As the mother of two young children, I am much more aware of the new children’s movies that come out. Most recently, I took my kids to see The Croods, an animated film about a “cave family” facing the end of the world, as they know it. The movie is really quite good and addresses many existential themes but has one major flaw that seems to have become normative in recent years.
(Spoiler alert) Toward the end of the movie, there is a scene where one of the main characters faces a situation of peril and certain death. The character chooses to save the remainder of the family while sacrificing himself to ensure their survival. It appears that the character is gone, and the others grieve the loss when suddenly, he comes flying out of a cloud of dust and miraculously rejoins his family. And, of course, they live happily ever after.
My concern with the movies of today is that they create false expectations for viewers. Somehow, against all odds, movie characters seem to overcome whatever obstacle they might be facing and the closing credits roll over a seemingly perfect existence. The Happily Ever After theme rarely presents opportunities for children and adults alike to face the realities of life, and when tragedy strikes, they are ill prepared for the harshness that living can sometimes present. Oftentimes, the first time children are introduced to the concept of death is when the beloved family pet dies or, even worse, when a grandparent dies. Our children are raised on false belief that love overcomes any obstacle, and that they, too, will live happily ever after.
It is our responsibility as parents to prepare our children for life in every form that life comes. We cannot simply shield our children and hope that they will escape unscathed. The longer they hold the belief of “happily ever after,” the harder it will be when life ceases to be the idyllic image in their mind. It really is quite easy to prepare children for living without scaring or traumatizing them, but first we must be comfortable with our own mortality and the inevitable challenges that we will face. To tell our young people that there really is no “happily ever after” is not to steal their childhood or innocence—it is perhaps the kindest thing we can offer them.
We can teach our young people that it is possible to have a vibrant existence in spite of the difficulties in life. We can teach them how to hold onto hope while not denying despair. They can learn that responsibility and freedom go hand in hand that they are never free from either. We can teach them how to face their own loneliness with courage. We can teach them how to create their own meaning.
I suppose I am advocating for a new perspective for our young ones where they are their own, wonderfully individual people who have learned how to ride the waves of life with grace, dignity, and authenticity. Maybe what I am advocating for is a new kind of “happily ever after,” where life is not perfect but is still beautiful and fulfilling.
— Lisa Vallejos