One of my friends K (from the girlfriend search) is leaving town for good, as I write this, and we decided to have a last meal (sounds dramatic right), together with the gang, before she got on the train. We are a bunch of women who love our food, controversial topics and books, so it wasn’t long before we were discussing recent posts of interest in the blog world. One of the topics discussed was stereotyping people by gender and then eventually bringing-up kids based on common stereotypes.
It was the age old discussion of should girls be encouraged or even allowed to do girlie stuff. Are we doing the right thing by letting our children think that it’s necessary for girls to wax, while boys can wear sleeveless vests with sweaty underarm hair peeping out. Though, this topic always feels fresh for us and we can argue for hours, somehow today only one part really affected me and I steered the conversation that way. Apparently, a pretty good blogger (who I’m now dying to read), quoted by K , stated that she doesn’t let her daughter do all the girlie stuff even if she begs. K then mentioned that another friend of hers has a gorgeous little four year old whom she dresses up for hours, including using (child-safe) make-up for certain events.
The group’s natural reaction was for all of us to get on the case of the second mother. “What is she thinking off? Does she want her little one to think that girls should look like Barbie dolls?” Now as most of you know my very first post on this blog was about stereotyping women, however, today I saw myself react differently.
Having a four year old girl myself, who loves dressing up, I could immediately empathize with that mother. I as an individual never really gave my clothes or looks a thought (till I became, well a mother and started feeling a bit drab around all the yummy mummies I saw). I remember my own mom complaining because I refused to join her on any of the numerous shopping trips she had to go on on for my wedding outfits and jewellery or even my trousseau. I used to cite exhaustion or boredom and curl up with a book and a cup of herbal tea, the moment she stepped out the door. My poor mother.
Anyway I digress. For a person like me, I have been blessed with a child who takes after my mother! She appreciates well-put together people, likes to be well-dressed in feminine outfits, loves bling (okay that could be a bit of me), her fruit glosses and just isn’t able to comprehend why she has to wear the same uniform to school everyday. (Day one: “Wow mommy, such a beautiful green frock and new shoes! Thank you.” Day two: “Silly mommy, I just wore this dress yesterday………. What? I have to wear that everyday? But why?” I of course gave her the spiel about everyone being the same and how it helps make things easier for the teacher.) She loves her frilly frocks (only pure cotton as she finds synthetics itchy), her multi-coloured plastic beads and being called daddy’s princess.
Initially, I resisted and tried to steer her along a different course and that’s when I realised; I was making it difficult for her to express herself. When I let her dress they way she wanted (within limits, no makeup or heeled shoes please), she would don her tutu and five minutes later be out playing football with her cousins in the mud (it did mean a lot more laundry for me though) or trying to pluck raw mangoes from a nearby tree. Her favourite movies are Monsters Inc, Tangled and KungFu Panda, and more recently Brave which tells me that she’s fairly balanced in her choices. Of course there are moments when she mimics the friends of her older cousins and moans “Mommy why do I have curly hair, I wish I had beautiful straight hair like you.” It is at these moments that I intervene with “God designs all of us from head to toe and he puts together the best combination”, since that’s definitely not how I want her to grow-up.
When I asked K if the said blogger stopped her son from dressing up as super heros, when she stopped her daughter from doing the princess scene, she said yes. So that seemed fair to me. With respect to the second mother if she’s forcing the dressing-up on her child or letting her get away with make-up on a regular basis, I definitely don’t think the same, however, dressing is also a form of self-expression, and as the mother of a child who loves to create, whether with colours, numbers or words, I’m okay with her choosing to dress a certain way or like certain things. Parenthood is a controlled democracy and as long as we imbibe the right values in our children, the rest is just window dressing.
In addition, our children do not need to learn that the stronger person (here the parent) always gets to impose their will on the weaker person. I’m not above using the “I am your mommy so you better listen” line, but I definitely don’t want to be unreasonable. If I to tell V that I don’t like you doing the princess thing because I don’t want you to grow into a girlie girl, am I not stereotyping in a way too? Pick you battles, so that they communicate the right message and don’t inadvertently create a bully.
Lastly, and a fairly important point in my view, no child really goes through life thinking that he or she is royalty, except maybe Paris Hilton (and even she seems to have matured), so we might as well let them have their fun and if they want to wear a tiara (I still wear on to bed on my birthday) or a blue and red wristband with the picture of a spider. Let them be I say.
P.S. – I am not an expert on children in any way and I speak only from personal experience and the wisdom handed down to me by my mother and other women in my family. This is my personal opinion and may be completely wrong from someone else’s perspective.