To tutu or not to tutu?

That is the question for a parent who wrote into the NYT's Motherlode blog:
Our son, M., is five. From the time he was born, or it seems that way anyway, he has liked pink, and sparkles and bows and the things you usually think of when you think of girls.

My husband and I understand that he is who he is. We haven’t made a big deal out of this, and we buy him the kinds of things that he likes when it comes to toys and clothes. We also try to ignore our relatives when they load him up with trucks and guns and toy hammers that he has no interest in, but it is hard smiling my thanks as they try to send a message.


...[H]e is in kindergarten and he wants to be a ballerina this year. I think it’s time to have him put away the tutu and be more like the other boys. My husband says that we can’t change him, and while I know my question probably sounds like I want to change him, or that I am embarrassed by him, I really mean it when I say that’s not my reason. Instead, I am worried about him getting hurt. Eventually other kids will notice and the teasing is inevitable. And one day someone will fight him over this. If I can protect him from that by explaining that this isn’t the way boys dress, then shouldn’t I? If should, then when do I start?
My short answer to her question is: Your husband is right and you should let him wear the tutu if that's what he wants and you should NOT force him to "be more like the other boys".

Halloween 2008, The Butterfly. Do you know how hard it is to find a good butterfly costume that isn't ridiculously expensive? I do now!

Long answer:

It's wonderful that you've allowed your son to be himself and let him enjoy the things that he wants thus far. You aren't alone in this, thankfully, but I'm sure you know there are many parents out there who wouldn't because "that's not what boys play with".

Now, did you notice that their reasoning is extremely close to your own when you say "that's not how boys dress" or when you use the phrase "be more like the other boys"?

You see, letting him be himself is not something you just turn off or discourage because now he's really public about it and he may--and probably will--get teased. You just don't. That's going to do more harm than good, in the long run.

Yes, part of our job as parents is to protect our children. But you know what? You can't protect them from other children and their teasing. If your son is different--and different is not a bad thing, it is just different--from other kids, he will always be different, no matter what he wears. He will be teased for it (because we're all "different" somehow). What your (our!) job is, as a parent, is to give him the strength and confidence to be himself and to face those who will question him and give him crap because he doesn't conform to their ideas of who he should be. Giving him yourself as support and the tools of confidence is what will 'protect' him in the long run. Your job is not to give into those other children's (and their parent's) ideas of who your son should be.

I don't intend to minimize how hurtful teasing and bullying can be. It's not easy to see your child hurt by the words and actions of other children. I've been there. I've comforted a child who has been singled out for being "weird". I've heard the stories about the other kids who are teased for having "weird names" or "dresses weird" or the like. It makes your heart hurt like you wouldn't believe.

So, I really, really get where the desire to protect your son comes from and to think that maybe making him be "more like the others" will help. That's a mistake. You may say that you aren't embarrassed or want to change him but you do when you say "boys don't do this" or "boys don't dress like this" because he is a boy and he does dress "like that" or "does that". You do want him to change and what does that tell him? Essentially, that he's not being a boy "the right way" and that he needs to change to fit into some other person's idea of who he should be--and that you agree with those other people. That is the message that comes across, not the one that says "I'm protecting you". What do you think will hurt worse: some mean little (or bigger) kids saying he's "not right" or his mom saying he's "not right"? Think about that a good long time.

Have the strength to say "deal with it" to people who would question him--be your child's first, best advocate. Give him the strength so that he will be able to say "deal with it" to others who question him now and in the years to come (about anything, really). Let your son wear the tutu and take joy in celebrating the wonderful person that he is.

Those shoes will not do!

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