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Pocahontas: A Parenting Parable

photo of boy

I figured my 4-year-old son Micah would admire the brave English adventurer John Smith in the movie Pocahontas, but I was wrong. As soon as the movie was over, Micah was digging for lipstick in my purse. “Paint my face. I’m Chief Powhatan,” Micah said proudly, crossing his arms over his chest like Pocahontas’ father, the chief of the tribe. “And you’re Pocahontas. Give me the lipstick.”

I flinched and held on tightly to the lipstick. I imagined my face covered in red stickiness, and I grimaced. But after hesitating, I reluctantly handed him the lipstick, bent down, closed my eyes, and waited.

Instead, Micah took my right arm and began to draw an arm bracelet above my elbow. When he finished, he put both of his hands on my shoulders and said, “Pocahontas, you are the daughter of the chief. It is time to take your place among our people.”

Although my son was mimicking the movie, the words struck me. What was my place? Yes, I was a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a neighbor, a writer. But what was my place?

As the question stirred within me, I thought about Pocahontas studying the rapids around the river bend, and her father advising her to choose the smoothest course on the proud, strong river. I then realized that part of the power of Pocahontas is Chief Powhatan being a sensitive father who brought out the best in his strong daughter.

Too often I think my job as a parent is to model the perfect way to grow up, since I supposedly have the wisdom of years to prevent my son from messing up. But as I play with Micah and watch him, I see that my job is much more complicated than that.

I need to be strong and weak, sensitive and tough, proud and humble. I need to know when to hold on and when to let go, when to teach and when to learn.

It’s a delicate balance—one that Chief Powhatan models well.

So the next time my son wants to decorate me with lipstick, I’ll try to relax. I’ll try to focus on the time of play instead of the long list of household chores. And when he tells me it’s time to take my place among our people, I will be reminded that children often speak with wisdom beyond their years.

Written by Jolene Roehlkepartain.