Daughters, Boyfriends, and Terrified Dads

The control of female sexuality, the paternal version.

The control of female sexuality, the paternal version.

My kids, ten and eight years old, both have their first crushes. Nothing more than “playground love” and I can see why my kids are crushing on the other two individuals. I adore the other children, they are great kids with fun personalities. While all very cute, the other parents and I agree they are entirely too young for romantic love and so instead we encourage strong friendships and do not tease them about “being in love” or being boyfriend/girlfriend.

That is a much different approach than viral dad-of-the-moment John Tierney took with his four-year-old daughter. When little Grace waved at two boys as they passed the family car her father told her “not to wave at the boys “because they’re smelly” and that sparked a debate about whether she could have a boyfriend,” as reported by the Evening Times.

Their conversation goes on and we hear “Dad of the Year”, as he has been called, telling his preschool-aged daughter he will break the legs of any boyfriend, kidnap the father, and eventually force her into a convent because she will “work for Jesus.”

Mr. Tierny’s parenting skills have been praised world wide and the video has been dubbed “hilarious” by several media outlets. Most of my conservative Christian friends loved it and shared it. Most of my progressive friends were horrified by it.

As the mother to a son and a daughter, it made me ill. And angry.

Can we please stop being so fearful of and trying to deny our children’s sexuality? They are human beings, they are going to develop into sexual creatures. It is a biological truth that got them here in the first place.

Dad of the Year? No. There is a lot going on here that is undoing the healthy development of this child. Maybe it is a harmless viral video, but it is upholding several highly problematic beliefs in our society that harm children.

First, this girl is exceptionally young to be focused on boyfriends. Her father encouraging the conversation as if it is age appropriate for her is sexualization. A more empowering conversation for this child would have been to have her list all the amazing things about her she sees in herself and that her friends and family love. She needs to be her own person long before she is anyone’s girlfriend.

Building on that idea, preschool is also a vital time to encourage friendships between boys and girls. The more time they spend together and the stronger friendships they develop, the better understanding they will have for each other and the more respect they will hold for each other.

Research supports the idea of boys and girls playing together, which makes sense since boys and girls will study, work, love, and live with each other for their entire lives.

Second, I don’t like the idea of a father controlling a child’s sexuality and tying that control to violence. Violence has no place in romantic relationships, and I’d rather see a father uphold that example than perpetuate the idea men hold title over the females in their lives.

In my family we prefer a more sex positive approach, and teach our children that having crushes on people is normal but dating and boyfriend/girlfriend stuff is best left for teenagers and college kids. In the meantime, there is a lot of growing up to do. For now, boys and girls just make really good friends.

Third, a “good father” does not threaten violence upon a child, especially the child of another family. Your daughter may be a very sweet girl, but I wouldn’t want my son anywhere near a crazy family like this. I can’t recall Jesus saying anything about breaking peoples legs or holding them hostage….Maybe we should review the work Jesus actually did.

Instead, a good father might allow his daughter to speak her mind as opposed to dominating the conversation, find out what she finds attractive in another person and use that as a teachable moment to review their family’s expectations and values.

A good father would raise a child whose judgement he can trust, instead of fear and control.

A good father raises a child who wants to keep company with other awesome people and sees the boyfriend/girlfriend as another unique, special, lovable young person.

A good father would raise his sons to be young men no family with daughters has to fear.

It takes a village to raise a child, so let’s raise them well.

To the boys or girls my children will date sometime in the future – Welcome to our village. We are big fans of respect, honesty, maturity, and no texting while driving. We have rules and expectations for our children, while in their company those also apply to you. We look at you as an awesome addition to our family. Let’s take good care of each other.


Melissa headshot 1 fb sizeMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author ofRedefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com.

Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can connect with her onFacebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies).

Birthday Parties Outside of the Gender Box

Birthday parties are one place where gender stereotypes can really sneak up on us, especially considering how much of the paper supplies are themed with commercial characters and then even further gendered. My children always have co-ed birthday gatherings and each year they pick a theme for their party. We’ve had parties at a veterinarian’s office, a school gym, pools and water parks, and our house. The themes they choose range from exterminator, dinosaurs, ancient Egypt, Angry Birds, and Wild Kratts. Our parties are creative with a lot of DIY and done on a small budget – but they are always a blast!

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Marketers gender party supplies knowing many folks will buy a boy version and girl version because heaven forbid a boy eat off a cake plate that only has Anna and Elsa on it (with no trace of Olaf, Kristof, or Sven). Let’s just get them a pack of Star Wars for good measure.

Allowing your child to express and explore their interests on the special day we celebrate them is a true gift – it says to them that who they are is important and accepted. So if your son wants a Doc McStuffins or My Little Pony party, or your daughter wants a dinosaur or tool party…..go with it!

Here’s a great example of a mom who decided to follow her daughter’s lead and ended up with a very memorable day for the whole family. Why wouldn’t a six year old girl think a tool/building party to be fantastic?

Pinterest is a great place to find ideas, just don’t let the gender categorization fool you. Pick your theme, buy plates and cups in plain colors, and use decorations and games/activities that support the theme without having to buy pre-fab or commercialized items. You don’t need to create a boy version and girl version for you party – just plan a “kid version” and trust in the abilities of the little people to explore and have fun!

Immy is thrilled with her tool-themed party, image via Clarksburg Mom.

Immy is thrilled with her tool-themed party, image via Clarksburg Mom.

Birthday Party to Include Girls and Boys

I’m planning my daughter’s eighth birthday party for mid-January (how did eight years go by so quickly!?) and as I was working out the logistics for the invitations I realized that I was going to have to change some of my language. You see, my daughter has a great group of friends that include boys and girls, so her invite list is close to a 50/50 split. Amelia loves all things ocean and swimming related, so we’re having a pool party at a local hotel. The bash is going to be mermaid themed.

But the word “mermaid” excludes boys, and as y’all know I’m all about gender inclusiveness. My daughter is obsessed with mermaids, so I want to honor her interests, but I also want all of her guests to feel included in the party and its theme. Merpeople, I suppose? Amelia’s favorite color is blue so I thought about heading the invite to say something like, “Come take a swim in the big blue, Amelia would love to party with you!” (I don’t know why I have the overwhelming need to rhyme on party invites, but I do.)

Super cute books for ocean-loving kids.

Super cute books for ocean-loving kids.

Last night we were reading a book at bedtime from the series “Mermaid Tales” by Debbie Dadey. These great books feature a group of third grade kids, girls and a boy, who have some fun adventures under the sea. They are called merkids in the books, and that was the word I was looking for to make Amelia’s party invites gender inclusive.

Some brightly colored plates, table cloth, and sand buckets to serve food from so that the food table looks like a coral reef will do nicely. Add in some brightly colored balloons, a little language change on the invites so that all her merkid friends feel included at her party, and some games for the pool and we’ve got a fun party for boys and girls to attend.

The change is that simple to make. It is that easy to accommodate boy-girl friendships, especially when you don’t base a party on a commercialized character but rather a popular theme for childhood. Animals, jungle, safari, ocean, bugs, dinosaurs, space, farm, spies, caped crusaders, enchanted garden, sports, castle themed…..All kids love this stuff, you just have to get away from the branded characters. We’ve had birthday parties at a veterinary office before, and last year an exterminator was the entertainment at my son’s co-ed party. Get creative!

The invites and goody bags will be homemade so that we can avoid the gender stereotypes seen on so many store-bought kids’ invites and party supplies. I’ll make the cake, the snacks are easy, do our own decorations, and the teams for the games we’ll divide by the side of the alphabet the kids’ first names fall in (as opposed to boys vs girls).

Chances my cake and decorations will look like the idea board I’ve put together on Pinterest? 3 out of 10.

Chances my daughter and her friends are going to have a blast at this party? 9 out of 10.

Chances all the kids that day will get the message that boys and girls are important friends for each other and should be sharing spaces and memories together in childhood? 10 OUT OF 10!!

Wish me luck on that cake!

Amelia's cake topper, perhaps the only gendered item that will be at the party.

Amelia’s cake topper, perhaps the only gendered item that will be at the party.

Easy peasy craft project on hand for kids who don't want to swim for three solid hours.

Easy peasy craft project on hand for kids who don’t want to swim for three solid hours.

Colors are for everyone, especially merkids!

Colors are for everyone, especially merkids!











Want some awesome Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies party invites? Go here.

Want to find that mermaid cake topper above? Visit Etsy here.

New Spring Designs!

Our Cannonball! line is dedicated to showing boys and girls playing together, and playing outside. Here are our two new designs for spring, they can be purchased here.


WHOOPS! We made a BIG mistake on this image. See below for the update.


UPDATE: During the revealing of these designs on facebook it was pointed out that the kids riding bikes should be wearing helmets. DOH! My customers were absolutely right, and it was a huge oversight on the part of my artist and I. We quickly corrected our error, and the design below is what is for sale and available to put on custom built tees and totes….Thank for the feedback to help make this design perfect!

Our bike riders now have helmets!