(Update: I now have FOUR boys, but my feelings about this remain the same.)
I have three boys. My husband likes to say we’re specializing. So of course I often find myself tripping over light sabers, stepping on Lego’s, and dodging Nerf darts. But the toy that sometimes surprises visitors to our home is a couple of baby dolls. Why would dolls have a place in a “testosterhome” like ours?
I bought that first doll shortly before my second son was born. I wanted a prop my oldest son could use to warm up to the idea of a new baby and practice soft touches and necessary boundaries. Likewise, when he needed to play out the frustration of feeling displaced, the play baby was there. And when that curious toddler wanted to play with the new baby’s binky, there was the toy baby with his own binky to pull out and push in over and over again.
Dolls are widely marketed to girls, with their pink wardrobes and sparkly accessories, but as a prop in sociodramatic play, dolls provide for roles that apply to both girls and boys. They are able to experiment with sibling relationships, replay scenes with babysitters, and try on the role of Mom or Dad.
Perhaps there was a day when swaddling a baby doll was considered a strictly feminine act, but in our home, our boys see their dad changing diapers and snuggling babies almost as often as they see me do it. In my opinion, there’s nothing more masculine than a good dad. I’m glad my boys have many good role models in that arena, and that they aspire to fill that role themselves.
Now, I’ll be the first to say that my boys don’t play with dolls quite the same way or with the same frequency that little girls do. That’s OK. But when I see one of my boys scoop up the baby doll in order to play the role of “Dad”, I’m glad that wedged somewhere between the Spider Man costume and the tool bench there’s a doll or two to be found.
Top photo by D. Sharon Pruitt of Pink Sherbet Photography.
Love and Lollipops says
Nice post Amanda – Love the pic too!
If play is a child’s language, then toys are the words…children are able to use toys to say things that they cannot say or are uncomfortable expressing. Providing the toy or “prop” as you put it, opens up the possibility of playing and working through difficult feelings. My latest post touches on the themes that can occur in children’s play and by providing my son with a small doctor’s kit, he has “played out” his recent experiences in hospital.
Thanks for always sharing such great insightful posts. 🙂
PS. My latest post http://allthingschildren.blogspot.com/2011/09/lets-play-doctor-doctor.html
What an eloquent way to put it!
I love it! I have 4 little boys and I love it when they find a baby doll–feed it and put it to bed. It is definitely sweet!
Rebecca B says
Beautiful! This post reminds me of the children’s book William’s Doll by Charlotte Zolotow. I love the message in that book, and I’m glad to see that more boys are breaking through the stereotypical barrier of gender toys!
I was working with a little guy in our preschool the other day and when we were finished, I asked him if he would like to go over and play with the blocks…He said” NO, I would like to play with the babies.”
He came back to me several times for help wrapping the baby, and for help to find a bottle. Soon he was happily rocking his baby in one of the child sized rockers…How sweet!
This is my first time visiting your blog, and I love this post! I think our society has sort of fooled itself into thinking of “nurturing” in purely feminine terms, and narrowly defining its scope. Daddies typically don’t play with or care for their children in the same ways mommies do, but it’s still nurture–and I think families in our culture would be much stronger if we did more to encourage those tendencies in the next generation of men. Your sons’ doll time will bring blessings to any children they care for in the future!
Thank you so much, Kathryn. You made some great points here. I’m glad to have you reading here, and hope you’ll come again!
Kristin @ Preschool Universe says
My little guy likes playing with dolls too, and I’m glad he (and your boys) don’t see anything wrong with that.
Dear Amanda, I find this post relevant and insightful. A year ago I bought Parenting with positive guidance and I found it wonderful. (Your brother was right, you´ve done something you can be proud of 😉 ).
I believe a rich toolbox for parenting must include this kind of broader gender perspective, which I like to summarize as “Dancing Kings and Speed Racer Girls”. Boys and girls are not the same but both have the human right to freely become what they deserve to be beyond gender stereotypes.
Thank you so much for your kind words, Fernanda!
Elvis Snoopy says
Both my boys (now aged 21 & 14) had baby dolls. I believe in teaching your kids to love, be kind, and take care of those that are unable to take care of themselves. I’m proud of both my young men.
What a great post! I recently wrote about this same thing on my blog. I have a 3 year old girl, and a 1 year old boy, so we are heavy on the girl toys, and not so much into the trucks yet! http://www.townsend-house.com/2011/08/boys-and-dolls.html
Our house was girl dominated before our first boy arrived, so we already had quite a few dolls. But both our boys have their own dolls and both freely engage in as much doll play as the girls did at similar ages. My kids play with dolls for so many reasons, all of them wonderful and none of them relate to the gender of the child!
Hi fab post. It is sad when limits are made on children with so called gender specific toys.
Children learn through play and this is where they develop essential life skills.
I also blogged about it a while back.
Love your site.
Thank you for posting this! I work in a preschool and it makes my heart smile when I see the little boys playing “daddy” with the baby dolls. Men SHOULD take an interest in child rearing and it starts at home when they’re little =)
This is my first time reading your blog. Like you, I am also the mother of three boys. We bought a baby doll shortly before my 2nd son was born and I think it was one of the best decisions my husband and I made.