After some discussion this morning as to whether or not she could wear the shorts with the hole (in the seam on the inside of one leg), my trying to get them off her to mend them, and she responding with “it’s okay, mama”, we settled on a dress instead. I handed it to her and was in the bathroom, toothbrush in hand, when she came in grinning.

“I’m a pretty girl, mama?”

Pardon me?

“I’m a pretty girl?”

Yes, that’s what I thought you said. It stopped me mid-brush. And of course she didn’t really care. She’s 2.5 and as yet they are all just words. But damn, child, where did you get that? Haven’t we been mindful about what we say to you? In my eyes you are the most beautiful little girl around, but I want you to grow up knowing that you are also bright, clever, strong, independent and capable of anything! So I responded with “Yes, you are a pretty girl, but do you know what Maus? You are also a clever girl, and a strong girl!” What could I say?

Out she marched again to find her papa, who had heard the entire exchange from the kitchen. He responded the same way and at “strong girl” she corrected him; “I’m a strong man, Papa”. Yes, well, that works too.

How easy it is to comment on little girls, with their hair up in ponytails and pretty summer dresses on. They do look sweet. And how easy it is to look at my babe and comment on what a strong boy he is. He is strong. He’s a tank actually. But what message does that send to them? That girls must be pretty, and boys must be strong?

I can’t prevent all such comments, but what I can do is continue to be mindful about how I respond to my little ones – take the time to watch my Maus when she says “mama, look how strong I am”, and make sure that I let my little boy know that I think his eyes are lovely too.

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