Motherhood, mental illness and beyond

Posts tagged ‘girls’

Boys and girls, come out to play…

My daughter is 4 years old and has just started school. She likes her uniform and school bookbag but she absolutely adores her backpack, snack pot and water bottle. They’re all Spiderman, you see, and she really likes Spiderman (she’s pretty keen on Batman too but there weren’t any Batman bags at the shops!).

This morning, instead of gleefully putting on her bag she was subdued. On the way to school she confided that one of her classmates had told her she shouldn’t have Spiderman things because she’s a girl, and Spiderman is only for boys. Outwardly I was cheerful and reassured her, explaining that Spiderman is for everyone and that she is allowed to like whatever she wants. But inside my heart was breaking for her.

My daughter doesn’t fit the ‘little girl’ stereotype. She likes pink but only as much as every other colour; she has no interest in princesses but loves pirates; her favourite CBeebies programme is Octonauts. She likes dinosaurs and cars as well as dolls and Sylvanian families. She is her own person and until now no-one had ever told her that she couldn’t like something because she’s a girl.

Children are bombarded with stereotypes via shops, adverts and television. Thanks to the Let Toys Be Toys campaign many big retailers are changing the way they display toys, removing their “boys” and “girls” signs (although often the pink and blue colour coding remain). But go into any shop that stocks children’s clothing – one section contains mostly pink and pastels, sparkles, princesses and teddies while the other contains bold colours, cars, spaceships and superheroes. I was recently admonished by a cashier at Tesco for buying Batman socks for my daughter; that’s how pervasive this nonsense has become.

It is our job as parents to gently encourage our children to think outside the colour coded boxes. A child should be free to explore and play with whatever kind of toy they like, instead of toys that they think they should like.

We need to teach children to play and explore the world around them, to be active, curious, kind and nurturing. We need to let them pursue their interests and encourage them to be confident in who they are and the choices they make. Restricting a child’s play because of the mistaken belief that some toys are only for one gender, or telling a child that their interests and passions are wrong or inappropriate because of their gender, is short-sighted and nonsensical.

My daughter likes Spiderman, my son likes dolls. That’s absolutely fine and I will continue to correct anyone with the temerity to tell my children otherwise.

Independence day

My daughter is a wonderful child. She’s bright, cheerful, has a wicked sense of humour and is very loving (although at the moment she doesn’t do hugs and kisses very often). She’s confident and outgoing and will happily walk up to people in the park or wherever we happen to be and introduce herself, saying “Hello, I’m DD! What’s your name?”. She’s very kind towards her little brother and is usually fairly tolerant when he rampages into the middle of one of her games.

But for the last week or so my happy smiley laughing girl has been mostly absent. Instead DD has been bursting into tears at the drop of a hat (literally, on one occasion) and for the smallest of reasons. Yesterday she cried because she’d picked up a red Lego brick instead of a blue one. DH and I have been at a loss as to what the underlying problem might be – she had a nasty cold last week but is over it now, and she’s sleeping well so she’s not tired. When I enquired at preschool the teachers reassured me that she’s not being bullied or picked on in any way, but asked whether something had happened at home because DD’s been bursting into tears there too.

So this afternoon DD and I left DS at home with DH and walked to the recreation ground round the corner for some girl time. It’s a huge playing field with little thickets of trees planted around the edges that DD calls her woods, and a small park with swings, a slide etc. We had a lovely time being explorers in the ‘woods’, playing in the park and blowing lots of dandelion clocks.

As the time to head home approached I asked DD if she was happy. A beaming grin was the response. I asked if anything had made her sad this week and she scrunched up her face in thought. Is she happy at home? Yes, she said. Is she happy with DS? Yes, she said, except when he interrupts my games. Is she happy with how Mummy and Daddy look after her? No, she said, and emphatically shook her head. Oh dear, I thought, and asked what the matter was.

“Well”, she said, “You and Daddy are very good at look aftering me and DS. But I don’t want you to look after me, I want to do it all by myself”. So there it is – at the grand old age of 3 years and 10 months my daughter wants her independence.

She has a fair amount of independence I think – she chooses what clothes she wears (unless the choice is vastly unsuitable, such as shorts when it was snowing), she chooses what she eats (from a choice of 2 or 3 things usually), she decides what to play or read and when. We allow her the freedom to run off when we’re out and about at parks, the beach etc, as long as she remains within about 20m. She also helps out around the house with tidying and washing and she’s an awesome little baker.

But this isn’t enough for my fiercely independent little girl. So we’ve negotiated and come to an agreement. From now on she’s in sole charge of brushing her hair and teeth (although of course we’ll supervise to make sure it’s done thoroughly). She already helps with the cooking on occasions but we’ll encourage her to do more. We’re already planning to start giving her pocket money on her birthday but I think perhaps we’ll tie it in with chores so that she feels she’s being rewarded for helping out and “look aftering” herself.

But she’s still so young, not even 4 yet. I’m still coming to terms with the idea that she’ll start school in September (which she’s extremely excited about) and here she is demanding to look after herself. I want to scoop her up and cwtch her on my lap while I read her stories and she wants the right to cook her own dinner! I know that an essential part of motherhood is knowing when to loosen the ties a little and allow more independence, exploration and freedom – I just wasn’t expecting this sort of demand so young.

I don’t know whether this strong desire for so much independence is normal at this age or whether DD is an unusual case. But she’s my first, my awesome girl, and she’s already champing at the bit to strike out on her own. I don’t know whether this is a phase or whether it will last, but I think that this is merely the first of many small steps to being in charge of her own life. And I’m pleased about that, I want her to grow up to be able to look after herself and be confident in who she is and what she’s capable of. But I also want my little girl to still want to cwtch in bed with me and read stories, and to share baths and let me kiss her scrapes and bruises better when she falls. And the opportunity to do these things suddenly seems all too fleeting.

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