April 19, 2010


Dear Kaia,

It appears I may have over reacted again and made serious something that was better left innocent. Your fourth birthday is coming up, and your mother and I are starting to plan your party. We went and booked a local pizza place here in Doha, and then asked you what kind of theme you would want for the party. First you said Hello Kitty, because we happened to be walking by a Hello Kitty stand, but later when we showed you some other ideas you went straight for the Disney Princess theme.

For some reason, that doesn’t seem as important right now, a mere twelve hours later, I was upset. I guess I see the princesses as a collective symbol of several things I do not like or admire. What those values are, are not important right now. I just wanted to write and explain why I react this way.

First and foremost, I do these things because I love you beyond belief. I do these things because I don’t trust society. I do these things because I want you to be free from the trappings that we accept as cultural norms. I do these things because I am afraid. I do these things because I want you to be aware.

I am writing now however to apologize and confess. After speaking with friends, many people made it clear that not only should I let your infatuation with these empty starlets pass, but many made the point that perhaps by being so upset and trying to influence your tastes, I am doing exactly what I abhor- forcing my ideas onto you. This has never been my intention. But I am left wondering, when is sharing values, ideals, and ideas with your child good parenting, and when is it obtrusive brainwashing?

It is hard work this parenting thing. How do we know for example when we are acting as a moral pillar and when we are the hammer? When is our influence helpful guidance, and when is it soul crushing dogma?

These are tough decisions we must make. Since before you were born, all I have wanted for you is for you to be a creative, independent, kind woman. An open thinker who questions everything, follows noone, and seeks out adventure. Thinking about it now, I sound like I want you to be me, or better stated, the me I want to be. Is that what we do as parents? Try to recreate ourselves in our children? Is this okay? Is this evolution?

I honestly do not know. I just feel that every choice we make for you at this time, because you are too young to make your own, will shape and determine who you will become. Every choice seems to be critical.

My friends say that I should relax and simply lead by example, and they are most likely right. I am not sure how old you will be when you read this, but I hope that it explains many of the arguments we are most likely to have had as you grew up. I hope that it sheds light on why I felt it was so important that we never take anything for granted and that we always challenge what other people deem as normal.

I hope that you understand that if we want to recreate our society, and if we want to help reshape what we find unacceptable than we must always stay true to our ideals.

I just wanted to unload some thoughts here, because honestly, I feel badly about how upset I was by this simple choice you made when you were four! I hope you have an amazing birthday, and I will do everything I can to make it special. I will try not to make judgments or unnecessarily force you to carry my dissatisfactions. If you want to be a princess, then a princess you shall be.

Finding my inner princess,


Friends, family, readers of this blog, please feel free to leave any advice.


  1. Hi Jabiz,

    Wow, what a thought provoking post! This parenting lark is not a straightforward enterprise, eh?!

    Regarding the princesses specifically, it does my head in a bit, but it makes me wonder how well you know the stories...

    Ariel from The Little Mermaid wanted to explore beyond her horizons and not accept the status quo; Jasmine from Aladdin didn't just want to settle down and marry just anybody, she wanted some action & adventure; Cinderella was hardworking, Belle and Snow White were kind and gentle; Mulan saved her father by dressing as a man and going into battle, despite the potential dangers.

    As role-models go, you could do a lot worse!

    When I was looking at your website, Scarlett came by and said, "Oooh I like that!" I asked her what she liked, and she said she liked the princesses.

    When I asked her if she liked the Princes as well as the Princesses, she said she did. When I asked her why, she replied, "Because the prince and the princesses get married." Probing further, I asked what was so great about getting married, and she said, simply, "You get cake!"

    So perhaps our view that we are reinforcing subservient stereotyping with the fairy tales where the woman is rescued by some superior male character is really missing its mark!

    Don’t forget also the benefits to a child’s literacy of reading fairy tales. My Mum is a teacher (it’s an epidemic in my family) who has a M Ed in Special Needs, and she bemoans the fact that the kids she works with don’t have anyone reading them fairy tales at home. Granted, any story would do, but fairy tales are a big part of any culture (indeed many of them have different versions from different countries), and the predictable and often moral nature of these stories shouldn’t be underestimated.

    Before you start thinking I’m getting on my high horse about princesses, let me give you an example closer to home… I played the trumpet growing up. Partly this was because I was missing a finger, and, frankly, options were limited, but it was also a male-dominated area (at least when I was growing up), and I felt quite proud about being one of the only females in the brass section.

    I have tried to emphasize my love of the trumpet with Scarlett (e.g. “Do you hear that trumpet Scarlettt? Mummy played the trumpet when she was a girl” etc etc), but to my dismay, she seems more interested in the flute. The FLUTE! For me, playing the flute is tantamount to saying you are a person who is going to blend in, not stand out, wishy-washy, boring, fluttery sort – I’m exaggerating, but you know what I mean.

    I called my daughter Scarlett, for goodness’ sake - what I thought to be a strong name, a name with personality, the name of a person who wouldn’t be pushed around lightly. For me, the name Scarlett matches perfectly well with someone who plays the trumpet!

    I will continue to push the trumpet (through subversive indoctrination on my part – I’m joking of course), but at the end of the day, if my little girl wants to be a flautist, I should be grateful she’s interested in music at all. Who am I to question?

    I am beyond confident that Kaia will grow up knowing the importance of questioning things, standing up for what she believes in, and other valuable lessons you and your wife will teach her. But if she’s anything like Scarlett, she has a personality all her own already, and in terms of the nature/nurture argument, we have only so much influence!

    Perhaps it’s all about making sure there is a balance – that in addition to the princesses, she will learn about inspiring men and women in different fields, about injustice, and our responsibility to help others. Everything in moderation (as my Grandad says).

    Anyway, thanks for giving me something to think about. I can’t believe I have rambled so long on this topic!

    Happy nearly-birthday to Kaia!

  2. I loved this post. It was full of nothing but love and goodness. I really admire that you are so honestly and purely concerned with Kaia, her choices and the effects they will have on her life. I believe all (most) parents love/care for their children, but you do it in a way that is thought provoking and inspiring to others. The thought that popped into my mind as I was reading was... when you teach someone good principles and then let them govern themselves it turns out alright in the end. It's a scary thought (at least for me (thinking of my child). Kaia won't turn out like you, she'll turn out better than you. She is able to listen to you and learn from you at such a young age. She will add her own experiences and discoveries of the world and become her own self without brainwashing-just guidance, and I'm fairly sure it will be better than you thought. If each generation was the same as the one before the world would stand still, and cease to thrive. (I just realized this might not make any sense. Sorry my thoughts don't always come out clearly in my inability to express clearly through words.) No matter what happens now or in the future the one thing I KNOW is that one day she will read this letter and cherish your words of concern for her. She is a lucky little lady!

  3. While you want Kaia to be able to make her own decisions and be her own person, you would also love for her to take on your values too. This only makes sense because you believe them to be right and good, otherwise you would change them.

    The real question is: How will you react when you discover that some of her values are not shared by you? Trust me, they will rebel against you, it is a natural thing that has to happen (otherwise they end up living with you the rest of their lives.) While it might be easy to say to you, "Relax, you are doing fine." the truth is you over reacted to an (almost) four year old child. Why? Because she innocently expressed her choice that went against your values.

    You don't need to beat yourself up over it. Believe me when I tell you you will have many more disagreements over values as your children get older. It is how you react to these situations that will determine your relationships with them.

    You were absolutely right when you said parenting isn't easy. If it were our students would not have nearly the number of problems they do. You are still a noob! ;) You are having to learn on the job like every parent has had too. I think it is great you are willing to seek help when you feel you need it.

  4. Kids go through many phases. Some we are happy for, some we roll our eyes and some will make you tear out your hair and wonder what next. When I read her tweet about wanting to buy shoes for someone who wasn’t wearing any and even willing to give up ice cream to do so; you and Mairin are doing something right. I thought that was pretty remarkable for a 3.5 year.

  5. I had to buy the Hannah Montana album for my nephew this past Christmas. I'll likely have to buy something just as awful for Siena Kaya one day.

    Sometimes it doesn't matter why they love the things they love. God knows I haven't done nearly enough to earn my daughter's complete, unconditional adoration. But I take it, man. I take it greedily, every second I can.

    You're a great thinker, and a great father. I'm proud to know you, and I hope we get to meet your little Princess one day.


  6. Hey Mr. R,

    I can see your point. I mean I totally understand why you got angry and to me that isn't something to be worried about. My parents are constantly doing that, both of them. I get many comment where you can tell they are directing me towards being and doing something else. I know a lot of what my mother says is stuff she wished she was in her teenage years. And also in my dad. With my mom it's about my image more then anything (i don't' want anything to assume that is what she only cares about). With my father it's about being good at math. I know for sure both of them wanted that in their childhood, and they have every right to want it in me too. As long as they aren't pushing it in my face and forcing me to become that, it's okay.
    I mean parents love their children more then anything, and part of that love is making them into perfect beings so they don't have to face any type of problem in their lives. To you, you want to make sure she doesn't have any difficulties in life, and to you, being a great being is what you view a great being as. I mean you see the things that worked for you and what didn't work for you in the making of a great being and your applying that to her.
    I see why you did what you did and I don't think that you should feel any type of guilt for it. And as for Disney princess, I loved them. I think I have seen all movies and wore countless costumes. I made it my life at one point, everything I did was part of that world, and look now, I think I turned out fine. I learned to grow out of that phase and I have moved on. I didn't become the type of girl who was targeted by the other pre-teen stuff as I grew up. If you let her enjoy them now she will eventually grow out of it before the other more older (yet in my view more stupid) things are what she want.
    Let her be and she will turn out fine. She still is your daughter, and she still knows what you see and what you expect of her, so she will still carry your values.
    Besides, the princess do have amazing stories that go along with them. Relax, Mr.R, I'm sure being a parent is tough but don't try to get to detailed about it.
    She knows who you and she she looks up to you, she will be fine.

  7. Personally, I think that most young girls will have a phase where they love clothes, shoes, makeup... and yes, Disney Princesses. Something about the psyche of young girls just gravitates towards the idea of princesses, etc. What one needs to remember is that it's just a phase... it's incredibly hard to find a grown child who would still want a Disney princess party at twenty-one.

    Something to ask yourself is why you are so worried about the idea of princesses. To most, they would be a mere annoyance, a mere difference of preferences... but not something to really worry about. The difference here is that in this post, you seem to think that the princesses are terrible things to like (by the way, there is a difference between "liking" and "admiring") and that they are symbols of things that you do not like or admire.

    However, as KB said, the princesses do not come from "unwholesome" stories, and are actually not that bad as role models. Perhaps what you do not like or admire is more along the lines of the fact that they are princesses, that they are what the majority of 3-4 year olds are interested in, perhaps it's because she isn't looking towards her parents for what she likes/dislikes/abhors.

    Remember that childhood is a time for enjoying yourself and liking what you want without fear of judgment; if you want to impart some wisdom to her in this situation, maybe make a point of letting her like what she likes without judging her choices. There's plenty more time for that in high school, trust me.

    As Leila says, if you let her have this phase and grow out of it and if her personality is as is appears to be, she probably won't be sucked into many other pre-teen phases (which, in my opinion, are a whole lot worse -- Hannah Montana/Justin Beiber/etc). I think that the idea of "pick and choose your battles" applies here.

    As a daughter, I feel quite lucky. My parents and I are relatively on the same page when it comes to lot of things (ie, my mother and I listen to Lady Gaga all the time when we are in the car, my parents let me wear what I want - as long as weather permits, of course - and, thankfully, watch what I want, since many parents would balk at the idea of The Inbetweeners or films such as American Beauty) and I am thankful for that. On the pages where we do not line up, then they do not judge and simply accept and try to help me make the right choices, even if they do not align with what they believe.

    Maybe I'm a strange type of teenager - I'm independent and have never really needed any sort of reinforcement to allow me to like or believe in what I like and believe in. I don't need a gang of people to be with me for me to feel confident and self-assured. If people ask, they'll get an honest answer to their question, even if isn’t the answer that they want to hear... but I don't think that came from liking Buzz Lightyear as a child instead of Cinderella.

    I'm just going to repeat what others have said, to finish: Let her have a Disney Princess party and let her be herself for the moment (and remember that "herself" at 4 will not be the "herself" at 14, etc) and she will be fine. She is still your daughter, and will still always come back to you for guidance and advice.

  8. Claudia8:26 AM

    Your letter to your daughter was beautiful.
    I understand your antipathy for the princesses. In spite of the wonderful attributes that they possess, I kept getting the feeling that wasn't the take-away message my daughter was getting. Remember, too, that they are a licensed product, promoted not to foster a good message, but to sell merchandise. I, too, caved, when I could sense her confusion as to just why i thought something so sparkly and pretty was bad. An odd footnote to the princess franchise is that they were originally marketed to the 7-9 year old girl. Now most girls are "over" them by 6 at the latest. They are replaced with a remade Tinkerbell, with a bratty attitude. After the princesses, it's all downhill. Take a look at the bratz doll!
    You might enjoy this link:

  9. Thank you all for your great comments. You have rally helped me think about this from all angles. It is not simple and I appreciate your words.

    I will need a few more days, weeks, months, years to process this all, but in the meantime I want to say that the article Claudia suggested is fantastic and does a great job of articulating my angst. Thanks for that. (BTW Do you have a blog, Twitter?)

    Here are some of the highlights:

    If trafficking in stereotypes doesn’t matter at 3, when does it matter? At 6? Eight? Thirteen?

    There is evidence that young women who hold the most conventionally feminine beliefs — who avoid conflict and think they should be perpetually nice and pretty — are more likely to be depressed than others and less likely to use contraception.

    What’s more, the 23 percent decline in girls’ participation in sports and other vigorous activity between middle and high school has been linked to their sense that athletics is unfeminine.

    Cinderella is a symbol of the patriarchal oppression of all women, another example of corporate mind control and power-to-the-people! my 3-year-old was thinking, Mommy doesn’t want me to be a girl?

    When one thing is so dominant, then it’s no longer a choice: it’s a mandate, cannibalizing all other forms of play. There’s the illusion of more choices out there for girls, but if you look around, you’ll see their choices are steadily narrowing.”

    The relentless resegregation of childhood appears to have sneaked up without any further discussion about sex roles, about what it now means to be a boy or to be a girl. Or maybe it has happened in lieu of such discussion because it’s easier this way.

    Maybe Princess is the first salvo in what will become a lifelong struggle over her body image, a Hundred Years’ War of dieting, plucking, painting and perpetual dissatisfaction with the results. Or maybe it isn’t. I’ll never really know.In the end, it’s not the Princesses that really bother me anyway. They’re just a trigger for the bigger question of how, over the years, I can help my daughter with the contradictions she will inevitably face as a girl, the dissonance that is as endemic as ever to growing up female. Maybe the best I can hope for is that her generation will get a little further with the solutions than we did.

    Thanks again.

  10. Anonymous2:34 PM

    Kaia has 2 terrific parents who will nurture her to the best of her ability. I know she has a mind of her own and with that mind she will use the princess theme to be creative so you taught her to be. She may not always think like you, but she will THINK because you have taught her to. Love her as I know you do and let her become the person she will be as you have given her a great foundation to start.

  11. Anonymous6:12 PM

    WOW yes kaia you have brilliant parents. I am so glad your parents want you to be a little explorer and not follow other people and that is exactly what i would want my children to do. I say "Just be who you want to be".