Work is Not Abuse

More and more now, as I tell stories to my children, I find myself changing the Cinderella figure’s relationship with work.

This began more than a year ago, with that bad Hansel and Gretel rewrite we got rid of.

In that version Gretel knew the owner of the cookie house was a witch because she made the children work. My husband was very offended by this, and always changed that line to one emphasizing the importance of doing your share of the work.


This last Christmas, the girls were given a collection of “Disney Princess” stories.

I actually have very little problem with the Disney versions of things, mainly because I think my kids get enough other tales that these are just additional variants and do not dominate the story landscape.

Snow White was a favorite for a while, but again I was bothered by the idea that having to work hard all day was the worst thing that could happen to you.

When Natasha became excited about having her own little house to take care of someday, “like Snow White,” I said, “Wasn’t it a good thing she had to work for her step-mother in the beginning? That’s how she knew what to do when she finally had her own place.”

Natasha was delighted with the idea, and this observation about the value of practicing work worked its way into every telling, question and response.


Lately, while I will include work as part of her mistreatment, I try to place the emphasis on this as one way the others were unkind. The complete list included refusing to do their part of the work, not including the poor heroine, and cutting her off from basic comforts and relational encouragement.

Someone will say I’m over analyzing, or working too hard at this, but the shift only takes a few lines, and I’ve always believed a child’s stories do a lot to shape her attitudes, so they deserve a deal of thought.

I really want my children to realize the significance of cutting off someone from relationship, or leaving them to carry the full load alone. These are parts of unkindness, just like cruel words and too-little food.

Work is something they will be doing all their lives, and my goal is to help them understand it as a meaningful, shared necessity.

It is something of value, not necessarily because we enjoy it, but definitely because we benefit from the results, and because it is a gift we can offer to others.

7 thoughts on “Work is Not Abuse

  1. Awesome thoughts. I wonder if, in part, this is why there is such an antipathy to work these days. I think I’ll re-think my storytelling.

  2. Good idea.

    I recently purged our bookshelves of a few books that give a negative view of pregnancy (such as Dave Barry’s “Children and Other Hazards of Sex”). I want to be thinking about what kinds of influences K will find on our bookshelves.

  3. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this–now my brain is whizzing just thinking of all the books on the shelf and what they mean. Wow. And my kids LOVE books, so I need to pay extra attention. Thanks!

  4. Really good thoughts here. I need to pay more attention to this idea. Work is not punishment but sometimes I think I talk about it as if it were.

  5. It’s something to think about, that’s for sure.

    I threw out Jack and the Beanstalk; it’s just an awful story. My husband thought that was a bit extreme but I don’t care.

  6. Have you read *The 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived*? They have a section on fairy tale characters and discuss issues with some of the stories/characters I’d never thought of. One of the things we’ve always avoided in my immediate and extended family are stories that have an “evil” step-mother, as my sister and one of my aunts both married men with children from previous marriages. The (three male) authors of *101* point out that in Hansel & Gretel, it is the “evil” step-mother who comes up with the idea to lose the children in the forest because they’re strapped for cash. They also have a different twist on why they think the Cinderella story should be told with caution: they think it teaches young girls that if they’re pretty enough, they’ll eventually get everything handed to them; that Cinderella didn’t actually work for what she gained in the end–she became the prince’s bride simply because she was pretty. He had no idea what kind of person she was.

  7. Pingback: Family News » Blog Archive » It’s Fun when things Stick

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