Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Emperor Has No Clothes: A Prequel Bad Parenting Confessional

About a year and a half ago I had ocassion to post a bit about my daughter's emerging gorgeousness. It was a real point of pride.

About a month ago I experienced its counterpoint.

During a night's run-up to bath-time I was charged with the task of negotiating her out of a dress-up get-up . To achieve my desired end I threw in an off-hand comment to move her along and was more than dismayed with the response. What I said was... "You don't need those fancy clothes, you are beautiful just the way you are."

What was the response?

"No. I'm not."

My heart broke in a million pieces right there.

Now if you know me (and of course most of you don't) you would know that I am a frumpy, near-Leninist thinky-type with a ton of 'inner beauty'. I mean this shouldn't bother/intimidate/involve me, right???? But it does. It is about the clothes. It is about the acquisition and the commerce of beauty and the feminine through glittery fabrics and branding. I understand the nuances of influence but still at 3 freaking years old!! she utters this swift demolition of that identity and idealization of her life-loving-dearhearted-growing-nay-blossoming-self so vibrant those posts ago.

I was appalled.
I was sad.

I won't blame Disney. As has been pointed out to do as much would be a cop-out. My point last week (call this the prequel) was to confess my own concern about my daughter for the reasons now described here. But also to register my aghast in this reliance on beauty and material possessions. An aghast coupled with an my recognition of the ages old value of material -- remember I have a not long past work history in museums. The mechanics of material culture should not wholly blindside me.

If I think about the number of reasons "why?" I do believe it is a general issue. It is a paucity of the feminine ideal for my girl. (please note the use of the word my) I truly want to be the best womanly influence on my daughter and to hear her echo the plainness of my identity laid bare my failure in this regard. It cannot be allowed to touch the radiance and potent that is my daughter. No!

Mother-Womanly Confusion Mantra #837
I will not have my children suffer for my inability to hold my shit together.
I will not invest in holding my own shit together to the detriment of the daily needs of my children.

WTF!! I find no solution. But will offer her some consolation in Mommy getting a new dress or two. Mommy getting out of the sweatpants and going somewhere with her self. [sic] Won't be a ball... No won't be a ball necessarily... But might be a start. And, don't get me wrong. I don't think I am 'at fault'... I simply do have to take my part and find a way to move a pretty big issue -- feminine identity -- ahead. Like I say, this Mother-Woman thing is complicated!

Addendum. Dear P-man. Expect a few Visa bills next month beyond normal transaction levels.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

(Forgive the incoherence of this response as it is early in my brain.)

I see the pain; as a mama who thinks her kid is beautiful, who wants him to know he is beautiful, I see the pain. But I think back - did I ever believe my mother when she told me I was beautiful? No. Have I ever believed ANYONE who told me I was beautiful (up till & including yesterday...all 18 feet wide of me hustling around a boardroom table heading for the chocolate cake)? No. Does this mean I have low self-esteem or that I am constantly driven to buy more *things* and buy into the myth to help myself be more beautiful? No.

I think I am interesting, not hideous to look at, funny sometimes. I am compassionate. Giving. Odd. But I have developed this sense of my self over time - I don't remember if I knew it when I was 3 but I doubt it. I can accept other peoples' perceptions of me, no matter how skewed I think they are, but I have a firm sense of my self, who I am to *me* and that doesn't tend to change with other peoples' opinions.

My point is definitely not to "not sweat it" because, like I say, you are the mama. You saw the baby when she was just a speck. You shared a cord with the baby. You think the baby is the most amazing thing on the planet. But I don't know that she will ever share that sense of awe with you. (and that may not even be what you mean...) She will see her own worth, in her own way, in her own time. I don't know much about this stage of development because I haven't been reading ahead in the parenting books (snarf) but it sounds like she's letting go of believing wholeheartedly everything you say and moving towards forging her own identity / perception / values.

Which is good, right? Well anyway, it's *not* bad parenting.

Ah, get back to me when my kid is 3..especially if #2 is a girl. There's just no know-it-all like a parent 2 years behind you... :)

6:39 a.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a book, I think its called "Lotte's princess dress" - you should check it out.

I also ran into Bro-Man yesterday in Victoria. It was nice to see him.


7:11 a.m.  
Blogger Mad said...

Ahem, just to clear the air with P-man: I do not shave my legs. True. My mother never shaved her legs either. Truth be told, though, you'd be hard pressed to see the hair on 'em. The young, idealist feminist in me may have started this habit twenty-odd years ago but it's the Anglo-Saxon in me that has managed to let it all ride. Now my armpits? That's another matter altogether.

Mo: This makes me want to write a post in return but I just don't know when or if I'll get to it. Our kids are bound to aspire to beauty as well as to smarts and physical prowess. Sadly, the weight of the former tends to hit girls sooner and harder b/c of the gender codes they see all around them. We can't prevent the hit our kids take in assessing their own beauty but we can mediate it by reassuring them of their value. We can also try to feel comfortable in our own skin, although I know that can be hard to do at times. For the record, I have seen your picture and I think you are gorgeous. Plus you have a sexy librarian voice. Just sayin'.

9:50 a.m.  
Blogger nonlineargirl said...


The mantra is confusing, but mine as well.

1:32 p.m.  
Blogger Crunchy Carpets said...

Sorry..this.."know that I am a frumpy, near-Leninist thinky-type with a ton of 'inner beauty'...made me snicker.

And I agree..their 'girly' stuff is scary at such a young age and yes being that us moms are such stalwart feminists we are drawn to blaming media and so matter how carefully we screen what they are viewing.

I always try to remember to not colour such statements as your daughters with my own interpretations...interpretations that are shrouded in insecurities and so on.

We have to remember that children are frank with themselves and each other but frankly honest based on a whole different set of 'reasons' that make TOTAL sense to them and are usually to simple for us to fathom...thus our freaking out at such statements.

Think about princess standards she may not be cutting her view.

Caity gets worried about the lack of long hair to twirl around...that and the total wardrobe and singing birdies or fairies or whatever.

As a NORMAL child in comparison to others of her peers...she probably thinks she is the shit.

3:24 p.m.  
Blogger Andrea said...

Havent been hit with that one yet by my daughter but then ....
My mom never dressed up and always looked terrible. I never noticed it until middle school. It wasnt that she couldnt but that she chose not too. At the time I could not comprehend any meaning behind it but when I became pregnant I had this sudden urge to look like a lady and to be a beautiful mom for my daughter. I want her to play in the dirt and have fun on the farm like I did but ...
I dont know.
My mother is now just over 55 and is only now doing her hair, wearing makeup and matching her socks, and I like what I see in her.
Is it wrong to say I think of her as more of a woman?
I think I have turned from a farmer girl to someone who thinks a woman can kick ass in a dress and heels,
Hell somewhere a long the way I discovered I liked wearing heels.
I didnt learn that from my mom.
This comment is all gobbly gooy. Sorry.

9:52 p.m.  
Blogger mo-wo said...

Wow what a stream of great commentary; every one rings true. A new valid angle.

8:10 p.m.  
Blogger kittenpie said...

Oh! That would kill me, too.

11:28 a.m.  
Blogger p-man said...

Oh. Great.

2:39 p.m.  

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