Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s confusing you.
This week: What to do when your spouse is firm in their belief about “boy toys” and “girl toys”. Have your own question? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Scary Mommy,
I have a four-year-old daughter and a two-year-old son. Recently my son has been playing almost exclusively with his big sister’s toys. He loves her baby dolls and dresses up in her princess dresses and pretends to cook with her play kitchen set. But my husband has a huge problem with this. He says we shouldn’t allow our son to play with toys that are “for girls.” How can I get him to understand how ridiculous he’s being?
A little bit of personal insight here: I have four boys ranging from 9 to 16 years old. They have all, at some point in their respective childhoods, been obsessed with something “girly” (and that’s without a sisterly influence). I have painted their nails, bought a replacement kitchen set because they literally wore their first one out, helped them dress and swaddle countless baby dolls, and watched as they were utterly captivated by performances at the ballet. One of my boys insisted on exclusively wearing a pair of sparkly purple “My Little Pony” Crocs for about six months straight.
Despite this, or more likely because of it, guess what they’ve all matured into? Well-rounded dudes who will, say, plow a kid over at football practice and then come home and ask if they can help cook dinner. They do their fair share of this …
… but also this:
I’m sorry that your husband feels the way he does — not only on your son’s behalf, but for your husband too, who probably is just perpetuating the lessons about masculinity that he learned as a kid. No doubt he was discouraged from pursuing any interests that didn’t fit a strictly-masculine mold, and that’s really sad.
Your son is two, and thereby not even aware of gender identity yet. According to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, “A child begins to have an innate sense of their gender identity between ages 3 and 5.” So he doesn’t see “girl toys” and “boy toys” … he just sees toys, period. They’re what his sister plays with, and we all know how kids are with a toy that anyone else wants. Plus, they’re probably colorful and sparkly and have all the bells and whistles, literally designed to be appealing to children. And your husband expects him to be disinterested in that?!
Your little boy will grow up to be an adult someday, who will likely do adult things like parenting and caring for a household. Playing and emulating these things now can help nurture skills that will eventually make him successful at those tasks. And there’s this, from Megan K. Maas, Professor of Human Development and Family Studies at Michigan State University: “A 2016 study found that adolescent men who subscribe to traditional masculine gender norms are more likely to engage in dating violence, such as sexual assault, physical or emotional abuse and stalking.”
But beyond all that, do you know what’s even more important? That your son has the support and acceptance of his dad, no matter what. That his dad loves him for who he is, and isn’t forcing him from a young age into some rigid idea of who he is “supposed” to be.
Unfortunately (as satisfying as it may be), telling your husband that he’s being an idiot isn’t going to get you any results. Next time he balks at your son cradling a baby doll, gently but firmly lay out your case. Point out that if your daughter was playing with “boy toys” he wouldn’t have such a negative reaction, and that it’s unfair to deprive your son of the same chance to explore all types of playthings. Ask him to look at how happy your son is while he plays with the things he enjoys, regardless of what gender it’s marketed to. Highlight the benefits of letting him be a well-rounded kid instead of restricting his exposure to certain things.
My son has traded his sparkly My Little Pony Crocs for a pair of basketball shoes that stink to high heaven, but I don’t regret for a moment encouraging both – and neither will you.