I’ve been working a lot lately and my mom guilt is at an all time high. My parenting philosophy is quality over quantity, but sometimes the missed dinners, couch cuddles, and bed time stories add up and I get home sick for my kids. So, when my 6 year old daughter tip toed into my bedroom the morning after a late night out for work it was exactly the thing I needed.
My daughter tends to sleep in. In fact, often times we have to ask her multiple times to get out of bed to start the day. But this morning she came tiptoeing in with something hidden behind her back. Her excitement was palpable. I gave her my full attention and ask excitedly what was going on? She explained that she had a surprise for me. Then, she presented me with a picture she had made at her after school program the day before.
She proceeded to climb into my bed and explain why she had designed the picture as she had. She explained that she chose to color it purple because that’s my favorite color. She added an elephant sticker because she knows I love elephants. And, she included a sticker of Belle because I love Beauty and the Beast.
As we lay there cuddling, her lying on my chest like she did when she was a baby, she asked if Belle is my favorite princess. I said yes, but reminded her that Belle wasn’t always a princess. “That’s right,” my daughter exclaimed, “she was poor first.” Then she asked me, “why do you like Belle”?
“I like how she loves reading interesting stories and that she’s independent,” I said. I asked my daughter if she knew what independent means. She didn’t, so I explained that it means Belle does her own thing and doesn’t feel like she needs to fit in with everyone else in town. “I also like that she is kind and challenged the Beast to be a better person.”
What came next is truly remarkable. My daughter sat up and said, “Belle isn’t kind to everyone. She’s not nice to Gaston. She won’t marry him.” As a feminist who gives presentations on gender based violence as part of my job and talks often about gender norms and expectations, I couldn’t have planned this conversation better.
“That doesn’t make Belle not nice,” I said, “that makes her assertive.” “Belle tells Gaston nicely that she won’t marry him. He just won’t stop asking. If you don’t want to marry someone or date them you don’t have to. They might be upset but that’s not your fault.” I then went on to tell her that I once had a boy ask me to be his girlfriend and I told him no thank you and that I’d like to remain friends. I could see her little wheels spinning, “Oh, so you don’t have to marry someone if they ask you,” she said. “No, you don’t,” was my reply.
At that point she laid back down on my lap and went back to talking about the picture or some happening in her 6 year old life. I can’t quite remember. I was just so astonished by the conversation we’d just had. As I sat against my pillow stroking my beautiful baby girl’s hair and soft cheek, I knew… quality, not quantity.