There’s a photo in my summer album from a few summers ago of a friend’s six-year-old son playing happily in the sandbox at our local playground. He’s playing trucks with a few other boys. Unlike his playmates, though, he’s wearing a princess dress.
For a few years, this little boy was as fascinated with dress-up as his little sister. Princess gowns, fairy wings, high heels, the works.
His mom was an inspiration in managing this. She fiercely defended him, and went to bat with his teachers to let him wear skirts and dresses to school. She patiently taught him that his fashion choices were fine, but also unusual in ways other kids might notice and comment on. She let him grow through the princess phase just like I’ve let my girls go through it.
Her approach is becoming increasingly common. This weekend’s NYT takes a look at how families are dealing with their gender-bending preschoolers. More and more of them are offering support and understanding. After introducing readers to a Barbie-loving little boy named Harry, the NYT tells us:
For generations, parents who saw their toddler boys put on tutus or play with dolls would either ignore the behavior as a phase, or reflexively repress it. But in recent years, more parents have chosen the approach taken by Harry’s mother and father. Rather than looking away, they are trying to understand their toddler’s unconventional gender behavior, in order to support it and prepare for what they fear could be a life of challenges.
This is, as far as I am concerned, pure awesome. Every kid deserves the kind of love, support and advocacy these families are striving to give their children.
Kids this age don’t understand gender the way adults do. They don’t know what’s expected of girls and boys. They’re trying furiously to figure it out, while playing with what they like and don’t like for themselves. That’s all hard enough without having grown-ups playing gender police.
The key thing, I think, is not to leap to conclusions. Your Barbie-loving preschooler might be gay, or he might just dig dolls. The little girl who wants a Mohawk might grow up to love ladies, or she might just have an outrageous sense of style. We really can’t know. The path from childhood play to adult identity is far from a straight line. What kids need is to be met and supported where they are at each stage of development.
Does your kid step outside the gender lines? How has your family dealt with it?