Debbie Leigh: I want her to think the world’s her oyster

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One aspect of parenting I wasn’t prepared for, along with the lack of “me-time”, was becoming a bit “right-on”.

You know... taking a step closer to becoming a socks-and-sandals wearing, tree-hugging lefty.

But just as having a child gets you thinking about previously unconsidered issues liike the quality of schools in your neighbourhood, it also forces you to stop and think about your behaviour.

Obviously we try to substitute words like “sugar” and “for goodness sake” for the potty-mouthed versions we once preferred.

And anyone with a tendency to kick, throw or smash things in temper – hopefully attempts to find less violent expressions of frustration once little eyes are watching.

But having convinced my daughter that I was actually saying “shirt” when I sprayed baked bean juice all over my white shirt, the words I really find myself trying to avoid are labels like “pretty” and “naughty”.

Once it’s clear your child understands everything you say, and repeats most of it, you realise the impact of each word you utter.

Strangers regularly label my daughter “gorgeous” but I try to stop myself from calling her pretty too often because I don’t want her to grow up thinking looks are all that count.

Likewise, when she tips Cheerios all over the floor, roars at the cats, or climbs on the kitchen table, I try not to tell her she’s naughty but to say what she’s doing is naughty.

(The “experts” reckon children who are labelled soon learn that’s how they are expected to behave) And if that all sounds like “political correctness gone mad”, how about editing yourself to ensure you’re not subconsciously pre-programming your daughter to adopt passive, stereotypically-female roles.

Our two-year-old loves climbing and running and is tougher and more energetic than most of the boys we know.

It’s easy to label her a Tomboy – which without getting too toe-curlingly tedious about everything, is basically like saying she’s not a “normal” girl.

It’s not like I want to bring her up “gender neutral”.

But nor do I intend to tell her not to sit a certain way, because it’s not ladylike, or steer her away from certain interests because they are deemed boys’ hobbies.

When I was little no-one thought twice about dressing girls in pink, boys in blue and twins in identical outfits.

These days, with all the parenting guides and conflicting news stories, paranoid parents panic over whether their baby will be more traumatised being pushed in a pram facing away from them or towards them.

But surely there are some benefits to being a mum in these more enlightened times?

Well, hopefully my daughter will grow up understanding that men can be nurses and women can be doctors – something impossible for children of my generation to get our heads round.

But times haven’t changed as much as you might think.

A friend was gutted when her daughter’s nursery staged a princess and superhero day but she was unable to find a girl’s superhero costume.

Another mum was irate because boys in her daughter’s class were asked to draw a pirate, while girls were told to draw mermaids.

It might sound trivial but in a culture where young girls aspire to win X Factor; marry a footballer or simply be Cheryl Cole, it’s important that parents impress upon them that just because they were born with a uterus doesn’t mean they have to wear pink, love kittens or strip off to make a living.

My little girl is free to be whatever she wants – as long as that isn’t joining the ranks of the seriously humourless politically-correct.


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