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Mothering › Child Articles › Letting My Son Be Himself

Letting my Son be Himself

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

 


 

 

 

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.

 

Comments (8)

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Great article!  My younger brother was a lot like this.  My son was too.  Both of them gradually learned about social roles and were consistently choosing more "boyish" clothes and accessories by age 7, but my brother never became a macho athlete or wanted to play fighting games, and I think my son will be the same.
 
When my son was 4, he did not like any of the "boy" shoes in the store and wanted the black shoes with ankle straps and purple sparkly trim.  We bought them.  Some of his preschool classmates were shocked that he had "girls' shoes".  His teacher taught him to respond, "These might be shoes that mostly girls like, but this pair is mine, so THESE are boy's shoes."  I thought that was awesome!
What a wonderful teacher! And good for you for getting him the shoes he wanted!
This quote is completely my mindset: 
"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."
My son is 4 but the same logic applies. When he was two and three we let him wear dresses everywhere. People assumed he was a girl, sometimes we corrected them; other times we didn't. He loves to twirl and feel pretty. 

This last year he asked to wear his pink dress to preschool. He is in a Montessori school in a classroom with 3-6 year olds. He has issues making friends and dealing with social situations sometimes. He'd been making real progress at school. We discussed it. We talked to his teacher. She had concerns about him getting too much (negative) attention from the older kids--which could overwhelm him. We told him he can wear his dresses at home but not at school. I cried that day. A lot. Felt like a coward. It doesn't help that certain family  members act like it is an affront to them personally that we allow him to express himself outside of school. No easy answers. It is just comforting to know that other parents are struggling with this too.
I love your story. When my son, one of twins, was about 5 we went into a store to find some summer shoes. My boys were all outdoors and being wild and crazy kids. We got to their shoe isles and they are so excited. One is thoughtful over the process and one can't wait to touch them all. Well, we were picking summer shoes and sandals/slippers/flipflops were in the mix so I say " be sure to try them on , just because you like the looks of them doesnt mean they will feel good on your feet and I am not coming back for more because they don't feel good." lol I've made a short story long. sorry. Anyway one of them comes up to me with these gel purple pink flip flops and says they "feel" the very best out of all of them. I say are you sure He says I dont care what they look like i care how my feet feel in them. They feel great." so I go to my size and find them (same color and everything) and try them on. Sure enough they did "feel great" Reluctantly I put them in the basket and finished our shopping. I didnt want to say he was bad for making the decision but wanted desperately for him to understand the consequences without hurting HIS feelings. After all HE made MORE sense than a "standard"  We, at least i do, want to always give advice to my kids that promotes independent and out of the box thinking. I could think of no other thing that would sound plausible to my already open minded thinker than the truth. To that day it never even occurred to him that colors were attributed boys or girls they had baby dolls of all colors and cowboys and indians. They even had an easy bake oven where we cooked food and unthinkables lol. And I told him and also told him that while it didnt matter to ME what anyone said it might hurt his feelings. It was okay to chose the shoes but choices come with consequences and as long as he knew them before a decision was made I was good to go with whatever he chose. I told him he had until we were finished with shopping to decide (this was out of necessity as my boys were also procrastinators at the time) He even asked some questions and was very quiet (he rode in the cart and that was odd) Before we were finished He had changed his mind. HE even knew the other ones he wanted. I am glad your son feels safe enough to be himself and Think my son is also. My kids played with dolls, wore dresses and high healed shoes , put on makeup, and loved life, because THAT is CHILDHOOD. A place to dream and imagine and be anything and everything. Possibilities are born here! Songs are written, Painting are painted, a symphony arrives. a cure is found, a miracle happens and they become men. I love these stories about our children. 
Thank you for this wonderful article. It's been my experience that children your son's age, whether boys or girls, are mini divas who love dressing up, the more fabulous the outfit, the better! Thank you for celebrating your son's style and individuality rather than stifling it.
 
I'm saddened that in the 21st century, there are still people who insist on putting others (children or adults) in regimented gender boxes. My ten-month-old daughter seems to be taking after me: as a girl, I preferred toys and clothing labeled "for boys." She's a sturdy, muscular, physically active, and exuberant baby who doesn't fit the "girly" stereotypes (and it's amazing that these stereotypes appear in the life of someone who's so young). Although we've had our share of weird gender-police comments, I have noticed that the level of acceptance for "boyish" girls is greater than that for "girlish" boys. I believe this says a lot about the different degrees of respect this still patriarchal society has for what it considers masculine as opposed to what it considers feminine. 
Hi Olivia, your article just really resonated with me, mainly because I lived it with my own son who is now almost 9! When he was 2 1/2 and just LOVING pink and purple, I started a whole t-shirt line to celebrate him called "Handsome in Pink"! I created all the clothes he dreamed of having but seemed to not exist in the world: fire trucks, rocket ships, electric guitars, all in pinks and purples! Of course his big sister wanted to wear all those cool clothes too! I think your son would love the options we have-- so would your daughter! Check us out: www.handsomeinpink.com. I think you'd also enjoy my blog; I too have a photo of my son at the same age dressed as snow white! http://handsomeinpink.com/blog/2010/02/26/my-five-year-old-ninja/
 
Enjoy every moment of your son. He is amazing and I can tell he is going to be the most loving big brother!
 
Take care,
Jo Hadley, owner of Handsome in Pink
Thank you all for sharing your stories. My heart squeezes for you and these choices we have to make.
Mothering › Child Articles › Letting My Son Be Himself