Letting my Son be Himself

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I’m a mother, and as such, I love my son more than anything else in the world. He has my entire heart. I would do anything to protect his own heart, his feelings, his emotional integrity. I think all mothers feel this way.

Let me tell you about my son. He’s three. He’s imaginative. He’s brilliant at puzzles. He can be a wild man. He talks a mile a minute. He’s huge for his age and moves with exuberance that I identify with Great Dane puppies. He loves anything with wheels. He loves his baby sister. He gets in moods where he wants to cover me with kisses. He’s sensitive. He loves his ballet classes. He loves princesses.

I would not change a thing. Not one single thing.

<br /><br /> Why am I reflecting on this now? Because I had a hard realization: as much as I fiercely want him to express himself and be the beautiful boy that he is, I also want to protect him. With Halloween approaching, I held my breath. What would he want to be? I hoped and hoped the answer wasn’t “Tangled” or “Brave.” He had seen the dresses at Target and has been asking about them since. I was relieved when he chose to be a crocodile.

Then I felt guilty for being relieved. I don’t care one iota if he wants to dress like a princess. In fact, he often does. He has claimed all my pink and purple t-shirts as his princess dresses and he wears them to bed, twirling and whirling and enjoying playing at femininity. When he sees me in a dress, he proclaims, wide-eyed: “Mommy, you’re a princess.”

I love this about him. Of course he loves princesses. Fairy tales are his favorite bedtime stories. The princesses are beautiful, and compassionate, and brave, and generous. These are all qualities I would love my son to have.

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So why, why, was I so worried that he’d want to be a princess for Halloween? It’s because of the mom who asked in horror if I was letting him buy dress-up shoes. We went to a consignment store and he saw shoes just like the ones his good friend has. They had little heels. They were purple. They were sparkly. They were awesome. His little sneakers and socks were off in no time and he was shoving his little Fred Flintstone feet in these little purple heels. This other mom was horrified. But I looked at her and said: “Yes. And why not? I don’t care if he wants to be a princess.” But my heart was really hurt. He was oblivious, but one day soon, I know he won’t be.

Or there was the time he was wearing a princess t-shirt I had bought him in hopes of getting my own pink t-shirts back. He saw the boys in our neighborhood playing football and he ran to them eagerly. A little boy, probably around five or six years old, asked me what her name was. I told him his name and then added that he was a boy. And this kid laughed and called to his friends: “That’s a boy! He likes princesses! Gross!” This is what this boy had been taught and I don’t blame him, but I did correct him. I asked him why boys couldn’t like princesses. Girls can like football. What’s the difference?

But I can’t be there to correct every child he comes across. And I can’t help but be angry at the reaction of the mother in the consignment store. It just makes my heart ache. I’m not a crier, but I cried when both of those things happened.

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What are we teaching our children when we try to put them in a rigid box?

I made a new mom friend the other day. My baby girl was wearing one of those headbands with the little bows and, naturally, my son wanted to wear one. So I let him. I mean, why not? When this other mother came up to him and told him how much she loved his bow, I thanked her. I thanked her for accepting him and for not worrying that he was a boy. I mean, the bow was amazing. And he looked great in it, so proud to be like his little sister. And I knew that I could be friends with this woman. And so we are.

<br /><br /> I want to let him be him. He’s three. He learns by imitating. I’m not going to limit the people he can imitate by fifty percent.

I feel these things with conviction. What if he does decide he identifies more female one day? Would it change how much I love him? No. It’s difficult enough for someone to realize they are different. There’s no need to be less accepting of differences from the get-go.

But then, I thought, it’s my job to protect him. I battled in my brain. I would do anything to prevent him being bullied. If all parents accepted their children as they are and taught them tolerance, the world would be a better place. But I can’t parent every child. And I don’t want to use my child as a political statement. That’s a large burden for a three-year-old.

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He’s authentic in a way adults have learned not to be. Maybe next year, when Halloween rolls around, I’ll need to re-examine this. For now, I’m happy he’s going to be a crocodile, but also happy that he loves ballet and princesses and trucks and books and his sister. I will always accept him and love him. How could I not? I hope I can teach him that anyone who doesn’t accept him is not worth his time, but again, that’s a heady subject for a three-year-old.

I wish I could end this reflection with a concrete answer to these worries and concerns. My son is still figuring out what he likes. And I’m still figuring out how to be his mother.

For now: I love him. The way he is. The way he’ll be. And I always will. Beautiful boy, that’s a promise.

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 About Olivia Hinebaugh

Olivia Hinebaugh is a stay-at-home-mom to a three-year-old boy and baby girl. She is an aspiring novelist and steals time whenever both kids are sleeping to clack away at the keys. She tweets about mothering and writing @OliveJuiceLots

She can also be found on Facebook.