What my son taught me about gender roles and why I want a do-overAfter ordering three kids meals the cashier asked whether I wanted boy or girl toys. I had two boys and a girl in the car but I asked them what they wanted before responding. I didn’t ask them whether they wanted the “boy toy” or the “girl toy.” I asked them if they wanted the car or the mini-doll. The order from the back was two mini-dolls and a car as I assumed it would be. I gave myself an invisible pat on the back for finally getting it right.

A few years ago this scene would have been different. If I had those same two boys and girl in the car I would have ordered two toys for boys and one for a girl. I would have shuffled all those kids back inside our home, unloading all the things that come along with that younger age. Then at least two of my three would put princess dresses on and play with the one “girl toy” we brought home. Then I’d wonder why I didn’t think to get him a “girl toy” too and why society decided he was supposed to have a car he didn’t want.

When my kids were born I did the traditional blue for boys and pink for girls. I dreamt of my daughter in a pale tutu and assumed I’d be spending years stuck to bleachers in order to keep up with two boys in sports. The thought never crossed my mind that my son might try to make a costume out of the first goalie net he stood in or that his love for dress up would continue past the toddler years and rarely include a superhero costume. I had no problem with my kids being whoever they chose to be, it just hadn’t occurred to me that it was my job to leave their options completely. If I didn’t want them pushed down society’s chosen paths for boys and girls, I would need to be the one to help change their course.

Fast forward many crash courses in parenting and I am now the fiercest protector of my children’s right to be whoever they want to be. I cringe when I hear something labeled as for boys or for girls. If my son wants his nails polished I’m all for it. If he needs a pair of tights to complete his latest elf costume we’ll head to the girls section without a second thought– except maybe to wonder why they need a girl’s and boy’s section at all.

 

I won’t always be here, encouraging him from the front seat, the walls of our car insulating him from what society thinks when he chooses his kids’ meal toy.  But I hope I learned early enough in his childhood how important it is to encourage him to follow what makes him happy rather than what appeases someone else. I hope he continues to ignore gender stereotypes and always appreciates a well-crafted princess dress. And when he’s an angsty teenager looking for the right crowd, I hope he realizes that finding people who love you because you follow your own heart rather than someone else’s is the best prize in the world.