I have never and won’t ever understand why people discourage their sons from playing with dolls, playing house, or being tender and affectionate. So many of these sons grow up to be fathers, a role where “tender and affectionate” is part of the job description.
This evening I fell asleep with my daughter while snuggling her at bedtime and woke up to the sounds of my son choking on his vomit as he tried to call my name while he was getting sick. I jumped off the top bunk, reached for my son and cleared his throat in time for him to continue throwing up all over me as I picked him up and raced him towards the bathroom. We collided with my husband who had come running from the kitchen because he heard the commotion while he was doing dishes.
I stayed with our little boy while my husband went into the bedroom to start stripping the bedding and take everything down to the washing machine. He scrubbed the mattress and carried it outside to air out. He then sat holding our son while I, and I’ll spare you the details, did damage control to the pillow, bed sheet, and stuffed animals that were hit the worst. We made a new bed for our little guy on the couch and my husband sat on the floor and stroked our son’s hair and quietly sang to him while I went upstairs to change my clothes.
I’m hugely grateful that my husband doesn’t see family life as having a male and female side. He doesn’t see dishes, laundry, and sick kids as “mom’s territory”, he sees it as “our territory”. He isn’t afraid to sing to our son and tell him he loves him and that it is okay to be sad when you throw up, especially when you throw up all over your stuffed puppy.
If a little boy were doing all of this while playing some would worry he might think he is a girl or that he might grow up to be gay. I’d argue back that there is nothing to worry about, the little boy will grow up to be a terrific father someday, should he so choose.
And I don’t see terrific fathers as anything to be scared of, do you?
There is some really important learning that takes place during doll play, and since all kids’ brains need to learn the same things my recommendation is to make sure the play center in your home or preschool that offers dolls, baby items, play kitchen, etc is open to all children rather than one gender.
This concept may not go over immediately in all families, and to those who feel boys playing with dolls is unnatural I want you to think about this: Being a father, if he so chooses, is the most important thing he will ever do with his life. When you allow your son to play with dolls (which is essentially family role play) you are allowing him to role play the people he values and looks up to the most in the world. One of those people is you. YOU.
When you watch him play this way you get to see yourself through your son’s eyes. You will see what it is you model for him. And what you learn from that is how you will teach him to be a man. Allow him the space to act that out and process it, whether he is being a daddy to a doll/stuffed animal or leaping off your swing set as a super hero. Let him understand there are many ways to be a boy and man, caring for others is just one of those ways.