Do I pull them on my lap, cuddle them close and explain how the rhyme is about gathering bodies during the Black Plague? Do I caress their soft hair and say the posies were for covering those dead eyes before burning them on the pyre?
No, of course not. Their game is innocent fun. There’s no need to attribute to it more meaning than it deserves.
I feel the same way about all the fuss surrounding the so-called “Princess Syndrome” stalking and undermining our impressionable young girls in today’s society (as if princess play was something NEW to this generation). There are many treatise on the topic, erudite explanations of how Cinderella is bringing down girls’ self-esteem, trapping them in a victim mentality, leaving them desperate for a Handsome Prince to come save them, eating away at their individuality and sense of self-worth, destroying all the ground gained by the feminist revolution. It sends them back to the kitchen with their aprons and coifed up-do’s to prepare balanced meals for Mr. Man-of-the-House.
My five-year-old daughter loves princesses and fairies. Her Halloween costumes have included Rapunzel, Tinkerbell and the (self-titled) Pink Princess. Her dress-up box is full of various crowns and wands. Her favorite books are fairy tales and her favorite toys are princess figurines and dolls. She will wander around happily for hours, talking quietly to herself as she builds and creates her own adventures within those imaginary realms. Her older sister is into all that, too, but she’s moving on now to an obsession with fantasy novels and all things Taylor Swift related.
(No one seems worried about my son and his pirate-and-robot fetish, though we were applauded as good parents when we allowed him to delve into HIS princess phase. As if we could have stopped him, the little man was very firm in his need for a crown.)
They all also love outer space and playing with a circuit board set to make lights shine in the dark. They will sit at any given moment to read just about anything. My children in general are well-rounded from the delicate curves of their cheeks to the books they pick at the library, all balanced out with incessant potty jokes. (Pretty sure Cinderella never giggled over farts).
Attributing that much effect to a story or game is just ridiculous. It’s not about the stories. It’s about what they take away from it. Quite frankly, if your daughter’s most influential role model is a fairy tale character, then you have WAY bigger problems than the proliferation of Disney movies and pink toys.
Balancing fantasy with reality is part of growing up; something learned from experience and observation of real life role models, of which my children have many. Let them play now and believe in happy endings, let them feel pretty and unique and adventurous and special—which they are. If a princess dress helps them feel that way now, it’s fine by me.
I am far more concerned about bullying and the future of their reproductive rights and teaching them gratitude instead of entitlement in a society of greed and selfishness. I send them out in spite of all that every day, wondering just a little bit if they will be okay, if someone will hurt them, if this could be the last time I see those faces because the world doesn’t feel safe anymore, if it ever did.
Faced with all that, a love of all things pink and sparkly doesn’t seem like a real game changer. I am just as worried about my daughters being scarred by princess play as I am about Ring Around the Rosie—not at all. I believe in the beauty of innocence. Let them dance with it while they can. They have time enough to learn about loss, to find out that a kiss cannot heal someone, no matter how full of love it is. Eventually they’ll see that bad guys sometimes win and handsome faces don’t guarantee gracious hearts. When that happens, I will be there to help them through it just as much as I am here now to play a part in their fairy tale games, put pink clips in their hair and admire their fancy costumes. There are all kinds of magic in this world. Leaving the door open to it doesn’t have to mean you’re inviting in disaster.