This week’s summer rerun originally appeared on June 21, 2013, just before we learned that we were expecting a third daughter.
After the birth of our first daughter, we felt that general terror of new parents: We can’t do this. Raise a child? Us? Two years later, when we learned that we were expecting our second daughter, I felt a new pressure: we were evidently specializing in raising daughters. Shouldn’t we get it right? (Ha! As if we could.)
And so I found myself lying awake at night, thinking about princesses.
When the time came, would our daughters develop a Princess Fixation? Would they want only princess-themed underwear, snack foods and books? Would they insist on wearing tiaras to the store, or answer only to “Your Royal Highness”? Would they swoon over an imaginary Prince Charming?
Three years later, I think I can safely say that we’ve dodged that bullet. Our girls have worn their share of tutus to the store and have spent hours playing dress up in, yes, princess dresses, but we seem to have dodged the Fixation. They enjoy playing “Little House” and “Narnia” far more than they enjoy being royalty. And we’re glad: we don’t want our daughters to settle for the brief pleasure of being treated “like a princess.” They are daughters of the King, and we want them to live like it. A life lived in his family calls for confidence and grace, sacrifice and courage—not fluffy gowns and flimsy love interests.
Here is what we’re doing to combat the Fixation.
1) We don’t watch Disney princess movies
There are a number of reasons for this, but the initial one was almost purely practical: one of our daughters is very sensitive to scary movies, and those movies all have at least one scene that terrified me as a child (which tells you whose sensitivity she inherited).
Another reason that we have elected not to watch these movies with our kids is more, well, moral. Many of the Disney movies, like The Little Mermaid, discard the moral lesson of the original fairy tale in favor of a “happily ever after” ending. The Little Mermaid of Hans Christian Anderson’s version abandons her family for a foolish love, sells her voice for legs, tries and fails to woo the Prince and ultimately sacrifices her life for his. Disney’s Little Mermaid makes the same series of selfish choices, but suffers no lasting consequence at all.
For a five-year-old whose moral sense is being shaped moment by moment, interaction by interaction, this is unhelpful. What we do matters. Our choices bring consequences, for ourselves and for others, and to pretend that they don’t for even ninety minutes does our very young children a disservice. And we can’t shrug and say, “Oh, well, it’s just a fairy tale,” because one of the original purposes of the fairy tale was to communicate morality to children.
I am not permanently and forever anti-Disney. I realize that they have put a lot of effort into remaking their princess franchise, but having viewed most of the newer movies, I have to say: I’m still not sold. Our daughters will probably watch these movies at some point, but my hope is that they will be old enough to parse through them and see the stories for what they are. We will talk about them together. But we’re not going to incorporate them into the culture of our home as something that we accept without question.
Updated 7/11/14: We did watch Frozen with them, after watching it ourselves. We enjoyed (Olaf and) the commentary on the traditional princess movies; the girls loved the music and the line, “Reindeer coming through!” But the climax struck the chord of the Gospel and won us all over.
2) We look for books that feature awesome princesses
You know, ladies who have better things to do than fall head over heels for some dude that they met once, who know the responsibility that comes with their high office and who are willing to set aside their own desires for the sake of others. Who am I talking about?
Princess Irene of The Princess of the Goblin. The Queens Susan and Lucy, of The Chronicles of Narnia. Queen Esther of Persia. Belle, of the original “Beauty and the Beast” (my favorite retelling is in William Bennett’s The Book of Virtues). And the little girl in this book, I’d Be Your Princess.
This story is told simply, through the dialogue of a young girl and her father. “If you were a king, I’d be your princess,” she begins. And her father responds, using each comment to draw his daughter out and show her that what is required of a princess (or a little girl, for that matter) is not an outward beauty, but a beauty that begins deep within.
“If you were a king, I’d be your princess,” she says. “We would sit side by side on our royal thrones . . . ”
“Yes,” said her father, “and whenever anyone asked an important question, I would want your opinion, because you know how to make good choices.”
At the foot of each page is a corresponding Bible verse. For this one, it’s Proverbs 2:6: “For the Lord gives wisdom.”
This is a simple story and a very moral one, so I wouldn’t blame folks who find it preachy. I did, at first, but I am thankful now for any arrow in my quiver that will help my daughters navigate the very mixed messages about femininity already encroaching upon their childhood. Wisdom matters; your dad values what you think. The Bible is the first place we look for instruction. Those are important lessons and ones that I’m glad to teach my daughters through this simple story about a girl and her dad and a shared daydream.
For those of you with little boys, O’Brien has a companion book to this one titled If I Were Your Hero, and it’s equally charming. In fact, I might pick up a copy for my girls (who love the story), because it’s important for girls to know what to expect from boys, right?
An important note
. . . and one that cannot be stressed enough: as parents we all draw the lines in different places. You might be comfortable with your kids watching Disney movies, and I’d like to say emphatically that this isn’t an issue of Good and Bad Parenting, with Disney movies serving as some hallmark of Bad Parenting.
For our family, this was an important issue and so I feel strongly about it. I might try to persuade you to look at your stance again, but I will not criticize you for choosing differently. This entire post has to do with our family and the places where our lines fall.
If you’d like to read more about princesses (on either side of the fence), I highly recommend Drew Dixon’s article “Disney Princesses: My Daughter Deserves Better” and, for balance, Mike Cosper’s pro-princess piece, “Are Fairy Tales Finished?”
I’d Be Your Princess
Kathryn O’Brien, Michael Garland (2004)