Parental Stockholm Syndrome

When you become a parent, you don’t just bring children into your world; they pull you into theirs.


Five years ago, my brother sent me a link to a YouTube video. “This is awesome,” he texted. When I clicked it, I was baffled: it was a clip of a song-and-dance number on a football field from Fox’s series Glee (2009–15).

I didn’t get it: why he loved it, or why he was sharing it with me. After all, this was my brother — a first-born, take-charge, cut-the-bullshit engineer, and he really, really wanted me to see a clip from Glee? Maybe, I thought, he accidently pasted the wrong link?

What I didn't appreciate back then was that he was living at home with two teenage girls. He was outnumbered three-to-one by women. His view of the world, pop culture, and entertainment was distorted day after day to the point where he didn’t realize what had happened. He was a victim of Parental Stockholm Syndrome.

Classic Stockholm Syndrome refers to “a psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and sympathy and have positive feelings toward their captors, sometimes to the point of defending and identifying with the captors.” It was inspired by a Stockholm bank robbery in 1973, during which hostages inside the bank gradually came to defend the criminals who took them hostage.

Parental Stockholm Syndrome is the same thing, except instead of being victims of a bank robbery held at gunpoint, it applies to parents held captive to shows like Glee as well as TV channels like Disney Junior and PBS Kids.

This is a real condition. I know, because I suffer from Parental Stockholm Syndrome.

I've actually said these things in the past year:

  • “I was skeptical, but the Tinkerbell movies are actually really well done.”
  • “I gotta admit it: ‘Anything’ (by pre-teen princess-in-training Sofia the First) is a damn good song.”
  • “I know I’m out on a limb here, but I’ll just say it: Tangled is a better movie than Frozen!

If I didn't live with two little girls — ages seven and five — I wouldn't be able to distinguish Periwinkle, a brave Winter fairy, from Rosetta, a plucky gardening fairy with a classic Southern accent. I also wouldn't have strong feelings about the sharp decline in the writing of Dora the Explorer (2000- ) after season two. And I never would have walked around the gym humming to myself the national anthem of Enchancia.

You can resist, but it’s inevitable. When you become a parent, you don’t just bring children into your world; they pull you into theirs.

Try as I might to get them to love things I love — DC Comics, Chicago-style pizza, Texas Hold’em, and North Carolina basketball — they want me to sit with them and enjoy the things they love: Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood (2012- ), Pinkalicious, and almost any movie about mermaids.

I might fight it, clinging to the adult world I left nearly eight years ago, struggling to maintain the illusion that I'm not captive to the passions and imaginations of two little girls. Or I can sit back, let go, and allow myself to tear up when Rapunzel is finally reunited with her parents at the top of the castle.

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