The Princess and the Parenting Fail

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


A few days before Halloween, we found ourselves at Cedar Hill Farms in Hernando, strolling through the pumpkin patch, the petting zoo, and a kick ass pirate ship plopped down in the middle of a pine tree field.

Harlow and a buddy ran around the ship, wondering aloud who would be driving it, where they would be going. Harlow made her way to the bow of the ship, staring off into the middle distance.

Her friend bounded up.

"What do you want to do?" he asked.

"I'm a princess," came her reply,

"I KNOW," he muttered. "You SAID that."

"Why don't you drive the ship?" I suggested to Harlow.

"But princesses can't drive the ship," she explained patiently. "They stay in their castles and wait."

My heart sank.

"Um, don't you think that's a little boring?" I sputtered.

"But I'm a princess," was her logic.

"Princesses can absolutely drive the ship!" I fairly yelled back at her.

She said something else about her castle and hummed to herself as she moved closer to the ship's prow. But I was no longer listening.

I was mulling over proof positive that I had completely failed - as a parent, a feminist, a mother, a fellow girl.

It wasn't the first time she had shown a slight, ahem, obsession with princess play. Running around her soon to be front yard with some boy buddies, she would position herself by a tree, look studiously preoccupied, and then explain to her bewildered friends that she was a princess. They would give her a blank stare. She would look away and smile serenely, I guess waiting for them to gallop by on a pretend steed, and they would slink away, appropriately confused. She stormed over to me, complaining that the boys didn't want to play princess.

Maybe they don't know how to play, I countered. You need to explain the rules.

She just stared at me.

What are the rules? I tried again.

They have to marry me, she huffed.

I laughed it off, partly because it was adorable and I would be thrilled to claim either boy as a son in-law... a good 30 years from now. But now it wasn't so funny.

My daughter loves to paint and has just recently begun "writing" song lyrics to her father's delight and illustrating books to mine. She claims she wants to be a baker when she grows up (she has yet to understand the concept of early hours) and talks eagerly of surfing in Malibu.

So I didn't mind buying her the princess books. We watched Beauty and the Beast for the first time, and it felt good to provide her with a Disney heroine that was a bookworm, an independent thinker and brave heart. Even the ridiculous Barbie mermaid movie she regularly quotes features a surfing princess who does not have a love interest and instead, saves her mother from the clutches of a mad queen.

On our drive home, I attempted a sloppy counter brainwash.

"Merlia Summer doesn't get married at the end of her movie," I explained.

Yes she does, Harlow countered.

"She doesn't even have a boyfriend," I shot back.

"Yes she does," she insisted. "He was with her at Disney on Ice."

So logic was out. And I was going about this the wrong way. I didn't want to suggest that getting married was a bad thing.

But this waiting around to be saved! How had this happened?

I don't think one is even allowed to make a movie or a book for children these days where the heroine doesn't know karate or to quip cleverly or possess a vocabulary with self-empowerment buzz words. But I thought back to the biggest offenders - to Cinderella, the unnervingly passive beauty who is saved by her tiny feet fitting a perfect shoe, and to Sleeping Beauty, who literally doesn't do anything besides sleep and look lovely until she is saved by Prince Philip. These were some of her earliest stories told over and over again. The Little Mermaid was one of her earliest and favorite films. Here was a ravishing redhead willing to give up her greatest gift for the legs that would strut her by the dashing Prince Eric. These stories were easy to tell because they were uncomplicated. The tidy "and they lived happily ever after" was a neat little bow in which to wrap up her bedtime tales, because it seemed riskier to send her off into dreamland with a girl devoured by a wolf or an enterprising lad who brings a giant down from a beanstalk.

Which were the more dangerous stories?

I know ultimately how I and the other women in her life conduct themselves will shape the person she decides to be. But despite the positive role models in mine, I was Cinderella, waiting throughout my teens and twenties for the Prince that would rescue me from myself. And he did show up - and stomp my heart into tiny pieces. It took me a ridiculously long time to learn that the prince wasn't responsible for my happily ever after.

I am still trying to make up for all that lost time waiting.

So the next time my daughter insists she wants to wait for her prince, I'm not going to switch out her Disney books with a copy of the Feminine Mystique. I am just going to make sure she is so engaged in running and jumping and exploring and driving the pirate ship that she ultimately may just be too busy to remember the prince was coming after all.


  1. Great read!
    Beauty and the Beast is our favorite Princess around here, cause, She basically saves her Prince instead of the other way around. Leyla is the same way except will wearing her princess outfit she's likely to stomp on a bug and tell you she squished the poo out of it.
    Pirates rock! and you are not a failure parent!
    Remember, the real mermaid was turned to foam for many many years...

  2. Our little Ms. N. is right there at the same point (and has the same movie about Merlia, etc.) so I completely understand.

    I don't know Harlow well enough, but in our house, it doesn't seem to be about 'waiting for the men' so much as it is about being the center of attention. Sometimes I swear she's 100% id.

    Oh, and as for the parenting fail... I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that she's going to be just fine under your influence. She doesn't lack any strong role models :)

  3. I love the internets.

    Thank you both!

  4. In an attempt to make my son more enthusiastic about starting preschool I told him Mummy would stay at home and do boring housework while he played with his friends. Imagine my horror at a family function he announced 'big boys go out to work and save people and girls have to stay at home and clean up' . . . . . what have I done!