When I had my first son, Jackson, 11 years ago, my heart birthed a new sense of understanding for boys. My life went from fashion and flowers to trucks, choo-choos, and superheroes. That was until my darling daughter, Dylan, arrived, equipped with enough fairies, dolls, and princess dresses to dominate his boy-trodden throne. By the time little sister could walk, talk, and insist on wearing the same costume every day as if it were a school uniform, my son had already developed a mild obsession with trains and race cars. And just like any younger sibling does, my daughter very much enjoyed playing with her older sibling’s toys. But instead of wearing overalls during playtime, she rocked her tutu.
Fast forward five years, a few moves, and two new Schaffer brothers later, and our family was complete. Par for the course, both younger brothers followed in the trend of wanting to do everything their older siblings were doing. Our third child, Roman, took to sports like his older brother, and by the time we had our youngest (who I have lovingly nicknamed Boss Baby Brody), Dylan had become very involved in dancing. For the past two years, a standard Friday night at the Schaffers’ wouldn’t be complete without a pop-up dance party and lots of costumes. And as soon as Brody learned how to walk, he was right there next to his sister shuffling his feet. Lately, he’s rocking her princess dresses while dancing his heart out.
Seeing life through the lens of my kids as they interact with one another is the sweetest gift, so why in the world would I discourage such innocent play when Brody wears a dress? Just like his older brother suiting up for lacrosse, when Brody puts on that dress, his eyes light up and he gets in this zone. Brody welcomes and encourages compliments on his chosen outfit from passersby, so I happily share pictures and videos with the followers of my blog, City Girl Gone Mom. At the end of the day, there’s no lack of confidence in this young man, so why on earth would I want to change that?
What I don’t understand is how or why some individuals choose to criticize something so innocent? Maybe I’m ignorant to the times, but I didn’t realize internet trolls would have such profound feelings about Brody’s princess persona. Or, such negative thoughts about me as his mother. Do I not have morals or values because my toddler son wants to play in his sister’s princess dresses? Shouldn’t kids be allowed to play dress up and enjoy being a kid? I believe so.
Grocery shopping with kids is not exactly how I like to spend my Saturday mornings. In fact, I try to avoid it at all costs. But when the kids are literally crying over spilled milk, a mom’s gotta do what a mom’s gotta do. In my dreaded attempt at saving the day, I grabbed Baby Brody and we left for the store. My son, who would’ve only added to the chaos if had I tried to leave him at home— or worse yet, change his clothes—cheerfully accompanied me to aisle five. In his Princess Elsa dress.
Low and behold, a woman soon approached to compliment my “beautiful girl.” I chuckled and said, “Oh, I’m sorry. This is actually my son… who just loves to play with his sister’s dresses.” And as those very words were leaving my mouth, I could see the look of disgust on her face. She was mad at that. She then proceeded to reprimand me by saying, “Well, shouldn’t he be wearing boy clothes? You are his mother.” My response: "No ma'am, his dress shouldn't spark any surprise, as I am raising a fine young gentleman. Are toddlers not allowed to play and pretend?”
I grew up an Italian Catholic from NYC, and in those days no boy would ever be caught playing with his sister’s ‘girl’ toys, much less their clothes. But what I have learned as a seasoned mother to four is that children are innocent. And they should certainly be allowed to play dress up if that’s what makes them happy. I try to be an open-minded parent. Maybe I wouldn’t go to the extreme of painting his room pink and filling it with doll houses, but I do think it’s ok if he wants to watch princess movies and play in his sisters dresses.
There’s no doubt that for years boys have been discouraged to play with ‘girl’ toys. Going down the toy aisles in most stores, we see that they are organized by gender. With my first son, naturally I bought most toys from the boy aisles. However, after having two more sons following a daughter, they were then naturally exposed to girl toys. Dylan loved dressing her younger brothers up in play dresses and before you knew it, I had three princesses enjoying tea parties. Immediately, I thought it was the sweetest thing and knew in my heart that this type of exposure would only make them better men. This type of play makes them more nurturing and connects them to their sister. And it works both ways; she certainly loves a good basketball game in the front yard.
Watching my kids navigate childhood has been most rewarding. And I’m afraid that if I don’t let my children just be children, I’m going to wake up one day and they’re going to be all grown up! As a mom to three boys, it is my hope to break all rigid stereotypes out there. My daughter has certainly demonstrated being tough, so why can't my boys demonstrate a more playful, nurturing side? So, to the woman in Aisle 5, I will say this: A little shift in perspective can go a long way. And with more love, acceptance, and kindness in the world, we all win.
Danielle Schaffer lives in California with her husband and four children. You can find Danielle at citygirlgonemom.com, on Instagram at @citygirlgonemom, and on her popular podcast, “The Mom Confidential.”