Posted: May 22, 2013 8:00 AM
I’m an admitted Disney junkie, but I hate what that posse of princesses is doing to my daughter. Pretend weddings to her pillow pet that were once silly and sweet have led to a daily worry about how her life will turn out with this boy or that boy. She's five. Not 35. How do I get her off the child bride track without demonizing Prince Charming?

I'm only half joking about my concerns and I should probably fess up to my own contribution to Emerson's interest in all things happily ever after. I lobby hard for our annual trip to Disneyland and happily helped her select her beloved Belle gown and Sleeping Beauty crown during our most recent visit. I tried to push Alice's classic blue and white pinafore, but she was having none of it. Fresh off a high of meeting the royal trifecta — the reigning A-list of Disney's empire — Cinderella, Aurora and Snow White were pushing a certain je ne sais quoi that could not be matched by any female character void of glitter, tulle, magical powers and a man. And then there was that time when I uncovered my bridal veil and encouraged her to try it on. I know. I'm cringing, too.princess dress up crown

The royal gateway

It all seemed so harmless in the beginning. Which is, I suppose, how all tales of misguided youth start out. But I've seen the power of make believe in helping children develop creative outlets for their all-too-often complex inner lives. Dress up can help facilitate that gateway to an unimagined land and allow children to "try on" another side of their ever-evolving personalities. This is self-help at its organic best.

How far is too far?

So what's the harm in a shimmering dress here and an ornate tiara there? It's not like she's wearing tulle to school. Mostly she's setting up tea parties for a menagerie of stuffed animals. But recently, tea time has become a preamble to impromptu weddings, where I am invited to watch her marry at worst, a pillow pet and at best, her father. Come on, she's five. That's still cute, right? I've chosen to accept this as a natural stage in imaginative play.

Seemingly overnight, dress up gave way to nightly conversations about who she will marry, apparently since realizing Daddy's already spoken for. At bath time, she tells me that her friends at school have all chosen mates and there is no one left for her. She looks at my wedding album and worries about how and when she will wear a giant white dress and dance in a ballroom. I'd like to place the blame squarely on Cinderella for that bit, but I know I've played a role in her glassy-eyed idealism of all things princess.

When the apple falls directly from the tree

I was 29 when I married and the intoxicating lure of updos and silk-faced satin had a strong hold on me. Heck, I zipped up that wrinkled mess of a dress on my one-year wedding anniversary and drank Champagne like a fool on my couch, regaling in the romance of it all. I get it. I'm happy to watch my girl twirl in the costume of her choosing, but I'm increasingly uncomfortable with my role in her growing anxiety over who she may someday decide to share her life with — at five years old.

Awareness is the first step

Since trying to talk her off the fast track to marriage, I've started to take note of every time my husband calls Emerson "princess." It's not often and certainly not his go-to nickname, but we're trying to back it off. I've also caught myself gushing over our daughter when she wears a dress and allows the rare barrette in her hair. It's not that I don't want her to feel pretty or feminine, but I don't want the lion's share of her praise and sense of self-worth coming from meeting someone else's beauty standard.

I'm actively seeking books, clothing and costumes that show girls and women as strong, independent individuals, pursuing their interests with enthusiasm and curiosity.

For now, she gets to keep her princess dresses, crowns and story books of royal romance. I don't think a princess ban is realistic or necessary. Balance is what is needed, now. I'm actively seeking books, clothing and costumes that show girls and women as strong, independent individuals, pursuing their interests with enthusiasm and curiosity.

Getting real

I talk with her often about how happy her father and I feel when we watch her learn new skills and face her fears with courage and determination. I praise her when she shares her creativity through drawing, singing and dancing and tell her that she never looks more beautiful than when she is expressing herself honestly. I remind her that her worth doesn't come from wearing a dress or jammies — her light shines from the inside out.

We've also starting talking about the many ways people choose to spend their grown up lives. Married, single, with kids and without. And (this is a big one) Emerson now knows that if she someday finds herself taking the plunge she could just as easily do it in jeans and t-shirt, a smart suit or, of course, a ball gown.

Finally, I reassure her that she does not need to worry about who she will eventually love. Her job is to love the people she's with right now and that happily ever after is not a destination on a map and can't be magically delivered with a glass slipper and it's got nothing to do with a boy or a prince. It's a frame of mind. It only requires our own participation and it's something we work for every day. The crown is optional.

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