Boys and Nail Polish

So, raising children gets harder the older they are. Did you know that? I’d heard something about it—“Little people, little problems; big people, big problems,” my mom always said—but like most advice, I ignored it.

It all started (well, not really, but how else to begin the story?) last weekend. An older child my five-year-old son knows, who is usually patient and kind to my little tag-along, got a bit impatient. And I overheard it, and my heart broke. So I told my husband, hands wringing, and he said, “Let him figure it out.” I agree with my husband, because this older child wasn’t exactly being mean, but I continued to engage in hand-wringing because—well, because I’m too tender-hearted and I don’t even let my kids step on ants. So imagine my heart bursting when I perceived that my sweet son had been rebuffed. Oh, the pain and suffering. What made it worse, to me, is that my son took it like the happy little imp that he is.

The very next day, my son eyed Grandma’s huge stash of nail polish and asked if I would paint his nails. He’s asked before, about a year ago, and I said then: “Of course I’ll paint your nails. Just so you know, usually girls and older people wear nail polish. Do you still want me to paint them?” He said yes and I did.

So when he asked last Sunday, I said sure, since I’d already explained nail polish to him. His father, who usually shrugs in these instances (being a man who wears pink), walked in and said, “What are you doing?!” I shushed him away. After he left, my son said, “Take it off, Mama. I don’t want to be weird.” Heart broken. Again.

My husband and I think every good thing comes from Confidence, so I told our son: “There’s always going to be at least one person who thinks something you do is weird. So you might as well just do what you want.” I pointed to my pink running shirt. “I’m sure someone has seen this and thought, ‘Who would wear that?’” My son laughed and held out his hand for me to keep painting. I was glad, though in the back of my mind I knew why my husband had been a bit aghast: if our son is having some trouble with the older kids, we shouldn’t set him up to be made fun of. My husband is more of a “Deal with the world as it is” person and I’m a “Who the hell says boys can’t paint their nails?” person. Though I admit, arguing against gender stereotypes is one thing; putting your words into action, especially when it involves your child, is…a bit harder.

Were we setting him up, or were we giving him a lesson in confidence? I think probably both. I’m not sure you can shield a child from derision and still raise a confident child. What do you think?

169 thoughts on “Boys and Nail Polish

  1. I’ve been there. And when my son was in probably second grade, he went to school with painted toenails. A boyish color. I’m not sure it was all of them, maybe one or two. He also had a skull sticker on one for Halloween once b/c his sister and I were putting them on and he didn’t want to be left out. It sounds like you let him make the choice and what else can you do? Some boys are afraid to wear pink. Some boys are cool because they wear it. He can decide which he wants to be. It’s all in the attitude. He can hold his head high or he can cower. I doubt it will scar him. ; )

    • I don’t have kids, but I think this is an excellent observation. I was an awkward, stick out like a sore thumb kid. My parents, trying their best, took the “you need to integrate” approach.

      Their hearts were in the right place, and boy, did I try to walk, speak, and act like everyone else, but the message my little head took in was, “There is something wrong with me. Even my parents see it.”

      There were some rough times growing up, because I cowered, and didn’t hold my head up high. But I learned from it, and confidence comes from that too – as strange as it sounds.

      Also, I want to be clear – I’m not slamming my parents here. They were trying their best and their hearts were in the right place. A different kid, a different situation, this may have been the right approach (who knows).

      Just wanted to add my two cents.

      • Thanks so much for sharing your story. My heart breaks for the little boy you who thought there was something wrong with him, but also for your parents because this is what is so daunting about parenting: even when you try your hardest to do the best thing out of love, sometimes it’s the wrong thing. But your attitude, about gaining confidence and seeing the bright side of a difficulty, is wonderful.

  2. I admire your parenting skillz. As for myself, no kids yet, but i like to think if my son wanted to put glitter in his hair I’d say, “Why not?” Because even if he seems like he’s fitting in on the outside, he sure as hell won’t be fitting in on the inside if he suppresses who he really is.

  3. This post struck a HUGE chord with me. I am dealing with that God-awful transition between childhood and real life with my pre-teen daughter right now. She is still a sweet, goofy, imaginative kid, but many of those in her peer group are already deciding that being a teenager means being a total butthead, and they are trying not to be left behind in the Butthead Sweepstakes. Lots of attitude, lots of cynical crap, lots of general sarcasm, apathy and eye-rolling. And that’s just not who my kid is. She’s beginning to recognize that, back in the good old days of elementary school, kids were kids and she could be friends with all of them. Now, in the mean streets of middle school, the old gang is breaking off into little cliques, and unless you have a common thread – the cheerleaders, the jocks, the rebels, etc. – then you might find yourself on the outskirts of your social circle, which is not a fun place to be. She has had some of her old pals disappear from her life recently, and it has hit her hard. Fortunately, she has started doing chorus and is finding her own little group (they’re sort of like the kids on Glee, except without all the sex and stuff). It’s tough to watch when they hit a bump on that road to finding out who they are and what they feel is right for them. But I think my daughter, like your son, will be fine as long as they have parents who encourage and support them, and love them for exactly who and what they are. Even if that means they have to get hurt here and there, it is better for them to face things and learn from them than it is to be too sheltered and end up incapable of handling things when they don’t go your way. Your husband was right when he said, “Let him figure it out”. Just make sure you’re there with a shoulder and a hug whenever your son needs it, and when his tears dry he will be stronger for having been through a little turbulence without getting completely blown off course. Sorry for the long comment, but as I said…good post. 🙂

    • Thanks so much, Chris. I love your attitude. I’m not looking forward to the Butthead days–at all–but I hope the simple mantra that we love and support them for who they are will make it easier and keep me (and them) on course.

  4. You handled the nail polish well. When our son was about that age, I took him for a visit to a friend who had a daughter two years older than him. Later in the day, he showed up in the kitchen with full make-up on. I think my mouth dropped open for a second, but I didn’t want to embarrass him. I laughed and even snapped a few pictures. The other mother told her daughter that it was funny, but to go wash him up. 🙂 On some level, I think he wanted to try a lot of girlie things over time, just to see what he missing.

    • Right — kids just love to explore and experiment. I think it’s unnecessary to get worked up if a little boy is interested in “girl” things. My son sees me with a purse all day so of course he went through a phase when he wanted to wear a purse. Just let them be, I say, and relax.

  5. Parents tend to sometimes encourage gender-typed activities and conversational patterns. But usually parents don’t make as strong a distinction between boys and girls as you might think. Typically male children are given stronger messages about “gender appropriate” behavior than female children so I applaud your gender neutral approach. Once children begin school, a major source of information about gender comes from peer groups and it is a guarantee that if he wore nail polish to school his peers would respond negatively. Peers seem to be more influential than parents in emphasizing gender typing and current research supports this. It is tough to walk that fine line between experimenting with new things and not being shunned or made fun of by peers. Overall I think you handled it well. But my question to you is: What would you have done if he wanted to wear it to school?

    • I think I would have worried and fretted but I would have let him, especially since I’d already explained nail polish to him. Some kids might have made fun of him (though I think at this age it would have been less of that and more of “Girls wear nail polish”) but I’d rather he learn to build coping skills rather than have me shield him. And it could have been turned into a lesson about being true to yourself.
      And I agree–boys are much more stigmatized for doing “girl” things than girls are for doing “boy” things. Unfortunately. If we want to raise caring, compassionate boys, we should let them “care” for dolls and cry over a skinned knee without freaking out.

  6. I think your response to your son is awesome. Someone will always think something about someone else is weird. So, yeah. Might as well do what you want. I believe that with this kind of support and encouragement, he will grow and learn and his confidence will grow with all of those lessons.

  7. I can’t even respond, I have too much to say. My daughter started public school after the first nine years of her life as effectively a homeschooler with a *tiny* group of peers. Too much fear, I feel, and already the amount of “gotta let her live and learn” instead of trying to micromanage has me nearly in tears.

    Hey, look… I kinda responded…

  8. My two grown daughters could run the world together, but they suffered at the hands of the mean kids in school and on the bus. Kids survive. (So do moms!)

    Raise your son to be strong and independent. It will carry him through his life.

    I am so glad I found your blog!

    • Thank you, Laura, I’m glad to have you!
      Kids DO survive, don’t they? They are resilient and softies like me just need to be reminded. As long as I’m here for support and guidance and love, some of these grade school ordeals will make my kids stronger and, as you say, they’ll be able to run the world.

  9. As a parent of teenagers I can tell you your mom was right. You can’t keep your children from being hurt; everyone gets hurt, but your message to your son that there is always someone who thinks you’re weird so you might as well do what you want is spot on. I just figured that out at age 40….hopefully he’ll figure it out much sooner.

    If you want to see how another mom has handled helping her son navigate a sometimes cruel world, follow “Raising my Rainbow”. Her son is completely gender non-conforming which makes his a prime target for bullies, but she is helping him be himself. It’s a great blog.

  10. Being that the world, at such a tender age, is largely within the realms of the family, I think being accepted and loved by your parents is the most important thing and it sounds like you well and truly have that covered. What a brilliant explanation on embracing ‘weird’. A fabulous save in a vulnerable moment. Sounds like you’ve got a nice balance of attitudes between yourself and your partner. I say paint those petite nails! Both of my brothers got into it as youngsters….. Colour.. Creativity.. Expression.. FUN!!!!

    • Sure, and while, yes, there are sort of social “norms” regarding what’s feminine and what’s masculine, there really is no cut-and-dried definition for each. Especially not for young kids.

  11. I recently painted my 3 year old son’s toe nails, (on his request, natch). I was doing mine (a rarity in itself) and he thought it looked like fun. I’ll admit I paused for a millisecond to think ‘Should I? What will the other kids say?’ but then I thought I really shouldn’t kowtow. I so hate all the gender stereotyping there is nowadays in kids toys etc so I didn’t want to feel complicit in that. Sure enough, all the neighbour kids commented when they saw it, when they were all trampolining together. But it was just a brief comment and then they forgot about it. I took my chance to give them a brief lesson in equal opportunities for fun. They just shrugged but there you go.

    • Great – I love it. I think at younger ages it’s more of an information thing rather than making fun—“Didn’t you know girls wear nail polish?” type of thing. I do the same as you – just take a moment to explain that no, the dollhouse isn’t just a girl toy. And yes, my son can play with the pink stroller. Just like my daughter can play with the blue soccer ball.

  12. My eldest son (M) was always a stereotypical “boy”, but he suffered more at the hands of bullies around the ages of 10 & 11 than my youngest son (C).

    Before he started school, C loved all things pink, he occasionally played with dolls and almost all of his friends were girls. I wondered whether my desire for him to be born a girl had influenced how he seemed to be turning out. Now that C is 12 and puberty has arrived, I have no concerns whatsoever. He’s a real little man, excited about his increasing facial hair, obsessed with cars and planes, and a huge fan of zombie / slasher movies. Groan!

    I have always encouraged my boys to be independent and to be themselves. Being weird is our favourite family tradition.

    • I’m thinking the increasing open-mindedness, which seems to be the natural trend in all the various “controversial” subject over the years, will eventually lead to “weird” being the new normal.

    • I found it interesting that you said “I have no concerns whatsoever” regarding your son’s changes during puberty. I’m assuming you meant you had some concerns about the possibility that your son was gay. The fact that he has now turned to more traditional “boy” pursuits does not mean anything about his sexual orientation one way or another anymore than playing with dolls or liking pink. His DNA determined his sexual orientation and wearing nail polish, obsessing about cars, liking pink or slasher movies – none of that will change what that orientation is. The most important thing you have done is encouraging your sons to be independent and be themselves and, it sounds like, that you are cool with whoever they are.

  13. This reminds me of my conversation with my eleven yr old son just last night. His aunt got him a SuperMario Tshirt. It pretty much looked like a “boy” shirt besides the fact of a few bling bling rhinestones in the shape of a small “M” for Mario. My son wanted to wear it. I told him it looked a bit “girly”, but then I actually felt guilty for saying that, like it wasnt fair. But it brings up an interesting point. He shouldnt be afraid to be judged and sized up for a stupid shirt. But he also needs to know the reality of what he might face if criticized. In the end he needs to learn how to have the confidence to be himself no matter what…Im so glad I read this post. By the way, Ozzy wears eyeliner and no one gives him crap for it.

    • Right!! Rock stars wear makeup, nail polish, jewelry… So much of this is subjective and situational (whether something seems feminine or masculine or not). Rock stars might not be ridiculed for it because, like you point out, it’s all about confidence. And rock stars have a lot of it.

  14. I remember the same incident with my brother when we were all youngsters: us girls got our nails done by mum, and he wanted to join in. But it was always the one or two nails painted per hand for my brother. Obviously now, being 20, he doesn’t wear it. I’m guessing for a youngster it is intriguing to have a bright colour on your nails, whether it is nail polish or poster paint.

    I think it’s wonderful that you have taught him that saying at such a young age. Unfortunately nowadays kids succumb to peer pressure and result to unfortunate circumstances. Allowing him to think that and do what he feels is right will definitely bring confidence in himself as he gets older as well as being able to stand up for himself when the time is needed.

    Keep up the work! ^_^

    • Thanks, Sabine!
      Peer pressure is SO strong; kids really need to be resilient. I like that you said, “What he FEELS is right.” I often talk to my son about listening to his body for all things–not just listening to his stomach telling him he’s hungry, but also his chest or tummy to figure out how he feels about something.

  15. If kids want to make fun of you they will. And if they don’t, they won’t. They can find something to tease you for–believe me. Bullying has much more to do with social status than conformity. People with high social status don’t usually get bullied. People with low social status often do. And what determines social status has little to do with nail painting or wearing the right clothes. It rarely has anything at all to do with what the victim is doing. The bully will say it does, but it doesn’t. It has everything to do with the bully and whether he perceives you as being a target others will allow him to bully.

    • I’m glad you made this point–it really explains why confidence is important. Bullys WILL find a reason to make fun of someone they perceive as a target. That could be someone who is shy or comes across with little confidence. It could also be someone with a lisp or some other physical ailment, but if that “target” responds with confidence, I think (I hope) it can go a long way in deterring the bullies. They’ll have no fun if the target isn’t bothered.

  16. It never occurred to me that even though I survived my own childhood, I would have to relive it all through my children. You are doing the right thing. My son often has very long hair. Shoulder length long. And he’s young. I blogged about it a while back: I think as parents we need to teach our kids to make their own decisions. Being a lemming leads them right off the cliff. Hang in there. Great post!

  17. I can really feel every emotion in this post. I have a son who is now 22 and a daughter who is 20. The thing is, we are all still striving to do what makes us happy while dealing with derision. I’ve had this conversation recently with my son. Not fitting in can leave lasting scars since kids can be horrible. Hell, adults can be horrible. It can also be an opportunity to build confidence, inner-strength and teach them coping skills, but it can be rough.
    I’ve learned that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t protect them from the world; how I still wish that I could!
    Great post!
    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed.

    • Thank you!
      It’s so true — how many of us still bear scars from grade school and high school. As much as I would love to be the invisible ninja walking alongside my son throughout school, I do know that would result in my son being a really, really unbearable adult.

  18. Let him wear nail polish. My friend’s sons both wear it (they’re 3 and 5) – they all love to paint their toe nails green and blue – even their dad will paint their toe nails and his own toe nails. So far nothing tragic has happened. Keep moving forward – you’re doing a fine job!

  19. This is going to come up time and time again. We have 4 boys, Age 9 is very boyish, Age 11, is very sensitive and likes to wear ties and dress shirts constantly. Do we let him and be teased, or encourage him to be like the other kids in our sportscentric town and wear jerseys and such? Our 5 year old likes nail polish and our 3 year old wears his older sisters crown about town while running errands. I have a hard time encouraging my boys to change their likes and dislikes, but it breaks my heart to know that society cannot accept them for who they want to be. I am very much the parent that encourages individuality, while my husband encourages conformity, I think it’s wonderful when children can get both views in non overwhelming ways to create their own path.

    • It’s true, there’s something to be said for exposing your children to both views, especially if they’re not being dictated. I just love picturing your little boy hopping around town in a crown. I think jerseys are way overrated. And won’t it be great when our boys are grown up and they’re changing the way the world thinks?

  20. Coming from a different perspective (as a 15 year-old), I’d say let your son try out all these new, exciting things. The best you can do for him is advise him on what is generally expected and accepted in society (and school), then allow him to make his own decisions, and learn from mistakes. Being shielded from a young age is incredibly tough, as I’m learning. It’s best to let him start making some decisions from a young age. Brilliant post, by the way! Also, congratulations on being freshly pressed! 🙂

    • Thanks so much! You make such an important point, that being shielded can also be very hard, maybe just as hard, as being “set up” or exposed to derision. And more decisions = more empowerment. I can imagine if I was never allowed to decide anything at work because my bosses kept deciding for me, I wouldn’t feel very confident.

  21. I love your article! As the mother of two boys, ages 6 and 9, I hear once a week (at least) about how somebody called them “weird” about how somebody else is weird. Our 9 year old is more sensitive about it, but our response was to point out a few EXTREMELY successful people in history, and how they were most likely perceived as being weird growing up. (Bill Gates, Albert Einstein, etc.) My question for my son was then, “Do you want to be ‘normal?'”

    On a side note, two weeks ago, our 6 year old allowed his older cousin to paint his nails. Ever since he has been saying that he will let her do it again because she needs the practice.

    Children are priceless. Let their futures be as well by not making them conform!

  22. I have too much to say as well. But one thing, people often lament about how difficult girls are to raise. But the challenges with boys are that there are so many messages they get or as parents you are afraid they’ll get about what boys can or cannot do. Now girls are supposed to play sports and can still wear pink and go to dance class. Boys are still limited. It’s so hard. I just got a baby shower invitation for a boy baby. Footballs all over it.

    Great post.

    • You just made me wish I’d sent out shower invites for my daughter with footballs all over it. You’re right, there seem to be a lot more social limits for boys, in the same way that there are more actual limits as to what a girl can do (sports, career, etc). Tomboys are cool; feminine boys are not (supposedly).

  23. This post really hit the spot today. I took my 5 year old son to a birthday party today where face painting was done. The girls were getting butterflies etc and the boys batman, spiderman & tigers. My dear boy wanted a butterfly. I was really annoyed when a few adults and children were trying to talk him out of his choice saying “butterflies are for girls”. When we got home my husband and I had a discussion about stereotypes and the damage which they do. Also why are butterflies only for girls?? Why can’t a boy who loves all things boyish (not that it really matters) choose a butterfly? It’s a funny old world

    • Funny and annoying. To try to get someone else’s child to conform to your own stereotypes….
      You’re right — how in the world did butterflies become a girl thing, anyway? It’s an insect. Isn’t that supposed to be boyish? (Btw – what did you son end up getting?)

      • He stuck to his guns and got a butterfly which he loved, I still haven’t been able to wash his face properly

  24. I read this one to enjoy the story and flow. Now my comment… I can’t judge whether boys wearing NP is right/wrong… but should people should do anything just because they have confidence? Shouldn’t be instilled using more ‘positive’ goals that have (good) impact other than things society may frown on.. (quite different from out-of-the-box thinking.

    • Thanks, Joseph. Yes, I do think we should urge children toward positive goals and not urge them to unconventional things if that’s not what they want to do. But if child chooses to do something that is unconventional, supporting them has a better chance of creating a positive, influential person.

      • in Charlie Sheen’s Two and Half Men, Jake is asked not to show the middle finger at his teacher. Jake doesn’t get it, and asks who decides which finger means ‘something wrong’ or not. Is he not being unconventional? Why should showing your middle finger around warrant suspension?

  25. My boyfriend’s son is 7 years old. He’s still a little boy and hasn’t hit that “fit-in” stage yet like his big sisters. I do think it’s a little bit of both, but your son (like our William) is still in the magical stage of childhood. I vote that he can be himself– because the time will come that others remind the kids of norms and they’ll have to decide if who they are is worth the teasing or not… and p.s., although my boyfriend doesn’t like his nails painted, he loves a good pedicure 😉

  26. I love your comment, that there will always be one person who thinks you are weird! I never thought about it like that, and it’s so true! What a great reason to do what makes you happy!

  27. 2 things that the boys in my family who were younger than me, partook in 1) dress up in one of my dresses and 2) get nails painted – willingly. everyone was so happy that my mother had a girl, they just couldn’t stop the momentum.

  28. It’s a parent’s job to know when to guide and when to allow a child his voice. If he wants to wear nail polish then you need to be encouraging about it and let him have that experience. I taught my sons to knit because they asked. They have grown into terrific sons and are even more terrific parents. You seem to be doing just fine so far. Unfortunately you won’t be able to tell for a couple of decades or so (as I realised for myself) hence the agonising. Just do your best and keep your fingers crossed. That’s all any parent can ever do.

    • My newly 10 year old said to me just the other day, “Mum, I need new knitting needles. I’d like to knit a scarf for winter.” He learnt to knit because, like your boys, he asked. His older brother rolled his eyes at the time but smiles fondly at his somewhat eccentric ways. I’ve taught them both to be who they are, but to understand that some people, if not most people, are afraid of those who are different because they either don’t know how to treat them or are too worried about what other people might think if they are seen to accept those differences. Its those kids that lack self-confidence. As parents all we can do is love and guide and instil confidence in our children. They’ll make their own choices. My wee boy has done that since he was a toot!! However he turns out it will be with great spirit, of that I’ve no doubt.

  29. It’s great that you’re letting your son explore; he’s only satisfying his curiosity. It’s natural and it happens and so what if other people find it odd? Maybe he’ll decide he doesn’t like it, maybe he’ll decide he does. I hate how social ideas have influenced the way we treat our different gendered children. The other day I was watching TV with my three-year-old sister. She loved the Hot Wheels adverts, but then she said that she couldn’t have the cars because “they’re for boys.” We had an argument with me telling her that it was for children, both boys and girls, and her insisting that it could not be for girls because it had “boy colours” and in the advert boys were playing with it. *sigh*

    • Ugh — advertising is the worst of it. The fact that they make pink soccer balls for girls? I picture a bunch of dinosaurs around a table making these decisions. Then again, they wouldn’t make them if parents didn’t buy them…

  30. My son always wants gel put on his nails and his arm waxed when I am having my nails done and my eyebrows waxed. My best friend is the one who does them and she always obliges him. He thinks it is awesome!

  31. awwww… its must be so hard raising children so they get a bit of everything… reading this made me realize how parents tried to bring us up so we r strong enough, and how their hearts sort of skip a beat when they see us hurt!!…
    I think its a good thing u r doing by making him understand at this age that should do anything he thinks of….
    lovely post… and best of luck 🙂

  32. Great post and congratulations on being Freshly Pressed.

    As another mother with a 5 year old son who doesn’t necessarily conform to what society things is “boyish”, I think you did a great job in that situation. My son occasionally asks for nail polish, which I’ll happily put on his toenails. His favourite colour is pink, he loves sparkly things and butterflies, and he spent two years wanting to learn ballet before we finally enrolled him in classes — and he loves it.

    He also loves cars and trucks and zombies and icky, gross stuff. But why should that mean he can’t express himself through any means he chooses?

    I loved overhearing a great conversation he had with a schoolfriend earlier this year.
    Friend: Your shoes are pink.
    Son: Yes, and they have butterflies on them. Aren’t they cool?
    Friend: Pink is a girls colour.
    Son: I like pink.
    Friend: *long pause* Me too.

  33. My now 22 year old hulking man child asked me to dress him like a girl when he was 5. We did full on make up, nail polish, hair and heels. He paraded for my mother. I wasn’t going to damage him for what he wanted. The next week I asked if he wanted to dress up in my clothes, and he said “Nah, I want to be a pirate.” I’m glad I wasn’t the type of parent to freak out. You handled it well.

  34. I agree with you-let him have his nails painted; you can’t always please everyone and like you said, there will always be someone who won’t like what you’ve do, what you are wearing, etc. My friend posted a picture of her baby on a play mat with some of his toys… one of which was a doll. I was shocked…not because the little boy had a doll, but because these grown adults were commenting that it was wrong for a boy to have a doll. Her response was that she is teaching her boy to love and be gentle to babies. Regardless of whether or not there is a lesson being taught, why should it be wrong for a little boy to play with a doll? Or have his nails painted?

    • It really never ceases to amaze me how many people (though you wouldn’t know it from these responses, I guess) are put off by this kind of thing. I think, even for those adults, it’s a confidence issue–confidence in themselves as kids, confidence in their own kids… And unfortunately, that’s going to rub off on their children.

  35. My cousin was one boy among seven girls, we painted his nails boy colors. Blues, greens, black. My son is three and he’s the only boy in our neighborhood, he nearly always has his toe nails painted, again, usually a boy color. In our house, we celebrate our “weirdness”. My daughter has autism and I have Aspergers. We are quirky people. Someone is always gonna say mean things to us, so we’ve created a game of laughing and calling each other weird.

    “I’m weird, you’re weird, we’re both weird. But being unique is what makes us special. Without our weirdness, we would be like everyone else and that’s no fun.”

    For us, being weird comes with the territory. We acknowledge our uniqueness and celebrate the things that make us special. I went through a lot of teasing in school, but with any luck, she and my son won’t have to go through that because they will love themselves and not rely as much on what others think of them. 🙂

  36. Yeah, I… I don’t know. I completely see where you’re coming from, and I’m quite weird myself – at least as far as my interests go. But if I ever have a son, I’m not sure I’d be happy with his having his nails painted either. It almost certainly doesn’t mean anything, but still – I’m a man, so that’s probably why I’m not comfortable with the idea. So I can see where your husband is coming from too, and I suspect I’d be in his place in that situation.

    • Thanks for commenting. It’s a tough issue, even for those of us who have no problem with the actual nail painting, but more with the idea of exposing our children to ridicule. What do you think of some of these comments? Are they persuasive?

      • Well, like I said, I understand where you’re coming from, and a lot of the comments express the same ideas. I definitely want my kids, if I have them, to grow up with open minds. But I guess it’s not my place to say what I’d do in this situation, since I don’t have a family yet.

  37. The exact same thing just happened with myself and my four-year old. Bless him: he’s got two weirdo parents so he’s doomed to be an oddball. I was told to blend in and it never worked out, so when it came down to it we painted our toes together instead of our fingers. Lime green: he had little monster toes.

  38. I think you took the right approach in making this more about confidence. Something I’ve picked up from being part of subcultures that are considered “weird” like goth or steampunk (so to me, guys in nail polish isn’t that unusual) is that you embrace your “weirdness”. No one asks for ridicule, but when you are happy with looking different, it’s harder for people to take the happiness and comfort away.

  39. What I’ve learned so far in parenting is what ever you don’t want the kid to do, that’s what they want to do most. I had a similar situation with my son, he saw me painting his little sister’s nails and wanted in on it. I said boys don’t usually paint their nails, he shrugged and went off to play. The next day he came home with “paint” on his nails, he used a marker to color his nails. I think this was a case of acceptance or jealous of the time I was spending with little sister, he wanted to do the same activity. He also loved this pink monkey until his dad took it away and called it a girl’s toy… I wasn’t impressed, neither was my balling toddler.

  40. Pingback: Boys and nail polish « Mymeanmeak.. Kroo Tew

  41. In my early years, I also used to paint my nails like my six elder sisters, I used to color my hands with ‘mehndi’ and no one ever stopped me . Once I applied shocking pink lipstick which due to ‘imperfection’ spread to cheeks on both sides, and when I saw myself in the mirror I was very ashamed. That was the day I stopped all nail polishing, etc. Let someone inside you tell you whats ok and whats not.

  42. I just had this conversation with my boyfriend as we walked home from dinner last night. I was worried that I was weird because I have an odd taste in style and am not read to settle down into one country. I guess the wondering never really leaves you. But I think your advice was right on par. You’re never going to be able to please everyone. There is always going to be that one person, at least one, anyway. I think you’re definitely right to encourage him that you’re always going to be running into people who are just perplexed by what you want to do. I might not be a parent yet, but from the perspective of growing up with that mentality, you’ve given your son a wonderful little nugget of truth to go in to the wider world armed with 🙂

  43. I don’t do the hands wringing but I get it. I usually pinch my lips and tap my fingers against the palms of my hand. Nail polish and pink shirts have hit me hard because I feel the same way you do. We also had a month of pig tails. Thanks for writing about these moments.

  44. loved reading your post. I have worked in youth work for a number of years and often treated the girls i was working with to a file and polish. Needless to say the boys always wanted in on the action. They left sporting nails painted like the Scotland flag or their favorite football team colours. Much to the dis-amusement of their fathers, I overheard one boy tell his father to “chill out, you’re so old fashioned, its only a bit polish”. Some young people aren’t fortunate enough to have understanding parents that will let them find there own way and make their own decisions. The impact adults comments can have on a childs development and self confidence at any age is massive. You seem like a wonderful mum, thank you for sharing your story.

    • Thanks so much for reading. That’s what’s so hard about parenting (and working with youth, as I’m sure you know)–words do have such an impact. So while I agree that we need to relax and just do our best, the pressure at times can be huge.

  45. You are the only one who will have to live with regrets about the decisions made while raising your son. Do what you think is right. Although, in this case I agree with your hubby. Boys should not wear nail polish let alone pink nail polish.

  46. This story reminds me of my high school days. I used to paint my nails black, except for the index fingers which I painted white. I found that after the initial bullying and stupid questions, my lack of caring about what other people thought eventually made everyone just accept the fact that a guy wore nail polish. And in some instances I would have people ask me for advice since I had gotten so good at nail painting. 🙂

    I love how you dealt with the issue. Just let him know that people will find it odd and then let them make up their own mind. It doesn’t hurt that there is an MMA fighter who paints his toe nails to match his trunks for each of his fights.

  47. Hi Jessica
    I am married but not a mother yet. I salute this mom (which is obviously you) not only for great parenting skills but teaching how to think out-of-the-box .The post was indeed very very motivational. I surely am going to come back for more. Really glad your post is on FP as that gave me a chance to meet a wonderful mom.Congrats!!!


  48. I’m very new to blogging and impressed by all your beautiful blogs people.

    My friend’s son went through a nail varnish and dresses phase for about a year. She was incredibly calm about it. I think when your child is typically developing they can manage a bit of gender ambiguity.

    My son son struggles to pick up the subtleties of social and gender signals. I don’t have nail varnish but if I did and he wanted to wear it I would probably be quite emphatic that it is for women.

    Having said that, my 5 year old does like to wear a dolly or teddy in a sling (a scarf tied round his tummy) because he sees Daddy wearing our baby in the sling.

    Anyway thank you for the post Jessica, you’ve reminded me of a gender identity crisis my son had about a year ago. I’ll put it on my blogging to do list.

    • Thanks for reading — glad it provided inspiration. You say your son struggles to pick up social and gender signals…how do you mean? I’m just curious. And do you mean that your other child doesn’t have a problem picking up on signals, so you’re ok with him wearing the sling? (Which, by the way, many more fathers and sons should do.) Thanks.

  49. I find this story really inspiring. Kids – and adults – get bullied about things no matter what (my 5yo brother gets teased about having ginger hair), and I think it’s only by proactively breaking down these perceived stereotypes that things will ever change (another great story is about the father in Germany who dresses in skirts to support his son and there was another story about a year ago where a mother let her son dress as a female character for something and copped flak from other mothers). One of the most attractive, interesting and fun guy I know is 30 and wears nail polish all the time – vibrant oranges, greens, etc.

    It’s like Madonna said: “Girls can wear jeans and cut their hair short, wear shirts and boots. ‘Cause it’s okay to be a boy. But for a boy to look like a girl is degrading, ’cause you think that being a girl is degrading.”

    • Oh, THAT is interesting–somehow I’ve never heard that quote. She really knows how to get to the point. Love it.
      I am so proud of parents like the ones you mention, because it’s so hard to go against the immediate instinct to shield your child and take the higher, better, longer-view road. Hadn’t heard about the German father–gonna go read it now. Thanks for sharing!

  50. Just the fact that you’re aware of your son and his surroundings (and the possible hazards that come with this) is a fabulous thing. Let him be weird, but keep doing what you’re doing. If he does hit a speed bump, he’ll know you’re there for him to keep painting his nails if need be.

  51. I don’t see anything wrong with it. I overheard a conversation in a bathroom between a mother, her daughter and her son. The daughter had blue nail polish on and the son asked if he could get it too, the mother replied, “no that is for girls, you don’t want to be a girl do you?” I was really shocked to be honest and I think I may have stared shocked for half a second because the Mum flashed me a dirty look.
    I am all for kids wearing nail polish if they want to. If it really bugs your hubby then maybe steer him towards blue and black nail polish (it’s trendier anyways hehehe). If kids give him problems about it tell him to let them know that Captain Jack Sparrow, Dave Navarro, Seal, Ozzy Osbourne, Jared Leto, David Beckham, soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo, even Jessica Alba’s hubby Cash Warren wears it. They even have actual nail polish for men now!

    • You know, I bet they do. I think by the time my son is in high school, boys all over the place will be wearing nail polish. (In fact, by then it’s trendiness might even have expired.) It doesn’t really bug my husband; not in and of itself, anyway. He was more concerned that our son would be ridiculed. I think I’ve talked him into our (as in, all these commenters!) side.

  52. Proverbs 22:6
    “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”

    A child does not understand exactly what you mean when you you explain things. Also children don’t have the mind capacity to be able to make a responsible decision. Children want cake for brakfast or they want to wear their underwear on their head. Just because a child decides to wear nail polish does not make it the correct choice. You and your husband should come together and choose what you believe, “together”. After the two of you have talked about whether a boy should wear nail polish, you tell you child what you will alow or not alow. Explaine as best you can. As long as your child as defined guidance and support, along with love, a child will have plenty of confidence.

    • Thanks, nicu. I agree with you for the most part. Though I don’t consider the topic of nail polish a responsible or irresponsible decision. And I’m not a micromanaging parent–I wouldn’t, for example, consider whether I wanted my son to paint his nails in terms of the nail polish itself. Only in terms of “Will this cause harm to my son?”–whether physical or mental. That’s how I try to tackle every question (beyond basics like manners and respect). In this case, my husband especially was concerned about mental harm, and we decided that it was more important to let our son express himself and any repercussions could only serve to build character and provide life lessons.
      Thanks for reading.

    • Yes, who knows. I’m glad you’re supporting his creativity and I bet he is, too. I don’t care what color or whether he outgrows it, as long as he’s confident and happy and can tell the naysayers to F-off. 🙂 That’s my big worry–giving him the defenses.

  53. My flamboyant baby brother at 14 or 15 bought a pair of sparkly rainbow baseball boots and wasn’t even a bit worried about wearing them. I’m so proud but always so worried about him, people can be so mean when a kid is different. It’s a part of life I geuss.

  54. Hi Jessica, I just read it and I am so with you on this. Sometimes boys like to paint their nails or wear girls underwear and it’s just because they like to see it on their mommy or their little sister.. Or driven by imagination they do things, we can’t explain right away..There is always a reason for everything .. it’s just we don’t always know it, but we can try to understand… and respect.
    and once again I am thinking about all these name tags like “normal” “weird” etc. that we should stay away from for as long as we can.. especially when we are with the kids, and we want to see them free and happy.

  55. When attending a cub scout meeting (many, many years ago) I discovered that my best friend had put on some red polish on his hands earlier in the day- just playing around. When he asked his mom for remover before the meeting, she decided that she would ‘teach him a lesson’ and made him wear the polish all evening. He was totally humiliated, and I still feel for him to this day, and harbor animosity for the idiot mother who thought she would make a ‘man’ out of her son in this fashion. Life really is too short, isn’t it?

    • Waaaaayyyyy too short. The mother chose to humiliate and punish him rather than talk to him — or just shrug and hand him the polish remover. She taught her son AND the other boys that there was something to be humiliated about.

  56. Late to this party, but really, are we talking about toenails or fingernails? That folks have all this thinking to do about someone else’s toes is really odd to me. Not the color, or the shine but really, the toes! To me it’s about confidence and fun, and being happy with who you are. Nobody, but nobody has any right to even try to take one shred of that away from anybody else. It hurts no one, means nothing at all, except to the other view I g it, and I see no point in living someone else’s version of what MY life should be. In anything I choose. Profession, grooming or taste in music. Good post!

  57. Thanks Bob, and Jessica. I think what bothers me most about this is that highlights just how little we as a culture value and think of women. If women take on male attributes and behaviors, most people think they’re smarter, more on the ball, etc. To be sure, the old boy, she’s a real b***h thing goes on too, but in today’s world her aggressiveness and being more like men are a step up and admired. But if a man treads anywhere near ANY feminine behavior then he is immediately dissed, put down, thought less of. Not a Real Man

    That women buy into this nonsense baffles me, and at the same time makes me angry. I hear comments all the time, that “I like my men MANLY”, and they don’t realize that that version has been constructed for them by advertising and media. Kind of like a vision of Santa Claus. You say the word, you get the picture. There is basically only one vision of that.And when you point that out, they don’t seem to have a shred of understanding about this and how it came to be. Then they rely on the “call me old fashioned” routine as if that exonerates all.

    Now that comment, being a real man makes no sense to me, unless we’re talking about the concept of what a real man is, and what REALLY is a real man, because biologically we can easily prove that RuPaul is a REAL man, as all he has to do is pull out the waistband of his shorts and see. Proved, Yep, There you have it, I’m a real man, he says! So where does this co-mix of concept man, and reality man get so mixed up? I don’t look at a woman who may exhibit more masculine traits, behaviors or dress and think to myself, “well, she not a REAL woman”. Nobody does that. They may make judgments about her personality, style and maybe even her sexual preferences, but never the she’s not a real lady. Which then means there are multiple visions of what a real woman is, not just the one that men have to be.

    Very odd. But odder that we only do that for 1/2 of the species. As a man I’m not allowed a dab of color on an otherwise drab canvas? Why? Is the message that I’m only allowed color on an object outside of myself? That I’m not allowed to draw any attention to myself but ensure that all the women out there draw all the attention? Or rather CAN draw all the attention.

    I think the fellows who do color their nails, and show it, are really the brave, real men. Real men do what they want and not really care what other people think, they’re confident in themselves. To hide behind the wishes of others doesn’t inspire alot of confidence in me, and yet, most women, and almost all men believe that that fear driven fellow is the very embodiment of what a real man is, a real MANLY man. You have to laugh.

    • It is true, in my experience, that the more “manly” a man acts, the less confidence he has. Good point.

      I think there are stereotypes that affect each gender, and we each feel bound by certain preconceptions. I think it’s probably true that the stereotypes are stronger in some parts of the country than others. So it’s all about who you surround yourself with, and how true to your own self you choose to be.

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