Ask Elizabeth Anything: Loving Your Kids As They Are
Founder of StereoType answers questions about supporting kid's individuality.
I want to support my kids in everything they do, but sometimes I have difficulty getting behind them when they want to wear or do something outside of gender norms. For instance, my son loves nail polish, barrettes in his hair, and hearts on his clothes, and he will sometimes ask to put on my make-up. I know he’s just having fun playing dress-up, but it bothers me that he’s not into ‘boy things’ or any of the clothes that I pick out for him. I want to support him, but sometimes it’s hard for me to accept that he’s not a ‘typical boy.’ How do I support my son while also dealing with my feelings about his preference for dressing? Is this just a phase?
- Mom of Three
Dear Mom of Three,
I appreciate your honesty with this question. Before we even have kids, we have an idea or a vision about what they might be like or how we might be with them, and when those ideas clash, it can be challenging to move through them. Often we put our kids in tight parameters when it comes to them expressing themselves without even realizing it. Sometimes when a child expresses an interest outside of his or her gender norms we can get triggered by an old belief or judgement that we never thought to question before. However, this is a great learning (and un-learning) opportunity for you on why you might hold a specific belief or way of thinking regarding what your son is showing interest in.
To understand yourself a little better, ask yourself questions about why your son wearing nail polish and barrettes in his hair really bothers you. Is it because you don’t think it’s right for boys to wear ‘girl things’ or maybe is it because you want him to be the way you imagined him to be? If you can start to unpack why it bothers you, you can understand your feelings around your son's choices and begin to shift to what you see when your son is wearing things he’s naturally drawn to rather than how it makes you feel. For instance, what do you see when your son wears his heart clothing or has his hair in barrettes? Is he smiling, happy, or expressing joy? Is he excited, and does it show? This can give us as parents a point of reference when we feel the knee-jerk reaction to step in and ‘correct’ based on our own ideas. Remember, kids also model the interests of those in the home, so if he sees you putting on make-up and doing your hair and you feel good after doing so, he will notice and wonder why the rules are different for him.
Get curious and ask your son questions about what he likes about nail polish and hearts. How does it make him feel? Chances are you’ll learn a lot about why they make him happy. It could be a phase or it could be a lifelong interest. Either way, our kids need to know one thing to really thrive and feel accepted: that they are loved exactly as they are by their parents and that’s going to empower them to express themselves authentically out in the world.