Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
The Power Behind the Pink

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My husband came home from shopping the other day with a size-five pair of pink sneakers with sparkles. He bought them for our 16-month-old daughter.

I cringed.

My insides were screaming, "Get those hideous things out of my house! No self-respecting daughter of mine is going to need a pair of shoes that encourages giggly, appearance-oriented, substance-less behavior. My daughter will want sneakers she can climb in, and you just can't climb in pink, can you? Especially when it sparkles!"

My husband looked so pleased with himself that I simply smiled that tight-lipped, no teeth, barely-a-smile smile. He adores our daughter and, I'm sure, felt like he was connecting with her true self by acknowledging and supporting her presumed need to sparkle.

So, here's where I'm stuck. I want nothing more than to support my kids for who they are inherently. Except, apparently, when it comes to wearing pink.

What is it about this color that feels like such a destructive force threatening the strength of my daughter? I view most aspects of femininity as powerful and invaluable: raising children, connecting deeply with people, pursuing intellectual endeavors with compassion, and multi-tasking. When I found out our second child was female, I was as ecstatic as I was terrified that our family was now going to include such a powerful little being. Maybe our society is as scared of that strength as I was, which would explain why they might try to mute these little powerhouses by dressing them in pink.

Though the color in and of itself is as benign as any other member of the pastel rainbow, it has become a distraction. We don't see the child beneath the frill. When we meet a young child dressed in green, purple, or blue, we base our impression of who she is on her behavior. But when we meet a little girl in pink, we often stop there. She is adorable and sweet or cute and cuddly. We don't see the fire behind her eyes or the determination in her movements. We see the costume, not the character. At such an early age, for girls, it becomes all about appearances. Like decorating a power line with a feather boa, we shroud girls in this blushing color, distracting ourselves from their innate potential to become who they are uniquely here to be.

While it is appropriately adorable to dress infants of either gender in hues from the pastel spectrum, I am bothered that we graduate boys to mixtures of bold colors while little girls are held back in pink. In comparison to boys who shed their sky blue identification, pink becomes increasingly more pronounced in girl things as they proceed through childhood. Toys in stores are separated into boys' toys, unisex toys and pink toys. Little girl accessories: pink. Little girl school supplies: pink. And, as we know, little girl sneakers: also pink. So where does my daughter fit into all this?

I already know quite a bit about my three-and-a-half-year-old son, Gabe. He is a person who loves modes of transportation, back rubs, figuring out how things work, stories, sports, and making his sister laugh. His favorite color is purple. Or yellow. Or blue. Or green -- it depends. So far, I've been able to joyfully and without hesitation support all of his interests. But I don't know as much about little Jordan yet. I know some -- she likes books, climbing on things, listening to people sing, her brother, and doing things all by herself. I have not, as of yet, been able to glean her opinion of the color pink. And just as I don't know whether she is a Democrat or Republican, I, as her mother, fill in the blanks for her with what I think best. Therefore, no pink.

However, I share the decision-making role with her father and, because I have no justifiable cause to outlaw pink, I'm stymied. We have decided to prohibit guns and Barbies in our home as we agree on their destructive nature to the psyches of our children. But the color pink is harder to refuse. They've done no studies that I'm aware of to show that pink weakens the female spirit. I have no scientific ground to stand on here.

I also don't have the support of my extended family, as they laugh from the sidelines, reminiscing about me between the ages of three and eight when I refused to wear anything but dresses -- the lacier, the better.

There's the possibility that Jordan will be drawn to rose or fuchsia or even liquid-medicine pink. If so, I will work to gulp down my distaste and acquiesce, hoping against hope it will be a phase. I know if I refused her request for any sort of sparkle or frill, it'd be a set-up for power struggles, rebellion and, worst of all, her own self-doubt.

In light of the forces working against me in this situation, I'm compelled to question my own stance. As I do that, with great trepidation, I consider that pink may symbolize girlhood -- a stage in life worthy of great celebration. Just as I needed to be "all girl" in my long hair and dresses, it is possible that my rough-and-tumble daughter may revel in sparkles as she tries on one of many aspects of being born a girl. It might even be possible, if this is the case, that I could derive some vicarious pleasure from her "pink years" as I clearly deny myself that in my own life. If I can revel in how stunning she actually is when she dons that precious-girl pink and, simultaneously, acknowledge and support the growing little person behind the glitter, I think I'll be giving this mothering-a-daughter thing the best I have.

For now, I won't likely pick out her new Hello Kitty-esque sneakers when I dress her, but I suppose I don't have to forbid them. I can remember that early childhood gender-identity is a time of great exploration -- a fact of which my son, Gabe, often reminds me. The other day he asked us to put one of Jordan's hair ties in his hair when we were out in public. This time, it was my husband who cringed while I complied. Gabe walked around the store with a rubber band wrapped around a tuft of hair on the top of his head. He was very proud as, in his mind, he had a blowhole, just like a whale.

If exploration and experimentation seems to be what this is all about for my kids, I can learn to embrace pink just as I've grown to love firefighter hats, detailed conversations about bodily functions, and play where just about everything smashes into something else. I'm learning over and over that motherhood entails as much exploration and experimentation as childhood.


Nancy Goodman, LCSW and her husband live in Denver, Colorado, with their four-year-old son and almost two-year-old daughter. Nancy works as a therapist specializing in postpartum adjustment issues and a parent educator teaching infant massage and Parenting Toddlers On Solid Ground classes. She writes a monthly article through her website at www.aparentconnection.com.


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