Milestones of Motherhood
How our own childhood influences our mothering
How does the way in which we were parented influence us as mothers to our own children?
What aspects of our own childhood do we seek to pass on to our own children, and what do we hope to do differently?
If in our own childhood we did not receive great love, nurturing, kindness and understanding how has this impacted upon our lives, and how do we ourselves become mothers to our own children?
These are the types of questions I have been exploring through interviews with mothers who have been reflecting upon their own childhoods and themselves as mothers today.
If as children we were not mothered as optimally as we could have been, we may come to motherhood ourselves unsure and anxious about our own capacity and capabilities to mother our own children. We may fear we cannot love our children, or be good enough, and we may fear we will replicate the pain of our past in our own families.
Through interviews, women reflected upon their own experiences and talked with honesty and tenderness of the journeys they have been on as mothers, coming to terms with their pasts, and creating their own families, day by day.
You see there is something so deeply transformational about becoming a mother; we come face to face with our greatest strength and power, and also our greatest fears and vulnerabilities. Yet as I have found through listening to mothers speak, and indeed my own experiences, motherhood itself has the potential to be profoundly transformational.
We can choose to be different to our own parents, we can create our own families according to our own deeply held beliefs. We can face our own fears and imperfections and grow to become the mothers we know our children deserve.
These are some of the aspects we consciously bring to our growth and evolution. Yet being a mother runs deeper than this and has the potential to transform us from the inside out. Feeling unconditional love for our own children can be life changing, life affirming and also terrifying in equal measures, especially if this has not been the nature of our own childhood. And this unconditional love itself works, like alchemy, on all aspects of our being, bringing many aspects of ourselves up for healing, inviting us to allow love into all aspects of our selves.
Writing this chapter has been deeply moving, inspiring and at times challenging as I have reflected upon the ways in which to hold these deep truths of the human heart, and present them in all their tenderness, power and authenticity. Yet one thing is for sure, whatever our past, and whatever our fears, the love we feel for our children offers us a way forward onto a path which has the potential to bring us to know, so deeply, our own truth, our own power and the depths of our own hearts. I hope that this is one of the messages which readers of ‘Milestones of Motherhood’ feel as they read this chapter.
These are not issues that we often talk about day to day, but if this resonates with you, and you feel you would like to reflect and share your journey with others through my book, you are very welcome to get in touch. You could write about your experiences, or we could arrange to talk over the phone. You can contact me, Clare, on email@example.com
I will do my best to honour the truth and tenderness of your journey.
Mosaics of Mothering
I am very blessed to have a lovely friend who makes pottery and as a family and at various groups we have spent many a happy hour squidging clay and making our own, albeit rather haphazard, pottery creations. My eldest daughter has taken a particular interest in this and is now confident to recycle her own clay, to make bowls, animals, pots etc and has attended a local clay club.
Recently my friend dropped round a huge box of assorted small and broken tiles along with the simple instructions to make mosaics. (You basically just stick them on with PVA then have the option to grout over them.)
So early one morning it was decided that we would give the mosaics a try and we enjoyed a happy and relaxing couple of hours picking through the tiles and arranging them to make designs and patterns on pieces of wood.
This was a really fun and creative thing to do, and was so accessible for all ages and abilities; my 2 year old watched for a little while and then joined in carefully selecting tiles and arranging them to make his own design. My 5 year old had a clear plan of exactly what she would do, and simply selected the right tiles and made her design, and my eldest daughter took the different approach of picking out tiles of similar colours and textures and then taking the time to arrange them in different ways and experiment with what she liked before committing them to glue. I picked out the pieces I liked and then arranged smaller pieces all around them. And the result… Four beautiful mosaics, all individual, unique and colourful which have pride of place on our kitchen shelf.
As those mosaics have sat in our kitchen and I’ve glanced at them day after day, they’ve reflected back to me much wisdom of life, mothering and family!
For the boxes of small and broken tiles in the beginning were really nothing much at all, and indeed on their own would not amount to a great deal. Yet when we took them, each one by one, held them a little, noticed their colour, shape and texture, we began to see their beauty, and how, when arranging them with other similar pieces, they would, together, become much more than the sum of their simple parts.
The simple process created a unique, interesting and beautiful piece of art, which each of us had very much enjoyed doing. And it struck me how this can be liked to our days as mothers.
The small, and at times, seemingly insignificant, aspects of our days as mothers can be likened to the little tiles; the many repetitive domestic tasks, the repetitive care of babies, the seemingly constant breastfeeds and broken nights, the holding of little hands, reading stories, and listening to the stories and dramas of our older children, the breakfasts, lunches, packed lunches, picnics and bedtimes, brushing teeth, cuddles and laughter, wiping tears, plastering knees… the list goes on for each of us…
Yet these are the tiles of our mosaics of motherhood, and although each little tile seems at times unimportant, when we step back and reflect for a moment, we can see just how important each and every one of those little moments are; for it is these tiles which create the overall mosaic of our family life and our children’s childhoods.
And the attitude we take when carrying out these tasks is akin to the glue which holds the pieces together; for it is our love and attitude to mothering, and to our children, which take all of the little pieces we have chosen and holds them together. And when we step back for a moment, we can see that all the experiences, the magnificent, the difficult and the everyday, somehow come together to create the beautiful and unique artwork which is our family.
Yet there is another way too in which mosaic can reflect our family lives; imagine our family lives as a beautiful piece of colourful ceramic, maybe a bowl, plate or tile, perhaps over time cracks and chips begin to show, or we could just simply drop the plate in a moment of haste – the result is the same; the beautiful thing is shattered into many sharp pieces. We may be shocked, hurt, bewildered, lost or angry; yet with time, the beauty of mosaic offers us a way forward.
Things are broken, but we are able to look at all of the pieces, and one by one, we are able to begin to pick them up, to examine them, to decide which ones we would like to keep and which are damaged beyond repair. And we are able once again to begin to create a new picture, we can use many of the old pieces, yet now we also have the opportunity to add new pieces, of different colour and texture, and over time, create a new piece. Of course it will look different to how things were before, yet in the transformation, we will learn much about ourselves and our loved ones, their colours and textures, and the different ways of arranging things.
We can build something great and beautiful from the pieces we have, and it is by taking the time to collect these pieces, hold them in our fingers and put them together, glued with our love and dedication, that we create our families, over and over as the changes sweep through our lives like the seasons.
There is no paint-by-numbers guide, and who knows how things will work out, yet all we must do is lovingly work with each piece, one at a time, day by day, and through this process we build loving, unique and authentic families.
If this process resonates with you, and you would like to share your experiences of change and transformation through mothering I am once again inviting women to contribute to my book-in-the-making Milestones of Motherhood. If this interests you then please do get in touch with me, Clare Cooper, via firstname.lastname@example.org
Beautiful Beginnings Play Group Sessions Begin Again for Autumn
Playgroup sessions beginning Tues 6th October
10:30-12:30 at The Settlement
Sessions will include sharing ideas for autumn crafts and activities, exploring the garden, free play, sharing our favourite stories and songs.
Looking forward to seeing everyone there, and new families always welcome.
Learning to Love
Writing the chapter First Weeks ~ First Times for Milestones of Motherhood I’ve been thinking a lot about love lately. About mother-love, and the many ways we as mothers experience love for our babies and children.
One thing is for sure, the stereotype of having a baby, feeling a huge surge of love at first sight and floating happily on our way into motherhood is rarely the full story.
Having had the opportunity to talk to many mothers about their feelings towards their babies and children, and read the written experiences of many more, I have come to realise that one of the most unique aspects of the mothering journey is the way in which we come to love our babies.
Indeed this gets to the very essence of what Milestones of Motherhood is all about ~ the inner journey of growth and transformation we experience as mothers, and love is surely at the heart of this journey.
We can break down the journey to meeting our baby into the clear, biological stages of pre-conception, conception, the three trimesters of pregnancy, the stages of labour and birth, and the post-postpartum days, weeks and months. Yet our emotions and evolving feelings towards our baby do not have such a blueprint to follow.
For some of us, we love our babies even before conception, and this love grows constantly through pregnancy, culminating in meeting our baby and holding him in our arms after birth.
Yet for many others, our feelings ebb and flow. At times we may feel close to our baby during pregnancy, and connected, and at other times we may feel strange and confused, doubting ourselves as potential mothers and unsure who and what this being is growing beneath our skin. And of course there are those times when we fear we will be dreadful mothers and wonder if really this is the right decision at all. In all truth, love for our child may be the furthest thing from our true experience.
Yet this is something so few of us feel able to talk about, leading to many mothers facing the emotional terrain of pregnancy alone, smiling to say they are fine, unsure how and with whom to share their underlying feelings.
Our birth experiences too contribute enormously to the beginning of our emotional relationship with our baby. When birth unfolds as we planned, and we feel happy about our experiences, it is easy to see how this good start gives us a helping hand in loving and getting to know our baby. Natural, physiological birth also orchestrates hormonal patterns releasing the cocktail of love hormones which give us the best possible biological start to fall in love with and begin to nurture our baby.
However birth can also not go as planned, either by nature, or mother. Women can go through great medical intervention which brings her baby into the world, but also leaves many of us feeling severely traumatised, and in a state of shock as we meet our baby and begin our path of learning to be a mother. So many of us begin motherhood with some level of physical, mental and emotional shock and trauma, with some women experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of their birth.
Indeed birth itself is such a vast, intense and life changing experience however it takes place, it is fair to say that all women are in some level of shock and adjustment as they have passed through this womanly initiation into motherhood.
As we begin to make sense of our birth and move forward into the early days and weeks with our babies, so too do our feelings begin to make sense of our new position in the world. We are mothers, with a new life to love, care for and nurture. Forever. This is a huge realisation, and as much as we may know it in our heads, to find ourselves living it for real can give rise to feelings of panic, worry and doubt amidst the warm feelings we have for our baby.
Yet love finds its way. For some of us, waves of love roar through us, we have never felt a love so strong and we float through the first hazy weeks in a bubble, tired, but blissful and loving it.
Yet for others, we know the love is there, sometimes, and we care for our babies as though we love them, but it takes a little longer for these feelings to really be real.
Sometimes the surges of love we experience are so powerful, too powerful and we are overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by the strength of our feelings and the huge dawning realisation of how our life has changed. We can be overawed to just how vulnerable both our little ones, and we ourselves really are.
It is hard to put into words the feelings which some of us experience; when we know love should be there, but we feel, or rather, we don’t, feel it. So many of us go through the early times in a state of shock from birth, and exhaustion from baby care, with a void around our heart space, a discomfort and fear about the lack of feelings we harbour.
Many feel as though we are living each day from behind a screen, an invisible force separating us from the joy and happiness we know we should be feeling. Feeling this is bad enough, and the thought of sharing it terrifying. Yet sharing our feelings and seeking support can bring comfort and relief to know we are not alone, and the future will not be so bleak.
We learn that all changes with time, and love grows. With time, and with support, our feelings come. As we see our baby responding to us, their eyes meet ours, the flicker of a first smile, their tiny hand grasps ours.
We feel the stirrings of connection and each and every interaction with our baby builds on the one which has gone before it and love grows, slowly, step by step, little by little. It grows, through the days, weeks, months and years we spend getting to know our children. Every journey is different.
Whatever your experiences of loving your babies and children, wherever you are on your mothering journey, be gentle with yourself and accept your feelings. Nurture and care for yourself as you do your children and create a space in your heart for your feelings to grow.
Every woman’s experiences of growing to love her children are unique. Yet by hearing the feelings of others, we know we are not alone, and there is surely no one way to love, and to be a mother.
If you would like to share your own journey of growing to love your children and contribute to Milestones of Motherhood, please do get in touch with me, Clare, via email@example.com
‘Who’s Not In School?’ by Ross Mountney
I couldn’t think of a better book to begin BB book reviews than Ross Mountney’s first children’s book Who’s Not In School?, illustrated by James Robinson and published by Bird’s Nest Books.
Ross is a popular home ed writer and brings much inspiration, common sense and reassurance to home educating families and many others exploring options for their children’s education on her lively blog Ross Mountney’s Notebook.
Who’s Not In School? is a beautifully illustrated children’s story which explores the week of a home schooling family. I smiled when I first heard the title of this book, as like many others who’s children learn outside of school, when out and about my kids are forever being asked that very question ‘who’s not in school today?!’
The story invites us into the life of a family where parents and children spend their days together and everyday family life and learning take place side by side. We are introduced to the youngest member of the family Little Harry, and follow him through his week of explorations and adventures. My children loved his antics and couldn’t wait to see what Little Harry would get up to next. When my older daughters are playing and learning, their little brother is often getting up to Little Harry-like adventures of his own, so we all laughed as we could relate to this.
The illustrations are beautiful, gentle and detailed, and unique in the way that they capture many of the nuances of a home educating home and lifestyle. My children loved the pictures and spent some time on each page studying the details and asking questions.
In the majority of children’s stories, school is seen as the norm, and children who do not go to school can feel a little disconnected, or a little different, as if they on the sidelines looking in and the story doesn’t really apply to them. Indeed this is how they can feel in life sometime too, and this is what makes Who’s Not In School? such a special book, especially for younger children beginning their home ed journey.
The book shares the many daily activities and adventures which will be familiar to home educating families and gives the opportunity to talk about how learning happens throughout the day, day by day. The most heart-warming thing about the book for me is how home educated kids are at the center of the story and how my own children really related to the book.
I’ll now pass on to my eldest daughter to share her review:
“This story made me feel happy because lots of other books are about children going to school and people don’t really see my side of life.
I think it’s really good this book has been published so children can read it and learn about home ed. I’ve never read a book about home schooled kids before and it made me feel happy. I loved the pictures and I could read it myself.
I love the bit where Little Harry puts the blocks down the toilet and the other things he does because he is like my little brother. It made me feel really happy and joyful to read it because it is like my life and the pictures are really good.
I’d like another book to be written to hear more about Lucy and Jake because they are more close to my age and they sound really exciting and I want to know more about them. I love the book.
James the illustrator inspired me and made me want to be an illustrator myself when I’m older as I really like the pictures.
I also like it when Little Harry climbs up the slide in the pool and it made me laugh when he was silly in the museum.”
Who’s Not In School? is available from Bird’s Nest Books.
Beach & Park Summer Meet Ups
Hi Everyone, Apologies for taking some time in getting the details of the BB summer meet ups online.
Last year we took a break from the weekly sessions at The Settlement and enjoyed meeting up out and about at local beaches and parks.
This year we plan to do the same, and have brought together a list of everyone’s favourite places for picnics, paddling, beach combing and bike rides. We are also lucky to have a special session in the second week of September at Harrington Nature Reserve where Nature Detectives leader Emma Jenkinson from Groundwork will lead fun, nature based activities and a tour around the Harrington Reserve. These activities all take place on a Tuesday to keep with the date of the group, but do feel free to suggest additional meet ups and activities on other days and post in the BB Facebook group!
Walks and bike rides all start at 10:30am and beaches at 2:00pm to hopefully coincide with lower tides.
- Tues 28th July 10:30am ~ Mill Field, Workington
Walk by the stream, playing in the shallow water, looking out for swans, ducks and ducklings, walking up the hill to Curwen Hall and back down through the woods.
From Workington town center, drive down past Marks & Spencer and the police station, as the road bends to the left over Calva bridge heading to Seaton, turn right down the lane just before the bridge. Plenty of parking along the lane. Meet through the little gate on the right near the small stream.
- Tues 4th Aug 2:00pm ~ Maryport Promenade
Walk or bike ride along the promenade and back for riding bikes along the little tracks and exploring the beach and rock pools.
Head into Maryport and drive down towards the promenade, the road is at the bottom of Shipping Brow by the church which is for sale. Head along the promenade road and meet in the car park on the left.
- Tues 11th Aug 2:00pm ~ Parton Village
Beach and lovely play park to explore.
- Tues 18th Aug 2:00pm ~ St Bees
Beach walk and play park.
From Whitehaven continue into St Bees. Drive through the village and bear right towards the beach. Park in car park and meet on the park.
- Tues 25th Aug 10:30am ~ Harrington Cycle Track Squirrel Walk
A lovely walk or bike ride along the line. This is a great place to see red squirrels, so bring some nuts to feed them. Its fun to put the food out and then watch the squirrels come and collect the nuts. There’s also a stream for paddling and a picnic…
From Whitehaven driving into Harrington, immediately after the hump back bridge turn right onto a track and park. There is room for about 3 cars, so some of us may need to park on the nearby streets. From Workington turn left immediately before the bridge.
Walk onto the line and walk right going back under the bridge. Stream is on the left a little further down.
- Tues 1st Sept 10:30am ~ Whinlatter Forest
Play park, forest walks, Gruffalo or Superworm trail followed by picnic or lunch in the cafe.
Access to the forest is free but parking charges apply.
- Tues 8th September 10:30am ~ Nature Detectives at Harrington Reserve
Nature exploration and creative Nature Detectives activities led by Emma Jenkinson from Groundwork. Walk around the reserve and explore flowers and insects. Emma is lovely and her activities are always great fun we’re so lucky she can do a session for us!
From Harrington at the traffic lights and junction where you can turn down to the beach, turn right just before the lights, drive up the road and park opposite St Mary’s School. From Workington head to Moor Close sports centre and fire station roundabout and drive down towards Harrington. Again park on the left opposite the primary school. The reserve is the park opposite the school. Meet in here.
If you have ideas for any additional activities and meet ups on other days, that would be great, post in the BB facebook group.
Nurturing and Protecting Creativity
Something I’ve been reflecting upon lately is children and creativity. Whilst many of us value creativity as something we would like for our children and ourselves, how does this play out in our day to day lives?
For a while I considered creativity to be linked to art materials and making stuff, which is definitely an element of being creative. I made a conscious effort to have creative time within our days, and I spent lots of time looking for creative activities, art classes and craft projects for us to enjoy.
Yet after reflecting on general day to day life, and especially the times my children are engaged in free play, I’ve come to realise that creativity is not simply limited to making stuff with art materials. It is integral to how we express ourselves in anything and everything that we do. When given the time and space, children do this effortlessly in the pictures they draw, the games they create, the fancy dress costumes they put together and the mud cakes they make and sprinkle with petals.
Watch your children and see how they play. When they have plenty of free time and space to do with what they will, the things they come up with are immense. Relaxed play is the state in which we become creators. We explore ideas, experiment with materials and discover and express a little more of ourselves with the materials we have to hand. This is such a different space to giving our child materials and telling them what to do with them or attaching learning outcomes, pressure and expectations to a child’s activity.
Far from limiting ourselves to perceiving creativity as purely creating things in the context of art or craft, we can widen our horizons and realise that we are innately creative in everything we do.
Yet as a parent one thing I’ve realised it that creativity, and in particular, time and materials available to use, is something which needs our attention. Life gets so busy, with so much to do, and so many places to be. Parenting can come with many anxieties surrounding how well our children are ‘doing’, and what they are learning and achieving. Yet creativity itself is valuable and is something which will nurture and enrich all aspects of our children’s being and development both as children enjoying the moment, and as adults who know what they are capable of and know how to explore, learn, create, make mistakes and create once again.
Prioritise and protect time where your children can simply be; being in their own space and their own time frame, with simple materials they can use as they like. Such space is simple and free, demanding little, yet is a threatened and endangered commodity in our rushed, scheduled and outcome focused lives.
We do not need to worry about helping our children to be creative – rather we need to become guardians of their time, space and environment to enable their innate creativity to flourish. Giving them the time and space to play as they like, smiling at their role plays, and providing simple materials for them to use as they like enables their creativity to flow. Some quiet time, in their home or garden, with access to materials is all they need.
Access to simple art materials, scissors and tape, cardboard and boxes, paint and glue and a space and plenty of time to use these gives children an invitation to explore and play as they like. We may guide their creations at times, and help them to develop new skills, yet protecting the space for them to create as they like invites them to come up with things far from what we may imagine; through their own creations we see a little more of who they are.
I am beginning to understand creativity as exploring and bringing into being our feelings and ideas with the materials we have around us. Our children do this effortlessly, when we protect their space from over-scheduling and prescriptive games, and give them the gift of time, freedom, and simple things to do with what they like.
Yet creativity is not solely the terrain of our children. Don’t limit yourself with the belief you are not creative because you were no good at drawing at school, creating is so much more than this – give yourself too the time and space to explore as you would your child, and begin to express yourself through everything that you do. Read more about discovering our own creativity as mothers in my next post.
Over the past few months I’ve spent a lot of time corresponding with women who are at various stages of writing about their mothering experiences to contribute to my book-in-the-making Milestones of Motherhood.
As mothers there are so many things which happen in our lives everyday which require our attention before we may find a little time to reflect and write. Yet along with the busyness there can also be other blocks which come up and seem to make us turn away from looking within and reflecting upon our experiences and our journeys along the mothering path.
A number of women, both close friends and women many miles away whom I’ve only met through emails, talk of how they began to reflect on their experiences, but soon found that the questions were bringing up memories of difficult times, or emotions from past experiences or situations which were traumatic and painful.
For some women these experiences may go way back to their own childhood. The ways we ourselves were parented contribute greatly to our own experience of motherhood. I will be exploring this issue within Milestones of Motherhood and sharing stories of how women reflect upon their own upbringing and the ways in which they come to terms with and transform these experiences and through a process of self awareness, become the mothers they wish their own children to have.
Another issue many women find difficult to look back upon can be the birth of their child. Birth, however it takes place, is a hugely powerful event in any woman’s life.
The intensity of birth has the potential to be hugely empowering if the birth unfolds as the woman hoped, and she feels safe and able to make her own choices. Yet birth also has the potential to leave women feeling traumatised and shocked, especially if they feel they were not active participants in the things which they experienced.
I am currently writing the Birth Chapter which explores women’s experiences around all aspects of pregnancy and birth. One of the things I am finding is, whatever a woman’s experiences of labour and birth, these memories are intense and emotions run deep.
Yet even in the most traumatic and difficult of times, I am hearing women talk of the strength and the courage they have found, and how this strength has become part of them, and brings support to them in other aspects of their mothering. Through birth we can discover just how strong we really can be.
Talking about the birth of her first son, one contributor writes:
“I have been through both the best and the worst experience of my life and learnt so, so much about myself and my inner strength. I’ve realised just how fragile life is, and how, when life demands, it is possible to rise to any situation if your will and determination are strong enough.”
Motherhood brings many challenges, yet also many opportunities for growth and transformation. Whilst looking back at hard times can be difficult, doing so also gives us the opportunity to love ourselves a little more, to let go, and to bring even more consciousness in the way we hope to mother our own children.
In a way mothering is like craft and alchemy. We are presented with many materials, much of them raw and gritty, many more joyful and cherished. Yet the path is not set, it is up to us how we take the things before us and create the motherhood and the family we hope to be.
If you are interested in reflecting upon your own experiences, growth and learning as a mother, and would like to contribute to the book, I would love to hear from you. Drop me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org
Spring trip to the Gincase Farm Park
Tuesday 21st April 2015
We will be meeting at the Gincase at 11:00am, there will be lamb or goat feeding session at 11:30, and possibly another scheduled session in the afternoon.
For those of you who haven’t been before, the Gincase has a large indoor play barn with picnic tables, ride on tractors and soft play. It can be a bit on the chilly side though, so layers and warm socks are a good idea.
There are outdoor animal paddocks and a walk around the fields which will be lovely if it is sunny and the elderflower has blossomed…
There is also an outdoor park with a new zip wire, go carts and an animal barn where you can stroke and feed the animals.
- We are meeting at 11:00am but the park opens from 10:30 so feel free to arrive then if you prefer. Say you are with the group.
- Under 2′s go free and there is an group price of £4.50 per person providing there are over 10 of us, which I hope there will be.
- Please park in the overflow car park which is to the left as you enter the main car park.
- Please bring a packed lunch. Hot drinks are available from the cafe, but they said they would prefer us to bring a packed lunch as the cafe can be really busy.
Looking forward to seeing you there!
For directions check out:
Welcome to ‘The Forgotten and the Fantastical’ Carnival
This post was written especially for inclusion in ‘The Forgotten and the Fantastical’ carnival, hosted by Mother’s Milk Books, to celebrate the launch of their latest collection of fairy tales for an adult audience: The Forgotten and the Fantastical. Today our participants share their thoughts on the theme ‘Fairy tales’.
Please read to the end of the post for a full list of carnival participants.
This carnival is about celebrating fairy tales (particularly those that empower women) and sharing creative works on the theme of fairy tales.
Frozen: Princesses, power and awakening the sacred feminine
The fairy tale of our time is undoubtedly Disney’s Frozen. As a mother of two young girls, rarely a day goes by without those familiar lines being sung or screeched in some sort of role play often involving reindeer, tiaras and dramatic waving of the arms as unseen ice powers are unleashed and unsuspecting parents or passing toddlers are zapped and frozen to the spot.
Yet as a family we have often avoided traditional fairy tale books and films. Whilst attracted by the dresses and sparkles, my daughters found the actual stories scary and threatening and I had issues with the messages of passive princesses waiting to be rescued by a handsome prince. For the plot of the majority of the traditional fairy tales involves princesses who are generally trapped, powerless and somehow imprisoned and their only hope of rescue and happiness is the arrival of a passing prince who is attracted by their beauty.
Whilst such fairy tales, traditionally intended for adults, do hold deeper messages, life lessons and cultural archetypes, I doubt such messages are received or understood by our children. Generally children take things literally, and in my experience girls are attracted to the dresses and the sparkles and they tend to be frightened by the scary bits. These types of stories can be a good spring board for discussions about women’s passivity and being rescued by a prince, but I wonder to what extent such portrayals of women are really serving our girls as they strive to explore life and make sense of their place in the world.
So it was with a bit of a yawn that we succumbed to Frozen fever and bought the film. Yes there are sparkly dresses and scary bits but as a family we found the messages here to be different, and refreshingly so. My daughters liked the way the story was centered around two sisters and could relate to the characters more, and understood from first watch that it was the sister’s love for each other which was at the heart of the film.
For me, as a mother, feminist, writer, Disney-cynic and yogini interested in women’s power and transformation, I was rather surprised to find myself feeling Frozen was Disney’s contribution to our planetary re-awakening of the sacred feminine, or female power! Previously, female characters mostly played a passive, and secondary role to males, and the plots were always based around the disempowering tale of imprisonment and woe followed by rescue by a prince attracted by her physical beauty. Women’s lot, oppression, or rescue, were determined by men’s choices. How refreshing to see a story which centers upon the journeys of two sisters. Whilst male characters are present, they are secondary to the goings on of Elsa and Anna, and neither character’s journey of final destination is solely determined by a knight or prince.
For me, Frozen makes a number of contributions to the discovery and celebration of the sacred feminine, or the re-discovery of feminine power. Whether you agree of not, I hope the ideas make for fun discussions with your sons and daughters!
Power - traditionally fairy tales saw strength and power as a man’s domain, used to overpower or rescue women. If female characters were powerful, mostly they were also evil, cast as witches or stepmothers using their power in a negative way. Powerful women in fairy tales were generally assumed to be wicked, using their strength to hurt or manipulate others, or to meet their own selfish desires. What do such messages teach children about using their own personal power, or even being powerful. We know only too well that girls are more likely to be called bossy for exhibiting the same leadership type behaviour as boys. Truthfully, how is the fairy tale portrayal different from how we actually perceive and receive seemingly powerful women in real life? Do so-called powerful women still have to embody male characteristics of power to be recognised, and what are our alternatives? Could we love a powerful princess, and how would she be portrayed?
Similarly thousands of real life women have lost their lives in torturous ways throughout history for possessing supposed supernatural powers, be these knowledge of healing herbs and teas, or spiritual healing knowledge. The archetype of evil witch lives on, to be feared and never trusted. Elsa herself fears her own power and struggles to keep it hidden from others, being the ‘good girl she always has to be’.
Yet through her journey of isolation in the mountains, she dares to (dare I say it) let it go; she throws off her gloves, and with them the shackles of expectation of who and what she is expected to be. She looks inside and explores her own power and her own darkness. She tests herself and manifests her wonderful ice palace, unique in her own image. For most girls, ‘Let it go’ is their favourite song, and the bit they play most in role play is the swishing of the arms creating their own ice castles. Through casting off her gloves, Elsa discovers her own power and freedom and is happy with who she is, even through she is different to others and not what others wanted her to be.
Surely this is a message worth holding on to for our little wanna be princesses.
Her journey is akin to real life women letting go of the expectations of what others think they ‘should’ be and do, and embarking on an inner journey to discover who they really are, and to use their own powers of self discovery to create the world they want to see, which honours and mirrors their unique gifts.
Real life women throughout the world are again awakening to re-claim their female powers be this through honouring femininity, their bodies, menstrual cycles, creativity, spirituality and finding and expressing female voices which have a different message and a different rhythm to our male dominated discourse. Whist previously female empowerment may have been perceived as women being equal to men, honoring the sacred feminine is about exploring, creating and celebrating female expressions of power and creativity in their own right, and not measuring them against the patriarchal yardstick.
Power and Intention
Although Elsa discovers her own power, her journey is not yet complete. She is fine living in isolation, yet she fears owning her own power and being her true self amongst others. How does this relate to real life women? Whilst we may know inside we are truly powerful, how does this really sit with us? Are we truly comfortable with this, or do we harbour inner fears that we may become power crazed and ego-centric, worrying others will see us as arrogant or big headed, or just laugh at us and think we are weird or bossy? Elsa is unsure how to use her power, and chooses to live alone, ‘I’m alone and free‘.
Connecting with Anna, Elsa comes to realise that it is love which will help her to use her powers safely and for the good of all. And there is no greater spiritual message for us in the real world. We may initially hide from or shun our own power or strength, yet it is the intention with which we use such energy which determines the results. If we can learn to use our own power, strength, gifts and talents from a place of love, with positive intentions, we have nothing at all to fear.
Love - Whilst Elsa’s inner journey is dramatic and attractive, as spiritual awakenings can be in life, Anna’s journey is more human, and perhaps a little less exciting, but still as valuable. Whilst Elsa offers lessons about power, Anna’s journey explores love.
Isolated, confused and deprived of affection as a child, Anna is vulnerable and desperate for love as a young woman. This causes her to grab with both hands the first bit of attention and affection she receives from villan-prince Hans who sees her weakness and schemes to use and abuse her.
Anna’s immediate acceptance of marriage has led to many hilarious discussions with my daughters about the most suitable amount of time to get to know a partner before getting married. Their suggestions ranged from three to forty years! We’ll re-visit that one if a few years time.
Despite her emotional vulnerability, Anna is sure of her love for her sister and she sets off on a some-what naive journey through the snow to find Elsa. Along the way she encounters Kristof, the odd reindeer riding ice seller, and whilst their relationship is not love at first sight, he accompanies her on her journey.
What I find really significant about this is that Anna is in control of her own journey and decisions, and Kristof offers guidance and assistance. He doesn’t take over, and she doesn’t want him to. They get to know each other, and eventually fall in love, by walking their own paths, not giving up their own interests for another. What a refreshing new message, compared to the usual fairy tale rescue, love at first sight scenario. Cue more discussions about getting to know people as friends before beginning relationships!
Happy Endings – The happy endings in Frozen came from the result of Elsa and Anna’s own journeys of discovery. Both got to know more about who they really were, their own strengths, and what they wanted from life. Their happiness came from being happy with themselves and from their love for each other. Both were accepted by others for being who they are, and the ending showed that the young women could be happy with or without a prince! How refreshing for the end not to be about a prince saving a princess and them living happily ever after, but a community accepting two very different women, and each character sharing their own love and unique powers for the greater good of others.
Oh, and did I forget to ask…would you like to build a snowman?
It can also be ordered via your local bookshop.
Any comments on the following fab posts would be much appreciated:
In ‘Imagination is quantum ergo fairies are real’, Ana, at Colouring Outside the Lines, explains why we should all believe in fairies and encourage our children to do the same.
Writer Clare Cooper explores the messages the hit movie Frozen offers to our daughters about women’s experiences of love and power in her Beautiful Beginnings blog post ‘Frozen: Princesses, power and exploring the sacred feminine.’
‘The Origins of The Forgotten and the Fantastical’ — Teika Bellamy shares her introduction from the latest collection of fairy tales for an adult audience published by Mother’s Milk Books.