Pretty Pretty Princess

So it seems like everywhere I look lately I see articles about what not to say to your little girls.  Don’t mention that you have issues with your weight.  Don’t tell them they are pretty.  And for God’s sake, don’t call them Princess.
(Disclaimer:  I am not especially picking on the people who wrote the particular posts above.  Those are the first ones that show up in Google for each topic, that’s all.)
I’m pretty much on board with the first recommendation, if only because anorexia and bulimia are life-threatening, so let’s err on the side of caution.  I try not to talk about weight and diets, but rather about exercising and making healthy food choices.  I don’t limit what my kids eat, for the most part; I talk about listening to your body and not eating if you feel full.  I can report that when Lorelei hops on the scale she boasts about her weight gain and is proud to be heavier than her ten-year-old cousin.  We talk about how wonderful it is that she is so big and healthy and strong.  Does any of this matter?  Let me be honest:  at this point I’m not sure what matters.  When my big kids are about thirty I will ask them and let you know.
But I’m sorry, I’m not going to stop telling Lorelei that she’s pretty.  For one thing, she IS.  For another, soon enough she will lose her current conviction, which she totally believes, that she is the prettiest girl in the world.  There is nothing I can do to prevent her suffering adolescent pangs and a lifetime of worries over her appearance.  I don’t know ANY WOMAN who is free of these things.  So why shouldn’t I contribute to her body positive feelings now while she still believes me?  I remember REALLY BELIEVING that I was going to grow up and win the Miss America pageant.  It’s great to feel that confident, about your appearance or about anything.
Now, about calling little girls princesses . . . y’all, don’t you think we are TOTALLY overthinking this parenting thing?  Isn’t it freaking hard enough already? Maybe it’s because I’m a Southerner, and down here terms of endearment are sprinkled liberally throughout every encounter with friend and stranger alike, but I just cannot bring myself to believe that I am somehow limiting my daughter’s future options or affecting her self-worth if I address her as “my little princess” from time to time.
Here are some things I call Lorelei: pretty girl, precious angel, mommy’s baby, punkin, sweetheart, baby girl, cute girl, darlin’, sweetie pie, sugarplum, dumplin’, honey, and doll baby.  I really don’t think she is going to grow up to be a gourd, or remain a baby forever, and the sweetness (debatable) of her current demeanor is not influenced by these pet names in the least, I can assure you of that.  I remember my daddy referring to me and my sisters as “slick” and “slim.”  I wasn’t either then and I am neither now!
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What pet names DO convey is love.  And making kids feel loved will always be the most important role of a parent.

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  1. Love it, Leslie! Thank you for writing this!

  2. Clisby says:

    It would never have occurred to me to call my little girl “princess”, but what I really find interesting is that I’ve applied most of the terms of endearment you’ve listed to both my daughter and my son (although, obviously, I would have said “baby boy” or “sweet boy” or the like.)

  3. Terri Beam says:

    I agree with you Leslie. As a mother to 4 (almost) grown girls I feel that making them feel loved and special is important. My two year old grand daughter is very caring with her dolls and calls them sweetheart! A loved child will know how to love. We sure need more of that in the world!

  4. Interesting post. I was talking to my brother the other day about the double edged sword of telling daughters they are pretty. I think they need to hear it because if they don’t that could make them self-conscioius in an unfortunate way, but at the same time I don’t want to make it seem more important than it should be. It’s hard because I think for much of the world a girl’s value is in how she looks and not much more, and that’s simply wrong. I think as a general rule we try to compliment girls and women more on things they had a choice in, like “what pretty shoes” or “I like how you did your hair” because there’s a little more to it than what you were born with. The “princess” thing doesn’t appeal to me so it’s not something I would say, but I do ponder “pretty,” And I do tell my girls they are pretty, I just try more often to tell them I am proud of the things they do. I don’t want them to fear that “losing pretty” in some way that is beyond their control will matter to me.

    • lesliesholly says:

      Korinthia, I try to do some of what you suggest above as well. And of course I tell my kids they are smart, and brave, and good helpers, and creative . . . but I think the current trend in what I’ve been reading has come close to giving the impression that it’s poisonous or dangerous to compliment a little girl’s appearance.

      • Maybe because for some girls it is. Your child probably gets a nice, well rounded sense of being loved and appreciated on many levels from you, so it’s fine. But I know people who actually believe a girl’s only asset is her appearance, so when they do it, it’s kind of vile. Most of the rest of us are on the continuum, and trying to figure out what’s best. If focusing on looks is potentially sending girls the wrong message about what is important to us about them, it’s not unreasonable to rethink that and be more thoughtful about the compliments we bestow.

        • lesliesholly says:

          I’m certainly on board with giving all kinds of compliments. 🙂 Although even that seems to be fraught with danger according to other articles I read. You are, for example, supposed to say things like “I like the colors you used there,” instead of “you are such a good artist,” because over-complimenting can supposedly take away from the sincerity of your compliments. And you are not supposed to say things like “You are so smart” lest you set up your child to fear failure. I’m oversimplifying a bit, but I guess I am standing by my original point: That this is an area where people are over-thinking things and making parenting harder than it has to be.

  5. Clisby says:

    I agree with not saying “you sure are smart” to a child. It’s like saying “you sure have blue eyes.” Either they’re smart or they’re not, but it’s not something they can control. I’d rather praise kids for something they CAN control, as in “I can tell you worked really hard on that”, or “I’m glad you didn’t give up because you didn’t like your first drawing.” OK, I know that sounds kind of corny the way I’ve expressed it – but I really do think it’s counterproductive to praise children for something that’s just the luck of the draw.

    • lesliesholly says:

      No, I don’t think it sounds corny and I’ve read that before. And I do say those kinds of things too. But I don’t think I’m going to damage my kids by telling them they are smart or pretty, and I think all the articles about this just make parenting seem harder and the least little things becomes so high stakes as if it wasn’t hard enough already.

  6. Ellen says:

    LOVE this! I agree completely with everything you said. You seem like an awesome mom 🙂

  7. Anne says:

    Leslie, you do what you think is right for your little girl and other children, whether boy or girl. I’m so sick of overthinking, political correctness and so called experts telling us what we should or shouldn’t do and how we will destroy our children’s psyche. I told my 5 girls they were pretty and smart and Rick did the same thing. He was always making up funny, silly, loving names for the kids. If you can’t tell your little girl she is pretty or a princess then its a sad commentary on parenting. Do what you feel is right for your children and the heck with the ‘experts’.

    • lesliesholly says:

      Don’t worry, I’ve rarely found an expert I couldn’t argue with. When you have a lot of kids, as you know, there’s not a lot of time for worrying about all these details. I think every parent could benefit imagining what they’d have time to worry about if they had five or more kids and concentrate on those things!

  8. Yes, sometimes we do overthink this parenting thing! I tell my daughter that she is pretty and beautiful all the time. I also tell that she is smart, kind, and helpful. If that’s bad then I don’t want to be right!

  9. Michele says:

    I have no problem with calling someone Princess, as long as you also remark on traits such as curiosity, hardwork, intellect, character etc. I think it is the ideal of getting by on your looks and charm alone and waiting to be rescued by a Prince part that is the most troublesome. I want my girls to be strong and empowered!

  10. Jenn says:

    Totally agree. I love calling my little girl sweet names. She knows she’s loved and that’s the MOST important thing!

  11. Nice one Leslie, your daughter is lucky to have a thoughtful appreciating mom. I am sure you throw in a sprinkle of praise for her other characteristics too.
    Kathleen
    Fridays Blog Booster Party #21

  12. I love this post-Leslie! My dad used to call me his sack of potatoes and I didn’t grow up thinking I was a sack of potatoes. I might be rounded like a potato now, but that doesn’t have to do with my daddy..lol! It’s wonderful that you call your daughter such endearing names and she has a positive body image. I was growing up I thought I would be Miss. America, too.

  13. Lidy says:

    Thanks for the post. I don’t have a daughter (wish I did though) but I tell my son’s every so often that they have pretty, beautiful brown skin.

  14. Sarah Bailey says:

    I couldn’t imagine not having been called endearing names, I think my Mum still calls me petal, while my Aunt used to call me Wally as I was always crashing around as a child. I remember both names fondly and took neither to heart.

  15. Allison (funfamily.vacations) says:

    You have amazing, pretty, princess and don’t you let her forget it! You are right, to much overthinking these days.

  16. Takisha says:

    My daughters nick name is “Pretty Girl” and she responds to it. We as parents should set a strong foundation in how we make our children feel. She’s absolutely beautiful! <3

  17. I think you point out some really good things. There is always someone telling you that what you are doing is wrong. I think people do overthink parenting. As long as you love your child, they should end up ok.

  18. Agatha says:

    I do think we overthink the parenting thing – I gave up reading parenting books when my little one hit 1 years old. I thought “forget it”, I’ll just go with my instinct. I call mine sweetie now and then and give him words of encouragement and tell him to do his best ALL the time.
    About the weight issue, we had folks over for a dinner party and I asked a 10 year old girl (small-sized) whether she wanted another slice of cake, and she replied “No, my mother says I’m fat so I can’t have another”. I really didn’t know what to do, and I tell you she was NOT fat at all!

  19. Leah says:

    I don’t have daughters, but I have 2 sons, and I worry about things like this too, but at the end of the day, I won’t change the things I say to them because someone tells me to. They are your children!

  20. I agree, this is all so silly! Overthinking every little thing is just exhausting!

  21. Orana says:

    I’ve always given my kids endearing nicknames that we make up ourselves, they are more entertaining and personal that way. They have no social connotation and the kids have fun making up nicknames for each other.

  22. Elizabeth says:

    This is lovely thanks for sharing! I call my little boys a whole host of pet names, although I’m also raised in the south so I suppose it is in my genes. At the end of the day though parenting is hard enough without being critiqued on every last little thing.

  23. Robbi says:

    I read your post last weekend and thought I had commented. I also thought I was supposed to comment on the two posts after mine on Theocentric Thursday, yours was just one that interested me 🙂
    I call my daughter beautiful all the time. She’s only 14 months, but I make sure she hears it. I call my son handsome. I do try to make meaningful comments on the specific things that they do, but I don’t see the harm in calling them beautiful, handsome, smart or clever either.
    Thanks for sharing!

  24. Hailey says:

    I love this perspective! When I was a kid my Grandpa would always tell me I was beautiful, and it meant a lot to me. I think it’s important for kids to hear and it absolutely does show love. And Lorelei truly is beautiful!

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