I sometimes wish that I was confident enough to call everyone by good northern pet names, love pet flower etc etc, but I’ve never found them to naturally come out. However now that I’m a mum I’m forever calling Rose by names and I sometimes cringe slightly at myself when I realise that of these ‘gorgeous’ is the one which comes out most. Rose was a deliciously squidgy baby and toddler, and squidgy names stuck most at this time – so she was forever being called pudding, dumpling and pumpkin. I was pleased to make her beautiful roundness a positive thing, at a time when I was very aware of throw-away comments from voices around us about her being a “good eater” which drove me crazy. But now she’s not a toddler anymore (sob!), they’ve mostly been replaced by gorgeous, and I sometimes worry that this is bad parenting.
I’m very much part of the feminist mum gang who thinks that telling girls that their most important asset is their appearance is terrible and damaging. And yet I want to endlessly tell Rose how beautiful she is, does this make me a bad mother? A bad feminist? I read an article a while ago which was shared by lots of mums, about an aunt who’d decided to never comment on her niece’s appearance and only compliment her on other things. Which is great, in theory. But my daughter loves to choose her outfits with the very clear aim of seeking compliments. She flounces around in front of the mirror waiting to hear that she looks nice. And she gets her desired compliments in their droves from me. Because she’s bloody gorgeous, and because I want to make her feel good. Sometimes she’ll choose a dress or skirt to wear for nursery and ask if her teacher or friend will like it. And if she comes home without someone having told her she looked nice she’ll be disappointed. So basically I’ve been a crap parent, I have taught my child that how she looks is disproportionately important, and I’ve somehow managed to catapult her into the horrible world where what other’s think of you matters most. Except I don’t think I am the worst parent ever, and I don’t think that her desperation for others to like her has necessarily come from shit parenting. That’s just who Rose is. She desperately wants friends, desperately doesn’t want to do things in the wrong way and be noticed or criticised for it, and desperately wants to be liked by all. Which is a) because she’s 3 and a half, and b) because she’s Rose Dorothy Wilson and that’s just who she is.
As she grows and learns an incredible amount of new skills I’m spoiled for choice on what to praise my child for. In the last few months she’s started to talk about how if you practice you can learn to do new things, and it’s with this realisation in her that the warm glow of well aimed praise is working best. When she writes a perfect ‘S’ after struggling for the last few months to get it to face the right way, the pride on her face is just wonderful. And to share in her pride, showering her in words about how proud I am that she’s practiced and achieved something so brilliant, our shared happiness is really just the best.
I’m very ready to work on my parenting and to think a bit harder about how I can give my child self confidence and belief in herself, but I have no time at all for smug commentators criticising and judging parents for the way in which they raise their girls (or indeed boys). It’s incredibly easy to point out how and why some of the things I say to Rose are wrong, but I’d rather heap praise on her than ignore her clear desire to be loved in every way, for the things she does, learns, says, and the way she looks. And I’ll probably continue to beat myself up about ways in which I can improve.