Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Princess Talk

The Princess, Lily.

The Princess Phase. This has never happened to me before as a parent. As a child, I remember the phase well, but mine was more of a "Ballerina phase" since Disney's princesses were just in their infancy. My first daughter, came after two boys. Elated to finally have my girl, I painted her room pink and prepared for girlyness. It never came. Although draped in pink from the moment she was born, she has always been a tomboy. Disappointed at first, I have come to love my little tomboy; her ability to tumble with the boys, run faster than all of them and her hilarious sense of humor colors our home with her brilliance. I was inspired to name her Rae, and appropriately so, because she has been our ray of sunshine. But our tomboy is not all rough, she has a soft and nurturing side too. She can be full of energy one minute and then a puddle of love in my arms the next.

Rae doing what she does best, running so fast her feet barely touch the ground.

And then it came. And I thought I was ready for it. My 4th and final child, was born a little princess. All girl right away, our Lily showed us that truly, some things are just innate. Like loving purses and nail polish and sparkles. I was like that, which was why I unwittingly assumed all girls were like that to one degree or another, and why I assumed I was ready for it. But here she was in all her GIRL GLORY saturated in Disney Princess culture, and I wasn't ready for it. It was easy for me, fun even, to paint her nails, dance in the kitchen like a ballerina and sing her princess songs. But what I wasn't prepared for was what all the princess stuff started to do to her self-worth.

My little mini-me.

I noticed it one day while I was in the bathroom in the morning putting my make-up on. She was mimicking me, putting on her pretend make-up. Then I started to do my hair. Like a reflection she began to do the same. Once I was finished, she closed her make-up purse and looked at me. "Am I pretty momma?" she asked. "Yes of course you are," I answered, but I felt unsettled.

Then a little later in the day, as is a usual occurrence for her, she put on her favorite princess dress and then asked again the question, "Am I pretty momma?" She had asked this question many times before, but for some reason today, it made me stop. It made me stop and think hard about why she was asking that question and what the answer meant to her. This 4 year old wanted nothing more in life at that moment than to look pretty and to be like one of the Disney princesses.

Now, lest I sound like a feminist (nothing wrong with that) or a Disney hater (nothing wrong with that either) I want to inject a thought. I do not think it's Disney's fault for creating a culture of girls obsessed with being pretty. I know the princess thing can seem out of control. But, I am the one who bought the movies, the dresses, the dolls. I am the one who took her to Disneyland to stand in line for an hour to meet Rapunzel and get her autograph.

So you can see, I do not think it's the princesses that made her feel this way. Disney princesses, for example, have absolutely no magical hold upon my oldest daughter who could care less and has had the same exposure and stood in the same line at Disneyland. This young generation of girls know something deep inside their is a truth that draws them to the idea of being a princess. Their spirit remembers their heavenly nobility, they know something of royalty. But as they are drawn to the familiar story of the fairy tale, what is the narrative we are giving them? What is the meaning we are showing them? What is their ending?

I realized that I was the one to blame for not having instilled within my daughter a better meaning. I hadn't given her a sense of worth that went beyond her pretty face. It wasn't the Disney exposure that made her feel like being pretty was the most important thing, it was me not exposing her to other role models and praising her more often for how smart and kind she is. For Rae it was easy. Rae showed an interest in Olympic athletes, reading novels about smart and funny girls and we often praised her for her sense of humor and athleticism. It was easy to focus on other things with Rae because she didn't focus on the girly things. But with Lily, it would take conscious effort. But I knew, at that moment, that I needed to change my approach. My husband agreed. And I had, what I now call, "The Princess Talk" with my daughter, that I hope every aspiring princess has with their mother or, even better, their father. (Keep in mind this is my conversation with a 4 year old, it would sound different depending on the age of the girl.)

It came to me in a flash, in that same moment, after she asked me if she was pretty.

"Yes, but do you know what's more important than being pretty?" She looked at me confused, as if to ask what could be more important than that.
"No," she answered, obviously stumped.
"Being nice. Being nice is more important than being pretty. Because when you are nice you look pretty from the inside. When you are mean it makes you an ugly person." She looked at me, deep in thought."You know what else is more important than being pretty?"
"What mommy?" she was now very anxious to hear the answer.
"Being smart. Learning to read is more important than being pretty. But you know what is even better than that?"
"What, mommy, what!?" she inquired with real enthusiasm.
"You are a daughter of God. You are Heavenly Father's little girl and He loves you. He wants you to be happy and He wants you to be good and nice and He loves you even when you are not acting very pretty. He loves you no matter what."

Her face lit up as if something inside her began to spark. She knew what I was saying was true, and she felt it in her heart. She smiled and hugged me. And then off she ran, to play with her tea set and dolls as if nothing had happened. But something did happen. She learned what makes her beautiful and she learned that as a daughter of God she has infinite, unchanging worth.

We have had many conversations since then like that, and we will continue to have them. I make an effort that, although she may look adorable all dressed up in her princess clothes, to compliment her on other things than her looks. She is a pretty little girl. She gets lots of compliments from other people about how pretty she is. But as her mom and her dad, we choose to focus on her inner strengths. Because behind every pretty face is a precious spirit of our Heavenly Father, filled with potential, talent and abilities. She needs to know and remember that. Heck, as a woman, I need to remember that.

It's not how we look in the mirror that determines our worth. We are precious, everyone. We are all princesses in a way that exceeds our earthly imaginations. We have a Heavenly King as our Father. He cares so much about us and our happiness. He wants us to focus on what makes us beautiful inside; being kind, comforting and helping others, making the world a better place. What is more beautiful than a mother's tender touch, the hand that lifts the feeble or the woman who provides relief to the suffering?

Lily (and Rae) when you are grown I hope you read this. I hope you know the things that make you pretty.

So to my girls and all the girls who read this, I would ask you, "are you pretty?"


Kristianne R said...

I think you have truly been inspired!We have a book called Princess Manners and I love it because it tells these girls exactly what you said. It is the way you act.One thing I tell my daughter too is,that it is fun to pretend but that is all it is ,.....pretend.They soon will outgrow this princess stage but the lessons we teach will be what sticks! Thanks for inspiring us!(Mothers)

Brettster said...

Very insightful and eloquently expressed. As a father with beautiful daughters, I appreciate the priceless reminder to focus on the most important elements of prettiness.

Girlglasses said...

Like mom always said, "pretty is add pretty does." Beautiful post.

Jenae said...

Kristianne, thank you!

Brettster, that means a lot coming from a father! Thank you!

Kaela, mom tried to teach us young. I'm glad she did.


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