Deep down, I knew the day would come, but I held out hope that the world was a less judgy place–at least when it comes to little kids.
Last Christmas, instead of putting a ton of presents under the tree, we gave the boys gift cards to spend any which way they wanted to at Disney World. If they wanted to buy a bunch of little trinkets, or one big thing, it was up to them.
Holden didn’t end up purchasing anything out of the ordinary. He got a big stuffed animal and some space-themed
stuff from Epcot and Space Mountain. Parker, on the other hand, held on to his money, being very careful about what he was going to spend it on. A little thing here, a little thing there, but when he walked up to me in one store carrying a Beauty and the Beast dress up dolls set, I was surprised. He’s always loved the princesses, but has never played with a doll before. I took the time to explain to him exactly what it was he was holding (it came with Belle and a number of dresses, shoes, gloves, etc. and Beast, with a head that changes from Beast to “Adam”). After explaining, he was even MORE convinced he wanted it, and so, we brought it home.
Parker isn’t dense. He’s always known there are things that are considered toys for girls, and things that are considered toys for boys. We’ve always encouraged him to play with whatever the hell he wants regardless of who it’s marketed to, and he’s always done just that. Before he was old enough to go to school, it was never an issue. There was no one to tell him it was “wrong” and if anyone dared, I was always there to shoot them down very quickly and reassure him that toys are toys. I was worried what would happen once he started school. Don’t all parents worry about the outside influences of other little kids? It wasn’t totally abnormal to be concerned, but the thought I hated the most was that ANYONE would crap on his sense of self and the freedom to just be him regardless of gender “norms”.
It only took 2 months for someone to do just that.
Since bringing home the Belle dress-up doll, Parker hasn’t played with it much. Mostly because she’s kind of difficult. Her arms never want to cooperate. When he does bring it out, I’m always excited to see it because it means the world hasn’t ruined him yet, so when he brought it out over the weekend I sat down to play with him.
He took Belle and put her into her iconic yellow ball gown, put on a gold necklace and gave her a matching purse, slipped on her shoes, and then passed her a mirror. You know the one. The one Beast gives Belle so she can always keep an eye on her father. Well, at Disney World, when you walk into an attraction called “Enchanted Tales with Belle”, the kids all stare into a huge mirror and repeat a sentence to take them into Beast castle to act out the story of Beauty and the Beast with Belle herself.
Parker put the mirror in Belle’s tiny hand and repeated the words from memory- “Take me back to the day Belle and Beast fell in love!”
It was so adorable that I couldn’t help but laugh, but he snapped his head up at me and got instantly defensive.
“Don’t laugh at me!”
I was dumbfounded. Shocked. This is a kid who has never wavered in confidence. Has never cared what people say about his long hair, or the fact that he talks about Disney princesses like they’re his best friend. The kid who will tell ANYONE who will listen that Frozen is his favorite movie and Cinderella is his favorite princess and that he’s going to marry Tinker Bell. And now, suddenly, he’s defensive?
His feelings were hurt. He truly believed I was making fun of him, and it took a lot of convincing to make him believe that it was quite the opposite. I was proud. Happy. I thought it the sweetest thing. And it was ruined.
Now, I’m not going to point my finger at some little kid who probably teased him for playing with “girl toys” and loving “girl movies” and yell YOU DID THIS! because they don’t know any better, and that’s the problem- they don’t know any better.
I won’t sit here and preach from my high horse that you shouldn’t force gender norms on your kids (even though I strongly disagree with it- they are YOUR kids. Please keep that in mind), but what I WILL say is that if you’re forcing them on your kids SO hard that they make fun of other kids who don’t also conform to them, you’re doing it wrong. No one’s parenting should be so intense that their kids run off to school and push that intensity on others. No parenting should ever make it okay to shame another child.
We should be teaching our children tolerance, in spite of likes or dislikes, beliefs or disbelief. We should be teaching our kids to be confident enough in themselves to be different, instead of to see only the differences in others. We should be teaching our children to accept one another as they are instead of making other kids feel bad because they aren’t the same, or they like different things, or they have different hair lengths. When we start making it okay for our kids to judge one another on such SILLY things, we start making it okay for them to judge each other on more serious things- and that is NOT okay.
Our kids have a profound effect on each other, and it shouldn’t be a negative one.
All I ask is that the next time your kid comes home from school and says “So and so does this differently than me”, instead of saying “Well, that’s wrong.” respond with “That’s awesome.”
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