The Princess and The Gender Role

by Nicole O'Brien
Originally Published: 

This past Christmas, we were in line to see Santa when it happened again.

A mom close by asked my children — ages six and eight– what they were going to ask Santa for. My six year old rattled off the list he had been sharing with anyone who asked, “the American Girl Doll of the Year Saige, the ponytail you can get to make her hair longer and black high heel boots size 10 and a half.”

The mom shifted her eyes to me and I got the smile and blank look. I know that look by now. It’s the “I don’t know what to say, I wasn’t expecting that answer” look.

My six-year-old is a boy. He is a boy who loves his pink backpack and pink lunch box. He is a boy who loves musicals and princesses. He is a boy who loves dress up and make believe. He is a boy who loves life. We realize this may not be the “norm” for most six-year-old boys, but you would really be surprised how many people tell you their stories when they hear his.

Bren went to his school Halloween party this past year as Merida from Brave — wig, dress, heels and all. It is his first year in a big public school and he is a first grader. He walked with confidence into the gym and had a blast dancing with his friends. It was almost as if he was unaware that it would be odd for a boy to show up in a princess dress. Afterward, a teacher told me how proud he was of Bren, the school community for their acceptance, and our family for letting him choose what he wanted and supporting him.

We have heard that before, people “impressed” with our parenting and letting Bren be Bren.

My husband and I talk about parenting often and we come to the same conclusion in every conversation. How can you not let your child be who they are? It may be the Montessori education we got while the boys attended preschool to “follow the child,” but really we cannot imagine saying ‘no’ to this enthusiastic free spirit who may be the bravest person we have ever known. There is nothing impressive about letting your child be who they are, it is just love. In the same way we encourage our older son Aidan to explore his interests for science and math, we let Bren explore his interests, which have lead us to theater.

Bren had the opportunity last Summer to perform with older children in a play. In his role, he was needed for two weeks of rehearsals and six performances. He was at practice for 10 hours a day including travel time. More important than the play and experience on stage, Bren met older boys, 12 and 13 years old. They thought his pink lunch box was cool. They sang songs from Legally Blonde the Musical with him. They gave him tips backstage and invited him to sit with them at lunch. The girls certainly did the same, but Bren is used to relating to girls. I truly believe these boys gave him his confidence. It let him see there are others like him.

By the way, Santa did bring Bren the American Girl doll, ponytail and high heel boots.

He was on the nice list, so how could Santa not?

Related post: Blurred (Gender) Lines

This article was originally published on