Boys Who Play With Dolls

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?

In our family, being a father and uncle is celebrated.

In our family, being a father and uncle is celebrated.

Ben's 1st Bottle

If you love when your husband does this, why not let your son play at doing this?

E&L 027

This is my brother, teaching my brand new son how to be a man.

Tio Meets Ben

In my family, men show their love. That is what my son will learn about being a man.

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.

My kids would be missing out on so much if their father wasn't interested in being a "dad".

My kids would be missing out on so much if their father wasn’t interested in being a “dad”.

The Obligation of Pretty

The makings of a pretty girl. But pretty's got nothing to do with it.

The makings of a pretty girl. But pretty’s got nothing to do with it.

Today my daughter had a Spring Sing at her elementary school, which is normally a happy occasion for most kids. Her daddy was going into the office late so he could watch her sing, I was taking time away from work and had spent quite a while getting her all fancied up this morning. Amelia was all dolled up in a pretty white and fuchsia dress her auntie had sent for her eighth birthday, with her dark hair combed back in a fuchsia bow. Silver sparkle shoes pulled the look together, and she looked gorgeous.

Her daddy and I were eagerly waiting in the second row, chatting with friends while the second grade filed in. I saw my daughter walk in and knew immediately by her face she did not find the Spring Sing to be a happy occasion. She has some serious school and social anxiety, and her face looked like she was going to puke. She met my eyes, her face crumpled, she burst into tears and ran to me.

Normally a brave girl, this type of situation is her kryptonite. It is awful and frustrating, but for now it is what it is. Her dad and I tried to calm her, encouraged her to take deep breaths, and after each song we would ask if she wanted to give it a try. It just wasn’t happening today. So we let it not happen.

We allowed her to sit on my lap, her face buried in my neck, feeling her fear. I could feel her tears fall on my chest, her little hands wrapped around my waist twisting my sweater in knots. Even brave girls get scared. She is allowed to be scared. She is allowed to be not perfect, even when a room full of people we know is watching us. And she is allowed to be this way even on days she looks so pretty. Because pretty’s got nothing to do with it.

When I was younger people used to say to me, “Such a serious look for such a pretty face” or “What does a girl as pretty as you have to be upset about?” Comments like that would enrage me. I hated being told I was pretty, especially when people felt it was a contradiction to my being allowed to have actual emotions. Brave girls get scared. Pretty girls get pissed off. It is what it is.

I caught myself right before I said, “This is the last song, are you sure you don’t want to go up on stage? You look SO pretty today.” Instead I kissed her head, smoothed her hair, and told her that I loved her. The thing is, my daughter is under no obligation to be pretty for anyone. She is an agent, not an object.

Maybe brave isn’t being on stage. Maybe brave is sitting right where we were, allowing everyone to see our truth.  And today we were going to hide our face and be overwhelmed at the thought of singing in front of 100 people. Maybe there was beauty in our truth.

I wanted to give my daughter the space to feel what she was feeling. Sure, I was disappointed we don’t have any photos of her standing with her friends, all adorably adorable and singing their sweet little hearts out. I was disappointed I didn’t have video to show my mom and dad the next time we see them of Amelia blowing away on her kazoo and shaking the tambourine she made in art class, just like all the other kids did with smiles on their faces. It is in these moments I check myself and remember that Amelia is my daughter and not my trophy.

She will always, forever be my sweet, brave, pretty girl. And she is allowed to be those things, or not be those things, every day of her life.

Sunnie’s Christian School Forgot Jesus Had Long Hair: A Lesson in the Gender Binary

“I should just be able to be me.” -Sunnie Kahle, eight years old

The background: a private Christian school sent a letter to Sunnie’s home stating “We believe that unless Sunnie and her family clearly understand that God has made her female and her dress and behavior need to follow suit with her God-ordained identity, that TCS is not the best place for her future education.”

Sunnie Jesus

The school stated the other children were confused by Sunnie’s appearance and hobbies not matching her gender, so the school asked Sunnie to conform or stay away. Sunnie’s family was offended by the letter and Sunnie was pulled from Christian school and enrolled in public school.

I have reached out to Sunnie’s family on behalf of the PPBB Community. (Thanks Erin an Kate for helping me yesterday with contact info.) I spoke with Sunnie’s grandma for a while this morning and that lady is FULL of Awesome. Sunnie is going to come out of this just fine.

Here is what I’d like the conversation to address:

– Is there only one correct way to be a girl? Are there many ways to be a girl?

– Is the term ‘tomboy’, even when used in a positive way, actually harmful to kids? What does it really imply?

– Is gender binary? Or is gender, especially when we are discussing young kids who are extremely curious about the world, more fluid and not such a cause for concern?

– If other students are confused about something, is it best for a school to hide that thing away, or use that thing as a teaching tool? What if that “thing” is actually a person? What does this teach our children about acceptance, empathy, leadership and kindness?

– What do schools teach their children when they oppress gender nonconforming kids? What could Sunnie’s teacher and school have done that would have had a more positive outcome for all students involved?   (Here are some ideas.)


There should be no concern or alarm when we see a child acting like a curious child. 

A girl playing in the mud, collecting baseballs, catching frogs, playing rough and tumble, climbing trees, wearing short hair, etc is being girly. She may also love sparkles and princesses and dressing up and unicorns or mermaids or tigers or beluga whales.

A boy skipping, dancing in fairy wings, caring for a doll, getting lost in his art, playing quietly, wearing long curly hair, etc is being a boy. He may also love sports and guitars and skate boards and being loud and messy.

Let’s not lose sight of the idea that our job is to show the world to our children and then give them the space to show us who they want to be in it.


(Let’s establish a few guidelines for the comments here because this community is a safe and respectful place for people:

~ Be respectful of religion here, no matter how much you do or do not agree with the information presented.

~ Use this thread to take a macro look at the issue of gender stereotypes and a binary gender code in childhood. I’ll ask you to remember tat just last week we were talking about a boy from a public school who was shamed and punished for acting outside of assumed gender roles with his My Little Pony bag. This mindset is not individual to this one Christian school.

~ This story is awash in gender stereotypes. “Tomboy” “Boy things”, etc. Let’s focus on energy on fighting those and not other distractions that may come up during this conversation about Sunnie.)

Your Daughter Doesn’t Have To Apologize for Anything

Several people sent me this post over the weekend, and it has bugged me for days. The post talks about how this particular mother of a little girl is tired of feeling like she has to defend her daughter’s love of all things hyper-girly: pink, feathery, sparkly, princessy. I’m confused who she is forced to defend her child to, as most of our society right now seems to celebrate the uber-girly in girls with our Diva Shopaholic Princess Culture ruling girlhood. And womanhood, for that matter. More women can name the three Kardashian sisters before they can name three women in Congress. While at the Natural History Museum in DC this weekend, my daughter received dozens of compliments from strangers on her red sparkle shoes and zero compliments her awesome tee featuring seven different kinds of whales. Isn’t it ironic.

I can understand any parent who becomes irked when they feel their child’s interests are mocked or belittled. I can understand any parent becoming defensive of their child when that child’s personality is said to be undesirable. As parents, that is our job, to love our children well.

The thing is, no one is saying that being a girly-girl is undesirable, which is what that post alludes to. The mom who wrote it seems to misunderstand the “current conversation about girlhood” to be about the experts being anti-girly. We’re not. Almost all of the experts in the field are women, so we were at one time, girls. A great majority of us are raising our own little girls or have grown daughters, some with little girls of their own. We do this because we love girls and all things girlhood. Some of these little girls like princesses and pink and chess and Star Wars. Others like building and superheroes and guitars. Still more like science and sparkles and dolphins. And you know what? They are ALL girls. There isn’t any one way to be a girl.

It seems as if our girls today aren’t hyper-girly, they get labeled ‘tom-boy’. I take issue with that. It suggests to a girl that her interest in construction or Star Wars or sports or mud puddles or bugs or the ocean or chemistry or electric guitars is boyish, and she isn’t a “real girl”. How insulting is that? Why do the princess girls get to monopolize girlhood and define what it means? My daughter is no less a girl than yours, despite her complete lack of interest in princesses and tween pop-stars and kitten heels.

Why am I seeing so many posts lately from moms of the princess girls turning on moms of the ‘tom-boys’, and vice versa?  Sisterhood, Ladies. We need to stick together on this one, for our girls. Let’s not turn this into a continuation of the Mommy Wars. How about we not box each other in. How about we accept each other’s daughters as our own, and work together to give them the healthiest childhood we can.

What those of us who are working so hard to elevate this conversation of girlhood want is for two things to take place:
1) We widen our definition of “girly” so that it includes ALL types of girls, and not just the tiara, tutu wearing kind.
2) We give our girls more choices early into their childhood so that they can craft for themselves who they are and what they like.

(Psst – we want the same things for our sons, but today we’re talking about girls.)

I want more than the color pink to be an option when looking for products for my daughter. I’m fine if it is one option, but not the only option. My daughter loves blue. She is a girl.

I want character choices for girls to extend beyond princess or ballerina. Mix in a doctor, scientist, engineer, and a businesswoman.. My daughter wants to be an oceanographer. She is a girl. 

I want girls to be marketed more than cupcakes and kittens and butterflies. I like all three of those things. So does my daughter. We also like rocket ships and airplanes and trains and ships. We are girls.

I want a break from the fashion and looks-obsessed messages that saturate girlhood. I think we all could use a break from the too sexy, too soon marketing and products.

I am happy your daughter likes princesses. If you can say honestly that you’ve offered her an entire world of color and toys and from all of those choices, she chose princesses, pink, and sparkles…well then bless her little heart. We are seeing her true self shine through, and now it is the job of your family to offer her new experiences and stories and ideas inside of her self-appointed interests and likes.  If you allowed her to be doused and dripping with pink and nothing but pink from birth and have given her nothing but a diet of princesses and fashion dolls, I gotta be honest, that isn’t great.

Here’s the part where the not-greatness comes in: The current marketplace has a very narrow and limited definition of what it means to be female. This is true whether you are three or thirty three. Most of this is focused on beauty, vapidness, and obtaining things and men. Whether it is little plastic Disney Princess kitten heels, My Little Ponies with those “Come hither” twinkly eyes also found on Bratz and Moxie Girls, Barbies dressed is suggetive clothing, Disney Princesses with their spacey smiles and delicately poised hands, the sexist marketing of Lego Friends, or clothing and shoes that constrict play movement…..ALL of those products send girls one message: How you look is more important than who you are or what you do.

That message is a form of sexualization. The post I first mentioned mocks this point, but the dangers of early sexualization are real, they are serious, and it is something parents could definitely cry themselves to sleep over. Poor body image, disordered eating and Eating Disorders, early sexual experiences, low school performance, dropping of activities and sports in high school, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, interference with a healthy development of sexuality, self-objectification….need I go on? Those things are happening to our girls in staggering numbers, and I don’t think any of it is something to be flippant about. Your daughter has the right to adore princesses and feather boas and sparkly wands. The Princess Culture being marketed to girls ends abruptly somewhere in early elementary, and immediately graduates young girls into teenage-dom when they are not developmentally ready for it. The focus now shifts to being pretty and looking sexy. Not feeling sexy, just looking it. Big problems result.

Hopefully you’ve given your daughter a greater variety of compliments beyond what a pretty princess she is, and you’ve encouraged her to widen her princess role play to include a princess who is generous, smart, brave, and a good leader of her people.

The experts aren’t asking for girls to abandon all things princess, pink, and sparkly. This isn’t about gender neutrality or doing away with gender. It is about not having our children defined by their gender. 

We are asking parents to be prepared and to be creative. We are asking parents to offer a great range of toys and colors and themes for learning for their children. We are asking parents to think beyond the messages marketed, and give their children a well-rounded childhood. As parents, it is our job to offer the world to our children, teach them how to devour it with their curiosity, and then give them the space to digest in the form of play and make believe. There is no boy side or girl side to early childhood, there is just childhood, right down the middle.

So maybe my daughter is running outside with the boys in her mud-caked Hello Kitty rain boots and beloved T-Rex tank top playing ninjas or hunting frogs. I’m sure they’d love for your tulle-wearing, wand-carrying, tiara-crowned gal to join them, if nothing more than for the added noise and ability to put a spell on a frog should they ever catch one. Maybe your princess girl will get a little bit dirty. Maybe she’ll get filthy. Maybe she’ll show everyone up and be the best ninja frog catcher of the group. I’m hoping while the kids go crazy outside, the mothers are smiling at their joy, instead of judging themselves, each other, and each other’s children. I’m willing to bet the kids will have a marvelous time together. I’m sure we’re all hoping the rascals don’t track all of that mud into the house.

There is more than one way to be a girl. Let’s not fight over what “girly” means.

Let’s fight for our girls to make sure that definition includes the entire world for them, and then gently hold their hand as they make their way through it and define for themselves who they will be.

This is Amelia being girly. She is a girl.

Valentine’s Day Media Literacy

My five year old had a little Valentine’s Day party in her Pre-K class this week, and she was uber excited to pass out her cards to her 15 classmates. She had worked hard the night before writing her name 15 times. She had done a great job picking out a red wrap dress and turtle neck to wear, topping the outfit off with stripey tights. We’ve lucked out with a class full of really sweet kids, and I love how freaking cute all the kids in her class are. It is a good group of buddies for her to learn and grow with.

When she got home from school, we sat down to go through her cards. I needed to help her read them while she tore through all of her candy. She cared very little about the actual valentine, and more about the candy. I, of course, was immediately analyzing the cards.

The images our kids see, the messages they are exposed to, and the depictions of beauty as value all matter. They matter a lot. So I pay attention.

The images our kids see matter. The visual cues of gender, gender roles, beauty, and body image all impact our kids.

Here they are…..and I saved the best for last:

The gender neutral cards. Amelia's is in this bunch.

The cards from girls...accentuating the Beauty Myth, Thin Ideal, and Princess Culture.

The cards from boys...focusing on power, force, war, and overweight ogres.

The only card of 16 with a child depicted, and looking anything like the actual preschoolers handing out the cards. Bonus points for being bilingual.

Where do I even start? And the poodle is creeping me out.