princesses, more than half of them come from blended or nontraditional homes!
It's hope for our kids who find themselves feeling "different" from those around them. There's truly no such thing as a "normal" family. I appreciate the Disney princesses and movies for pointing that out!
And, if you're curious about our family's story, read my memoir, Blush: How I Barely Survived 17.