How I am parenting my son while limiting male stereotypes

How I am parenting my son while limiting male stereotypes

  • My son is my only child. I have encouraged him to play with dolls and other toys, regardless of his gender. 
  • He told me recently that he didn’t want a My Little Pony, because boys would make fun of him. 
  • As a mother, I am constantly looking for new ways to remind him that anyone he chooses can be who he wishes to be. 

My 8-year old had been waiting for this day for months. After talking endlessly about the animal he wanted, my 8-year-old suddenly changed his mind when we arrived at the store. 

“Mom, you make a My Little Pony doll,”My son started, “I don’t want to anymore because the boys at my school will laugh at me. I’m going to pick a boy thing.” 

My heart skipped a beat.

My son was in remote education for all of last year. There had been only one or two of his closest friends over summer break. So there weren’t any obvious sources of taunts or teases. How deep had the gender-defining voices of his past engrained in him? 

“You know, toys are for everyone. Pick what makes you happy.”It wasn’t the first time that my son heard me use this phrase. Because his dad and me wanted him to be able to use his imagination freely, we have used many versions.

I’ve been in awe of his ability to see beyond gender labels, and I’ve watched him play with dolls while wearing a cowboy costume — blissfully happy while doing it.

He is at a new level of awareness

I hoped that my unconditional support would inspire confidence and allow my son to be himself forever. I was not enough. I guess I knew I wouldn’t be enough.

We have been hit hard by this new age of awareness. He now struggles to choose what makes him happy, and how he fits in. Even if we could lose our TV remotes to protect him from male stereotypes, I doubt that I would be able to turn off the influence of his friends.

The outside world is shaping his inner world — evidenced by the pony I was carrying. 

We walked to our car after we had completed our building project. I looked down at him and wondered if he had outgrown me. When he was young, I felt a strong urge to help him. I would have words of wisdom with anyone who challenged his sense of self.

As he gets older, I find new ways to help him.

While I feel the same protective pull, I’ve learned to trust my child. I am aware that I cannot speak to every child in his class about the harmful effects of gender stereotypes. Clearly it would make no difference to write strongly worded letters to all the advertisers ever — and more importantly, I can’t shield him from what he tells himself. 

My protective Mom Mojo has become less relevant with each birthday. I am trying to find new ways for him to remember that his heart is his. This has been a case-by–case approach. Today, I chose to observe him and perhaps slide into the conversation about how he gets to pick his likes or dislikes. But I didn’t have to. 

“Mom, can I hold her?” 

I watched as he cuddled the pony from the safety and comfort of our car. All the voices from school had been silenced — if only for now. He was back to himself. It was not about me keeping his heart open but about his voice. 

I will be there to support my child and provide space when he requires it. I hope that this will help him remember his heart while he’s out and around the world.

While my mom’s superpowers may not be enough for me to protect my son, I can always remind him that he is sufficient.

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