Recently, a friend asked me for some parenting advice (RAISE YOUR STANDARDS, PEOPLE) in regards to her young son, who will be attending a family wedding soon and wants to wear something "pretty and sparkly like his sisters." She knows my 6-year-old son is forever in a dress of some variety at my house, despite a 36-hour reprieve from doing so last fall, and wanted my input on the situation.
Even though Declan sleeps most every night in a dress and quite often puts one on the minute he walks in the door from school, we don't ever deal with the issue of wearing one out in public. Granted, he is completely allowed to wear them outside to play (although I'm putting the kibosh on them when bike riding, because you can see his underwear, and it seems dangerous) or play dress-up at a friend's house. But as far as wearing them to Target or school, it just hasn't been an issue. In the beginning of this trend, we would just explain that dress-up clothes are for at home while we play, and we wear our regular clothes when we are out. Most of his dresses are old costumes, so this seemed to make sense to him, and that was that. We have allowed him to wear jewelry or scarves or whatever when he's out, but other than that, it's not allowed.
I have to admit, when this habit of his started, I used to wonder how exactly to handle situations like the one my friend asked me about. If this wearing dresses phase was an actual THING for him — an outward expression of something he was feeling internally about his gender, etc. — I didn't want to quash that or assign any shame or judgment to it. I would stay up at night worrying about how to handle it. How do I allow my child to be his true self AND conform to societal norms? If this IS his identity, was it fair to only allow it in the confines of our home and street? And if I DO allow him to express himself in this way, how do I protect him from outside reactions?
Deep stuff, I tell ya.
My concerns are valid, I know, after we've seen recently the stories of these poor boys who were bullied and tormented over liking My Little Pony, of all things. The huge debate among my friends and others centered on the concept of sending a young child out into the world with a huge target on his back, literally, by carrying a MLP backpack, knowing that the world is cruel and he would be ridiculed. And I get that concept, I really do. I don't agree with it at all, though. I don't believe putting any blame on the victim is ok, ever. I do think, as parents, we have to prepare our children for the bullies of the world and we can't always protect them from the bad guys. That means sitting down and explaining to them that they are taking a huge risk by going against cultural norms, and letting them know that they may face ridicule or insults from others for their choices. That ALSO means explaining to them that it doesn't matter if what they like is cool or popular, and letting them know that no matter what, they will be accepted fully and wholly by the people that love them. We can't change the bullies of the world, but we can always be armed with a comeback.
I finally had to stop worrying about the what-ifs and how to handle every moment as if it was a life-changer when I realized that maybe, just maybe, the fact that Declan likes dresses or other boys like shows about horses might not mean a damn thing. Maybe Declan likes dresses for the EXACT REASON that he has always said: "Mommy, I'm a boy that likes dresses."
Or maybe Grayson Bruce likes MLP because it's just a damn cute show.
Once I realized that everything doesn't have to MEAN something, I just let go of my worries. And if other people would do the same, maybe kids that express themselves in a quote-unquotedifferent way wouldn't get bullied because WHO GIVES A SHIT ABOUT WHAT A KID LIKES? Kids aren't known for their great judgment or stellar taste.They are known for being one click above wild animals. So why are we so torn up about what they put on their bodies or watch on TV? They have no sense!
Anyway, with my friend who asked what to do about her son and the wedding, I told her that I think a boy wearing a dress to a wedding is inappropriate. Not because of gender norms or perceived sexuality or anything else. It's because it's a day to focus on the bride and groom, and having to explain every 34 seconds why her son was in a dress would take away from that, so don't do it. Instead, I suggested buying him a tie to match his sisters' dresses, or even his own new "fancy" watch to wear, just like a grown-up would wear.
Because everybody likes to feel fancy sometimes, even boys. And there's nothing else to it but that.
This post originally appeared at Domestic Disturbia.