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The Mindfulness of Mermaids

Yesterday I wrote about lessons in mindfulness from Cinderella, and a reader left a comment asking about the Little Mermaid. It’s such a good question that I wanted to answer it with an entire post.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the story, it’s about a mermaid named Ariel who is fascinated with the human world, and even falls in love with a Prince. Ariel’s father, King Triton, forbids her from ever having contact with humans again, which drives the young mermaid to the lair of the Sea Witch, Ursula. Ariel agrees to give Ursula her beautiful in exchange for a pair of legs, and Ariel has three days to get her Prince to fall in love with her or else she turns back into a mermaid and has to live with Ursula forever. The ending is predictable—Ursula tries to screw everything up, there’s a big fight between good and evil, and in the end, the Prince kills Ursula and poor Ariel is still a mermaid. King Triton is left with a heartbreaking decision. Does he keep his daughter with him in his underwater kingdom, knowing that she will be deeply unhappy, or does he turn her into a human, knowing that she will be happy, but they will spend the rest of their lives in completely different worlds?

(I am aware that there is a serious critique here regarding how much Ariel is willing to sacrifice for a man she hardly knows. It’s a valid point, but for a different post.)

The core tenet of mindfulness involves awareness with acceptance. In an interview with, Jon Kabat-Zinn described mindful parenting this way:

Mindful parenting is a lifelong practice. It means you become less attached to outcomes and more mindful of what’s unfolding in your life and your children’s lives. Mindful parenting is about moment-to-moment, openhearted and nonjudgmental attention. It’s about seeing our children as they are, not as we want them to be.”

The reality is that Ariel was a mermaid who not only wanted to be a human, but she was also in love with a human. Her father, King Triton, saw Ariel for who she was, but it wasn’t what he wanted for her. Like so many other parents, he had a plan for Ariel’s future, one that involved her living in the ocean with him for the rest of their lives. Ultimately, the King did give his daughter her legs. He then said good-bye to her, knowing that she was following her dream and her true love. It was a process for him, as it is for so many of us.

It’s one thing to respond mindfully when your child is having a tantrum. Doing so when your child makes choices that are foreign or reprehensible to you is a completely different story.

My children are young. I’d like to tell you that I’m open to whoever they become; the reality is that I can’t help but hope that they will get a good education, enjoy success in their career, find a life partner, and start a family. (All within 5 miles of my home, of course.) It’s always possible that one or both of them might decide to join a monastery after college, or move to Africa. Who knows?

I hope that my husband and I will remain open to whoever our daughters want to be, whatever they want to do, and whomever they want to love. I hope that we can stay focused on a fundamental truth of parenting: the relationship we develop, and maintain, with our children is far more important than any disagreements or differences that might develop between us.

How will you respond if your children make choices you disagree with? If they choose a job you don’t respect? A partner you don’t like? What if they join the other political party, or follow a religion that you don’t agree with? Have you had to deal with this situation? What did you do?

(A wonderful article on just this topic was published in the New York Times Well Blog by Jane Brody. It’s called Embracing Children for Who They Are.)

The Mindfulness of Mermaids

Carla Naumburg

Carla Naumburg, PhD, is writer, speaker, and clinical social worker. She is currently working on her third book, How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t at Your Kids (Workman, forthcoming). You can read more about her work at

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APA Reference
Naumburg, C. (2012). The Mindfulness of Mermaids. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 5 Nov 2012
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