It 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 pageant 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?
Molly Forbes is a journalist, writer, editor and broadcaster who can be found blogging about her experiences as an exhausted mum to a diva toddler. Molly lives with her daughter and (equally exhausted) teacher husband, regularly subjecting them to her love of Take That and rubbish TV.
Blogs at: Mothers Always Right