Painted nails and parental judgments

Toddler nailsIt started with a park. On a sunny afternoon around a year ago, right next to the swings in our local play area, I encountered my first taste of “Ooh, isn’t she a bad mother”. And as much as I hate to admit it, it was me casting the judgments.

My two year old was playing with another little girl who can’t have been much older. As this little girl ran around with my toddler, I caught a flash of sickly pink and winced as the glitter reflected the harsh sunlight. The little girl was wearing nail varnish. Bright pink, sparkly nail varnish.

In my head, I berated the mother for trying to “pretty up” her little girl. Why would you do that to your child? I thought to myself. I judged that mum, who was minding her own business in a park with her toddler on a sunny day.

I tutted to myself about parents letting their children grow up too soon. I got my pants in a twist about a mum forcing a gender stereotype on her little girl, telling her, “Girls are pretty, girls wear pink, girls paint their nails”. My internal monologue huffed and puffed at the outrage of some parents today, raising their children to be mindless consumers of cosmetic products before they’re even four years old.

That sickly pink, glittery nail polish had me hissing.

And then it happened to me.

Last weekend, after an hour of persuading my distraught child to let me cut her talon-like finger and toenails, I was out of options. “NOOOOOOOO!” She screamed as I coaxed with chocolate buttons, promises of story time and jelly. “LEAVE ME ALONE!” She yelled as I got firm, chiding her that it was for her own good.

It wasn’t until I tried to hold her little fingers in place, dangerously wielding a pair of nail scissors, that I knew I had to do something drastic.

“How about if I let you have a bit of my nail polish?” I asked. Silence. My newly turned three year old weighed up the offer. “Red nail polish? Like you?” She asked. I could see my hopes of a nice invisible clear polish were off the table.

As I resigned myself to breaking one of my own parenting intentions – not to let my little girl wear nail polish until she was at least eight years old – I realised that’s the way it goes. In order to keep her nails at a safe, short length, I was going to have to compromise on my former hard-line No Nail Polish stance.

So that’s where I’m at now. My three year old is sporting pillar box red toenails and fingernails. They shine like a beacon of Bad Mother Evidence on her fingertips, and I wince when she waves them around to anyone who’s looking, showing off my handiwork with a proud smile. “I got red nails, just like my Mummy.”

And there’s the thing. I have painted nails too. I like them. They make me smile on a grey day and help me feel half human on zero sleep. In my head, my bright nails detract from the bags under my eyes and the extra weight I’m smuggling around my middle area.

At three years old, my daughter watches me and wants to copy. She’s still young enough to think I am cool, so she naturally wants to join in. If I’m not willing to take a hardline stance on things like painted nails, mascara and the odd pair of high heels myself, how can I expect my own child not to want to try them out? Even if she is just three years old?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not about to start turning her into a some sort of beauty pagent contestant. Like most kids, she wants to be comfy, so trainers and jeans or wellies and shorts are her outfits of choice. For now, she’s content to wave a blusher brush in the vague direction of her face and pretend she’s “like Mummy”.

I constantly tell her she’s “clever” and “funny” as well as “beautiful”, in the hope she’ll grow up to have well-rounded values and a healthy dose of self-esteem that’s not dependent on which shade of lipstick she’s wearing. And, for now, I reckon that’s enough.

Where do you stand on the whole nail polish on tots thing? Would you have done the same – or am I (as I fear) a Bad Mother?



  1. says

    Ha ha, I don’t think you are a bad Mother at all, I don’t do the nail polish thing, but then I let my girls wear their brother’s underpants to nursery….and laugh when they say they want to be boy’s…. πŸ™‚

    When Z was 4 and in nursery one of the Mum’s came in for her daughter’s birthday to paint nails and to tattoos, Rob signed the form without thinking and I was horrified when my son came home with polish on, not because he’s a boy, but because I’m a bit funny about stuff on their skin.

    Having said that if one of my girls begged me for nail polish, I may relent.

    • says

      I love that Z came home with nail polish on – funny, I don’t think I’d have given it a second thought if F was a boy. In fact, I’d have probably embraced his (her) wish for nail polish!

  2. says

    Oooooh I hear you!

    I too used to think it looked deplorable (and still wince sometimes when I see it) but they wear you down eventually.

    To my five year old it’s the biggest treat in the world to have her nails painted, although I try and stick to just toes in the hope that nobody will judge me! x

    • says

      Funny thing isn’t it, I reckon we’re our own worst critics when it comes to stuff like this. I’m sitting here wondering if anyone’s actually noticed F’s fingernails. Mind you, they probably have. They’re bright red after all…

  3. Ann Baillie, mother of Alice (Guru) et al says

    Haha, we have all had to go back on what we were going to do or not do with our children! Eventually we realise that these little angsts pale into insignificance when they grow a bit bigger and bolder. Keep your sanity, fight the wars you can win and let some things slide. Make happy memories, while not letting them know you are really just getting them to do the things that you want or need them to do….red nails at the mo means happy child, cut nails and peace between the two of you – GREAT parenting.

    • says

      Ah, thank you Ann – wise words indeed! I’m happy with that mantra, might stick it on my wall to keep me going when the next battle arises!

  4. says

    Ha ha yes I can really empathise this this as I too always thought it was awful but I too have a three year old who loves nail varnish and even worse has been seen wearing three different colours over the last week! I won’t change my mind about pierced ears though

  5. Dani Porter says

    Ha ha, this chimes with me so much Molly! I’ve been relaxed about occasional polish on toe nails since toddlerhood (for some reason that is more acceptable and, though I don’t have one, I LOVE it on little boys’ toes!) but the fingers not…because of the visibility and the all-important judging I suppose!

    She’s just turned 7 and I’ve started to let her have it on her finger nails once in a while, she is wearing some as we speak in fact (at school, the shame) as we had a wedding the other day. I allowed her to pick her own colour, sadly it was the trashiest of pinks. But whose fault for putting it in her stocking in the first place?!

    If you’re like me you’ll want to combine it with a sandwich board on them stating – it’s ironic/for a special occasion/I’d allow it on a boy too/it was bribe (delete as appropriate) Silly, eh? Because I too have been the mother judging!

    • says

      Not silly at all – I absolutely know what you mean Dani. And it’s such a shame really, as I expect it’s us who are our own worst enemies! I actually said to nursery staff this morning, “Sorry for the painted nails, it was the only way I could get her to let me cut her fingernails”, and the staff said they hadn’t even noticed – and why did it matter anyway?! I felt like a bit of a fool.

  6. says

    I have had this discussion because I was clueless (I have 4 boys) and it turns out that actually most little girls want make-up/nail varnish etc- and it’s not something that is pushed on them.

    I think what you have done is actually the first signs of amazing parenting and it will do you well as you go through life. The thing that happened with us is that our 14 year old wanted to play 18 games on the computer. It turned out even lots of 7 year olds were doing it! We said that if he could act more grown up then he could (but take it away if he was being immature/affected by it). It was the first time that I learned that sometimes you need to negotiate and let them do things you don’t want them to, in order to get what you do want.

    Fab post

    • says

      You’re so right – I think that’s the thing about parenting, you need to learn to be flexible. I think we’re all just trying our best and making it up as we go along aren’t we?! (I know I am anyway!)

  7. Kate says

    It’s not Bad Parenting at all – and at least this way, you are in control of it…..

    I told Small that she was too little to have her finger nails painted – she wasn’t happy, but she trotted off to play with her Dinosaurs and I felt that I had won a minor victory and patted myself on the back.
    It was only an hour or so later when I went to enquire what she wanted for lunch that I discovered that she had located the purple glitter nail varnish (which I was SURE she wouldn’t), opened it (which I was SURE she couldn’t) and painted it on herself (everywhere BUT her nails) and all over my lovely NZ wooden table!!!

    Not matter how hard we encourage our Girls to be whatever they want to be and not fall into the “Stereotypes” they will probably go down the pink, glittery path at some stage. Medium is the epitome of everything Girly – she loves Pink, glitter, dresses, High heels and handbags…….the majority of these things don’t stem from me as I barely wear make up, can’t wear heels without breaking something and own 1 dress if you’re lucky!!

    If it makes the little Battles easier, I say fully embrace it…….

    • says

      Wise words, as ever. Thank you Kate. I think you’re right. There are some battles that just aren’t worth getting into. F’s nails may be bright red, but at least they’re not dangerously long any more!

  8. John Armes says

    Hi Molly.

    I would call it being creative , next bathtime you can tell her that she shouldn’t have red nails in bed and whip it off in a flash.

    Bad mum , I think not .


  9. says

    M and o frequently wore nail polish as toddlers, it hid the muck under their nails.

    Libs likes a manicure daily and today is sporting my lipstick and bronzer, I like to chose my battles and this wasn’t worth the shrieks.

    Never got why face paint was different to nail polish.

    By the way, M would physically fight you if you now tried to paint her nails. O sometimes has his toenails done for fun!

  10. says

    I know exactly how you feel! I’m an avid nail polish wearer, a bit of a collector in fact, so it was only a matter of time before Sausage wanted in on the act. However, Husband and I were both really worried, not just about how it looked but about the chemicals involved and read all sorts of articles, demonizing the carcinogenic effects of nails polish. In the end, we bough her some water-based, kid friendly nail polish which was, quite frankly, a bit rubbish.

    In the end, after a few months of persevering with the water-based stuff, we caved based on the fact that MOST things in the world are carcinogenic if you look hard enough and she just wanted to be like Mummy and the other women she looked up to with their painted talons! I don’t see the harm, it’s a heck of a lot more innocent than some of the products aimed at kids these days, so balls to judgement in the park!

  11. says

    We met a little girl in the park last weekend, she didn’t know how old she was (just 4 I reckon, may top end 3) anyhow, she had red lipstick on.
    that, IMHO, is wrong.
    Nail varnish – that’s ok, it’s a small embellishment.

    I am NEVER without painted toenails. So when my boy asks for the same I agreed.
    My brother took issue with it and made a snarky comment about a boy wearing toe nail varnish. Hello! the child is 3 so what! BANG! that was the sound of my brother dropping to the bottom of my xmas card list. Still not forgiven him.

    • says

      Ouch – don’t blame you! It’s funny, I really have no issue with nail varnish on boys – in fact, if F had asked before and she was a boy, I expect I’d have positively embraced the idea.

  12. says

    Before I had children I always swore that I would never paint my children’s nails. Then I had children. My son asked when he was nearly two if I could paint his toenails, so I did. No-one really saw them because it was winter and he had his shoes on, but at night he would show them off. My daughter is two now and has also had her toenails painted a couple of times. She also likes them. I am not interested in make up for me but I do always have painted toes. I don’t see what harm it is doing my children, so I shall continue on the occasions they would like it too.

  13. says

    I’m the same, don’t like the look, think it’s just… urgh. But why? Why do I / we feel this way? I mean, when I sit there and think about it logically I can’t actually think of a reason to object to it, but when I see it my reaction is different. Where do these judgements come from?

    I don’t wear make up so thankfully my daughter is unlikely to ask the question and even less likely to wear any before she’s old enough to buy her own!

    • says

      It’s interesting isn’t it – I think that a lot of my fear of judgment comes from myself. I mean, I’m expecting everyone else to sit there judging, because I’ve been guilty of it in the past, but in fact most people are too busy living their own lives, avoiding being judged, to bother with opinions about my toddler’s nails. (I think!)

  14. says

    There is much worse than nail polish, it is a treat for kids. I’m sure Clio tired at 3, it is still a treat to her now at 9 so long as it is occasional and a treat I think there are bigger battles to win with kids.

  15. Kathryn says

    I’ve painted my son’s (5) fingers and toes a few times. It’s harmless and I think it’s cute and innocent that at this point in time he want to copy me without having to put everything in the male / female box. I have got him to take it off when I think there’s a chance others will be embarrass him about it. E.g. swimming lessons!

    As @coombemill says, there is definitely worse out there!

  16. Catherine Ross says

    Ooh, the scourge of the nail varnish. Claudia (3) absolutely loves it. I’ve grief to let her only have as many nails painted as she is years old. So at the moment she has up to three nails done at a time.

    She does, however, insist on applying lipstick while I’m putting my face on in the morning. Generally it’s only clear gloss, but, y’know, she’s three.

    She refuses to wear trousers, insisting on dresses, even for taking through the woods.

    There’s nothing I can do. I haven’t encouraged her girliness, but I have learned to give in to it. There’s just no point in waging these daily battles over such trivial things.

  17. says

    Oh yes, with you on this one. I’m sure I’ve been guilty of making that judgement in the past. But yes, MP wears nail polish. Not all the time, always in a colour that isn’t too grown up and always because she wants to be like mummy (‘cept I wear grown up colours. Sometimes)

    I think that as long as we give them a well rounded view of the world and of who they are in the world, we are doing ok. Anyway, who says you can’t wear nail polish and be clever and funny too?!

  18. says

    I felt exactly the same way as you did but then the same thing happened, Iyla wanted to do it so she was like meal I gave in. She has them done everytime I cut her nails now and the best bit is that she sits still for ages afterwards waiting for them to dry. Far longer than the time it takes for them to actually dry πŸ˜‰

    I think there are much worse things and the nail varnish isn’t too bad really x

  19. says

    I’m right there with you Molly, my little ladies want to be me and I like nail polish. Now they go to school they can only have their toes done and nails in the holidays but it is used as a treat and really works in helping their behaviour!

    Mich x

  20. says

    Personally, I’m not for the nail polish for little one. However, in this instance, I think it was a clever compromise. And if you where wearing pastel pink she’d have been happy with that too I suspect. Everything within reason and I honestly don’t think its a slippery slope, once in a while for a treat can’t hurt, surly :0)

  21. says

    Another great post, Molly. You’ve tapped into what so many mums think. I’m the same – was TOTALLY judgmental about young kids with nail varnish on, and while my 2.5 year old hasn’t worn any yet, I’m well aware that it’s only a matter of time.

  22. says

    I take quite a soft line on nail polish. I’d let Talitha wear it but she hasn’t asked yet. She has asked to wear my mascara though which I won’t do mainly because it’s a hygiene issue. When they’re so young, it’s nothing more than imitation. Boy or girl they all do it. Anyone who’s judging has to get a life though. There are much bigger things to get wound up about.

  23. says

    Children want to be like the people they love. My boys often have their toe nails painted. I remember getting the comment when I was taking them swimming aged three. Also I got the you are going to turn them gay comment, which is a whole other thing!

  24. says

    My 10yo has an extensive stash of make up and sallies forth nails and lips painted. I’d never intended this to happen. Don’t know how it did happen. And given that the only adornments to my face are a crop of fine whiskers she certainly didn’t get it from me, but there are too many other battles to fight.

    • says

      Exactly what my mum and Jane (Northern Mum) say. And considering I consider the three of you some of the wisest women I know, I reckon I’m not doing too badly!

  25. says

    I have to say that I cast judgment as a non-parent on things like this, even as a parent actually. Until I took little man to a playgroup one day, it wasn’t until we got there and I sat down and looked at him that I realised that he had bright pink blusher on both cheeks and foundation too!! I guess I’d been so busy trying to shove us all (including a new born baby in my defence) out of the door I didn’t even see what he’d done! It was at that moment I realised the error of my ways….or my judgments!

    As for painted nails, Lil Miss has always been a nightmare when it comes to cutting them. Apparently it hurts, but as soon as she was old enough to bargain with…around two… the cutting amazingly didn’t hurt if it came with the magic promise of painted nails!!! Otherwise we’d be in for hour long tantrums or me leaving her nails because I didn’t want to face the battle. Her nails threaten growing into her skin, she’d scratch herself & her brother & I’d feel like a much worse mother then than if she had a tint of pink on her nails.

    I bought her her own nail varnish, a few children’s ones that are barely there colour wise but they peel off and she’s already cottoned onto the fact they don’t last long, so my nail varnish it is. Last time she was sporting a deep plummy purple. Far too old for her really but I told her she could only have it because she was going to a party. I’ll remember to tuck that one out of sight next time!!

    So no, you’re not a bad mother at all, and if so then there’s a huge club of us!! πŸ˜‰ We have to choose our battles very very carefully. This is definitely one where the nail varnish outweighs the battle or them not having their nails cut!!

  26. Louise says

    Molls!!!!! ALL little girls AND boys like to wear nail polish ! And I’m sure at one time or another (auntie) Helen painted your nails as she did mine when we were Freyas age πŸ™‚ and I mention boys, as your cousin (not my son) was partial to a tint of colour on his nails πŸ˜‰

  27. Louise says

    Molls!!!!! ALL little girls AND boys like to wear nail polish ! And I’m sure at one time or another (auntie) Helen painted your nails as she did mine when we were Freyas age πŸ™‚ and I mention boys, as your cousin (not my son) was partial to a tint of colour on his nails πŸ˜‰

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