I always felt different as a kid. On the outside looking in, people saw a girl who loved sports and Strawberry Shortcake dolls and disliked brushing her hair and having meatloaf for dinner. I spent most of my time outside playing with my siblings or wandering the woods near my home with my best friend. On paper, I probably looked like any other kid growing up in the late ’70s/early 80s. But I always felt different.
I was the quiet one of my family. I didn’t say much during family dinners as I preferred to listen and observe or, better yet, think about other things. I had no need for constant action and interaction. I played for hours in the quiet sanctuary that was my childhood bedroom. I had a rich internal world that kept me very busy. Where some kids had one invisible friend for comfort, I had an entire invisible school. No joke. There were teachers, administrators, a school nurse…the real deal. I didn’t have that highly evolved invisible school to comfort me through hard times. No, that was just for fun.
My mom understood me. She didn’t worry that I was too quiet; she simply let me be.
My daughter is a lot like me. She’s dreamy with a big imagination. She wouldn’t waste her time on a video game if you paid her in jelly beans because that would mean time away from imaginative play, great works of art, and dreaming big dreams. She enjoys time spent in her internal world, even if that means she sometimes feels a little bit different from her friends. I understand this about her and I love her exactly the way she is.
When I took my daughter to see a screening of Hotel Transylvania 2 this week I expected to laugh a lot while learning a bit about the fact that families come in all shapes and sizes, but I walked out with a much bigger message. Sure, the monsters were funny and can certainly help alleviate some fears of monsters and the family at the center of the film is made up of more than just mom, dad, and baby. But, the true message contained within this film is a powerful one: To love unconditionally means embracing — not just accepting — differences and supporting one another through thick and thin.
My daughter and I talked all the way home about the things that stood out to us in this film. We laughed a lot as we went through our recaps, but we also talked about the power of family and what it truly means to love another person. Here’s what we came up with:
1. Different is good. Celebrate differences. In the beginning of the film it’s fairly obvious that Drac is doing his best to be accepting of Johnny, the new husband of his daughter, Mavis. He welcomes this human into his world because he wants to make his daughter happy, not because he actually loves him. Acceptance isn’t one of my favorite words. We accept things that we are powerless to change. I accept that traffic is always a nightmare in Los Angeles. I accept the fact that my daughter’s asthma means she gets sick often and misses more school than she would like. I accept that I live far away from my family for most of the year. But differences are not something to accept. Differences are something to celebrate. It’s important to teach kids to find the good in differences. When we embrace and celebrate differences, we learn and grow. We try new things and make new friends. When we see the good in everyone, the world becomes a better place.
2. Unconditional love is a two-way street. We often talk about the importance of unconditional love when it comes to parenting but for unconditional love to thrive, it has to work both ways. As much as Drac has to learn to love Johnny for who is, Mavis has to love her father enough to give him the time he needs to work through his feelings. Talking about love, empathy and kindness with young children helps them understand what it means to love someone else unconditionally. Those are important conversations to have. But it’s equally important to talk about how to cope with our feelings when the people we love disappoint us. Stress and arguments happen. Sometimes the people we love act in ways we don’t love. Do we give up on them? Do we walk away? No. Unconditional love means working through the hard stuff with those we love. It means having patience and being there, even when we want to make a run for it. It means being in it for the long haul.
3. Self-confidence is crucial. Mavis struggles with her own identity, as do other characters, during the film. She questions her instincts and wonders if she’s making the right decisions. Self-confidence plays a pivotal role in living a happy and healthy life. Many kids question their self-worth because they get caught up in measuring themselves against the perceived success of others. Truth be told, many adults do this as well. Understanding yourself and taking pride in who your are pops up a lot in this film, both in the main characters and the supporting monsters. What we learn over and over again throughout this adventure is that we all have strengths. We all bring something to the table.
I love when a children’s movie inspires great conversation, and I’m sure that my daughter and I will continue to discuss this one in the months to come. The truth is that talking about things like self-esteem and celebrating differences can be difficult for parents. Sometimes it’s hard to find a starting point. Hotel Transylvania 2 is a great family movie and will get you started, but it’s up to you to continue the conversation as your kids grow.
*This post is sponsored by Sony Entertainment.