The other day my youngest son patiently waited for me to finish painting my nails so that I could apply the same to his toes. This was not the first time he requested to have his nails done. He absolutely loves to pick out fun colors and patterns and show them off to others. Once complete, his face beams with joy and he is so excited to show it off. I love to see him so happy. To see him experience such joy in such a simple thing makes my own heart happy.
The first time my son requested to have his nails coordinate with my own, a visiting house guest gasped. This guest made a comment along the lines of, “People are going to laugh at you…you’re going to look like a girl.” This house guest was not wrong in their statement.; People might have laughed because people can be cruel, judgmental, and have a tendency to insult anything that’s different. Another preschooler may have pointed at my son and made fun of his hot pink toes while laughing and calling him a girl. It is possible. The guest in my home was entitled to their opinion. My husband and I raise our children to value their own opinion and to make decisions based on their own preferences without influence from others. In that moment we could have responded a million different ways. We chose to say, “Maybe they will, maybe they won’t.” We asked my son what he thought about his painted toes, guided him to identify his feeling of excitement, and encouraged him to embrace that positive emotion.
I would be lying if I said I don’t care what others think of me or my children. Of course, I care. I am human. But, I choose not to let the thoughts and opinions of others influence my own beliefs and perception of myself or my children. The simple gesture of applying polish on my young child’s toes made me realize how early we allow others opinions to influence on our own.
In our household, we raise our children to embrace differences and be tolerant of others. We encourage the acceptance of individuals for being individuals. This is not new. This has been our approach since my oldest child could communicate. I purchased him a baby doll after he expressed interest in the dolls at his childcare center. We have filled our sons’ Christmas stockings and Easter baskets with My Little Ponies, bracelets, and the newest tinker bell movie. We believe that our child’s happiness is far more important than the opinions of an adult or the social norms regarding gender roles and preferences.
It is not and never has been about providing my children with the material things they want or insist they need. The polish chips off, the bracelets get lost, and the ponies’ manes get tangled. But the beliefs my children develop about themselves will stick. That is and will always be the focus. Allowing and encouraging children to make decisions for themselves improves their self-esteem. It is an opportunity to teach children to be assertive, communicate what they want, and express their feelings respectfully with others. It is an opportunity to teach my children to respect themselves just as they are in this moment and also who they strive to become. Painting their nails hot pink or blue and purchasing toys commonly found in the “girl” aisle is modeling to my children that the opinions they develop about themselves take priority over the opinions of others.
This is not an effort to make a statement. While encouraging my son’s individuality, I also guide him in recognizing social norms because I don’t want to see him hurt and I don’t want him to endure society’s disapproval. However, more importantly, I don’t want him to feel disapproval of himself. I want my children to develop confidence in who they are, learn to trust their own decisions, and accept themselves for who they are. The only thing a person has control over is their own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. I want my child to have confidence in his decisions and embrace his individuality. If he insists on wearing nail polish, I am not going to be the barrier. Life is hard enough and society has enough restrictions to navigate and deal with.
My job as a mom is to teach my children right from wrong, to instill morals and values, and raise respectful contributing members of society. It is not my job to resist who my son is or to block him from exploring, learning, and discovering what he likes, wants, and needs. The most important job I have as a mom is to support my child and love him unconditionally… with or without nail polish on his toes.
Rachel Velishek is a licensed professional clinical counselor with Fisher-Titus Behavioral Health, Fisher-Titus Medical Park 2, Suite C, 282 Benedict Ave., Norwalk. Her office can be reached at 419-668-0311. For more information on Fisher-Titus Behavioral Health, visit fishertitus.org/behavioral-health.