Dear Four-Year-Old Princess: Love Is So Complicated

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My four-year-old daughter is home from school today, so naturally she’s spending her afternoon twirling in front of me in princess dress after princess dress.

Mommy, don’t I look sooooo beautiful. I know a boy will marry me.

My heart sinks. My mind races. My eyes dart all over the living room, where she’s created Valentine’s decorations. A sea of red and pink hearts drown me as I try to come up with an age-appropriate way of explaining to her the reality of love, marriage, life.

Yes, Valentine’s Day has sent my daughter into love overdrive and in her adorable mind love = marriage to a handsome boy.

She’s clearly knee-deep in the princess syndrome, and I’ve done nothing to stop the madness. In fact, I think my behavior with her father and men in general has probably made it worse.

But how do you explain to a four-year old that the prince hardly EVER comes to save you (and you don’t need him to) and despite every message around her screaming otherwise, what she looks like INSIDE is what matters … not outside with her damn dress and primped hair?

How do you explain that a partnership based on love is very hard work? That sometimes it goes horribly wrong and that the prince is a monster or that potential suitor is really going to break her heart? How do you explain that sometimes it’s so wonderful and mesmerizing and lifts you off your feet until your heart thumps from your chest and you can barely breathe? How do you explain how lovers turn to friends and friends to lovers and they come and go and leave memories and wounds and sometimes very deep scars? How do you explain how a relationship changes and morphs over time and ebbs and flows?

She sees her father and me, and she sees nothing but love. I can’t blame her for thinking that’s all there is. Its all she is shown at home, on TV and anywhere. In her mind, it is the only way love exists.

How do I teach her just how complicated love really can be … and how painful? Do I? Of course I do. I’m just not sure how.

Maybe she’s smarter than I think, and she does see it. She sees the daily routine in this house where husband and wife sit in the same room and do their own things, barely talking. But she also sees the love pecks in the kitchen as we cook and the surprise butt-pinches as I bend over to grab something off the floor. Maybe just witnessing the roller coaster and mundane drudgery that IS the cycle of love is enough?

Or perhaps I’ve done her a complete disservice by not showing her it all. The tough. The boring. The very ugly. Because of that she moons over handsome boys and dons dress after dress talking about weddings and brides and her prince.

Maybe I haven’t shown her, because I haven’t figured it out myself. I have no idea how to explain the unexplainable. How I can be committed to her father yet flirt with other men? How I can be content in the routine yet throw a tantrum over it all in one day? How I can want more and love my life all in the same hour? How I can put on the adult version of the princess dress, that little black number, and paint my face and charm and smile and notice that indeed boys are soooo handsome? How I can come home to her father and cuddle on the couch while I remove my heels and then discuss bills? How I can remain happily married to my best friend sans dress and in sweats when it’s not all flowers and romance and horses and carriages and glass slippers?

How can I talk to her about love as the restless mother who can’t seem to get a handle on her own role in love well into a now almost 10-year marriage? Because in that little girl I see myself, wide-eyed and hopeful and willing to give away her heart with an intense passion that will sting, suffocate and be spectacular.

So many conflicting images and moments for her young, female mind to absorb. Resulting in twirling in front of me today, showing me how beautiful she looks.

I want my daughter to be strong, confident, and to not rely on a prince or even love this Valentine’s Day or the next 100 … but I’m afraid teaching her that lesson may be in watching her mother fail at it. Miserably. Happily. Having given myself to the princess syndrome long ago, unable to shake off it’s chains, and content with where, what and who it’s given me.

More Valentine’s Day thoughts:

Valentine’s Day For Feminists Lovers
For Those of Us in Long-Term Relationships, Valentine’s Is Really Happy-Sticking-It-Out Together Day
Half-assed Valentine’s Day
My heart says: “Flobbada-Flop”
Surviving Valentines Day

Politics & News Contributing Editor Erin Kotecki Vest


  1. The only thing you can do is be there when she fails, when she succeeds, and all points in between. Just like everything else in life.
    .-= George G Smith Jr´s last blog ..Remembering What Never Happened =-.

  2. What a beautiful post. As a kid, I never had the chance to see how beautful love could be. My parents were divorced and re-married several times and all I ever saw was abuse, manipulation, lies, betrayal. When I met my husband, who is also my best friend and still very much the love of my life after 14 years together, I swore it would be different for my child. I want him to see the romance, the love that is there. I realize though, that he needs to see some of the realites too. I want him to see that marriage is hard sometimes, that it’s not always sunshine and daisies. I guess, for me the difference is that I hope my son will see that the tough times are something to be proud of if you handle them fairly and with integrity. It’s not an easy thing to do. I know you are talking about your little girl, but is it different for your son? I had all these fears about having a girl….that she would get sucked into the “my prince will come” thing. But, then I had a boy, so I don’t know what that feels like. (or maybe he will want his prince to come?) I do find that I focus a lot on how my son will grow to perceive women. I worry about different things I guess than if I were to have a girl and I just wondered what your thoughts are since you have one of each? Again, great post.
    .-= Tina´s last blog ..Wanderlust: Ideas for travel =-.

  3. Tina…my son is so sensitive. I worry about him in different ways and for many different reasons. He has a very strong mother and a very strong sister… but also a father who isn’t afraid to stand up to them both and be their equals. … that’s a whole other post!

  4. Lovely post. It seems like you most definitely have a handle on it. I’m so glad I don’t have girls, because I think I’m still grappling with Princess issues. I’ll deal with my boys and leave the girls to people like you who can do a much better job!

  5. Deanna McNeil says:

    I worried about these same things when my daughter was four. So, when she would share her dreams of getting married, I responded with equal enthusiasm, “That is one choice you could make! What else do you think you can do?” and this was our game. My perception has always been that I wanted to teach my girl to bd a good decision maker early on, recognize that there are always options. She is 18 now and in her first year of college. I still hold my breath just like you now, wondering, “Did I prepare her enough?” but with every passing season as I observe this amazing woman emerging, I realize she was paying attention a lot more than I imagined.

  6. Erin:

    Sometimes I think it is ok to let her dream and live the moment. There will be many opportunities as she grows for her to learn life’s lessons.

  7. I think many of life’s lessons about love just have to be learned first hand.

    That said, having good guidance from loving parents will surely help. And she will have that from you.

  8. The metaphor I’ll use with my daughter is that love is like getting a present. When it’s all wrapped up and first given to you, it’s so new, pretty, exciting and mysterious. The actual gift is what’s inside. And if you love it you must take care of it, work for it, even fix it sometimes.

    Then she says, “You got me a present?! Is it a Pet Shop?!”
    .-= Sara Lacey´s last blog ..News & Rants: Chicago Auto Show: Honda Odyssey Concept Video =-.

  9. This was a wonderful post – brimming over with love and deep commitment to raising a strong daughter. Kudos!
    I left my bad prince when my now 11 year old was still in deeply seeded princess-land. She had, even at that young age (5) seen a lot about how princesses can choose the frog and pay dearly. She witnessed my strength but also my heartbreak. She should have thrown her crown and multiple costumes into the trash back in pre-school – but she did not. In fact, I can recall the irony of taking her to a performance Disney on Ice on one of “my” weekends – that feels off, no?
    But this princess waiting for a prince thing is big and engrained and frankly unstoppable. And I did try (because I was sure I did not want her to ever hurt as I did). Despite evidence to the contrary Lila continued to live in “princess way” until she was older and then one day did not.
    Erin, I am going to suggest you stay as authentic as you can. Love is grand (when it works) and she has a right to live large in her glass slipper until it does not fit. And when it does not, you will know how to guide her through the “what’s next”…

  10. On top of happy “everyone lived happily ever after” stories, show her “Into the Woods” too 🙂

  11. Thanks Erin! I have a five year old princess whose behaviour worries me on a regular basis. Oh she talks about being a dentist but then counters with supermodel. And she is constantly worried about who she will marry. It is clearly very important to her to find someone to marry. I have run the gambit of emotions over this. The first being horror that she needs a man to define herself and the last being that what she sees between me and her dad is what she defines as worthy of adult acheivement. Glad to know I’m not the only one struggling with it!
    .-= Shawna´s last blog relationship =-.

  12. The best part of that whole video was your son’s off-camera commentary!
    .-= Sabrina´s last blog ..The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far… =-.

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