I always thought I was a mom who didn’t care about gender roles. Girls can play with dump trucks and boys can dress up in princess costumes and none of it matters as long as they’re having fun. That is, until we got the call we’d anxiously been awaiting since we moved six months ago: a spot had opened up in a nearby preschool.
The caveat? It was a class of all girls, and I have a boy.
While I do genuinely believe boys and girls can play with whatever and however they want, apparently I’m not as laissez-faire about the whole gender thing as I thought I was.
For the past six months, we’ve been making a thrice-weekly, hour-long drive to and from preschool, and here I was with the end in sight, and I couldn’t say yes to the opportunity, all because of a little gender thing. I wanted to say yes to the new preschool class; we’ve been waiting and waiting for it. But when it came down to it, that tiny, tiny, feeling in the deepest part of my gut wouldn’t let me.
I’m almost embarrassed to admit it because it really shouldn’t matter, but then I picture my rough-and-tumble boy trying to fit in quietly with a big group of girls. These are formative years when kids start deciding who and what they want to be; would I be boxing him in by exposing him to such a one-sided experience? While he has plenty of friends that are girls, the friends he’s constantly talking about from school are boys and their rambunctious adventures. Would I be stifling his natural energy by taking him away from that?
It’s not that the answers to the questions I have are “yes” — it’s that I simply don’t know the answers. It’s the not knowing that holds me back. If these are normal “boy” things, then might he naturally exhibit them anyways, despite being surrounded by the opposite gender? I have no way of knowing. Could being in class of all girls actually be a bonus? Could it teach him a different kind of play, or to be more nurturing, or to like to read more?
I wholeheartedly want to believe boys and girls are the same, but watching the kids I know play tells me otherwise. The boys, for the most part, are loud and physical. The girls are slightly more reserved, and play pretend and color and pour over books. That’s not saying all the girls are quiet and all the boys are loud, but it’s easy to see a difference in their behavior and play, even when we’re not interfering as parents with our own stereotypes.
My son spends most of his non-preschool time with me, meaning he’s already experiencing a lot of girl. Now I’m as down to roughhouse as any dad I know, but I can see a difference even there in the way my son tumbles and wrestles with his dad versus with me, and I see too how much he’d rather be like that with dad than mom. Having been pregnant for the last almost 10 months and now in the early, still slightly fragile postpartum days, I can see just how much he misses that physical kind of play. Will he get that at school with just girls, or will it even be appropriate?
Of course if this had all happened at random, I would have thought it was quite the coincidence, but I wouldn’t have been concerned in the least. I’ve even registered him for next year, where there’s a high probability it will be the same all-girls class from this year, but something about the not knowing for sure takes the decision-making part out of it. It’s not as if there aren’t one-gender high schools that provide perfectly good educations and well-rounded experiences, but preschool seems like such a young age to knowingly make that decision.
I’m still all for letting boys play with baby dolls and dress up like princesses, and encouraging girls to play in the mud and drive pretend trucks, but I’m left questioning if I’m as open as I thought I was given that as soon as I heard “all girls,” I said “no thanks.” I hardly know enough about parenting or child development to know what kind of influence or outcome such a situation could have, if any, down the road.
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