I’ve done quite a lot of reading over the last few years about raising girls, it makes sense seeings as I only have girls and I see a lot that worries me about their future. All the body image stuff, the particular style and cruelty of girl on girl bullying and the gender pigeon-holing of young girls leaves me with a slightly sick feeling in my stomach. It makes me want to stop them growing up at all some days. But more than that it makes we want to prepare them and build resilience (now there’s a buzz word for you) so that when they do, inevitably, face these problems they aren’t broken by them. And so I read about raising girls, I borrow books for them from the library with strong girl characters who are into things less superficial than the fairy and princess obsession currently raging within my two girls (I have a hard time not seeing that as a bit of a fail in itself) and I show them movies that have girls and women in roles not typical of most Disney animations. We constantly talk (or I do at least) about how girls can be and do anything, that you don’t have to be into the same things as other girls and that it’s important to treat everyone how you would like to be treated and to think about how what you do or say makes other people feel.
Sadly even with all this it’s sometimes like beating my head against a brick wall. I’ve been noticing things with Miss Four that really do concern me and make me wonder how on earth you help girl children navigate this world without getting caught up in the crap that goes along with being a girls. Firstly, Miss Four has worn glasses since before she was one, she looks ‘super cute’ in them, they improve her eyesight enormously and make life easier for her in so many ways. But for the first time ever I’m now battling with her to get her to wear them. She started by saying they were uncomfortable, so we got them adjusted. Then I’d find her without them and she’d say they were dirty so I’d clean them and put them back on her. Then while she was staying with her Nana (my Mum) she was sitting on the bathroom bench watching my Mum ‘put on her face’ (I never wear make up myself) and she said she thinks she looks ugly in her glasses. It broke my heart. How can a four year old think she’s ugly. EVER. And now this is the battle every day, me saying that she looks beautiful (inside and out), smart and every other thing I can think of, when she’s wearing her glasses. But it seems nothing I say has helped. I’ve taken her to pick new glasses for when she starts Kinder in a couple of weeks, ones that make her look a little older and that she loved on sight (despite the somewhat disgusting price tag for a pair of children’s glasses!) and hopefully that will help. If this is what four is like, what will ten and fifteen be like, I shudder at the thought. And I remember my own issues with my body and just how long it took me to get over that.
The second concern is the beginning of friendship issues and bullying culture. I’ve long worried about the whole emphasis on ‘BFFs’ with girls, why can’t they just have friends without putting them in some kind of hierarchy that can then be used against one another. This is a topic I go on about incessantly with both the girls, but still they insist on having A best friend and wanting to be other people’s BEST friend. It’s really come to the surface since moving and only having one close friend. Of course that friend has several other friends so she’s not quite so dependent on Miss Four as Miss Four is on her. When they get together there are dramas…. over who wants which dress ups, over what and how they’re playing together and over who said what to whom. It can be exhausting and it takes quite a bit of time and energy to get them playing nicely together. And they’re as bad as each other, often changing roles from bossy-britches to dipper-dopper depending on whose house they’re playing at. What I’ve also noticed is the start of that girl bullying tactic of exclusion. If Miss Two is also around as well the dynamic changes, all of a sudden two can team up against the other one and exclude them from the play for a time. I’d like to think Miss Two is too young to understand what’s going on, but she is often used in the manipulative kind of play by either one or the other of the older girls. Before, of course, they make up and then start excluding Miss Two.
In my head I know this is part of being four and that probably all girls (or most) are the same, and I have heard that from other parents of four year olds. I’m hoping that starting Kinder and expanding her friendship groups helps dilute some of this behaviour. I’m not sure I can handle this type of problem constantly from now until when?…. the end of high school, that seems like an age away. And in fact it may not even change then, I’ve seen grown women behave in very similar ways and having recently moved, I’ve learned just how hard it is to break into cliques of female friends.
I also most definitely fall into the trap of over thinking (and according to my mother, over reading) about these things. Perhaps they will all just work themselves out and I’m really worrying over nothing. But it does feel at the moment like I’m dealing with both big girl and little girl problems (yeah, I’m still used as a climbing frame all the time, we’re still having tantrums over teeth brushing or whose turn it is to sleep with ‘ballet bunny’ and she’s still bursting into tears if she can’t find her dolls shoes). I was kind of expecting one lot to disappear as the other one started, or some blissful time in the middle where we had none of these issues to deal – yes, I know, totally naive. What I was not ready for was the merging of the two and the big girl problems starting at such a young age.
At times like this, it kind of makes me wish I had boys…. then I see boys playing together and get exhausted just watching the level of noise, energy and physicality of it all and I realise raising boys has it’s own set of issues (namely testosterone).