Growing up, my parents used to sing pieces from the Musical “The Fantastics” to help me fall asleep at night or to entertain me on long road trips. One song in particular, “Never Say No”, seemed to sum up a parenting idea they trusted and followed: if you say no to a child, it will only make her want it more. When you can, let them pass through phases/ new ideas/ new looks/ new partners without batting an eye. There is a certain wisdom to this train of thought.
Dog’s got to bark, a mule’s got to bray.
Soldiers must fight and preachers must pray.
And children, I guess, must get their own way
The minute that you say no.
Now that I have my own child, I am battling with myself to adhere (or not) to this logic. Current issue: nail polish.
Last night I came home from a work sponsored dinner. It was a particularly difficult night for my nearly three-year-old because I wasn’t able to make it home after work to see her and I arrived after she was asleep. My nanny, who I love, described bringing friends into the house and boredom given that it had rained all day. Two puzzles were completed and lying out on the floor.
A while later, Little Elephant woke up to go potty. I hugged her close and kissed her as I lifted her out of her little bed (the new word for crib) and carried her to the bathroom. As she sleepily undressed herself, I noticed purple nail polish carefully painted on each of her tiny little nails.
Here is the part where I give props to myself: I stifled my initial reaction and didn’t say a thing or even seem to take note.
“I love you Mommy,” she mumbled as I lowered her into her bed, already nearly back in the land of dreams. As I, myself, lay down, I analyzed my reaction. The truth is that I didn’t like seeing her in mak-eup, even just nail polish. A voice in my head told me she was too young. My inner tomboy hoped she would reject pink and make-up and all the vestiges of femininity that go along with societal teachings that girls must be pretty, sexy, and smart but not too smart. I longed for the day when she would become my little revolutionary leader that changes the world and defies all of the external, gendered messages that she receives.
But, that is what I want and not necessarily what she will want or who she will be.
In the silence, I questioned myself. What if she were a boy? The truth is that if she were a boy, I wouldn’t be having a problem with his nearly three-year-old self wanting to wear nail polish. In fact, I am sure, I would be fighting for his right to do so.
I get that it is different. I get that gendered messages affect both our sons and our daughters. Heck, they still influence me! I get that saying “no” isn’t the message I want. I am just still working on the nuance of explaining to a child how it is okay for her to use nail polish but that she also needs to be aware of societal pressures and know that she only has to adhere to the ones that work for her and that her Mommy will love her and support her no matter what. Unconditionally.