I grew up in the South some time ago (I’m not dropping any more hints!), and my best friend was a little boy who wore Harry Potter glasses and loved to play with my Barbie dolls.
When our moms would arrange playdates, I knew if the rendezvous point was my house, there was only one thing Liam was going to want to play with: my small collection of Mattel “girl toys.” Liam’s mom always made us play with the door open so she could keep him from playing with anything girly. There were a few times I took the fall for “forcing” him to play house, but in all honesty, Liam just enjoyed Barbies more than Legos.
My personal love for Barbies was always minimal—I liked to cut their hair off, give them tattoos, and see how fast I could destroy them. Liam was a fan of playing house. When I went to his house, he shared all the Legos, so when he came over to mine, we pulled out my stash of Malibu Dreamhouse characters.
Liam is now an engineer and professor; he’s got a wife, three kids, and hasn’t picked up a Barbie since he was five. So what was his mother so worried about?
After I had my daughter, I was always very aware she wanted to be like her dad. Toolboxes were her favourite, and I made sure not to get her a girly one but one that looked just like her dad’s. Having grown up being a Tonka truck fan myself, I could relate and didn’t worry so much about her playing with boy toys. After all, what did it matter really?
But the first time my son picked out a Barbie-pink castle at the age of three to gift one of his best friends (a boy) for his birthday, I took a moment of pause that surprised me: what would the mother think?
Our world is one that judges on first impressions, and I try as often as I can to shield my children from the negativity that is so prevalent in our society. Ideas about how they should look, how they should act, what they should play with, and whom they should befriend are the things that keep me up at night. I know, ultimately, these are things I can only prepare them for, not protect them from. So I let my son buy his friend a pink castle and didn’t worry any more about it.
My son has toys that aren’t just for boys or are gender neutral because I believe being well-rounded is the best way for him to have a head start in life. I love the Kitchen Science Lab book for experimenting, Crayola My First Touch is a favourite for both my kids, and the Great Adventure Paper Dolls set is one they both still occasionally take out to play despite having outgrown it a little. Between those and books—we’re a big family of readers—I’ve filled my home to the brim with Play-Doh, building blocks, and yes, plenty of Legos to encourage them to create, imagine and evolve.
When I got my kids tablets—yep, I’m a techie mom—I did what I could to introduce them to kid-friendly blogs, apps and resources that would help them learn about acceptance and tech safety. My only restrictions were a time limit each day and a Virtual Private Network to keep their searches and discoveries secure from any hacking. Other than that, I don’t stand over their shoulders and try to police them. They are both strong characters, and they are going to be exactly who they’re going to be. The best thing I can do for them is give them the love and the tools to help them along the way.
For a while, my son enjoyed playing with Barbies and reminded me a lot of my childhood friend. I would walk by his room to find him dressing a Monster High Zombie or thoughtfully placing a tiara on Nutcracker Barbie. But he grew out of it, moved on to Playmobil, drawing on his art easel, and becoming 100 percent obsessed with Doctor Who. If he went back to Barbies, I’d honestly be okay with that too.
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