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Early Child Development

Why I'm Fine With the Princess Phase

One mom shares why she doesn't care that her daughter is into tiny ball gowns and tiaras

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My 2-year-old daughter is twirling in our living room, her blue dress billowing around her, a lopsided crown on her head. "Pretty, mommy! Pretty!" She means the dress.

We have several others just like it. One in purple, one in yellow, one in pink, and two in blue. They are relics from her sister's toddler years. And now, just after her second birthday, my toddler has entered fully into what mothers call "the princess phase."

Many parents I have met declare proudly that they "don't do the princess thing." The writer Peggy Orenstein explored this phenomenon in her book Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture. Certainly, there is something odious about a culture that shoves toddlers into tiny ball gowns, miniature heels, and tiaras. But I have different ideas.

When my oldest was little, I felt guilty about her attraction to all things frilly and sparkly. What had I done wrong as a mother and a feminist? I am somewhat girly myself. I enjoy the pampering of a manicure and eyebrow wax. But that's hardly my whole life. I also campaign for political candidates, work hard in my career, teach yoga and run marathons in my spare time.

Aren't we all so complex? Isn't part of adulthood syncing all those interests?

The only thing I am sure of as a mom is that attempting to censor or block any childhood phase is an exercise in futility. My brief "no toy gun" policy quickly changed when my 4-year-old son picked up every oddly shaped icicle or piece of toast and turned it into a gun. We decided it was better that he play with water guns and have open discussions than make them taboo (and all the more exciting).

My oldest amassed a collection of princess dresses when she was two and three. She twirled and vamped and watched the movies. Of course, she loved other things as well during that time. She rode her bike in her princess dress, climbed trees with crinoline billowing around her, then threw the dress aside so she could better assist her brother in building ramps for their toy cars.

As she grew, we talked about the princesses. We talked about mermaids who made bad choices and gave up their voices for a boy. We discussed the way that princesses fell in love and how it should take a lot more than a single glance to want to marry someone.

When the Cinderella movie was released, she was aging out at eight. But we went anyway. And she assured us it was the best princess movie yet because "the prince actually loved her for reasons other than her beauty." That's my girl. She got it.

As parents, we spend so much time hand wringing over nothing. So many childhood passions are short-lived. My 10-year-old daughter is into other things these days. She loves Star Wars and her dolls.

As I watch my littlest one enter her princess phase, I'm embracing every second. I snap photos as she twirls. I send those photos to friends, family, and strangers on the street. Because I know just how fleeting this moment truly is.

It's the blessing and the curse of the seasoned mother. We get a couple years of any phase at best. I am not going to waste a minute of that time worrying. We'll have the same discussions we had with her sister. And in the meantime, we will marvel at her sweet, gap-toothed smile and the sparkling crown on her head. Because, as I know all too well, this too shall pass.