I bought my son a baby doll…and it’s rocking my own sense of identity


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he picked dolly out and wouldn’t let her go

My hunt for weather-appropriate clothes (on sale) at Fred Meyer left me wandering dejectedly through the toy aisles. I thought that I might come across something fun to add to the collection (because Scrummy has chewed up a few of the play foods that I bought most recently), and Potamus got really excited in the cart and pointed at the dollies. I picked one up and asked, “do you want this?” and his response was a very definitive “YEAH,” and he hugged her tight (yes, I’m associating a female gender to the doll because she’s dressed in pink. Sue me). Fortunately Dolly was only $2.99 because some dolls are really expensive and I didn’t feel like shelling out $20 for an experimental toy (not knowing if his definitive ‘yeah’ meant ‘YEAH’ or he was just excited in the moment, like he does with snack-time). But Dolly, as we’ve named her, has been a permanent fixture in our house for 30 hours now.

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I know the psychological benefits of boys playing pretend with dolls and other ‘typical girl’ toys like play food and stuffed animals. I read blogs where boys have long hair, or play with dolls, or wear skirts to Home Depot with their dads. I loved that he picked this toy on his own, and has been so lovingly attentive to her. He’s pretended to feed her, wants help wrapping her in a swaddle, and has laid her in a little box for a bed. He snuggled with her all last night, even when he came into our bed. I think it’s so sweet to see him holding her so lovingly while watching TV or eating dinner.

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So, with all of this sweet happiness that I’m feeling in my gut when I look at this innocent little boy with his dolly, do I feel a little twang or twinge after today’s outing to KidsQuest? While nothing was said overtly, I did notice that people noticed…if that makes sense. Most of the moms I encountered seemed to have a wistful ‘awe, how sweet’ look on their face. And dads seemed to be thinking ‘is that a boy carrying a doll?’ though I wouldn’t say their looks were judgmental or hostile, but more…surprised? And then there was the older restuarant worker who almost fell over his own feet staring at Potamus and Dolly while getting back to his shift. He was smiling, but also seemed…perplexed?

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Now, I don’t want to be over-analyzing every little experience we have in the future. Because I can’t read minds, and these people could certainly just have been admiring my adorable son, rather than thinking about the fact that he’s carrying a baby doll. After all, if I notice this, then maybe it’s because I feel uncomfortable? Why am I letting my son carry a doll? Is it some political statement? Is it my way of rebelling and giving the gender stereotype marketing a big eff-you finger? Or is it because he so sweetly asked for it and seems to love it more than he’s loved any other toy?

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Potamus and Dolly eating some lunch at Panera.

Have you let your son/daughter play with ‘opposite gender’ toys? How did it make you feel? How did it make you feel in public when your child wasn’t ‘gender conforming’ for any reason?

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12 Comments

  1. Well, since I have a girl and two boys, we play with everything around here. 🙂 Since my daughter is the oldest, the boys carry around purses, put on high heels and have been known to throw on a princess dress now and then. I have never let them go out of the house like that, and they have never asked to. If my son wanted to wear a pink tutu out in public, I’m not sure what I would do, but in the comfort of our own home, who the heck cares!! As far as that baby doll though, if it was keeping my kid happy, he could take it with him to his first day of college for all I care! For some reasons, toys don’t bother me one bit!

  2. I “let” her play with anything she is interested in although we won’t be having guns/gun type toys in our house until our kids can afford to buy their own things and are working…I understand it’s hard in the wider world to always feel confident because parenting is so subjective and so emotional, but please try to to read into/take notice of the looks of other people. What could possibly be the problem? Your son showed an interest in a doll modeled after a human baby, shows it affection and is happy. You support that. Bravo to you, piss off to anyone who, for whatever reason, finds this a problem. Sadly, if he were carrying around a plastic gun or something you probably wouldn’t have felt so self-conscious. Be proud of yourself and of P!

    • Thanks! Yeah, I know that my son is totally normal and fine. I love that he’s developing empathy and practicing skills like feeding and dressing the baby. I worry about getting confrontational with people, or having to ‘parent’ someone else’s child and tell them what colors/toys are okay for girls/boys, but worse…I don’t want to get in a conflict with an adult. I read a story recently of some guy taking a mom’s 2 year old son’s headband off his head and calling him gay. I don’t want that sort of interaction (but then again I’m in Seattle, what are the chances it’ll happen here?)

  3. Our son had his own baby doll and our girls had blocks, gears, and cars. Everyone played everything together, and I’m certain they’re the better for it. The Boy can sew on buttons better than his sisters, the Oldest Sister can use power tools to build a piece of furniture, and all three kids are sensitive to injustice related to gender. So try to ignore any judgmental looks you may get – you’re doing the right thing!
    Amy at http://www.momgoeson.wordpress.com

  4. Personally, I would find it very encouraging, especially considering you want to bring a human baby into your home, that he is interested in loving and nurturing! We bought our son a doll his second xmas because I wanted him to be exposed to playing with dolls. he wanted nothing to do with it and pretty much ignored it. Our daughter on the other hand is obsessed with everything baby! Go figure. But she also loves her brother’s trucks. Recently our son got obsessed with the show My Little Pony, probably b/c he has girl cousins. We did find it a little unusual and awkward, but think about it– if you had a girl you wouldn’t tell her not to watch baseball or Superfriends because they are “boy” shows, right? i don’t know. I think its all good!

  5. I know a chick who refuses gender roles with her son, lets him paint his nails, wear tutus, you name it. The only problem is what will happen when he starts school? He will probably be ostracized and called a fag. I wish this didn’t exist and little boys could do whatever. I was a tomboy who hated girly crap.

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