I was browsing a dollar store recently, sans kids, and I couldn’t help but overhear a mother talking to her boys. There were three of them, but the youngest wasn’t talking yet. As I wandered through the store, I kept hearing the mother say the same thing over and over. “No, not that one. It’s too girly.”
At one point, I passed them in an aisle and I saw the boys were picking up boxes of crafts and puzzles and showing them to their mother. Again and again, it was the same refrain. “Too girly.”
That moment when I passed them, I wanted to turn to the woman and tell her she wasn’t doing her boys any favours. I wanted to tell her all kinds of things about how offensive it was that she was describing these toys as “too girly”, regardless of her reasons.
I bit my lip and continued browsing in another aisle. Of course, dollar stores aren’t all that big and so it was we crossed paths again. This time, I heard the mother use the names of two of her boys. Names that I personally would not consider very “strong and masculine”. Like Skylar, for example.
I shook my head. I honestly don’t know what or who they were buying for – perhaps it was a gift for someone else and not for her own boys. Either way, I felt uncomfortable that the only adjective she could bring herself to use was “girly.”
Is there something wrong with saying, “No, I don’t think ___ would like that gift. Let’s find something else,” or perhaps, “Hey, buddy, I don’t think you’d like that one because it’s pink and you like blue. Let’s see if we can find a blue one.”
And so what if something is pink and your son likes it? Everyone loves that my daughter chose the green “dinosaur” boots, but what if my son chose the pink ones? Maybe we should just stop selling stuff in pink altogether, then.
I know that I cringe inside when Abby picks up the princess toys, sometimes, just because they’re princess toys. And don’t even get me started on Dora. But I try hard not to impose my will on her in this area. I try never to say that she can’t have something because it’s not suitable for her gender.
Already, she’s come home from the sitter’s, upset that a boy there told her she can’t do things just because she’s a girl. She’s also come home, equally distraught that the same boy said she looked like a boy, not like a girl.
These things break my heart. I put salve on those wounds as best I can, tell her she can do anything she sets her mind to, that she’s beautiful no matter what anyone else says. And when my son is of age that he deals with these issues on the flip side of the coin, I will do the same for him.
Yet, I can’t help but feel it will never be enough. Even if I can master my own self-esteem, even if there are nothing but positive images of self in our house, it will never be enough. There will always be someone else to tell them differently.
I know how painful it is when we believe others instead of Him. I know that pain like an old friend, though not a particularly welcome one. I wish I could spare both my kids that pain. I wish that I could build a wall, perhaps a selectively permeable one, around these kids so that they would only ever hear and see the truth.
But just what is the truth, anyway? That the toys you prefer to play with will somehow make you more or less a boy or girl? That there are some things that only boys can do (natural, inborn limitations aside) and then there are things that only girls should do?
Or is the truth that we are what and who He created us to be and that each of us has strengths and weaknesses that differ from each other? That my job as a parent is to help my kids see their gifts, and encourage them in how to use those gifts for the glory of their Creator? That my job as a human being is to encourage my fellow man, to show love and compassion and to share my own gifts in such a way as to be a blessing to those around me?