When I was little, my Grandfather used to ask me, “Why can’t boys wear dresses, but girls can wear pants?”, and I would respond simply, “because that’s the way it is!”. And in my mind, from what I had experienced and been taught, this was true - boys wear pants, girls wear dresses; boys like cars, girls like dolls; “boys will be boys”, girls will be kind. Fortunately, my eyes were opened as I grew older and experienced more, independently. I went to college and studied Psychology where I learned that gender roles are more harmful than helpful, and that gender as a whole, is not at all what I learned it to be growing up.
As a mother now to two little ones, I use what I have learned to try and make the world (even just our small part of it) more accepting for my kiddos. I want them to be able to wear what they want, play with what they want, and express themselves how they need, without fear of judgement or shame.
My son is, simply put, one of a kind. He absolutely loves Spider-Man, trains, and running around like a maniac, but at the same time, he wears his Elsa (and other princess) dresses proudly, with painted nails, and will show every emotion under the sun with the utmost confidence. And why shouldn’t he? His clothing, toy, and accessory choices have literally no bearing on anyone else’s life, and yet, so many people judge us (yes, we see your glances) and question why we would allow “such behavior”.
My husband and I are both determined to not allow anyone to dull our childrens’ sparkle, but truth be told, it is not easy. In order to fight the judgements, questions, and looks from others, we need to make a conscious effort every day to change our own biases that have been so deeply ingrained in us.
My son started school this year, and wanted to choose a new outfit for picture day. When we took him to the store, he chose a blue sparkly dress and coordinating glittery leggings to go underneath. We went to check out, and for a brief moment, the bias and doubt snuck in and whispered, “but what will other people think?”. Truthfully, it hurts my soul that these thoughts still crop up, but I look at the smile on my son’s face, and very quickly remember that it doesn’t matter what they will think - it matters that our children are happy, healthy, and confident, and in order to protect and reinforce that confidence, we need to allow them to be who they are. By doing the work on ourselves and outwardly (read: loudly) showing that we whole-heartedly accept our son for who he is, I know that we can (and have) help to change the conversation on gender norms, to help create a more accepting world for our babies.
Life is full of pain, hardships, and failures, but when we teach our children to be confident in who they are, express their emotions in healthy ways, and accept others as they are, we are setting them up with the skills needed to be successful. No matter what anatomy a child has, we should allow them independence in their self expression so later in life, they are able to ask for help when needed, persevere through difficulties, and lend a hand when they see someone else struggling; no matter what they are wearing.
Author: Kristi Bayerlein