14/08/2014 12:58 BST | Updated 20/05/2015 06:12 BST

Three Into Four: Bringing Up Girls

Associated Press

I have recently come to the realisation that I am no longer D's go-to guru for everything; I'm still relevant, but so are the opinions and obsessions of her nursery BFFs, which seem to revolve entirely around mythical birthday parties (which I'm sometimes - audaciously - not even invited to, even though they're pretend). Half the time, these days, I have no idea what Diana is talking about.

As for Liv, after watching her drape two strands of oversized plastic pearls around her neck the other day, I think I need to conclude she isn't entirely looking to me for guidance either - she's emulating D.

So I want to make sure D is getting the tools she needs to have a strong sense of self, and be a positive role model for her little sister. Or at least not a total disaster.

Now, in a world of Mileys, toddlers in tiaras and princesses waiting to be rescued, this is quite a challenge. Which is why I'm starting young, before my power over my daughters fades away completely and they're twerking in crop tops and hot pants.

I'm not a total lunatic about it - we still read all the princess books, D is still trussed up like a mermaid (Liv recently had her first experience of fancy dress when D proffered her Tinkerbell costume; Liv was ecstatic) and we talk about sparkles and hairstyles and cupcakes to a ridiculous extent.

I am just trying to show the girls there are other options - there are lots of different kinds of princess (and woman), beautiful doesn't mean wearing lipstick and girls' lives don't need to begin only when someone else, who's usually male, takes notice of them.

It's amazing how, until you start paying attention to these things, a multitude of not-exactly-inspiring messages can start creeping into the everyday psyche. In an attempt to expand beyond Disney (which, I confess, I sing along to even more than Diana) and hark back to my Russian roots (Look, D! Princesses in Cossack boots!), D and I read a beautiful Pushkin poem. It began with an unfortunate girl fretting by a window for nine months, waiting for her beloved to return (only to promptly give birth and die when he did), which I tried to talk about with D afterwards ("Was that a productive use of her time? Shouldn't she have at least read a book or something?").

The effect was probably minimal, but I have read countless stories like that out loud hundreds of times before without stopping to think or question the content. Hopefully taking the time to talk about it will at least get D thinking about these things. Eventually.

The other thing we talk about is beauty - a lot. Of course I think my daughters are divine and I want them to think they're beautiful, too, but I also want them to know that beauty is about so much more than looking a certain way and fitting into a certain mould.

D will say: "I need plaits in my hair so I can be beautiful," and I'll plait her hair, but then ask her what really makes someone beautiful.

And D, who has memorised what I want her to say by heart (I'm kind of a broken record on this), says: "It's about being kind, and gentle, and funny, and smart, and honest, and respectful and it's about helping people..."

Sometimes, she makes her own amendments to my mantra: "... and not being mean to Bolshy, and no biting and poo!" Of course, it's a bit of a joke to her but I'm hoping that growing up in a home environment that values kindness, honesty and compassion above looks, and discussing all of this from a young age, will eventually start to resonate with her.

If this slightly hippy-dippy "let's love everyone" approach fails, I have another one up my sleeve, courtesy of the more direct Judge Judy. I'll zing the girls with: "Beauty fades, dumb lasts forever."