Fitting In

“There are three things Mommy that make me feel a little sad. The first one I may have told you before. The second you may think I’m a little crazy for saying. And the third, you’ll DEFINITELY think I’m crazy for. But don’t say anything until I’m done telling you all three. Okay?”

Hannah said all of this to me on Tuesday in the car as we left my parent’s house.

My first reaction to this was, “Do I really make her feel crazy for saying things? Ever?” Apparently, I do.

“Okay Hannah. I won’t say a word until you’re all done.”

“Number one.” she started, “On Fridays at school when everyone else is eating the pizza, I feel left out that I’m not. It’s just that I don’t like the pizza so I don’t want to eat it. But it makes me sad that I am different.”

I was about to immediately make her feel better for this one but remembered my promise. And kept my mouth shut.

“Number two.” she continued, “And remember, you’re going to think I’m a little crazy for saying this…I am one of the only, I can’t think of any other, there really isn’t anyone else, EVERYONE else in my class, I think, has their finger nails painted except me. And I really don’t understand what you think is so bad about it. And I feel sad about that.”

I bit my tongue.

“And number three. You definitely are going to think I’m NUTS for this one, the ears pierced thing.” We’d talked about this before.

“Okay mommy, Go.”

I took a deep breath realizing that this was going to be the most adult conversation I had had with her yet. I wished I wasn’t driving so that I could sit facing her. Her hand in mine. Looking her in the eyes. The few glances in the rearview mirror was going to make it harder for both of us. But it was important to have this discussion, in the moment.

“Well, let’s talk about the pizza first. Friday is your last pizza day. Your last day that you’ll have to feel sad that everyone else is eating pizza and you’re not. Ever. So there’s no reason to even think about it anymore, ok?”

She smiled with that realization and nodded, happily moving on.

“Now let’s talk about the fingernail painting.” she prompted.

To give a little background on this, it’s true, I have not let Hannah have her fingernails painted. I think it makes little girls look too grown up. It pushes them right out of being a little girl and into “tweenhood”. I’ve felt pretty VERY strongly about this, and have told her that when she’s eight, she can get her fingernails painted.  I DO paint her toenails frequently but will not allow her to have them done at the nail salon.  I have witnessed countless little girls sitting in the massage chairs next to me as I get my feet rubbed and moisturized and my toes painted and I always shake my head to myself that it’s just too much.  Too much, too soon.

But I have been thinking a lot about it recently as I notice that EVERY four and five year old in her class has bright sparkling pink fingernails.  Some with little butterflies painted on the corners, some with different colors on each finger.  And they always run to me to show me their new pedicure and Hannah hears me say to them, “Oh how beautiful they are!”

How is THAT fair?  How is it right that I praise her friend’s nails as looking so lovely when I won’t let her have it done herself?

I’ve been trying to understand what it is that makes me turn it into such a big deal.  Are pink fingernails really a symbol of growing up?  Or is it more just another way of enjoying “girlhood”.  An easy way to feel special in a world of so much competition, even at such a young age.  I’ve tossed this around in my head recently.  Interesting that Hannah brought it up when it had been on my mind as well.

“Why don’t you tell me WHY you want your fingernails painted Hannah.”

“Well, because I think it’s pretty.”

I held my breath, HOPING she’d stop there.

“And because I want to fit in.”

My shoulders drooped a little as she uttered the second part of her thought. I had hoped fitting in wasn’t a part of her sadness.

“Hannah, I understand completely if love how it looks. It IS pretty.  It’s fun to feel and look fancy.  I would love to help you feel this way.  For YOU.  But I don’t want you to be concerned with Fitting In because of how you Look.  You’ll always fit in because of who you Are.  And how you Act.  But if you’re concerned with Fitting In because of how you look or what you do… that’s not good.  And this is going to come up over and over as you get older.  And speaking of getting older, there are some things that I think make girls look older than they are and to me, that’s silly.  There will be plenty of time to look older.  You should enjoy looking YOUR age for now.”

Not surprisingly, I could tell she wasn’t really getting it.

I quickly gave her an example of doing something just to fit in by asking her what if all of her friends started using bad words at school and she felt left out for not using them.  I asked her if she’d start using these words just to Fit In? She emphatically shook her head no.  That she wouldn’t do something BAD just to fit in, but stated that having painted fingernails isn’t BAD.

She was right on that.  But she got my point too.  I think.

I went on to talk more about the “Looking older than you are” issue I have.

“Tell me something that makes a lady look old to you.” I asked her.

“Gray hair.”

“Ok, let’s pretend you came home from school one day and saw me with my hair dyed gray.  What would you say?”

“I’d say, ‘why did you do that mommy? you look like an old lady!'”

I smiled.  This was going to work.  “And what if I said, ‘Well, all of my mommy friends dyed their hair gray so I wanted to fit in with them!’.  What would you think?”

“Hmmmm…. I guess I’d just think it was weird to want to look like an old lady.”

“Exactly.  And that’s how I feel looking at girls with bright red fingernails.  I wonder why they want to look so much older.”

“Oh.” she said understanding, but still looking sad.

I felt bad.  She was five.  Wanting to feel like a big girl.  Wanting to feel special and fancy.

“Hannah, what if we compromised?  What if we find a color for your nails that I won’t think makes you look to old but you think is fun?  Would that make you happy?”

A look of elation brightened her face.  “YES!”  She paused.  “As long as it doesn’t look like the same color as my fingernails are now.”

“Deal.” I said, and reached my arm back to shake her hand.  She grabbed it and kissed it.

“Thank you.” she whispered to the back of my head.

I won’t bore you with the pierced ears conversation.  I’ll just let you know that I think I convinced her a) that I don’t ever think she’s nuts and b) there’s no way in hell she’s getting her ears pierced before she’s 12.

I went to bed that night wondering if I swayed too easily.  Thinking about how many other things in her life I’ll cave on because she looks so sad.  Curious how often this conversation about Fitting In will arise.

But I also went to bed satisfied. Feeling like I did get through to her. That I did ok with this hurdle. That it is possible to find a happy medium.  And that she now trusts me.  That I’ll listen. That I’m there.  And that I’m reasonable.

Her nails were painted this morning. Three different shades of pink in a pattern on her fingers.  One shade name is “Hard to Get”.  Luckily the conversation about what THAT means didn’t have to happen.  She was too giddy from her nails to remember to ask.

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24 Comments

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24 responses to “Fitting In

  1. LZ

    You handled it so well!
    I think the fingernails aren’t that mig a deal, if they’re pink or very light, but when I see kids in a salon, it drives me nuts. It would not be a huge deal if it were a one-time treat, but how do you prevent it from becoming something they ask for regularly?
    I think t’s good that you have an age for the earrings…I told M she could have hers pierced when she is old enough to take care of them, but luckily she is afraid of it and says she never wants it done!
    I am on the same page as you. I want to keep the girls young as long as I can. Dressing up and wearing makeup are still for play. I’ve seen kids younger than M who always have lipgloss with them and wear healed shoes, and I just can’t do it. I don’t even want her listening to radio music, just kids’ stuff.

  2. Alyssa

    My daughter is almost six and already wants to wear skirts to school because her friends do, wear makeup because her friends do I agree some parents do push it – I believe in age appropriate and no child of mine will be pampered in a salon chair for her nails. Once in a while done by mom is fine but there is a line too many cross. You did well love your blog!

  3. Three cheers for you, Mama! I love your process in this post. You took the time to explain your point of view to Hannah and stuck to you guns, but were also willing to compromise with her when you took her point of view into consideration. I think it’s important to be consistent as parents, but also to show our kids that sometimes we change our minds and that’s okay too.

    And about the fitting in thing: I still remember wanting to do my hair like the other kids, wanting to get my clothes from the same places, wanting to “peg” my pants in the same way. My mom never really gave in and, as hard as it felt at the time, I don’t think I’ve suffered any long-term effects. I still feel a lot of those same sensations, though, wanting to look the way the “cool kids” do. I guess I haven’t grown out of it.

  4. Aww, you’re a great mom, Becca! You dealt with her “three things” perfectly.

    Hannah reminds me so much of my Miss M. They seem to like all the same things and have conversations like little adults.

    I let Miss M paint her nails about a month ago. We shopped for a colour together (no way it was going to be red or even a bit dark). We bought a *very* pale pink and a sparkly light blue. I don’t really mind it.

    I said when she was a baby that I’d let her get her ears pierced when she got old enough to ask for them. Once in a while she brings it up (and my in-laws bring it up even more – annoying!), but I just say “are you *sure*”? And remind her that it is quite painful. She changes her mind soon enough!

    The ‘fitting in’ conversation scares me. I will think about this next time she is worrying about something or wants something that her friends have. They are too young to be worrying about things like that. It breaks my heart.

    Sorry for taking over your comments, and once again – Great Job!

  5. I am thanking my lucky stars that my girl is only 7 months old. I will really need to prepare myself for these kinds of talks. I think you did handle it well. Sometimes as parents we get an idea in our heads and are unwilling to compromise, but giving in on the small stuff makes putting your foot down on the important things that much easier. :o)

  6. I have boys, so I’ll miss out on these conversations about girl stuff…
    But as I was reading this, my first thought about painting her fingernails was to choose a pale pink color as a compromise… Seems as though you had the same idea!
    Growing up, I had a hard time having the tough conversations with my mom. It’s so important for a girl to feel comfortable talking to her mom…
    Looks you and your little girl are moving in the right direction!

  7. I think you handled that perfectly. Parenting is never a straight line-it’s a series of back and forth, climbing and falling, running and crawling. Not to mention negotiation.

    FWIW, I hope you stand your ground on the ear thing. Not necessarily because I agree with that specifically but because I think that kids need to have something to look forward to. Similarly, my boys don’t typically get to watch PG-13 movies. Most of their friends get to, no questions asked, but I want to make them wait. 1) because ’13’ means that there is subject matter that I’d rather not have to explain yet, 2) if they get to do whatever they want then what do they have to look forward to? That’s part of the fun of growing up.

  8. Wow. I thought I won’t have to worry about talk like this until she’s in her tweens. When they say kids mature faster these days, I didn’t think they meant THAT quickly. I suppose I should start crafting and rehearsing my responses now since I don’t think I’m good with the impromptu ones. Or I can just steal from you Becca – I think you did very well. I hope to be as level-headed as you when the time comes.

    p.s. I had my ears pierced at age 5. In my culture, I was considered late. Many did it at 3 or younger. Crazy huh?

  9. I’m so with you on ear piercing. It’s a body altering permanent decision. I don’t want them to make it lightly. It is so hard to think of all the things our daughters face as they grow and come into their own. Scary. Maybe more scary for me than them.

  10. Becca, I think you got your point across beautifully. I think you compromised in a way that is comfortable and appropriate for you. Win, win.

    And after reading this post, I am SO glad I have boys. I sometimes think that we come pre-programmed as women to want to fit in…what a hard lesson to learn and even harder to teach…

  11. I’m not sure what I can offer here. I have boys and in moments like this I am so grateful for it. But I must confess…I painted my son’s toenails the other day. He asked, I obliged. My husband was a bit miffed that they were pink though.

    And I need to think more about this whole fitting in issue. I get it and want to teach my boys that it’s not necessary too, but I find that lesson a tough one. I remember it so well, the need to fit in. Sometimes I think it’s easier to just let them, at least on the small issues. But then, I guess where is the lesson in that? This is a tough one, one I expect I’ll be thinking about lots. Thanks for this discussion Becca.

  12. Ugh, what a hard conversation to have. But I think you handled it perfectly, especially sine she got what you were telling her. The compromise for painting the nails sounds like the perfect solution. Good job momma!

  13. I think you handled this SO well. I’ll be calling you in a few years when Paige is at that point 😉 Because it’s so hard to step back and think before you speak about these things. But you nailed it (no pun intended… haha! I crack myself up…)

  14. That’s so great. I love the way you explained your reasons to your little girl. I also think it’s so great that she was so open about sharing her feelings with you. 🙂

  15. I think you handled the situation really well – and I’m taking notes because I have a 3 year old going on 16. I don’t like the “fitting in” thing either – I was always the one who didn’t fit in when I was younger – my parents were Greek immigrants who cared about things like putting food on the table, making sure we did well in school, and were learning to be good, honest and respectful human beings. Whenever I would ask for something my “friends” had, my parents never went for it. We learned to stop asking, and learned that the stuff really meant nothing in the long run. Thankfully, I feel the same way in that, I refuse to push my kids to mature more quickly to suit their friends. My 3yo does not have her ears pierced either – and will not for a very long time. If I want my kids want to have something, and I’m okay with it, then I will have no problem with that, but it has to come from a place that doesn’t include wanting to be like their friends.

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  17. I am a stickler on the earrings, but totally gave in on the nail polish. I’m not a girly girl at all (don’t wear make up, etc), but I just love how my Bella prances and twirls when she has her nails painted. We’d stuck with pale pink/peach until my sister bought her one sparkly hot pink and one glittery dark purple — and of course those are her faves. We’re sticking to toenails with them, but I feel the resolve slipping. She just loves it so much — no peer pressure, no fitting in, just princessy love (that I sort of remember from childhood).

    I think you handled it perfectly and found a way to make her happy while also holding onto your beliefs. It’ll get harder as she ages and the topics become stickier, but you have a great foundation to build from!

  18. I agree with the others that you handled it very well.
    I think it’s interesting that so many people associate painted nails with being grown up or a teenager. I never have, and I started painting my girls’ nails as soon as they were old enough to ask for it.
    But only my teen daughter has had them done at the salon, and that was for a special occasion.
    Interesting post! =)

  19. A plus! You handled this fabulously. Was the polish really named “Hard to Get”? See how long it’s been since I’ve bought nail polish?!

  20. Nicki

    Way to go! You handle these issues fantastically. And not that you need validation but, I told my girls and my boys that they could not get their ears pierced til they were 12. Reasoning is that you have to be able to take care of new piercings and I wasn’t sure a younger child could.

  21. My 5 yo also wants painted nails. I gave in to toes, but not fingers! A couple of weeks ago I convinced her that buffing them is better. Special mommy time treat (no salons, I agree), and no peeling.

    Fitting in is so tough! We have curly hair and she had tantrums about it looking wrong. Pony tails don’t hang right, like on other kids. It’s a tough lesson, but a good one. You will be different. That’s good.

  22. Ace parenting here, Becca. If I ever have girls I will pull this post up in my memory when the topic of nail painting inevitably comes up. Thanks for another insightful post!

  23. I’ve got it … We need to market a line of kid-friendly nail polishes in tame colors with names like “Cloud Hugs” and “Baby Doll Dress.” We’d get rich and could retire and wile away our days blogging!

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