Families With Grace

Helping Christian moms create homes filled with grace, love & faith

Raising boys: Why I let my son play with dolls

Raising boys and girls shouldn’t be totally different

I first wrote this post back in 2014 when my son was 1-1/2. Now he’s 9 and no longer plays with dolls. But as the youngest child with only a big sister, dolls were around when he was a toddler. And he played with them. I don’t regret it for a moment. Raising boys and girls shouldn’t always be different. It’s OK for boys to play with dolls. This post explains why.

My son has a new obsession that began last week: a baby doll nearly as big as he is dressed in a pink floral outfit sporting a tiny pacifier dangling from a white ribbon attached to her clothes. This is his first real toy obsession. He’s certainly played with, thrown around and chewed on plenty of toys in his short lifetime, but he’s not had one that he constantly wanted until this baby doll. She was a Christmas gift for his big sister last year. Fortunately, his big sister isn’t obsessed with this doll and doesn’t mind sharing.

As I’ve watched him cart that doll all through our house and into the car and weep for her when we take her away at bedtime or mealtime, I’ve smiled. I mean, he’s just so cute the way he hugs her and pats her. He’s learning to be gentle. He’s learning to take care of her. I see him mimicking some of the things my husband and I do to take care of him. And I’m not going to put a stop to it.

The teaching power of toys

I have no issue with my son playing with a doll and one that is so very feminine at that. I’m not a raging feminist myself. I see the differences between men and women, boys and girls. I appreciate those differences and try to celebrate them. My husband and I have different strengths and different ways of thinking. Together it works quite nicely for our family.

I tend to be more gentle with our children; he turns them upside down and tickle them. (He’s also gentle and loving with them as well.) We’re different and it works. The kids love both. I love both kissing their heads as we snuggle and hearing their laughter as they play with dad. I celebrate that my son already works differently than my daughter, both because of his personality and because of his gender. He is more physical; she is more verbal. Raising boys and girls is different in some ways, but not so much in others.

When it comes to toys, I don’t have much preference in what they want to play with. My daughter plays with superheroes, Ninja Turtles and cars. She also plays with princesses, baby dolls and Barbies. It’s up to her what she picks. I feel the same with my son. He loves helping his sister cook in the play kitchen (though he’s not super great at following her instructions, yet, much to her chagrin). And he loves playing with baby dolls. He carries them, he pats their backs and he is gentle with them like he isn’t with other toys. This one baby doll in particular has become his favorite. He also plays with cars, balls and blocks.

Toys are just toys, but they are also something more. They are what my children first use to develop and learn about the world around them. I make sure they have appropriate toys (as in their toys are safe), but otherwise, I’m hands off. I want them to be free to explore and to learn. For instance, I want my son to have a chance to explore his more gentle side in taking care of a baby doll as well as explore his more aggressive side in splashing the water in the bathtub as hard as he can.

Raising boys for the future

I very much want and plan to raise a strong, confident man. I also want to raise a man with a good heart who has compassion. He won’t learn that if I only let him play with “boy” toys. He can’t explore gentle play if I forbid him from playing with his sister’s dolls. Neither can my daughter learn to assert herself if I teach her only to be gentle. I want her to be gentle and caring, but I also want her to be confident in herself and be aggressive when she needs to in order to fulfill her life’s purpose. She can’t explore those aspects by only playing with dolls.

I’m not a fan of labeling toys as gender specific. I’ve long balked at that idea. I don’t think my son will be less of a man because he spent a few weeks as a toddler lugging around a pink baby doll. In fact, I think he’ll be a better man for having had the opportunity to do so. He’ll be a better father one of these days if he knows how to be gentle and loving.

Boy mom versus girl mom

What happens when you’re a both mom?

I’ve seen many posts from other moms on social media and elsewhere talking about being a boy mom or a girl mom. But, that leaves me wondering, where do those of us with both fit?

Girl mom

I was a girl mom first, because my daughter is my oldest. She is the one who broke me in as a mom. Motherhood is incredibly awesome, but it can also knock you right off your feet as suddenly you become irrelevant in your own life. Everything revolves around a tiny person who is demanding and dependent on you for survival. And you love that tiny person more fiercely than you’ve ever loved anything before. It’s exhilarating and exhausting!

Finding out I was having a girl was exciting. I wasn’t someone who had a strong desire for either gender. I was just excited to be growing our family. Once we knew we were having a girl, we did some girlie shopping. I found a beautiful pink outfit to bring her home in.

My daughter is full-fledged girl. From the beginning she’s enjoyed things that are pink and sparkly. She loved baby dolls more than any other toy. She’d whip up food in her play kitchen. While she took her time with more physical skills, her verbal skills came early.

From the beginning, I had fun dressing her up in adorable outfits. And now that she’s a preteen, she has fun dressing herself up in adorable outfits. She has girl energy in being able to sit and do one task quietly for a long time. That was true by the time she was a preschooler and has only gotten more true as she’s getting older.

Boy mom

My son arrived just over three years after my daughter. From the beginning he had a different temperament. He was more demanding. While my daughter was pretty even-keeled, my son was happy or not happy. He didn’t have much in between. Not much has changed even now that we are approaching his 8th birthday next month.

I found adorable boy clothes. There were tiny suits and tiny jeans. His winter coat when he was 2 was a small bomber jacket. His nursery was decorated with superheroes. He also talked early, but he was also more physical earlier than our daughter.

We learned early on that our son was a ball of boy energy. Thinking back now, a few years later, I hardly remember him walking. It seemed like he went from crawling to running almost overnight. Even without seeing weapons, he could pick up random toys and make them something to fight with.

He didn’t have as much patience for sitting still for activities like coloring. He liked to go-go-go. Even now at nearly 8, he most likes to do something while he is listening to our book being read. Sometimes he snuggles, but other times, he just quietly moves around his toys or pets the pup.

Getting the jokes

Lots of posts and comments about girl mom versus boy mom are about funny truths of raising girls or boys. Girl moms joke about glitter getting everywhere. It does. I have had glitter in the lint trap of my dryer more often than not over the past decade.

Boy moms talk about body parts and gross jokes. Those happen. My son cracks up at anything related to flatulence and so on.

I get it. Boys and girls both tend to have their own qualities. Some of them seldom overlap. And they are often confusing to the other gender. For example, my children were recently going to spend the day with my parents. My son pulled on clean clothes from his drawer without paying too much attention to them. My daughter labored over her decision of what to wear and how to style her hair.

I heard my son say to her, “It doesn’t matter what you wear. We’re just going to Lolly’s!” (They call my mom Lolly.) I could only think bless his heart. He doesn’t understand how things work for some 11-year-old girls.

Being a both mom

I don’t begrudge solely girl moms and solely boy moms their role. And I don’t feel like they are leaving me out in any way. But I do want to give a shout-out to my fellow both moms.

We get the best and worst of both genders. We get the sweet snuggles and silly fart jokes from the boys. Our girls give us warm hugs and commentary on our fashion choices.

Both moms get to do all the stuff. We get the girlie things and the boy things. We get a mix of both. And our kids learn from each other. Having grown up in a family where I only had an older brother, I feel like I learned more about how boys behave than I would have if he’d have been a sister. I think the same is true for my own two children.

Because as both moms, we also have an easy excuse to encourage our kids to try things that they wouldn’t be attracted to otherwise. My son has played with dolls. My daughter has played with dinosaurs. They have access to toys and activities that maybe are different than what they would be drawn to. I like that!

We both moms also have to help our kids understand each other. Not only are they different ages (unless you have multiples) who can be in different phases (my daughter isn’t as into toys these days), they are also different genders. There are times my kids just completely don’t understand where the other one is coming from.

My daughter doesn’t understand her brother’s anger and his struggle to not act it out physically. My son doesn’t understand his sister’s desire to accessorize.

Of course these things happen for girls moms and boy moms. Because even as the same gender, each kiddo and person is different. I would daresay, though, that we both moms have that happen even more because of the gender difference.

Just moms

In the end, it doesn’t really matter who is a girl mom, a boy mom or a both mom. We are all just moms. Our journeys aren’t identical, because we all have our own challenges. But we are all doing the best we can to raise our children well. Each day we struggle through homework and meals. We remind kids to bathe.

We’re all wondering if we’re messing up our kids. Moms everywhere doubt their abilities and choices. We worry if our kids are OK. We are doing the best we can in the midst of the chaos and exhaustion.

Whether you’re a girl mom, boy mom or both mom, you’re doing well, mama. You’re taking on motherhood like a boss.

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