Dear Other Mother: Little Boys and Gender Roles

Dear Mom I Saw in the Baby Store a Few Weeks Ago,

I saw you and your son on the way out the door as my daughter and I were choosing finger nail polish, and the two of you have been on my mind ever since. Your son was rocking a Princess Anna dress and I could tell by the smile on his face and the bounce in his step that he was feeling amazing. I want to thank you Other Mother. There are so many ways to be a boy, and you were letting your son shine in his own way. I have an older daughter that has taught me that there are lots of ways to be a girl, too. I wanted to say something to you, but you were on your way out and I know that you have to take advantage of the toddler momentum when you find it. Also, I was a little choked up. I said to my own toddler what an awesome mommy you were for letting your son be who he is, and I hope you heard me. You caught my eye and smiled at me, so I think you did. Thank you for letting your son be just exactly who he is.

I wish you both well,

I posted this letter in my local mom’s group hoping this mom would see it, but I don’t think she ever did.

Why was it so important to me to reach out to this woman who I had never met? Because I imagine other people are reaching out to her, and my guess is that they aren’t doing so in a positive way.

There is often a great deal of pressure for little boys to grow up quickly.  “Little man” is a nickname many boys earn straight from the time they leave the womb.  “Girl” has become an insult thrown at little boys who aren’t acting tough (or sometimes violent) enough.  While there is a well-meaning word for little girls who enjoy traditionally masculine pursuits, “tomboy” (more on that one later), the words for little boys who are interested in traditionally feminine activities go from rude (“sissy”) to bigoted (“f*****”) in short order.  Parents feel the need to spend hundreds of dollars to replace cribs, car seats, bedding, toys, and high chairs upon the addition of a boy to the family lest he come in contact with something pink or purple.

With so much pressure for boys to avoid femininity and softness at all cost, is it any wonder that I was so surprised to see that sweet little boy in a dress?


Little children play.  They play dolls, heroes, blocks, pretend, and dress up.  This is universal.  Wearing a dress to a shop won’t change the way this little boy was born, and it certainly won’t affect him in later life.

Except that it will.

He will grow up knowing his mother loved him completely and unconditionally, and that knowledge is the most powerful thing we can instill in our children.