Daughters of feminists with sparkly pink nails

There are so many challenges my circle of friends agree on when it comes to our daughters–the fear of mean girls, sexist t-shirts that drive us batty, Bratz dolls as Satan’s slutty Chinese-made spawn, the frustrating division between boys toys and girls toys which just won’t seem to go away.

There’s one place we split though.


Not for us. For our daughters.

I can’t quite describe why I am so squidgy and uncomfortable when I see hot pink sparkles on my daughter’s fingers from a “let’s play salon” session that lasts a little longer than it should. I know I’m (mostly) alone here, because the female entirety of her first grade shows up regularly wearing brightly painted, adorably smudgy and imperfect nail color. Thalia does too. Sometimes. Mostly when we’re rushed in the morning and I forgot to ask her to take it off before school. “Argh!” I remind her with frustration–also sounding a little like a pirate. “Nailpolish is for dress-up, not for school. Just like lip gloss or eye shadow.”

She nods. And hears me. I think.

I’ve created an arbitrary hierarchy of color appropriateness in my brain: pale pink is better than red. Blue is better than pink. Crazy multi-colors are better than anything. And for some reason, any color nailpolish on boys is totally fine in every way. Double standard. Sorry girls.

So you can imagine that as someone with a major discomfort about little girls wearing cosmetics on a regular basis, that I have to fight back every base Sanctimommy instinct when it comes to salon manicures.

Every so often, I head to my local Dashing Diva (I know, the name–how it burns) and settle onto a cushy seat with my toes soaking in some lavender bath, hoping for an hour of child-free, work-free indulgence. And increasingly, my fantasies are interrupted when a seven year old, a four year old, a two year old (for feck’s sake) are joining mommy with their feet in their very own basin of bubbles.

I’ve had discussions about this with friends and they’ve offered me plenty of rational perspectives: It’s about spending time together. She really loves it. It makes her feel grown-up. It’s a bonding experience. It’s only once in a while.

I see those perspectives. I really do. But I also wonder, what’s left? What will our girls do when they’re 10? Or 13? Or 16, the year at which I got my own very first professional manicure for my junior prom. The dress was white. The nails were ballerina slipper pink. The music was terrible. The illicit champagne in the car was Andre, which cost less per bottle than the nail polish.

I really try to examine my own challenges with kids in salons, and determine  just what bothers me. There’s of course the pain of hearing a toddler using her loudest possible Outside Voice in an inside sanctuary. (Don’t get me started on the ones who are just there to run around and knock stuff over while their mothers ignore them.)  There’s the uncomfortable visual of Korean immigrants pampering the feet of little white girls. But more than anything there’s that original notion of  Kids Grown Up Too Soon – we despise those Bratz dolls, and yet, are we offering one tiny signal at a time that they’re not so bad? And are we doing so much for our kids just because we can?

This past week, Thalia came with me to get a pedicure. She doesn’t need her own pampering; just sitting next to me makes her happy right now.

When we showed up, the wait was long. While we decided whether or not we’d stay, another mom, there with her young daughter, looked up with that smile, that eye contact that tells you she wants to talk. I smiled back.

“Are you getting your nails done together too?” she asked.

“Oh…no, she just sits with me while I get it done.” I smiled.

“Ohhh…” she said a little sheepishly, “well this is our first time. She just turned three. I thought it would be nice.”

“Happy birthday,” I said to this sweet, teeny little girl. “I bet you’ll have a wonderfully time with mommy.”

Thalia and I got ready to leave, when the mom continued, “it’s just that…tomorrow. Tomorrow I…”and I was sure her eyes started to well up with tears.

“Tomorrow I got back to work for the first time. The first time since having her. She just turned three. It’s my first day back at work.”

“Wow. Congratulations!”

“It’s a good thing,” she said, less than convincingly.

And then she continued on about how conflicted she’s felt, and how she’s had a few dissenters in her life, and how she is just so torn up and conflicted and stressed about this new job, even though it’s doing something pretty wonderful with a local hospital. “So I thought this would be a really nice thing,” she added. “A…you know…bonding thing. Something we could do together, the two of us, before Mommy goes off to work every day. Something we could remember and talk about.”

I understood. Completely.

I mentioned that I had been in discussions about mommy wars that very week, and so the entire inner-conflict of returning to work was very much on the brain. But she should feel proud that she’ll be doing noble work, and that her daughter will grow up to be proud of her mom. Then I asked Thalia to tell the mother what happens at the end of every day.”

“Mommy always comes home and gives us a big hug and kiss,” she said in the cutest little way.

“Thank you,” the mother said. “I really feel so much better now. It’s as if…we were meant to run into you today.”

“Maybe we were meant to run into each other,” I said.

I was reminded of the smart line that Stefanie Wilder Taylor offered, buried somewhere buried in the comments of that Babble Mommy Wars salon, when a self-righteous commenter was challenging working mothers. Stefanie described a revelation about her own experience as her kids got older and went off to day care: It made me wonder if my staying home with her [those early years] was really so much better for her or if it just happened to be the best thing for me?

I suppose you can apply that to pedicures with your 3 year old. I suppose you can apply that to a lot of choices we make.

And then I knew that the next time I saw a toddler with her hands in the hands of a professional manicurist, that there might be more to that image than a pampered rich kid whose parents indulge her. When I see a kindergartener running around with rainbows on her nails, maybe the mother needed that to happen for some reason.

And maybe that’s okay.

As for me, I returned to the salon with Thalia on Wednesday night after her ballet recital, the night before I headed out on my own trip for a few days. She had looked forward to it for two days. And so she sat with me, cuddled up under my arm along the bench, smiling the entire time. She gazed at my feet. She asked if the callous file hurt. I offered her crayons or a book, but she declined; she just wanted to watch. When it was time for the foot cream, I took a dab in my hand and massaged it into hers, as she oohed and ahhed and sniffed her hands feeling very grown-up.

And then, for an extra special treat I let her pick the color.

Not my usual red, but any color at all.

Drunk with power, she chose a bright, shimmery sapphire blue. I told her that now every time I look at my toes while I am in LA, I will think of her.

I think for both of us, that was the best part of all.


Thanks Schmutzie for including this post in Five-Star Friday


90 thoughts on “Daughters of feminists with sparkly pink nails”

  1. I’m fine with nail polish, for both of my kids. It isn’t allowed as part of their school uniform though, so it isn’t an every day thing. It is more of a summer vacation kind of thing.

    We do buy non-toxic nail polish (Hop Scotch Kids), so that I don’t have to worry about them ingesting horrible chemicals every time they put their fingers into their mouth.

  2. Great post. It’s a tough call… they enjoy it so very much that it is hard to say no. I battled it for a year or two and finally gave in to a very sheer light, light pink that is almost invisible – on my 2 daughters’ toes only – no fingernails. At ages 3 and 5 it makes them giddy with joy. I don’t paint their toes often, but when I do it is a treat. That said, I would never spend money on going out for a mani/pedi with them. Heck, I can barely justify paying money for myself much less for little children. But when they are older, maybe around 13 or 14, I will go out and get mani/pedis with them as a bonding experience.

    1. I guess this is my question – my daughters also enjoy eating gummi bears for breakfast, or cookies for lunch. But we say no to that, right? Why not to nailpolish on toddlers?

      I ask it as an honest question, not as a judgment.

  3. I love this post. I’ve never thought much about painting my daughter’s nails. I’m 34 and never had a pedi. (GASP!! What’s wrong with me?) So I’ve never taken my 3 year old to a nail salon with me but we paint our nails together at home. It’s a great time to catch up about our day and then we get to snuggle while everything dries. Last time we tried that crackle stuff and she thinks she’s the coolest kid at daycare. Ha!

  4. I just love this story so much. It’s so dang easy to judge one another’s parenting choices, without knowing what’s really going on. Although not exactly the same, it reminds me of the quote, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” – Plato

  5. I remember getting a professional manicure and pedicure for the first time. I was ten and it was the day of my dad and step-mom’s wedding. I felt so grown up. Neurotic too, because I had to remember not to bite my fingernails.

    The first time I took my girls? They were six and four. It was actually before a wedding that they were going to be in. They’ve since then gotten to have a pedicure maybe once a year. For them, it’s a treat. A special occasion. Then again, their toes and fingers are almost always painted an odd array of colors. Shrug. For us? It’s time. It’s something the three of us do together.

    For me, nail polish is just nail polish. There are a lot of things still to come in their lives. Nail polish to me is pretty harmless. But that’s just me.

    1. It’s weird that school has become a special occasion. Sunday is a special occasion. Time with mommy is a special occasion.

      Are we all feeling such guilt or disconnect….or something…that we’re making these special occasions so everyday? Just a question.

      1. When you only have your kids for half the time, let me tell, you Sunday IS a special occasion.

        Maybe I do make some of the decisions I make for my daughter out of a sense of guilt…maybe I do indulge her a bit too much. I sometimes feel the urge to pack a month of fun into two weekends that I get her each month.

        I have to try very hard to carve out things that are special for just the two of us. I am very respectful of boundaries in that area, but my ex is not. Going to a nail salon may end up being one of the ONLY things that we do that if just for us.

        I’ve just been really mindful of how I react to anyone’s parenting, because you never know what’s going on.

        1. I remember my dad doing the same, 2 weekends out of every month. Baseball games, amusement parks, fancy NYC hair salons – I really do get it.

  6. I love this post. So honest and also kind to people who do things differently.

    We struggle with similar issues, although not so much with the spa thing, since I don’t get my nails done. (I never have- don’t know why. Its just not something I’m into.) So my daughters are blissfully ignorant of the fact that someone other than a friend or relative could paint your nails. I also don’t wear nail polish myself, but occasionally we paint my 4 year old’s nails, and I don’t care what color or how long it stays on. In fact, I generally just let it stay on until it is all chipped off. That would be because I’m too lazy to find the nail polish remover in our hall closet.

    But anyway… in my house, the weird line that I don’t understand why I’ve drawn is over the use of any shower gel and lotion that isn’t for kids. My 4 year old LOVES to use mommy’s shower gel and lotion. But I only let her do it every now and then, and I don’t really know why. Mine isn’t super fancy or expensive. It may in fact be cheaper than the stuff we buy for the kids. It has a fruity smell, not a sultry one. I suspect you are right- my feelings on this probably have something to do with her growing up and whether or not it is Too Soon.

    1. That’s a great analogy. I’m also worried about the chemicals in some of the “grownup” stuff – and the price! Once I realized my sitter had gone through nearly an entire bottle of Kerastase shampoo on my girls in about a month without me realizing it. It takes me a year to go through it. I gasped.

  7. This will never be an issue for us as I despise having my nails messed with. And my toenails? FORGET IT. That said, my daughter loves any type of nail polish and make up. The make up drives me crazy as she will sometimes play with it before we leave and I’ll look at my 6 year old in the car and find that she’s got blue eyelids. 🙁 Sometimes I think people overthink feminism and what our girls “should” or shouldn’t do. Sometimes nail polish is just nail polish, not a statement about sexuality.

    I remember having a friend in high school who was Pentecostal. She explained some of her faith’s beliefs and rules for women, one of which was to never cut their hair, or wear make up. Her reason was that they weren’t to draw attention to themselves in an outward appearance way. And I frowned and asked why she was allowed to curl her hair and bangs, then… For some reason, this conversation remains fresh in my mind when I think of what people regard as appropriate or inappropriate. Everything is relative to their own situation.

  8. My sweet girl has a lot of ‘add-ons’ that make her the odd girl out- shoe inserts for pronation make it difficult for her to wear dressy shoes, a large back brace for scoliosis, glasses to correct weak eye muscles… so when people look at her and see her long blonde hair or her fancy painted nails instead, it’s nice. Often people ask her who painted them. It’s always the best when we get to tell them it was her daddy. They always look at me for confirmation that it’s true, and it is. Daddy/daughter bonding time is important, too. 😉

  9. As someone who has never set foot in a beauty salon in her entire life, it’s clear that my daughters never have either. I have so many complexes about my appearance that going to a salon (in France! full of sleek, manucured, coiffed, made-up French women! Gah!) fills me with dread; I only get my hair done once or twice a year…
    That said, my girls are much more “coquette” than I am. They love putting on make-up and nail polish (however badly they do it!). At school, all such things are strictly forbidden, so make-up is only for dress-up days at home (or fancy dress parties) and nail polish is only for holidays. My girls are just 10 and almost 8, so tweenhood is looming large and I’m quite pleased that they’re only just getting interested (obviously, my total lack of self-pampering – no make-up, ever, no “hairstyling”, little jewellery – has had an impact).
    I don’t like seeing little girls wearing make-up, I must admit. I caved for nail polish first – pale colours, only on the toes at first because it’s the one thing I actually do for myself in summer. The make-up had nothing to with me (my ex’s mother is to blame for that – she’s always loathed the way I don’t “dress up”) and I don’t like it, but there’s not a whole lot I can do and for now it is definitely under control. I’m a bit concerned about next school year, when my elder girl starts middle school, but I’ll deal with that when the time comes!

  10. 1) My son recently insisted I give myself a pedicure. He’s 5 and I got a kit in my stocking. He wanted to see how it worked.

    2) Love the color. I think those loud brash colors are great on toes. If you dont like it, shoes are the easy solution.

  11. I struggle with this. My daughter was born in glitter, sparkles and everything girlie and pink. I am not equipped to understand. I was a tomboy–hated make-up–never have painted finger nails. I still never paint my finger nails. I still (almost) never wear make-up and don’t like dressing up. I do love a pedicure–but I didn’t get my first until I got married at nearly 30. My daughter throws a fit every time I get one and she can’t.

    She is all girl and will be a woman way too fast in my book. I let her wear nail polish–she doesn’t ask often–once a month maybe. I fight with her about make-up–she loves it! Good meaning people keep buying/giving it to her. But she’ll play dress up and I draw the line at what she does. I am trying to balance what she wants and her own natural curiosity with my values. She knows make-up is not allowed at school until she is 14 (at the earliest). My bonus mom wants to take her to the kids salon that caters to little ones. I have balked at that. I don’t think she needs that message. I don’t want her to feel entitled. I want her to understand that she is pretty without all the trappings.

    It is hard. But it is important the messages we send.

  12. My daughter is 4 1/2 and we let her wear polish on her finger nails and toe nails. We also let her wear lip gloss which she calls make up. I have a lot of inner debate about these things. I want to have things she gets to do when she is older, those coming of age sorts of experiences, but at the same time, I want things like nail polish and make up to be no big deal. I fear that by not allowing things, we make them into a sort of forbidden fruit that is all the more desired because it is forbidden. So, I try to be non-chalant about the whole thing. We also allow her to put on the natural deoderant because she sees us put on deoderant and wants to do that too. We have also let her taste sips of wine or beer. I want her to realize it is an adult drink, but I feel that allowing her to taste, to make it less taboo, less of a forbidden fruit will hopefully make her more able to talk to us and be open with us and provide us more opportunity to be able to talk to her about being responsible. I realize these are all different things, deoderant is hygiene, polish is aesthetic, and alcohol is health related, but for me I prefer to treat them similarly as things we teach her about, things we lead by example, things she can come to us about and that she is allowed to explore in this healthy and safe setting. I hope that by allowing this healthy and safe exploration and learning will help her feel confident when she is old enough to wear makeup daily, or to drink, or that when she thinks she needs a bra or has questions about her period, she will feel that we are available and open and won’t try to dismiss her.
    I can relate to the idea that we don’t allow other unhealthy things like dessert for dinner so why not say no to this. I guess it comes down to how unhealthy we believe it is. And, as some others have said, I have a bit of a double standard. I let her put on natural deoderant even though she does not need it, but I have already told her I won’t buy her a bra until she is older and needs it. I don’t buy her 2 piece bathing suits because I think it is inappropriate for a little girl and I intend to say no to clothing I think is too revealing for as long as I get to make the rules. For me nail polish is just polish and shiny lip gloss is just lip gloss, but a two piece bathing suit is inappropriate. Some parents feel the opposite.

    1. I guess I think there’s a difference between “not allowing things” and setting limits. Obviously we will all draw the line in different places, since we all have different values as parents. I’m okay telling my kids no to certain things because “they’re for grownups.” Sometimes that’s as much explanation as is required.

      I’m fascinated by the idea though that your 4 1/2 year old is asking for a bra. Mine just like to put mine on and dance around being silly, saying “I’m mommy! Look at me! I have boobs!” Good fun.

  13. Love the way you handled the situation. I also think you raised some interesting points and questions.

    I’ve never had a mani or a pedi. I can’t remember the last time I wore makeup (though I have some random makeup stuff in a bag). And until last summer I rarely painted my nails. Not that I’m anti-makeup — I just never take the time.

    But then one day last summer my daughter (she’s 3) came home from daycare with her toenails painted (it’s a family daycare with just a few kids). She had seen another girl at daycare and the daycare provider with their toenails painted and, simply put, my daughter was jealous. So the daycare provider painted my daughter’s nails.

    My reaction? Well, surprise, initially. No doubt. But then… meh. Didn’t bother me. I actually went out and bought nail polish — and once I let her pick out a new color for us to try (we now have 3! bottles). I’ve painted her toenails a few times since, but usually only when the previous polish has come off on its own (my daughter doesn’t like the remover). And now I paint my nails on occasion. Well, it’s been many months now since either one of us has had a fresh coat of polish — was more of a summer/fall/with sandals kinda thing.

    I guess I equate what we are doing with playing dress up. Which feels different to me than allowing her to eat gummi bears at breakfast. But I also wouldn’t consider taking her to a salon at this age. Actually, me painting her nails is about as far as I want to go for now.

  14. I am 100% with you on the over-sophistication issue — I have no tolerance for anything pitched to my four year old that identifies being a little girl with shopping, flirting, wearing makeup, or anything else that is frankly an adult (or at least an adolescent) pursuit — but I would push you a bit on the double standard you shrug off above. My daughter is currently very interested in fairies, princesses, dresses, dress-up, paper dolls, and all things sparkly, and when I feel myself seizing up inside about the stereotypical girliness of it all, I try to ask myself how I would feel about a hypothetical twin brother who was into those things. And if the answer is “fine! of course! let him love what he loves!” then I tell myself not to get in the way, and certainly not to hint to her that I find these interests lame or embarrassing. The thing is — and I remember thinking this as I read your post on the gendered Happy Meal toys, too — there is a version of the liberal mom’s princess squeamishness that is legitimate and there is a version that threatens to turn into a weirdly inverted form of sexism — wishing our daughters would be tomboys because we really believe that all that so-called “girl stuff” is stupid, or that liking it is some failure of integrity on our part or theirs. I would never want my daughter to think that she *must* like purple and princesses or that she can’t be fascinated by electricity and the digestive system (two other passions), but I also don’t want her to think that I think less of her because she does love them. My ideal is to keep her from identifying those loves in any necessary way with gender: I try to remind her in various ways that some boys — her friend Sam, say — do share her love of fairies, and that not all of her girl friends may be especially interested in princesses — so it isn’t about whether you’re a boy or a girl, it’s just about taste.

    What does this mean in practice? Well, it means I declined my mother-in-law’s offer to take her to the salon for a pedicure when she was two, but when she saw my toenails painted last summer and asked me to do hers, I said sure. And I’d make the same calls for the hypothetical twin brother.

    1. I love that you brought this up Cathy! And you’re right it bears more explanation and exploration than a single flip comment.

      As for me, I now totally embrace my girls’ love to dress up like princesses, because they also like to pretend to be pirates and playwrights and orphanage owners (yep) and chefs and lately, Jesus Christ.

      I guess though with boys who want to wear nailpolish, it’s seems more like experimenting with super fun art supplies on your fingers. It may be that with girls too, but I think it carries different weight about attractiveness and womanhood and fitting in with the other girls with pink nails. When a little girl gets a pedicure, I hear the salon people saying, “oh, aren’t you a princess. Don’t you look pretty!” which reinforces stuff that I’d rather not. Of course I could be oversensitive.

      We love our girls. We don’t want tomboys (unless that’s who they turn out to be). I just want them to have choices. And I love that your daughter is fascinated by the digestive system. Mostly Sage is just interested in poop these days. Does that count?

      1. Is it necessarily wrong for them to want to feel pretty? Of course, I don’t want to push any idea that my daughter has to be pretty or like her friends, but is it wrong for her to want to feel good about herself? Put another way…my three year old son is obsessed with his sister’s Rapunzel nightgown and has begged ever since she got it to have one. My daughter lets him wear her Cinderella dress instead and one day, he put it on…along with her crown and declared “Mommy, don’t I look beautiful?” to which I said “yes, yes you do!” As far as I was concerned, it was an esteem thing. If I have no problem telling my son that, should I have a problem telling my daughter the same?

        1. I don’t think it’s wrong for a girl (or boy for that matter) to want to feel pretty, and certainly not to feel good about herself.

          My question as a mom would be, what happens when the two are intertwined? How do I teach my kids to feel good about themselves so that it’s not related necessarily to looks or clothes or nailpolish? Am I offering them ample opportunities to feel good because of achievements, goals attained, kindness to others, charitable deeds, making me proud, and so on? I think we do some of these things instinctively for boys and not for girls. We (as a culture) are so fast to tell a girl “look how pretty those shoes are!” and tell a boy, “wow, I bet those shoes make you run fast.” I guess I work to try and balance out some of the cultural and peer influences out there.

          I also still remember the great lesson from Rosalyn Wiseman’s Queen Bees and Wannabees how essential it is for high school aged girls to feel good for accomplishments and not just clothes/friends/boys.

  15. My then-three-year-old came home from a weekend at her father’s house with painted nails and toes and told me my ex-MIL took her “to a shop to get pretty.” Gritting my teeth and carefully trying to explain what I believe about “shops” and “pretty” without insulting her grandmother required more patience than potty training.

    Balancing that incident, I do get pedicures very regularly (my indulgence of choice!), and my kiddo, now five, went with me once before we left for Hawaii. It’s hard not to feel like a hypocrite, and yet the situations feel so very different. To me. Maybe it’s all the same in my daughter’s eyes.

    I explained that it’s a nice thing I do to make myself happy, on par with a long visit to the library, or trying to make a fancy recipe. I don’t view it as primping to show off for anybody, so that’s not how I approach teaching it. For now she listens and nods solemly, but I know I have very little time until she’s listening to other people tell her what her actions “mean” in the context of the world. Grr.

  16. Are your daughters’ ears pierced? Because that’s where I have huge discomfort–or shall I say, I take great comfort in my daughters’ unpierced perfect-to-me children’s bodies. I have to own that my decision to make them wait is about me, all me… I get you and the nail polish. It’s all symbolic of what we are holding dear.

    1. No, not mine. Thalia is terrified of the idea.

      I understand it’s a cultural issue though, to pierce babies’ ears, so I try to stay out of the judgments on that one. But I think my kids can wait until they’re old enough to change the Bacitracin ointment themselves, heh.

  17. Question from the mom of a boy – do girls just handle the smells better ? Just a couple times I ended up dragging my poor sensitive son to the salon and I sat him as far away from the stations as I could, poor kid gagging the whole time 🙂

  18. I came home from 2nd grade with red nails, painted on the playground. At dinner my father saw me trying to hide them and he flipped out. He’d never been remotely rough with me before, but he all but dragged me to his workroom to douse my fingers in turpentine before I was allowed back at the dinner table. Clearly, to him, “pale pink is better than red” was true and that red on my nails had associations which his 7 yo baby shouldn’t have. One of my most traumatic memories!

  19. The occasional frivolity of stopping my multitasking to focus solely on which color polish to put on the next bitten nearly to the quick fingernail or over the good-grief-they-look-like talons toenails, is a badge of honor for me. I am decidedly ungirly and being able to scratch this itch for them and feel as if I am fitting into that unattainable and ultimately non-existent Super Mom thing eases the doubt that sometimes visits.

    I do wish that as the girls go around admiring the polish I slap on, I could admire the watercolor effect of time on the failures and successes I spend so often worrying like scabs on my knees.

  20. So, so, SO glad I’m not the only one torn about this. When my daughter sees her five and six year old friends wearing high heeled princess shoes and lipstick and “play” makeup, she wants to know why she can’t and it’s hard explaining to her that some of those things are meant for grown ups. There was a lot of angst in our house deciding whether we should bend on the nail polish thing. At the end of the day, it seemed pretty harmless, especially if we kept to the “acceptable” colors (same as you said, light pinks or rainbowy colors). It has become a treat and fun one on one time for me an my daughter (I let her paint my nails and I paint hers). Better yet, just being able to do that has satisfied her curiosity and now she rarely if ever asks for the other make up type things. Sometimes compromise works out for everyone 🙂

  21. Really vibe w the no salon mani/pedi rule …it is kind of the way I feel about my boys getting their haircut for $12 at supercuts on the fly vs having an appt at a salon like some of their friends. They are not CEO’s, just little sweaty boys.

    But what really takes me on this post is your sharing time with your daughter snuggling next to you in public … Never have I wanted a little girl
    More. Your sharing that time is why I spend my weekends at basketball games because when I get a big smile from the court it equals snuggling.

    1. It really is the best reward of parenting, isn’t it? However physical it may or may not be. (But man, I love those snuggles.)

  22. i agree with what you’re saying and remember my own father HATING me having polish so much that when i would arrive at his house on weekends he would examine my fingers and promptly remove the polish – divorce competitiveness, maybe. but, he was surely onto something. our children have their entire lives to be “grown-up” and even something as silly as a manicure is a sophisticated experience that costs money. i have a son and daughter and we have our little “spa” parties my son enthusiastically participates and it becomes a fun dress up game for all.

  23. This is a great post! I totally get what you mean about worrying that it’s too much too soon. It seems that kids today start on things earlier and earlier. I felt conflicted the first time my daughter’s nails were painted. We’ve never gone to a salon but she’s been allowed to have them painted at home since she was about 2. Honestly, the biggest reason I let it happen…her DAD was the one who did it. And it became an adorable ritual that the two of them had. He even let her paint his toes a couple of times! It was priceless. And he isn’t embarrassed at all when I tell others that he does this. As for other make up, I am trying my best to hold that up. She’s four and I allow clear sticks of flavored lip balm. Occasionally she and I get out my makeup bag and “fashion” ourselves (as she calls it) with powder and a little blush. Not much color though. So far she’s cool with it, but I know we’ll be arguing about eye make-up and other more grown-up things before I know it.

  24. I struggle with this a little myself. I have a gaggle of girls, I’ve done just about everything too early because I couldn’t wait to do these things with my girls. Now I hold back, mostly for the reasons you mention. I will, on occasion, play nail salon with my girls, but often that is when we have been on each other’s nerves and feeling frazzled. I find getting out the foot bath, and smelly soap and lotions make us all feel better.

    1. That’s such a good point. I think lot of us do things early because we’re excited about it. It’s often tough to hold back, especially when we know it will be fun. And I promised Thal I’d give her a “pedicure” in the bathroom Sunday. She’s thrilled.

  25. Liz,

    Loved this post. You write so beautifully!

    My girls are teenagers now and I think they started very occasionally having pedicures with me at around age 12. I totally agree with you about your discomfort with kids growing up too soon, as evidenced by pushing “adult” experiences down to childhood. You also hit the nail on the head, with your Rosalyn Wiseman reference in the comments. For me, an important long term goal has been to help my daughters understand that who they are is so much more than superficial looks or material things. When my children were younger, I tried (not always with success) to keep that goal in mind when weighing what to let them do or not do in any given situation.

    On the flip side, my girls loved having their nails painted at home from the time they were about 3. For some reason, painting nails at home did not bother me, whereas make-up at a young age seemed totally unacceptable. Now, I’m just glad they don’t have tattoos!

    Tell Thalia she has great taste – the blue looks awesome on you.

  26. As someone who loves a bit of pampering herself, it irks me to see preschoolers, or heck, even pre-teens at the nail salon. specifically the weird socioeconomic issue of older immigrant ladies having to deal with the feet of little white girls. I have the same trouble with preteens getting highlights/hair color in the same nice salons I go to. But it’s also selfish. I have so little non-kid time to do these things, that I don’t want to deal with hearing the loud preschooler or chatty preteens, any more than I want Lady Who Will Not Shut Up on the Cellphone next to me.

    It just seems so pretentious and ridiculous to me, whatever the reason may be. I’m all for mama/kid bonding @ home over beauty treatments, but doing it as a paid service? Ick. It just strikes me as inappropriate/only for grown-ups. But everyone’s line is different, I guess.

  27. It’s such a relief to read this, because I feel the same way but struggle to articulate it. My mother-in-law took my daughter for her first mani-pedi when she was 3 – without mentioning it to me beforehand. I was LIVID, and my husband didn’t get it. I felt she was too young, but I also felt that my mother-in-law stole a moment that should have been mine, years down the road. I recently had a sitter who painted the girl’s nails bright pink. Of course, once she did it they begged every time she came, and after it happened a few times I had to put my foot down and try to explain to this young girl why I don’t want my preschoolers rocking hot pink nails. I felt like such a kill-joy, but I agree . . . it’s not their time yet.

    At the same time, I have given in to painting their nails with a shade I found that is basically clear with a little glittery shimmer. It’s barely visible but it’s a really great bargaining tool when I need to cut their nails. But it is so, so hard to enforce boundaries when they are going to school and half of the other girls have their nails done.

    1. You bring up a wonderful point Kristen – it is an experience that we want to have with our daughters–maybe even first. The experience means more than the nails. Which is why I think so many moms don’t think twice about taking their kids to the salons with them for shared treatments.

      I know I just mentioned it briefly in the post, but just because we can do things, does that always mean we should? And man, yes on the peer pressure. I’m already hearing, “Well so-and-so wore flip flops to school in December, why can’t I?”

  28. My son was invited to a birthday party this weekend for seven year-old boy-girl twins. The invite states that the boys “will be spying and searching for items on a treasure hunt” while the girls “will be getting beauty treatments”. I try to remember that this is presumably what each child asked to do at their birthday party and not to make judgements, but it’s hard not to be offended by the stereotype. As much as I would have loved to have had a girl, I am thankful to have two rough and tumble, super sensitive boys who sometimes like to have their toenails painted.

    1. Man, my girls would be PISSED if they missed out on a treasure hunt.

      That party would so not fly in Brooklyn.

      1. Wow. Just, wow. My two girls would be SO annoyed that they were being excluded from the treasure hunt. That wouldn’t fly in New England suburbia, either.

    2. Wow! My son would have had a tough time with that. He, like your sons, loves Monster Trucks and nail polish!

  29. I draw the line with polish on the fingers, but I do allow my 6 year old daughter to wear polish on her toes. Most of the time, her toes are covered by her sneakers. She’s allowed it when I cut her toenails and typically she also picks the blue sparkles. She has had two “kid” pedi’s at the local nail salon, but both times were with me and were an end of school year treat. Like the woman you met up with, I too am a working mother (school teacher) and being released at the end of the year makes me so excited to spend almost two whole months with my children – so my girl and I celebrate. As a parent, it’s a fine line to what you say yes or no to – what you’re willing to give in to or let them wait for.

    The infuriating thing – I’ve actually been accused by moms (and my own MIL) that I highlight my daughter’s hair. She has beautiful brown hair and a burst of blond highlights where it naturally parts and the sunlight hits. I don’t even highlight my own hair, why would I do that to my daughter’s? Any why would you accuse me? At the same time, I’ve been scoffed at because I won’t let my daughter wear black, character clothing, or clothing with sayings on them…seems like you can never win with people and their opinions about how you parent. 😉

    1. There’s a little boy in our preschool class with the cutest blue streak in his hair.

      And nope, you can never win. Good thing it’s not a contest.

  30. Here’s one to think about while you think about your girls growing up: Soon after they got home from school yesterday, Thalia brought out a yellow towel, a stool, and a little chair. She put the piano bench between the two, put the towel on top, and asked me to fill a bowl with warm water and keep the small balls in the bowl (we had just finished a science experiment predicting which ball would sink and which would float). Out came the box of-you guessed it-bottles of nail polish!

    “Sit down, Sage. Roll up your jeans.” Thalia then proceeded to massage lotion into Sage’s feet (“ooooh”), gave her time to soak in the water, and and polished her nails with dark blue polish which she carefully put on each teeny, tiny toe nail.

    Finally, she turned to me and told me I was to do everything to her that she just did to Sage. And when I was finished, I was asked to give her a back and neck massage. Whooo! Wonder where she learned it all? (I promise I made them stay away from the rug until their nails were dry).
    If copying is the sincerest form of flattery, your daughter adores you like crazy.

    1. She really did pay attention to every single aspect of it, committing it to memory the same way she does with song lyrics or dance moves. She’s amazing.

      Like Kristen wrote above…I’m sorry I missed it. Good thing we can always do it again tomorrow.

  31. The school Q used to go to didn’t allow any nail polish, so that made it easy. We actually play “spa” at home, and I’ll paint everyone’s nails, even my son’s. And I’ve taken Quinlan with me (and her friend) to get their nails done with me (though no scrubbing of feet and all that jazz) once or twice, on special occasions.

    It doesn’t bother me really, because for us, it’s just something that we get to do together. I just don’t want her to think that’s it’s an automatic thing, but rather, a special treat (which quite frankly, is what it is for me these days).

  32. This was a wonderfully written, and thought-provoking post, about an issue that has long plagued me. My kids are 8 and 11, and we often feel very alone in our choice to treat them as children, and not as just tiny adults. Going beyond the salon example that you gave, we’ve been fighting this battle for the last two years or so, over all manner of things, including but not limited to, Facebook, cell phones, R-rated movies and ear piercing. Apparently, our kids are some of the ‘last kids on the block’ to be given unrestricted access to those things, and we’re talking about a 3rd grader and a 5th grader! We found out last year, at the end of my son’s 4th grade year, that he’d been getting a sexual (mis)education from YouTube videos, which he was clandestinely watching in the back of the school bus on the iPhone of another 4th grader. Why does a 4th grader need a phone in the first place, and especially, an iPhone with internet access? Worse, why am I often made to feel that *I’m* the ridiculous parent for thinking a 4th grader has no need for a cell phone, let alone an iPhone?

    The appropriateness of certain things/activities for kids is one issue, but you raise another good point as well: What will be left for our kids when they turn 10? 13? or 16? When kids are given so much so soon, when is something ‘special’ anymore? Once your 9 year old has an iPhone, a Kindle, and real diamond stud earrings, well, what *do* you do when they turn 16? Buy them a sports car? A Coach purse? Being given too much too soon can create an expectation for a certain kind of lifestyle that young kids going out into the ‘real world’ may find very difficult to maintain. I don’t know that *having* the ability to provide so much for our kids means we *should.*

    1. I remember going to quite a few Sweet 16 parties as a kid, in richer communities, where the girls did get sports cars and coach purses for their birthdays, and sometimes even nose jobs.

      They’re all fucked up now, from everything I’ve heard. So.

  33. Woman…we should have wine some night.

    I went back to work when my kids were little (ages one and three). I struggled for a long time with wanting to be there for every moment…and I ran myself ragged. One day I re-scheduled my daughter’s annual check-up because I had a meeting to attend with corporate execs. And I stopped…her health is what is important, not whether or not I’m the one to be at the appointment. So my (ex) husband took her. He asked the questions I wanted him to ask plus some of his own and relayed back the appointment to me afterwards. When I got into the mindset that the experiences for my children were more important than me experiencing those moments with them it got a little easier to deal with missing some of them. I still rattle through my little checklist in my head — will this be something that they’ll remember in ten minutes, ten months or ten years? And then I make my choices accordingly. I’ve missed class pizza parties, but never a dance recital. I’ll skip out on a weekend soccer game, but be there for a weekend soccer tournament.

    1. Holy crap Kelley are you me? I wrote this a while back (was crucified for it on Babble, of course). I too have never missed a ballet recital. We have to pick and choose. The comments there are awesome by the way.

      Let’s do that coffee.

  34. We have a local nail salon that is intentionally set up for mom-daughter mani/pedis. I took my daughter once as a special reward and she got a very kid-appropriate pedicure. Her toes were sheer and sparkly and had little sea shells painted on them. This, I was comfortable with.

    What I’m not comfortable with is when she wanted me to paint her toes at home and picked a bright pink polish. Without really thinking about it, I did one foot – and then I took it off immediately. It looked so wrong to me. Too old. We’ve used only sheer pink from then on!

    So I guess I am okay with toenail painting – as long as her toes still look like they belong to a 5 year old.

  35. This is why I love (and relate) to your blog so much. You start out admitting that you have those judgmental voices in your head (like we all do) and then make us all reconsider our judgments. Thanks for all your insights!!

  36. NOOOOOOO!!!!!!!

    I am a mother and scientist and I am not okay with the idea of young children wearing nail polish. Actually, I think it is a bad idea for everyone because it normalizes the idea of applying carcinogens and endocrine disrupters to our bodies.

    What’s worse, children often chew their nails, essentially eating nail polish. This is so dangerous.


    Phthalate is a common ingredient in nail polish and an oestrogenic compound (a chemical that mimics estrogen) that can be absorbed through the skin or inhalation. Anything that mimics a hormone is an endocrine disruptor. See the NRDC explanation. Or read the NIH explanation.

    Boys with high environmental exposures to endocrine disruptors experience delayed onset of puberty. Males with higher levels of endocrine disruptors in their bloodstream also have lower sperm counts.

    In girls, phthalate exposure leads to earlier onset of puberty. It is also suspected of increasing the risk of breast cancer and implicated in many other disorders of the reproductive system. It’s especially dangerous for females that carry the BRAC1 or BRAC2 gene.

    The solvents in most nail polishes are mildly toxic (that’s why you get a headache when using them in unventilated spaces). Long-term exposure leads to immune problems and even cancer.

    There are safer polishes, but they are more expensive and hard to find. The more we normalize the wearing of nail polish, the more kids want to emulate their elders. So don’t do it.

    1. Thanks for the scientific perspective, which is much appreciated. I think as lots of the commenters here have mentioned, there are lots of good non-toxic polishes for kids which parents are increasingly aware of.

      If anyone is interested, my favorite is probably HopScotch Kids, made by Scotch Naturals which is a signer of the Compact for Safe Cosmetics. Other options include Keeki Naturals which scores a 1 on the Skin Deep database and gets raves from our most toxic chemical-averse contributor at Cool Mom Picks.

      I’m not going to get into the other issues you mention because I have authority issues and I hate people telling me what to do. Even if they’re right.

  37. I’d like to make a plea for the women who work in the nail salons. They have very short careers before their health is irrevocably harmed by the chemical soup they breathe all day.

    Yes, they have jobs in the short-term. But at what cost?

    And what kind of example are we setting for our children when we value the novelty of a new nail color over the health of a fellow human being? Do you really want to teach your children to treat others so callously?

  38. Oh this is so good! I have really enjoyed reading everyone’s comments, and thanks for such a great post Liz.

    Before I had kids, I girded my loins for all of the “isn’t she pretty” and “aren’t you sweet” and “what a little princess” comments for my hypothetical daughters. Now I have three sons. You better believe all of their girl-friends are asked about what books they like and what sports they play and so on and so forth. I hesitate to tell any young girl how pretty she looks right off the bat-even if I’m thinking it-and always try to shift conversation away form their appearance to something else that is of interest and value to them. Sometimes this is hard with my niece-she’s a super athlete who is also beautiful, and there are times when I can tell that she’s worked so hard on her hair! So of course we talk about it and I tell her she has done a nice job with whatever twist she’s working on-but then we move on.

    One of my prouder moments was when my 2nd son was three and was the only boy asked to a party at a nail salon and had absolutely no problem sitting up in the chair having his nails done. It was like an anthropological experience for him.

    And one of my favorite school photos is when my eldest was three and had his nails painted pink and green, and had those sweet little grubby hands one crossed over the other plain as day, sitting on top of his knee.

    Like some of you have mentioned, it is a different situation having boys with nails painted-and truth be told, living where I live in South Carolina, I often get a few polite chuckles/offhand glances and definitely a few more “my husband would NOT stand for that!”s. For me, it’s also part of teaching them that the defining line between BOY and GIRL isn’t as clear cut as they want it to be. I get it-they’re figuring it out, and black and white is easier than grey. But grey is where it’s at!

    Or electric blue, apparently…:)

  39. I guess I have the same feeling about nail polish as I do with crazy hair modification – it grows back – so what? I think the problem is not so much with the actual nail polish, but the meaning we attribute to it. And why our kids are interested in it. My 3-year old son wanted me to paint his toenails because he wanted to be like Mommy and he loves the color red. Okay, fine. But if my (nonexistent) daughter told me that she wanted her nails painted to “be like other girls,” we would probably have a long talk instead.

  40. I think Val makes a really good point about the meaning we attribute to things. I have a 4 year old son and he loves anything with wheels, jumping in puddles, and laughing at farts. According to society, he is all “boy”. However, he also walks around in my bra, takes dance lessons (the only boy in his class) and bugged me all summer to paint his toes until I finally gave in. If you judged him on any 1 of these aspects, you would be making a wrong assumption about him. Put them all together and you get the portrait of my unique child. As a parent, it’s hard sometimes to not put MY stamp on his activities and preferences. I keep reminding myself (and my husband) that we need to let him find his own bliss (with some boundaries, to be sure!) I drew the line at the faux leopard-print stripper coat that he wanted for winter. I wouldn’t have let ANY child wear that thing!

    1. If you judged him on any 1 of these aspects, you would be making a wrong assumption about him.
      That is perfect. And so true about all humans, right? In fact, that could put an end to the mommy wars altogether! Wishful thinking?

      (and the coat…sounds a little awesome.)

    2. Oh Renee, you said exactly what I wanted to say – in a much better way!

  41. I always paint my own nails, always when the kids are in bed (just as a matter of practicality), so they never really see the process. My oldest (4.5) often wants me to paint her nails, too, and I usually oblige her, but my youngest (2) hasn’t expressed any interest yet. I’m not 100% comfortable with painted nails on my girls, but so far, they don’t see it as integrated into the pampering/salon/pay-money-to-feel-like-a-“real”-woman world yet, so it’s hard to say how I would feel about them role playing the nail salon and/or beauty spa experience. I suspect it would make it harder for me.

    On the other hand, my oldest’s best friend is a boy with a North African father, and although his mother sometimes humors him by painting his nails, his father insists the polish be removed before he will be seen in public with his child. Cultural context aside, that bothers me a lot more than seeing my own girls in hot pink nails.

    I totally get approving more of crazy colors than traditional girly ones, though. Mine recently wanted pink, blue and black on alternating fingers, and I could hardly contain my excitement at black being included.

  42. Liz:

    I took my 2 1/2 year old daughter to get her nails professionally painted (not mine, just hers) as a very special treat two days before I went back to work. I was feeling super guilty for it (for the exact reasons you were judging moms for at the beginning of your post) but after reading your entire post I feel much better. Thx!

  43. Great post- I love the premise about the assumptions we make. On the topic of nailpolish I had to cringe because I never actually thought of it as a cosmetic! I FREAKED when I picked up my (then) 3yr old from a playdate and she had makeup from playing dressup with her BFF”s grandmother. I wrinkle my sanctimommy nose at pierced ears on tots, bikini’s, etc but I started buying nailpolish for my then 2yr old (now 4 with a 2 yr old sister), all in ridiculous colors so that I could lure her into a conflict free nail cutting session. The non-toxic stuff I buy is also water soluble so it doesnt stay on long but Ive never thought of it as a cosmetic. Maybe because it was never about pampering or fancy but the lure of color is irresistible to my kids? Now Im afraid it might appear all “done up!” although I let them paint their own and usually their knuckles have more color than their nails. I think in my head it fell in with face painting (which I also let them do themselves in the summer outside when they paint their whole bodies!). Thanks for the food for thought!

  44. I love this post too.
    I’d paint my daughter’s fingernails if she wanted me to, and I’d think of it as a girly bonding experience. I’d be okay with make up for dress up, but it would be washed off before we went anywhere. Great post, it really does give me a different perspective of the whole thing.

  45. I think I’ve written about this before, but my mom’s idea of being feminist was to give me a boy’s name, never let me dress like a girl, and never, ever, pamper myself. So with my daughter (the one old enough for nail polish) I let her do it. I even got her a pedicure at a fancy kid’s salon once. She will be strong not because of the color of her nails, but because I raised her right. She will know that it is important to put yourself first sometimes. She will know how good a proper foot exfoliation feels. 😉
    Make up is a no go until she’s MUCH, MUCH older. The only exception I’ll make for that is the occasional sparkly/colored chapstick.

  46. I love this. I didn’t have my first pedi until I was (gasp) 50. I really wish I had a daughter I could share it with. My son, at 17, isn’t really interested–go figure. But judging other moms for their choices is something that really bugs me. We are all (or most of us) just doing the best we can–and making the choices we think are right. And we might not always be right, but as long as we love our children and they know it, I think we and they will be okay.

  47. I painted my 4 y/o fingers for the first time the other night. I thought it was a cute little bonding experience for the both of us at first. That’s until she started freaking out because she had a wedgie and couldn’t deal with getting it out because it might mess up her nails. She asked me to get it out for her and of course I had to say “oh hell no” to that. I’m not cool with my daughter picking her butt, but I think theres a porblem if at 4 she’d rather be uncomfortable than mess up her manicure. I think that will be the last time she has her nails painted for a while.

  48. I don’t really mind little girls – or boys – with paint on their toes, although I have friends who think it’s creepy. Like lip gloss and pierced ears, meh. I’m fairly certain I’ve committed worse crimes as a parent. We do pedis at home because the air in a salon is lethal. And I’m cheap. Thanks for the hopscotch tip– we had fun ordering colors. The little lady chose blue.

  49. I’m currently trying to convince my 11 year old son that it would be okay for him to come with me to the nail shop to get his hands and feet cleaned up. No polish or anything “girly” but his feet especially could use a little TLC.

  50. I have to confess, I’ve never really thought about the should or should not of nail polish. I do have concerns about the toxicity, and really hate the “make up” my daughter got for Christmas (anyone want to guess where the glittery lip balm from China ended up?).

    But I do find I’m struggling to keep up with a daughter who is unquestionably more “girly” than I am, or ever was. During our recent trip to Disney she was “glammed up” at the Pirate League, and I was stunned by how grown up she looked, and how much she enjoyed wearing makeup. I drew the line at going to the Bibbity Bobbity Boutique because, somehow, I could rationalize her being dressed up like a pirate “duchess” (complete eye patch and sword) but not having her hair done like a Disney princess.

    I did bring her once to the salon with me for a pedicure which was comedy because she didn’t even fit in the seat. We’ll be saving our second trip for many years from now.

    As always, thanks for the great perspective – something certainly for me to think about next time Sophie suggests we “do our nails.”

    1. Kristin, when the travel agent told me about that Bibity boutique I was like…no. Cut him straight off. He said, “but your daughter will love it!”


  51. Interesting. I think I don’t have a problem with nail polish because I don’t think it’s sexy. I think it’s fun, cute, pretty–but not sexy. I don’t think it’s done for men, pretty much ever. Or is it just that my husband doesn’t notice/care about nail polish that makes me think this?

    So if Miss L ever wants her nails painted, I’ll do it willingly. Lipstick, however, is a whole different ball game. Salons are also out, but that’s just because I’m cheap!

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