Why I let my son play with dolls

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.

My son and his favorite doll.

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.  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. He’s 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.

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 think to be gentle with our children; he thinks to turn 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.

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.  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.

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.

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