DynaPapa’s cousin has a son who got married a couple of years ago. At the rehearsal dinner, DynaCousin shared a funny but poignant story about a conversation he had with his son when he was about four years old. (DynaCousin was kind enough to give me permission to share the story.)
I used to take him to preschool, about a mile away, on my bike. He had a little seat mounted on the bar with foot pedals so we could talk as we rode.
His best friend (who was not in the same preschool) had just gotten a baby doll, and he wanted one too. He had reached the age when boys and girls became very clear (and vocal) about what were boys and girls toys. So we were surprised, but went to ToysRUs with him to get one. Like many toy purchases, an elaborate process, but eventually he settled on one that was a rubber bath toy that included a bathrobe and a diaper. A few days later he decided he wanted to take it to school with him. With some trepidation we agreed.
While biking down the street the next morning with the baby doll in his backpack, I said to (him) that sometimes kids could be mean to each other and wondered what he would say if someone teased him about the baby doll. After a few blocks he replied, "I’ll tell them it is all in their mind."
After recovering from the shock, I told him that was a perfect thing to say.
A block or so of silence later he added, “Maybe I won’t let them see the diaper!”
I’ve blogged in the past about my distaste regarding gender stereotyping and toys. I often encounter other similarly themed posts, but most of them usually focus on pre-school age children. The challenges of dealing with this issue are somewhat different as children age. For example, now that my children are school age (kindergarten), I’ve found it necessary to discuss coping strategies and appropriate responses should they encounter teasing from other kids if they show an interest in a toy that’s typically associated with girls.
One recent example centered around the Barbie jeep featured in the photographs. My twins love cars. Let me rephrase that. My twins love crashing cars. They enjoy this activity so much that if they don’t disavow it at some point, I can guarantee that them owning a car at 16 is out of the question.
About a month ago one of them found CollegeDaughter’s stash of childhood toys, which included the Barbie jeep in the pictures. The boys were instantly in love. The jeep is large enough that they can stand on both feet, lean over, and push it around. It’s also nearly indestructible as it’s been pushed down several different staircases at our house without suffering any damage. They particularly enjoy launching the jeep from the top of the staircase and seeing how far down the staircase the jeep can make it before it crashes into a step.
Last weekend, the boys wanted to take the jeep to the park. Since there’s a Barbie doll strapped seat-belted into the jeep (to represent car safety, I guess), I felt it necessary to discuss with the boys the possibility that they might receive some pushback from other kids because they were two 5-year-old boys playing with a Barbie toy. As part of this discussion, I shared DynaCousin’s story and after a few minutes of talking amongst themselves they decided telling kids that it was all in their mind was a good response. However, like DynaCousin’s son, they did decide to make one modification. They asked if Barbie could be unstrapped from the jeep so she could nap at our house while we took the jeep to the park.
While it’s not ideal that Barbie got left at home and I certainly remain opposed to gender stereotyping toys, as a parent, if I’m going to give my kids the freedom to play with whatever toys they wish, it’s also my job to help them anticipate what pushback they may receive from other kids and formulate an appropriate response. No real-life situation is ever perfect but I am glad that I have, at least, given the boys the confidence to take their pink Barbie jeep to the park. Now, if I can just convince them not to launch it from the top of the slide.
littlepieceofabigsoul said: I think you handled this beautifully. For a number of years, my son wanted to wear a dress, and did. When he wanted to wear it to the store, we discussed possible reactions & told him it was his choice. He chose not to, but it was still his choice.