Last week, something cool happened: Disney’s new version of Beauty and the Beast went live on Netflix! This was super exciting for me because as the parent of two small kiddos (Little Bean, age 4, and Sweet Potato, age 16 months), … we don’t get out much. So I hadn’t seen it yet.
Well, I watched it. And I can’t stop thinking about it. Here’s why, and also how Beauty and the Beast is relevant to parenting kids from hard places.
So, first off, I already loved Beauty and the Beast. I may have even co-directed the musical in a previous life. 😉 Hence, I’m pretty familiar with both the film and stage versions. But it has been over 6 years since I’ve watched it. And in that time, Mr. Bean and I have parented 4 children from hard places … which has been …
A Massive Perspective-Changer!
Children from hard places, and especially the foster care system, live with a societal stigma. Although the tide is beginning to turn (see the most recent press release from the Dave Thomas Foundation regarding the 2017 Adoption Attitudes Survey), many Americans still believe that children are in the foster care system because of something they have done wrong. And even among those who are informed enough to know better, many still view foster children (current and past) as “troubled,” “damaged,” and quite frankly, not as smart as the rest of the population. It is a sad reality.
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To further compound the problem, many children in foster care do legitimately have extreme behaviors. But not because they are bad kids. Rather, these children have finely tuned coping strategies that they have crafted to survive. In Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control, Forbes and Post assert that there are only two basic human emotions, Love and Fear, and that all behavior derives from one of those emotions. Looking through this lens, one can see that when a child is acting out, fear is actually driving the behavior. Which is where the beast comes in.
We find out at the beginning of Beauty and the Beast was that although the prince (beast) did show his character by turning away the old woman with the rose (enchantress), he also suffered adverse childhood events. He lost his mother. He was betrayed by his father. Which is kind of huge.
We also see how awful the beast is to Belle, right? Downright threatening! Both his appearance and his disposition validate all of the dreadful things she has already heard about him. In fact, the beast is just as hideous as she had expected him to be!
Looking Past the Behavior vs Overlooking It
At the same time, if you look beyond his crankiness, roaring and chasing her out of the West Wing, it is also obvious to see that what is driving his crazy behavior … is fear.
Fear that one poor choice has damned him forever. And now, his only eternal companions are grief, despair and enchanted household objects. Fear of isolation. Shame about his appearance. Fear that he will never again experience the love of another person.
And so OF COURSE he is a boor! But how would any one of us behave, given the situation?
Don’t misunderstand me on this point. I’m not letting the beast off the hook! He is still responsible for his behavior. And yet, if you look at what is driving the behavior, instead of merely the behavior itself, the picture becomes a bit clearer. The beast is humanized. We can empathize with his situation. And Belle is able to meet him right where he is at.
Connecting the Dots
So I watched Beauty and the Beast with Little Bean. (And yes, I did fast forward through the scary parts.)
You know the dinner scene? (When Belle is in her yellow gown??) As Belle and beast were coming down the staircase arm-in-arm, Little Bean looks at me and asks,
“He is a nice guy now?”
Well, I lost it. I mean, full on ugly cry. (Little Bean wasn’t too sure what to make of it.) Such a simple question, but the innocence of his confusion struck me. How could someone who had behaved so badly … actually be nice?
As if it is one or the other.
Black or white.
Good or bad.
When in fact, we are all a mix of good and bad. Every last one of us.
It was a timely chat for him and I. Because we, too, have been seeing some behaviors that are rooted not in poor character … but fear.
So we were able to talk about how the beast was actually the same guy that he’d always been. That in spite of how the beast was acting (scary and mean), he was actually just … really scared. And sad. We talked about how he needed someone to look past his bad behavior and love him. And to help him feel safe enough to love in return.
It is Scary Work
Looking beyond the behavior goes against the grain. Expect that people will think you are doing it all wrong. Because our natural human tendency when we see a bad behavior is to extinguish it. After all, we don’t want to spoil our children! And we can’t allow them to become hardened criminals, right?? But kids from hard places need a different approach.
The lingering effects of their trauma cannot be glossed over or healed in weeks or months or even years. They need a different approach, a ton of grace, and acknowledgement of their feelings to heal.
May we have the strength, tenacity and courage to walk alongside them as they begin their healing journeys. (And do watch this movie! Maybe even keep the tissue box handy.)