Where are all the Disney mums?

It is well-known that I am a huge fan of Disney films. It’s the music, and the beauty and the fairytale happy endings. I’m afraid that it’s a shameless escapism for me.

I started thinking recently about the role of motherhood in Disney. And I realised pretty quickly that it’s not a great picture. Let’s have a look at the following princesses and their mother figures: (and pre-warning there are spoilers from ‘Brave’)

Snow White- no biological mother and a stepmother who hates her and tries to have her killed
Cinderella- no biological mother and a stepmother who hates her and forces her to be a servant
Sleeping Beauty- loving parents who are forced to send her away to be brought up by fairies (what could possibly go wrong?)
Jasmin- mother not around (as in it’s never explained but the assumption is that she’s passed away)
Ariel- mother not around
Belle- mother not around
Pocahontas- mother not around
Rapunzel- brought up by an insane old (old, old, old) woman who pretends to be her mother and then systematically demeans and demoralises Rapunzel in the name of friendly teasing. Yeah, fantastic motherhood example.
Mulan- ah ha! Finally, a mother. But one who pushes her daughter to be someone that she isn’t and is very much in the background of the story. Hhmm, not a great example either.
Merida- ok this one’s interesting… the film opens with a loving and playful scene with Merida and her mother Elinor- off to a great start. Though if you look closely there is a foreshadow of conflict to come over Elinor’s disapproval of Merida (the princess) having a bow and arrow. ‘Princesses do not use weapons.’


But then almost immediately the film jumps to Merida’s enforced ‘princess training’ and the discord that has arisen between mother and daughter. Elinor repeats over and over again ‘a princess must be…’, ‘a princess does not…’, ‘a princess should always…’.

Elinor feels bound by historical customs to bring up her daughter to be a good princess and therefore marry a good suitor bringing security to their land. While Merida feels trapped and ignored as she is carried along on other people’s wishes and desires feeling as though there is no regard at all for her own.

My favourite scene in the film is at the archery competition when a hooded competitor pulls back the cloak, revealing Merida’s enviably vivid and free flowing hair as she states that she will be shooting for her own hand. There is a lovely thread running through the story of young people wanting to be free to make their own choices away from their parents’ decisions for them.

But the main story running throughout this film is the mending of the relationship between Merida and her mother. “Mend the bond torn by pride” recites the crazy old witch. Perhaps this isn’t such a bad example of some aspects of motherhood after all as both sides learn to see things from each other’s point of view.

I am finding myself in a really interesting position at the moment as I am encountering all those times where I just know that some things must be so because they are best for my little girl. Even if she hates it. Nappy changes for example are becoming more and more of a struggle. Likewise with wearing clothes appropriate for the weather- while she is a big, big fan of her grandma’s knitted woolly hats, there is absolutely nothing I can do to keep a sun hat on her head!

I am also looking back through my own story where I can see time and time again that my mum (and my dad- it’s just that the focus of this writing is mums) didn’t try to force me to do what she thought was best for me. I have been given the freedom to learn to make my own way and my own decisions both good and bad. And my mum has always been there for me to celebrate or commiserate without ever a hint of ‘I told you so’.

It takes being changed into an actual bear for Elinor to realise how important it is to let her daughter be who she is and not a mini-Elinor. And it is also clear that Merida comes to see how selfish she has been in ignoring her mother’s knowledge, wisdom and priorities.

Merida and Elinor

So after all these long and rambly thoughts I have come to the conclusion that Disney has had a really poor show of mums. But that maybe Brave is quite redemptive in this aspect because it shows (perhaps unusually for Disney) something of real life mum and daughter struggles and loves. I highly recommend the film, it hits my top 3 all time favourite Disneys.



*The Pixar Times published this article in 2012 on much the same subject as this.

Oh it’s because he’s a boy

I seem to have come across The Gender Issue a few times recently. Whether in conversation, or material I’ve read, or comments I’ve overheard.

It seems especially significant for me at the moment as I am looking at my little girl and the world around us and wondering what her future will be. What kind of girl will she be, what kind of woman?

The other day, as I was leaving the doctors surgery, there was a mum with her little boy- I would guess he was around 2 and a half. And he had the cheekiest little face and was running around from side to side of the waiting room. His mother held him firm as I walked past with Little One and said to him ‘look how good the little girl is, not running around.’ I smiled at her.

As I walked out, however, I heard her say to someone else ‘why can’t he be good like that?’ And the answer she got was… wait for it… ‘oh, it’s because he’s a boy.’

I wanted to march straight back in there and challenge her. Did she realise what she was saying??? I was offended on behalf of my daughter that it be assumed the only reason she was quiet and good was because she was a girl. And I was offended on behalf of my friends with sons, the implication being that boys are naughty and wild.

I was asked recently if I thought that males and females are essentially the same? And I answered that no, I don’t think they are. I think that men and women are completely equal, not not necessarily the same. I’ve been mulling over this a lot in the weeks since then and maybe I want to change my answer. Maybe it’s not that males and females are intrinsically different but society conditions them to be so. Or maybe that conditioning has arisen because there are some generalised differences between the sexes. I’m not sure.


It’s the old ‘nature or nurture’ debate, but essentially I think that regardless of which it is, there are serious problems that occur when boys and girls, and men and women are treated differently.

I heard a brilliant talk by Reshma Saujani this week (here) entitled Teach Girls Bravery, Not Perfection. She talks about how little boys are taught to run, jump off things, climb high. Little girls are taught to sit, smile pretty, colour, make things. And in that one simple difference, boys learn to take risks, and girls play it safe. Girls don’t do anything unless they know they’ll be good at it because girls are expected, by themselves and society’s conditioning, to be perfect and not to fail.

I know this is true because it is me. I am not brave. I struggle constantly with perfection because I can’t stand to fail. I can’t stand for people to see that I can’t do it, and I can’t bare to admit to myself that I’m not good enough.

I think about all of this, and I talk about all of this, because I want to teach my little girl to be brave. I want her to climb high, and try things just to see what it’s like- whether she succeeds at them or not. I want her to know, deep down inside, that she has nothing to prove. It’s a tricky one, because I was encouraged to run and jump and reach as high as I wanted. I was told that I could do anything, and yet still I have this struggle and this need to be perfect.

I read a great statement this week from the singer and entrepreneur Clare Bowditch (and I’ll omit the profanities!)

“We can torture ourselves with, I’m not enough, I’m never enough. I don’t have this bit together, I don’t have that together. What if we’re already perfect? What if we’re completely, exactly where we’re meant to be and the only challenge is to have the inner courage to be ourselves, to be real?”


It is complicated and very not simple to raise a boy or a girl without any of the stereotypical influence from our society and our history. But I think that if it all boils down to growing children who become adults who have courage to be themselves then that’s half the battle won.

Don’t judge me, I’m doing my best.

I’ve been thinking recently about how parenthood (and perhaps more specifically motherhood) makes everything you do open and vulnerable to comment, opinion and judgement. I’ve had strangers stop me and tell me off for one thing or another and I wonder what it is about babies that makes people feel like they have the right to open comment?

The thing is, that somehow, whether you want to or not, you end up being forced into one or another parenting ‘type’ based on your every decision about looking after your baby. Decisions which, by the way, are usually somewhere between educated guesswork and complete stabs in the dark, because no parent has a clue what they’re doing and don’t let anyone fool you otherwise.

The bottom line is that every baby is unique and not like any other, every mum is unique and not like any other, and every family is unique and not like any other. So comparison is not only futile but actually laughable. No-one but each individual family knows of the specific details and circumstances that have led to each decision.

But all the same different ‘camps’ of parenting seem to exist and I certainly can’t help sometimes feeling like I’m being ‘boxed’ into one or another.

Do you breastfeed or bottle feed?
Is your baby in disposable nappies or cloth ones?
Do you baby wear or have a pushchair?
Do you wean baby-led or parent-led?
Do you go with sleep training or gentle sleep?
Does your baby watch TV or are there no screens?

The list goes on. And I don’t think it’s just my general dislike of being pigeon-holed that makes me struggle with all these distinctions.

When it comes to babies I think most parents feel so unsure and unsteady at each step. Are we doing the right thing? Is this the best thing for our child? Is doing this/not doing this going to give the childhood we want for them?

And the added difficulty is that on top of all these big, big questions, parents are often coping with being emotionally and physically exhausted, which of course has a huge impact on decisions that are made and remade.

It’s all very well confidently and absolutely stating that you will never, ever use the TV as a babysitter and that there can be no greater evil in a child’s life. But when you’ve had a grumpy, clingy baby for an entire week and you’re sick of desperately trying to cook meals, do the dishes, hang the washing out, hoover the living room and empty the dishwasher with a small person crying and hanging off your legs, there is no greater relief than the 7.43 minutes offered by ‘Hey Duggee’. Or better yet, the 18.75 minutes that Mr Tumble so happily gives.

This video illustrates this quite well, albeit rather cheesily*🙂

I know that I have been so blessed and fortunate with a group of ‘mum friends’ with whom I can be completely myself. We don’t have to all do the same things, or be in the same categories for parenting, but we can still openly, rawly and honestly share our successes and failures without being judged or boxed.

It’s the most freeing place to be because I know that no matter how much I feel like I’ve failed, or how worried I am about making the right decision, that I have friends, mums, who are walking along beside me, just trying to do their best too, and not making any pretences to the contrary.

And so I say to any other mums or dads: don’t let anyone judge you or label you. And don’t let yourself ever judge or label anyone else. We’re all doing our best, and that’s the best that a little one could ever need.

*But clearly she should have put the brake on before letting go of the pram. Rookie error…





I hate January.

It’s always cold and rainy and dark. It’s such a disappointment after the lights and warmth and fun of the Christmas season.

I am also usually really against the idea of making New Year’s Resolutions because in my experience they rarely succeed in staying around and making any real difference which only leads to further disappointment and self-loathing on top of all the rain and fog.

But I have a child now and instead of passing through January in a mope and a moan I decided that I should start practicing positivity and optimism.

So I tried to think of some resolutions. Maybe there would actually be something beneficial in the New Year, New Me thinking. Perhaps I could use this deliberate positivism to dust out the cobwebs from my life corners. I might find myself more fulfilled, more successful, happier… Don’t get carried away Kat.

Anyway, to the resolutions…

I thought I could resolve to stop being grumpy with my daughter. To stop feeling frustrated with her, or annoyed with her.

But that would have failed by lunchtime on the 1st January.

I thought I could enter a new healthy regime and finally lose the rest of my ‘I’ve just had a baby (more than a year ago)’ weight with no chocolate, crisps, cake, biscuits…

That would have ended by 10.30am on the 1st January.

And then I was back to my dislike of resolutions. I learnt a long time ago that I have a tendency to set myself unrealistic goals knowing full well that I won’t be able to achieve and thus failing before I’ve even begun. It’s a self-fulling cycle that I know a lot of people struggle with in one way of another and it takes a great deal of courage to break free.

So I pondered the idea of a resolution trying to find something that I wouldn’t fail at before I’d even started, but that would be something I could genuinely work at. An appropriate and manageable task. (The teachers out there will be thinking of SMART targets…)

And somewhere around the 8th January (still counts as ‘new year’) I settled on ‘guilt’. I once read that there are two different types of guilt: rightful guilt and unwarranted guilt. Rightful guilt of course serves a very important purpose, but unwarranted guilt can warp thinking and wrongly change perceptions. Self-berating is something I’m very good at and, going back to the point about how my life is different now that the little one is around, it is something that I want to conquer.

So I have bared my soul before the whole wide Internet to say that I am really, really, really going to try hard and work at not being guilty where it isn’t deserved.

So I’m going to make a concerted effort not to feel guilty when I get frustrated with the small one- I’m not a super-mum and she can be annoying. I’m going to try not to feel guilty when I sit down and watch TV instead of doing something ‘useful’. And I’m going to work on not letting guilt creep in when I stick my hand in the secret chocolate store (everyone has one) because sometimes it’s the little things that keep me going.

It’s definitely not going to be easy and I’m going to need the help of people who love me, but I want my little girl to see her mum being confident and true to herself. Not wallowing in guilt and self pity.

So bring it on 2016!

First Shoes


I took the little one to a big grown up shoe shop today, to have her big grown up feet measured for the first time and to buy her big grown up first pair of shoes.

Whether it’s clichéd or not it feels like quite a milestone. My baby can walk. She loves to wander around the living room bringing me story books to read, and she loves to climb the stairs on her way up to bed. She loves following me through to the kitchen for her lunch and she loves to toddle across the landing to the bathroom for her bath.

But these gorgeous little shoes symbolise that she will soon be walking away from me. She will walk away from me and towards others- friends, nursery, school, job and beyond. I hope and pray that she will always walk back, but every day she’s taking steps, both actual and metaphorical down her own path.

Last week we were shopping in town and she was getting fed up of being in the carrier so I set her down to walk back to the car alongside me. She giggled and chattered away the whole way- and refused to let me hold her hand. It turns out my little one isn’t going to have difficulty finding her own independence, with or without new shoes!

It’s a bit soppy I know, but the box that her new shoes came in has the following poem written on the underside of the lid:

This is the box that carried home your very first pair of shoes.
The shoes that took care of your soft, squidgy feet.
The feet that took those wobbly first steps.
These are the shoes that will remind me of how cute you were then.
And how proud I am of you today. 

Keep walking little one. I’ll always be here when you come back.

13 months, 2 weeks and 4 days

I’ve written before (here) about breastfeeding and some of the trials and tribulations that go with it. I wrote about the fumbling uncertainty, the pain, the discomfort and the anxiety. I wrote about the breathtaking beauty, the deep, earthy love and the rightful sense of pride that come with growing and nurturing a baby through breastfeeding.

Today I’m writing something different. I’m writing a thank you and a farewell.

Over the last 3 or 4 months our wonderful little person has slowly been moving away from my breast. She has found enjoyment in other foods and drinks and she has found that she can be comforted and loved through other cuddles, smiles, teddies and laughter. For a long while she has only needed me once or twice in the night time when things are always that bit more difficult (something that never changes). And then, 4 nights ago she fed from me for the last time. Of course I didn’t know it was the last time, but I had known that we were nearly there. She had become less interested in the milk and more bothered about biting, playing and wriggling around and so I knew that our time was almost over.

It’s hard to describe how I feel now. I’m not going to pretend that breastfeeding has all been wonderful and perfect because it hasn’t. As I’ve said before, in the beginning it was one of the most difficult skills I’ve ever had to master, and then it has been at times tiresome, frustrating, awkward, irritating and occasionally still painful. But in spite of all of that, it’s a time that I’m immensely grateful for. It has been precious, delightful and beautiful. I have felt closer to our little girl than I have to anyone else in the world. I have provided her with life, health, enjoyment and protection from my own body. I have given her something of myself and I can’t over state how significant that feels.

I am proud of myself for what I have achieved, I will never under-estimate the deep, deep value of breastfeeding and I am eternally grateful that I have had this experience. It has shaped me as much as it has grown and developed my baby.

So thank you. And farewell to that leg of our journey. I’m excited about the next part.

Why I love Mr Tumble

You know Mr Tumble. The spotty bag, the oversized bow tie, the red nose and baggy trousers…


I first came across Mr Tumble 4 or 5 years ago through my work with adults with Autism, but more recently have been receiving a daily dose of him as my 1 year old is really into Something Special.

Many of my friends with small children have a real dislike of Mr Tumble. The reasons seem to be something to do with him being a bit creepy and disconcerting. I get that clowns aren’t everyone’s cup of tea- in fact I’m really not a fan of traditional circus clowns because I don’t like not being able to see a person’s face. But I think Mr Tumble is different and I think that what Justin Fletcher has created (he’s the man behind Mr Tumble) really is something special and here’s why:

  1. I have seen first hand how people with Autism really connect with the character of Mr Tumble and the concept of the programme. It’s so touching to see an individual who for most of their life seems so withdrawn and disconnected become so animated and excited while watching Mr Tumble. There is something about the over exaggerated movements and facial expressions of a clown that can get through the Autism and the repetitiveness and predictability of the programme enable these individuals to feel comfortable with knowing what’s coming next.
  2. Since watching the programme with my little baby, I have seen a new dimension to Mr Tumble. Through the same largeness of the character and the lovely bright colours and shapes, she is learning about herself and her world. She recognises parts of the programme with specific sounds and music and she is responding to the words that are being said. When I ask her each morning if she wants to watch Mr Tumble she turns immediately and points at the TV smiling and waving her little arms. It’s exciting to see how this programme is supporting her development of words, sounds and associations.
  3. And finally I think I have a soft spot for Mr Tumble and Justin in Something Special (not in that way!) because there’s something that seems so genuine about him. He really enjoys being with the children and he interacts and responds to their special needs in such an open and accepting way. He’s not patronising, or performing for ulterior motives; he genuinely loves being with children. He’s described in an article here as having an ‘innate ability to communicate with children’ and I think that’s the nail on the head.

So I get it why grown ups might not be so keen, but when I watch people ranging from small babies through to adults with severe disabilities gaining so much pleasure from Justin’s creation, I can’t help but love him too.


Here are some more articles about Mr Tumble if you’re interested:

Interview with The Mirror

Interview with the BBC

Interview with the Guardian