This Spring ushered in an unexpected request from my eight-year-old daughter: “Mom, can I get my nails done?”
We were standing in Target’s hair care aisle. I stopped pushing our shopping cart and scanned her face, wondering what happened to the girl obsessed with Legos. I thought about grabbing her plump cheeks and squishing them—just to confirm that my daughter hadn’t been replaced by a chatbot.
“No,” I said, unwilling to add to the piles of treasure she already owned.
She walked to a wall where packages of fake nails were on display. I worried that her unwavering concentration would burn a hole in the wall.
“Mom, please?” She held up a package of fake nails, and then, her eyes began to water.
“No, I’m sorry honey. These nails are all for adults.”
It’s not that I don’t like fake nails, but I knew they wouldn’t last more than a day. And I worry about those plastic nails polluting the environment during the 20 to 500 years it takes for them to degrade. They can’t be repurposed.
“Now these will fit your nails.” I picked up another set and showed her the difference in size.
She didn’t scream or cry. She listened. I could see that she was processing the information.
All the noes that adults had directed my way when I was a child flooded me. Back then I usually stopped asking for the CD or graphic novel I wanted and figured out how to buy it for myself. At Target, I realized I had an opportunity to change that pattern of disappointment and show my daughter why adult nails wouldn’t work. My no turned into a yes. This small conversation demonstrated to me that I could create an opportunity for trust, showing my daughter she could come to me when she wanted to try something new, like a shocking hair color or a permanent tattoo.
I bought my daughter adult-sized temporary nails and kid-sized fakes.
When we got home, she laid an adult-sized nail on her finger. “These are huge!” she said. Her shoulders slumped. I handed her the box of kid-sized fake fingernails.
“Did you know that nails can be an expression of who you are?” she asked, dancing around the room, her outsized fingernails slicing through the air.
I knew then that my daughter would come to me and ask for the things she wanted, and that, unlike me, she wouldn’t be afraid to ask. I felt as though I had cut one thick string from the intergenerational trauma that had harmed me and my siblings. It was empowering.
Now, if only I can find a way to recycle those fake nails.
This post comes from the TODAY Parenting Team community, where all members are welcome to post and discuss parenting solutions. Learn more and join us! Because we're all in this together.