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Mulan and Moana are two of my favourite Disney princesses, and they have a lot in common. Both sneak off and disobey their parents in order to save their homes from great danger. Both are in the minority of Disney princesses because their parents are still alive. Neither are taken seriously when they start their quest, but end up gaining the esteem of their companions. (Also, they both have five letter names starting with the letter M.)
But the similarity that stands out most to me is that they both struggle with the failure to be the daughter their parents long for them to be.
Look at me, I will never pass for a perfect bride, or a perfect daughter… if I were truly to be myself, I would break my family’s heart. (“Reflection” from Mulan)
Mulan is a thinker and a dreamer. She longs for greater things, but culture demands that she bring honour to her family the only way women are allowed: marry well and bear children, preferably sons.
I wish I could be the perfect daughter, but I run back to the water, no matter how hard I try. (“How Far I’ll Go” from Moana)
Moana is an explorer at heart, but as the daughter of the chief, and as next in line to lead her people, she is constantly forced to turn her gaze from the sea to the people in front of her.
Both Mulan and Moana are faced with expectations they don’t feel they are able to fulfill. Society, their parents, and even they themselves have set a bar that seems impossible to overcome. And it seems all the harder because these expectations are set within a loving family, and it would feel even worse to disappoint their parents because of it.
I can relate to that.
I have amazing parents who have gone out of their way to make sure they haven’t set up unreasonable expectations for me and my siblings. They didn’t push me towards a specific career or tell me to go to a specific college. And yet, I felt like there was a myriad of ways I could fail at being the daughter I should be.
Parental vs. Societal Expectations
I was the first kid to move out, and despite knowing that growing up and moving out is a natural and important part of life, I unconsciously felt that I had initiated the end of my family living together as a single unit. Therefore, it was my responsibility to make up for it when I came home on weekends.
Trying to get my family do to things together is a little like herding cats. Between our various interests, levels of social tolerance, and the fact that half of us hate board games, moments when everyone is engaged in the same thing are few and far between, much to my mom’s chagrin. Family time is important to her, and as we were only all together when I was at home, I felt responsible for making it happen. When it didn’t happen, I felt guilty, and thought I had a duty to make sure I was spending time with each person individually. I was overwhelmed by my own expectations of what I thought I should be doing.
In the final scene of Mulan, Mulan returns home after being honoured by the Emperor and the entire Imperial City for defeating Shan Yu, and kneels down at her father’s feet. She broke every expectation ever set up for her, and now she feels the need to make up for it. Mulan offers her dad the sword of Shan Yu and the crest of the Emperor as gifts to restore the honour that her family lost when she joined the army. But her father throws the gifts aside to put his arms around her.
Mulan had been living under the assumption that her parents’ expectations of her were the same as what society expected. But they loved her no matter what, and their relationship was far more important than what Mulan did or didn’t do. Her need to prove herself didn’t make a difference in how her parents felt about her.
Parents Don’t Expect Clones of Themselves
My dad and I have similar minds—we process a lot of stuff the same way and have similar struggles with the way society and the world at large work. Whenever I was trying to come to grips with something, I’d almost always come to the same conclusion as he did, especially when we lived in the same house and it was easy to find time to talk about it.
Now that I’m an adult and am going through new experiences, gathering knowledge from a wider set of sources, our opinions don’t always line up. Sometimes it’s just about little things, but occasionally it’s less black and white, and the stakes are higher.
When I was making plans to attend a discipleship school, I had a really hard time accepting support for it (which is pretty commonplace in the area I’m from). I had a good idea of where my dad stood on the issue, and the fear of coming up with a decision that was different than his clouded my judgement to the point where I couldn’t think about it objectively. Because I grew up always agreeing with my dad’s view, as far as I was concerned, he was always right. Now that I was coming up with a different result, I felt that I must be wrong or a disappointment, or even worse, that I was dishonouring him.
When Moana decides to leave her island to restore the heart of Tifiti, she does so knowing she is disobeying her parents, and going against their expectation to lead her people well. However, when her mother discovers her sneaking off, she’s met with an unexpected grace and her mom’s blessing. Though Moana’s father was stuck in the idea of what being a chief meant, her mother was open to the fact that leading well has many forms.
I had fallen into the mindset that honouring my dad meant thinking like him, when in reality, he just wants me to think, and to come up with my own conclusions, whatever that ends up looking like.
So often, I fabricate my parents’ expectations. Like Mulan and Moana, I feel like I need to fit a certain mould in order to honour my parents. But like their parents, mine love me for who I am, not for what I do. Their expectations for me are simple: that I become the best version of myself that I can be, and they place no limits on what that looks like. Letting go of living up to impossible expectations is the first step to becoming the daughter they’re proud of.
Latest posts by Julia Hamm (see all)
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