How Maleficent Helped Me Teach My Kids about Bullies and Grace
Note: Major spoiler alert if you have not yet seen the movie.
To celebrate the last day of school, I took my three daughters to see Maleficent. While we all enjoyed the movie, it also afforded me an excellent opportunity to address a topic that scares the bejeevus out of me: how to deal with bullies.
You see, there was a boy in one of my daughter’s classes this year that made me a little nervous. I did not know him well, except for what my daughter and her friends shared with me, which included that he received a suspension from school for fighting, often teased other students, and at times would take things out of my daughter’s hands so she would have to chase him down to get it back.
No, it wasn’t particularly traumatic for her. She was not his target, but I had concerns.
One day my daughter asked me why I thought he acted like that. Always one to seize the opportunity for a teaching moment, I replied with: “Well, my guess is he’s looking for attention. Maybe he doesn’t get enough attention from his parents, or maybe something bad has happened to him that makes him act out. Sometimes people treat others a certain way because that’s the way they’ve been treated.”
While I thought my answer rocked and was about to pat myself on the back, my daughter just stared at me. “Like what kinda bad?”
This is the part of parenting that gets me. I never want to scare my kids, but I don’t want them to be naive either. They are growing up and need to be aware that there are bad people out there — and sometimes they are people we trust; but I did not know this particular boy’s situation and did not want to put ideas into her head, so we just went on to speculate that maybe his parents lost a job, travelled or were busy with something else and the conversation fizzled.
Enter Maleficent a few weeks later. Maleficent is the tale of the evil witch in Sleeping Beauty, but told from her point of view. Maleficent actually was born a fairy with powerful wings that never let her down. She is the protector of her land and adored by all. Due to a chance encounter, she befriends a human, a man who falls in love with her, but desires power more. Maleficent suffers the ultimate betrayal when the man takes her wings in order to become leader of the rival kingdom.
The loss of her most prized possession pushes Maleficent over the edge, and she becomes obsessed with revenge, including placing a curse upon the new King’s infant daughter, Aurora.
In her quest to ensure Aurora’s fate is sealed, Maleficent watches over her. Slowly, Aurora’s inner beauty breaks down the ice in Maleficent’s heart. Their relationship grows, and she eventually realizes that her happiness lies in love, not hate. She says this beautiful line as she realizes her curse has ended Aurora’s life:
I will not ask you for forgiveness. What I have done is unforgivable. I was so lost in hatred and revenge. I never dreamed that I could love you so much. You stole what was left of my heart. And now I’ve lost you forever.
Like Frozen, in the end it is her tender kiss on Aurora’s forehead that breaks the curse, not the Prince’s.
Yes, I got a little misty-eyed.
But more importantly, my kids “got it.” In the van on the ride home the girls and I were discussing our favorite parts. My daughter slowly tried to articulate how awful it would be to lose something that was a part of you, and how she understood why Maleficent was so angry about it. She suddenly blurted out: “Maybe that’s how [the boy in her class] feels. Maybe someone took away his wings.”
Yes, that was it sweet girl. She opened the door and we discussed having compassion towards those that sometimes treat us poorly. We talked about how sometimes someone we trust lets us down, which can make us angry. We touched on the fact that someone could take a piece of us — our kindness, our humor, our ability to feel safe, and how that could change us from someone nice into someone dark…someone we didn’t even know we could be.
And then we got to the good part — that even someone mean and ugly and dark can do right again, especially when shown kindness.
We ended our conversation by talking about how we would treat that boy next year. What did my daughter say?