In Defense Of The Princess.

Not too long ago, I received a shower invitation for a new mama and her baby girl, with a note slipped inside the card that read: Please no “princess” items or clothing. And you know, I understood it. Three years ago I may have written the very same thing in my own baby shower invites, because the idea of raising a dainty, spoiled, entitled, selfish little girl is the furthest thing from what I hope and pray my parenting accomplishes. 
 
When Harper was born, she was given as much blue as pink, as many soccer balls as hair bows, and easily fifty books for every one doll. Because I was raising an intelligent, articulate young lady, darn it! And I was going to fill her world with the things that would guide her straight down that road. My daughter would be educated and strong and, Lord, would it be prideful of me to ask for enough athleticism to make her competitive, too? She would be, well, now that I see it on paper it is clear what I’d been doing . . . I wanted her to be a more put together, confident and successful version of me. Apparently I believed it would be easier to parent myself than some little person with all of her own thoughts, ideas, and interests.
 
(But no, I don’t think of myself too often at all.)
 
I don’t remember the exact day it all turned around. The transition came slowly: more like driving toward a sunrise and then realizing you need your sunglasses on than turning the lights on in a dark room. I watched this one coming. Perhaps it started with a gift from grandma, then maybe a Sofia the First episode or Dora Saves the Ice Princess. And one day we were walking through Costco and there it was in all its glory: the display of tutus. 
 
Cue the lights and hallelujah music!
 
Wide eyes, mouth slightly agape, mesmerized by the colors, the textures, the sheer beauty of so much lace and tulle, and my two and a half year old saw her future. After a sincere effort on her part to ask with all the kindness she could muster and the promise that she would share the outfit when friends came over, we bought a pink leotard with a full and thick tutu attached. It was on her little body within a minute of walking in the door at home. The skirt was perfect for spinning, glowing and singing out loud “I’m the beautiful princess,” “I’m the ballerina princess,” or, my personal favorite, “I’m the best princess ever!”
 
I know what you’re thinking, because I thought it, too. There is some serious pride in those words and they come with no shortage of questioning my parenting. Am I raising the next Kardashian sister? Is my almost-three year old selfish? Is it bad that I’ve told her she is beautiful?
 
For the last four months Harper has worn only her dresses and tutus. We sleep in them, put clothes on underneath when it is cold outside, and wear them again. To church, to Fred Meyer, on walks, and to the park. She can slide and swing and walk across the balance beam like the best of them even when her little feet are barely visible underneath the sea of pink. Our friends here just smile when they see her at this point, expecting nothing less than ribbons and lace around her wherever she goes. I fought this for weeks, too, you should know that. Because I read feminist theory, and I did fear what Betty Friedan might think. I’ve seen the cultural and psychological commentary on placing too much of an emphasis on beauty in young girls. And those questions (goodness, parenting comes with so many questions!), they followed me around because, heaven forbid, someone might think I am doing something wrong as a mom! But every time we left the house became a battle over what to wear, and I finally decided that there are enough mountains in motherhood to die on, and the princess dress ain’t one of them. So here we remain, with a three year old who is happiest when she’s dressed to the nines.
 
We never taught Harper to love tulle. If anything, I tried to get her to watch college football with me. I don’t ever recall explaining what a princess was, either. And I know many of the arguments for not socializing our children into any sort of gender or cultural role, lest they resent us or need therapy in their thirties (but we pretty much all need therapy in our thirties so I’m releasing myself of that pressure).  My point is this: my daughter is growing up and learning what brings her joy, and, so far, she is very much choosing her own beautiful adventure. If it’s the princess she loves, then it is the princess she gets to be. 
 
However, not without a little bit of intentional parenting from mom and dad that we pray can redeem the overly-indulgent princess culture.
 
Because our princess won’t need saving by a handsome young man—she’ll be confident and brave enough to wait for the right man, the one who values her and encourages her to be herself. And she will learn this if her dad and I model a marriage that is equal in titles and yet marked by humble service to one another. Our princess needs to see two parents who are each other’s biggest fans, and that is exactly the view we will try to give her. 
 
She won’t be looking in mirrors admiring her beauty all day—she’ll be using any platform she has to hold the hands of the poor and suffering and look in their eyes to tell them how beautiful they are. We don’t have to take her to a third world slum to show her this side of reality, either. We will drive downtown and roll down our window for the man on the corner. We will serve Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners to those who have no home and no family to enjoy them with. And we will make sure that our princess knows as much about Mother Teresa as she does about Taylor Swift (whom we shake it off with weekly, by the way).    
 
She won’t be demanding, spoiled, or entitled—she’ll be grateful for the world she was raised in and perceptive enough to know that so many did not have the privileges she did, and she’ll do something about the injustice of it all. Because she will learn from us as we learn it ourselves that a true life of meaning is not found in what you accomplish but in what you give of yourself. How incredible to share that journey with our children. 
 
And she won’t always wear a tutu—she’ll put her work boots on and do hard things, because in our house princesses are strong and they don’t give up easy. They are not allowed to use the words “I can’t”, and they finish what they started.
 
My little princess may wear her glitz and glam all the live long day. She may love prancing around in her pink plastic heels. And she might even believe it when I tell her every single day that she is beautiful. I want her to believe it, because the world will strip her of that confidence as best as it can soon enough. But I also want her to know that beauty is brave, kind, compassionate, articulate, and thoughtful. As her mama, I’m learning and trying to live the very same thing. Motherhood gets you like that, doesn’t it?
 
As Harper gets older, she is finding her way very apart from me. But I love it. In our house, she’s allowed to be a princess, because we think a princess can change the world, too.


Written by Katie Blackburn. Photo by Kate De La Rosa.

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