You know that old saying… I was the perfect parent until I had a child. This is one of those posts. I know I am technically a parent now but this little girl isn’t quite old enough for me to be an expert on raising a strong little woman. However I might as well write a blog on it now before she is prancing around dressed like Sleeping Beauty pushing a toy vacuum around my kitchen… when I’ll just sound like a hypocrite.
Watch what you say
An American study found that parents are more likely to describe newborn baby girls as less strong or delicate compared to newborn boys. Even when babies are the same size, weight and agpar score at birth the parents are doing this. This is ironic when you consider that baby girls are a lot more physically resilient than newborn boys who are more likely to die during times of adversity. Us girls are tougher than we are given credit for (in many ways). This tends to continue as babies grow up, boys are ‘big’ and ‘strong’ where girls are ‘cute’ and ‘pretty’.
It’s not a good message for boys or girls, it’s like we are saying that the boys need to grow up quickly and girls should be treated as younger (and therefore weaker). Maybe the boys want to be cute and little. Maybe the girls want to be big and strong.
It is so easy to fall into the habit of commenting on a girls appearance in terms of ‘prettiness’. I don’t want Emily to grow up thinking the way she looks is the most important thing about her…but then I don’t want her to feel that she isn’t beautiful. For me a balance is to say that she is pretty but make sure that is only one of many compliments. I really don’t want friends and family to call her ‘their beautiful granddaughter/niece/etc’ but I’m quite happy for them to call her funny, strong AND beautiful. And when I talk to boys I’ll call them clever and kind but I’ll say they are handsome too – why not give them a bit of self worth on how they look as well.
Watch what you do
Now this is a hard one to pratice what you preach. I’m really shit at DIY. I can however cook and clean. Just kidding, I’m also really shit at cooking and cleaning…but Emily sees me do a lot more of it. I don’t want Emily to grow up thinking that there is a gendered split of roles and who does what. Normally my Dad or (almost ex) husband do the DIY stuff at home. I can do some things, I’m just not good. I know where the tool box and nails are, but that nail is quite likely to go in wonky. However it doesn’t really matter, some jobs will probably go to my Dad but I’m going to make sure Emily sees me have a go. I don’t want to raise a little perfectionist anyway – I want to raise someone who just has a go and is happy if she tried her best.
Watch how you treat yourself
Naomi Wolf once said: ‘A mother who radiates self-love and acceptance actually vaccinates her daughter against low self-esteem.’ It’s not very British to sing your own praises but maybe we should, otherwise how will our children know that we love who we are.
Come home from work and tell them you are proud of yourself for learning something new. Maybe next time you are examining your waist and they can see you say ‘I’m glad for this tummy as it carried you’. Or you like that you have big feet as it helps you balance. Your long arms help you reach things. Let’s focus on our bodies for what they can do for us rather than what we don’t like about our appearance.
Watch what you…err…watch (and read and listen to)
Now this is a hard one for me. I am a BIG classic Disney fan. Cinderella (both the original and the Lily James remake), Sleeping Beauty et al…I love the dresses, I love the music, I love the entire princess-y-ness. BUT when Keira Knightly went on the Ellen De Generes show and said she doesn’t want Edie watching Princesses who ‘wait around for a rich guy to rescue her’ she was making a fair point. I mean Brave, Tangled and Frozen all seem pretty easy to show Emily but this is a toughy for me because the oldies are good.
I’m still on the fence about Ariel and pals, maybe the Little People, Big Dreams series of books will balance it out? Hmm…maybe vintage Disney needs to be my guilty pleasure to be consumed alone like a sneaky breakfast McDonald’s before work. She will never know.
Watch them make their own choices
Right now I’m (kind of) the boss. As much as I’ll ever be anyway. She is eight months old and one day I’ll dress her in a feminist t-shirt but the next she might be in a pink dress. That’s my privilege, after all she wakes me up countless times each night and drains my body of liquid so I’ve got to get my perks in where I can.
I might feel like a cool mum dressing a toddler in gender neutral clothes and slogan tshirts but if she would rather wear a pink frilly number then that’s her thing and I’ll let her do it. I am pretty terrible at decision making, I frequently have to flip a coin to decide if I want a Burger King or Subway. It is ridiculous. I’m hoping that if I let Emily make decisions wherever it’s reasonable when she is little she will be more comfortable making decisions generally as she gets older and not have to hold up the queue in a coffee shop going errrm regular, no make that decaf, actually I’ll go for an iced coffee (et cetera ad infinitum).