Editor’s Note: We’re digging into our ample archives to find some great articles you might have missed over the years. This one comes from 2016.
In hope of avoiding early morning meltdowns over clothing choices, I had our 3-year-old pick her dress the night before. It’s white with pink, blue and polka-dotted raindrops all over. She went to bed that night happy with her decision. I was hopeful it was enough to help us through the morning routine that has become such a challenge of late.
When I went into her room the next morning, she was already wide awake, singing and talking to herself. I sat on the floor, engaging her in chatter while staying alert for signs she was ready to turn against me.
And when I sensed things were about to turn, I brought up the dress. It patiently waited on the hanger, dangling from a dresser knob. Once she remembered it, she eagerly got up and beckoned me to help her put it on.
After a failed attempt to put it on feet-first (the neck is too small to fit around her waist), she had her first meltdown of the day. Next, we tried the head-first approach, which worked. I pointed out how pretty the dress looked on her and asked if she’d like to look in the mirror to see for herself. She didn’t bite at that, but she changed her tune when I brought up the choice of what socks should complete the outfit.
Socks are on, we were ready to move on. As we walked into the bathroom to brush her teeth, I hear something I was not prepared for.
“Daddy, I want makeup so I can look pretty.”
I instantly recoil.
Wearing makeup starts … at home?
My mind raced to determine where our toddler got this idea. Who told our child she needed lipstick, blush and mascara to look pretty? Was it one of her friends at daycare who has an older sister? Did one of the cartoon princesses she adores take a trip to beauty school in an episode she watched? Or was it in an article from one of the Toddler Cosmopolitan magazines I’ve seen lying about in her room? I’ve been meaning to cancel that subscription.
Then I remembered.
My wife let her put on makeup recently. She was trying to calm her down and give her something to do while they were getting ready for a weekend getaway.
I doubt my wife actually said something this absurd to our child, but now it appears the seed had been planted. We needed to do something about it.
I stalled for time. What’s the right thing to say to a 3-year-old girl about what qualifies as “pretty”? As a parent, I thought this conversation would come much later. Maybe I’d even be prepared for it by then. But that’s the thing: parenthood can throw lots of things your way when you’re not ready for them, and it’s up to you to sort them out and make the best of the situation.
On top of that, I’m a guy. I grew up concerned about action figures, cartoons and video games. I could not have cared less about how I looked as long as I was comfortable.
Now, as the father of a girl, I’m in a world I know very little about. I’m grateful I have my wife to help me through these moments, but I also want to take an active role no matter what it involves. I will absolutely learn about issues young girls face when the time comes, but for now, I want my child to be a child. I want the focus to be on who she wants to be as an individual, rather than how she looks. Or, for at least as long as that’s possible.
Finding words of wisdom
Eventually, I found my words.
“You don’t need makeup to look pretty. You’re pretty already and I love you,” I said.
If this was a TV sitcom, my child would stop and think about what I had just said. Then, she’d agree with me. We’d share a hug and a smile. One of us would then say something witty and the audience would laugh and applaud.
But in real life, my child responded with a louder and more stern demand for her face to be painted.
After some more back and forth I eventually laid down the law. “You’re 3 years old and you don’t need makeup,” I said.
She wailed and went to a corner to pout. I took this new meltdown as a chance to finish getting ready myself and let her cool off.
After some time, I managed to convince her to get to daycare. But right before we left she stopped and asked to look at herself in the mirror.
I followed close behind and watched her admire her dress and hair in the mirror, eyes full of stars and a huge grin on her face. I knelt down beside her, gave her a big hug, and said, “I know you wanted to wear the makeup to look pretty, but you’re pretty even without it. See?”
She smiled again. I held out my hand to lead her off to school for the day.
As we walked, hand in hand, I thought about how both wonderful and challenging life as a parent can be. As much as I don’t want my child to get older and face the harsh realities that await her, I will do everything I can to be there for her when things get tough. I love her and think that she’s pretty and beautiful no matter what clothes she wears or what she puts on her face.
Although if I had my way, she’d walk out of the house dressed like this for as long as possible. Pretty, indeed.