'My Princess Boy': An Interview with Cheryl Kilodavis
My Princess Boy is a children's book one mom wrote about a little boy who loves dressing up in sparkly tiaras and pink tutus. The popular book sparked a dialogue about what it means to break gender stereotypes. In this interview with Parents.com, the author shares how her youngest son inspired the book, her sources of strength as a parent, and more.
Why Were You Inspired to Write 'My Princess Boy'?
Q: My Princess Boy began in a grassroots way and has become steadily popular. Can you describe the journey of the book -- when and why you were inspired to write it and how the title came about?
I didn't start out thinking I was writing a book. I started out journaling. My [youngest] son was almost 2-years-old when he started showing interest in beautiful things -- pink, sparkles, dresses and dressing up. The first public display happened at a daycare when he was about 2?-years-old and all the parents were coming to pick up their kids. Dyson ran to me in a red sequined dress and pink heels, and he was very excited and twirling. He was very happy, saying, "Mommy, look at this!" I was frozen; I was shocked.
My first instinct was all Mama Bear, looking around. Were the kids okay with this? Were the parents looking at me? Looking at him? Then I immediately went into problem-solving mode and thought, "Okay, there aren't pretty boy dress-up clothes." I brought some to the daycare. The next day, when I picked him up, he greeted me in a yellow dress. Then I knew he was making these choices. I was talking to my husband about it, and Dean's response was, "I think this is great because he has a passion and he's picking things that he's really interested in."
At about 3-years-old, Dyson said, "I'm a princess," and he was very happy. In one of my not-so-proud mommy moments, I said, "Boys are not princesses. Girls are." He looked me square in the eye and said, "I'm a princess boy." I didn't have a comeback. Immediately, I went back to journaling. I needed something to help him and me to not have his spirit crushed, so I took my journal and turned it into these experiences we had been going through, expressing how it made me feel and how it made him feel when he was laughed at. I started asking the questions, "Will you just play with him? Will you be his friend?"
I went to a local copy center, printed it, and started handing it to teachers before he would start class. A friend of mine handed it to a producer at New Day Northwest Seattle, so I went on the show. I just thought people could find out about this and get information.
Q: As a parent, what concerns did you have about going into the media eye? Did you worry about putting your family and Dyson in the limelight?
I'm a mom who cares about her kids, and we're not throwing our kids out into something they don't want to do. Dyson is a very, very energetic, extroverted child, and he drives a lot of his own agenda. So does [my oldest son] Dkobe. They're both strong individuals. We spent a year at family meetings during dinner talking about this book going public, so we didn't simply step on to the show; it was a year before we did that. We kept talking about what it really meant, and both of the boys constantly said, "We have to get the book out there." Dyson's point of view was, "Has everyone seen my book?" He wanted everyone to see his book and have playdates everywhere. That was his mission: to have playdates. I was the one hiding it in the home; I was the one who was redirecting.
Q: Some parents are happy your book touches on a "taboo" subject, while others are concerned that it highlights potential issues with gender confusion and sexual orientation. What were the thoughts of the child experts and medical professionals you consulted? What are your own thoughts?
When Dyson was really young and showing interest in what we traditionally think of as girl things and colors, I was concerned. I wanted to be empowered with information. I didn't want to hide it or try to stop it if it was who he was. I didn't want my son to spend a day not being happy with himself. So we went to our pediatrician and we went to child experts -- psychologists and psychiatrists -- and we went through a process of assessments and questions. Dkobe, Dean, my parents and his parents were involved. The verdict was: He is a happy and healthy little boy who just likes pretty things and likes to dress up. The advice was not to over-encourage it or over-discourage it.
Q: Your son's preschool and his friends are supportive, but bullying and teasing have become a national focus recently. What advice would you give parents who want to support their kids but who are still worried about bullying?
I think this book acts as a tool to prevent bullying before it starts, and this worked for our family. I proactively went to our preschool teacher and said, "This is my son and I don't want you to kill his spirit. If he selects the pink thing and dress thing, we're okay with that." At that point, the teacher said, "Well, this can't sit with me. I have to share it with my class." The kids would go home and the parents would say, "I want to read it with my child." I think it's important to know your child. I can't say this is the thing you should do. I think having a conversation about acceptance is important.
What Are Your Sources of Strength as a Parent?
Q: Moms have been vocal in their support, but dads seem to have more concerns. Your own husband, Dean, is supportive. What advice would he give to other dads to help them understand and accept their princess boys?
I don't know if I could do Dean justice. I'm still learning from him, but I will say that there are more men than you think who are emailing me. Men are saying, "Thank you for not forcing a role on me as a man, that I'm supposed to do this. I'm not comfortable putting it out there, but I just want to tell you." These are men of all ages. Grandfathers and teenagers are e-mailing. Many of them are not parents. I think that it's tough for men. The pressure is getting released.
Q: How do you deal with other parents who criticize or blame your parenting style?
Reactions are varied. For me, I go with a gut reaction. If I feel somebody is open to having a constructive dialogue, I'm willing to do it. There are times when I don't react and I don't say anything. I confess I'm not the perfect parent and I don't think any of us are. We all want the best for our kids. My kids are number one in my life and I will do anything I can to help them. There's no difference in my support for Dyson who loves to dress up and Dkobe who loves soccer. It's a journey and it's not easy.
Q: What are the sources of strength you and your husband gather as parents to support Dyson and Dkobe?
This is truly one of the hardest things I've ever done. The biggest source of strength are my two boys and my man -- my three boys. Dean, Dkobe, and Dyson are extraordinary. They're normal. They're human. I love that about them. They just keep that strength going. We also have a tight extended family. Our parents travel with us and the kids, so there's always someone with us. The biggest strength after releasing the secret has been the other parents out there -- the parents telling me stories and my son walking into his class and saying, "I'm a princess boy. Here's the book, teacher. Read this to everyone." A dialogue is happening and adults are starting to listen to kids, responding to each other and talking. Every day on the Facebook page, people are posting and dialoguing with each other constructively.
Q: What are your greatest struggles and greatest joys as parents?
The greatest joy is both my kids coming to their own conclusions and their own decisions. Sometimes I get it; sometimes I don't. Sometimes I agree; sometimes I don't. I think it's a little piece of who they are becoming and I like that puzzle, the little pieces along the way. Parenting is hard! I think the biggest struggle is making the right choices and making the best for our kids.
Q: What is the best and the worst parenting advice you have received?
Best advice -- "Start and end with love." All the meat can be in the middle. That's what my parents have taught me, to start and end with love. The worst advice is "Do anything you can to change them."
Q: A parent on your Facebook page mentioned the term "superhero girls." Do you have plans to write a book about girls dressing up as boys?
I was a tomboy, so I played sports and didn't like dresses and things like that. I could possibly write about that, but it's not about getting a book out there. It's about the movement, about acceptance. We're all in the moment right now and we have to see where it goes.
Q: What is your goal or hope for where the book and its message will lead?
My only real mission was a dialogue, and it was a worldwide dialogue. That was my goal. My kids will have to leave the nest at some point, like all of our kids, and I don't want any child to leave the nest to go into a world where they can't be who they are.
Copyright © 2011 Meredith Corporation.
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