Do you have a boy who likes ballet or babies? What should you do with a girl who climbs trees or wants to learn boxing? Do you feel like you’ve failed Parenting 101? I’ll take a wild guess that you haven’t done anything wrong. Allowing your children to be who they are may turn out to be the best parenting technique you can utilize.
Male ballet dancers. Female generals. Many roles would have happened rarely, if at all, in the recent past. There are so many options and choices available to today’s kids that it’s actually hard to keep up with all of the new terms that have popped up in recent years.
How does a kid discover facets of their personality at a young age? We have a 9 year old grandson who is a big sports fan (especially football), plays video sports games (not at our house!) and plays as roughly as possible with his equally rough 5 year old brother. The thing that especially endears him to me? He loves babies. He always wants to hold them, play with them or feed them. I don’t see it as a threat to his masculinity. I see a great dad in the making.
Childhood is a time of exploration, discovery, testing boundaries. We teach our kids everything that we think will prepare them for life – a belief system, good values, common sense. But realistically, it’s not possible to be present for all of their experiences, nor should we be. Some of the lessons must be learned and evaluated on an individual basis.
Allowing your children to be who they are
Kids can, and should, explore a variety of selves. How else can they determine what works the best for them? Why do kids (or, for that matter, adults) enjoy playing dress-up? (Ever go to a character convention, medieval faire, act in a play, or do any kind of game/role-playing?) As kids explore who they are, what they believe about things and how they should act, they’re learning what works best for them.
Case in point: once my daughter was somewhat mobile as a toddler, it became apparent that she was fearless in many potentially fearful situations and wasn’t interested in many “girl” toys. As a teen, she wore baggy jeans and sports jerseys.
On the other hand, my son was cautious and concerned about uncertain situations but very nurturing to his stuffed animals. It dawned on me pretty quickly – he was learning to be a father. Think about it – little girls traditionally play house with dolls and families and grow up to become caregivers. Little boys traditionally don’t. As a result, some men are not equipped to be fathers because they haven’t “tried on” that role.
I got criticism from some (even close friends) about my daughter being a tomboy and the possibility of my son showing “feminine” tendencies. I wasn’t a psychologist but I knew innately that the best thing I could do for my kids was to let them be who they are without judgment. That doesn’t mean there aren’t limits but generally speaking, providing a safe structure for them to explore a variety of roles ultimately solidified who they became.
And, who did they become? Successful, strong individuals that are very secure in who they are.
Oh, did I mention? They both play one of the roughest sports possible – rugby. What does that all say about letting kids pick their own way?
Are they “going through a phase”?
Don’t worry about your kids trying things out (as long as it’s not harmful, of course). Give them strength, comfort, encouragement and let them go (while you’re surreptitiously watching in the background).
An old nursery rhyme goes, in part, “Leave them alone and they’ll come home”. I read it as – allowing your children to be who they are means they’ll come home to who they were meant to be all along. Mostly because you supported them on that journey. Good on you!
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