When Roo and I found out Tadpole’s sex (about 20 weeks into my pregnacy), we both worried about how we would do raising a boy. We knew a lot about being girls, and not much at all about what it’s like to be a boy. Our lives had been very focused around women. Even in our professional lives we had often focused on women–I worked at several all-girls camps many years ago, and Roo taught at a girls’ school. 95% of the artwork on the walls in our home portrayed women. Almost all of our friends were women–a diverse bunch, and with a wide variety of gender presentations–but still almost all female. How would we help our little guy figure out what kind of a boy/man he wanted to be? How would we help him navigate masculine worlds, when we had spent so little time in them ourselves? We were also aware of the possibility that our kid might be transgendered–and in some ways it felt like that world might be easier for us to help our kid navigate than the world(s) of boys and men.
It turns out that (so far at least) Tadpole does a great job of finding resources and role models for himself. When talking to either grandmother on the phone, his first question is usually, “where’s PopPop/Poppie?” At the pool the other day Tad spent 30 minutes talking to Ben (an adolescent lifeguard, who happens to be the son of one of Tad’s preschool teachers), and another 30 minutes talking to the awkward teenaged boy at the snack bar. Tadpole talks to men everywhere we go–chatting with an older man at the bus stop about our planned adventure for the day, telling men at neighboring restaurant tables what he chose to eat, and calling out greetings to any of our male neighbors who come within earshot.
All by himself he as found male role models who exemplify lots of different ways of being men. Tad adores the soft-spoken bookish father of one of his friends, and runs up to hug the macho fire-fighter dad of one of his classmantes. Ben (Tadpole’s lifeguard friend) is a femmey guy who likes to compare notes on nail polish with Tad. Our neighbor (who you may remember from this post) is another of Tadpole’s heroes.
Tadpole also seems to have no problems figuring out what kind of boy he wants to be. Tad is a boy who loves:
- cars/planes/trains/construction equipment
- purple (his favorite color for at least a year now)
- having his nails painted (preferably purple)
- firefighters and police officers
- running and jumping and rough-housing
- snuggling and hugs and kisses
- babies (he loves “holding” several of our friends’ babies, and is a devoted Daddy to his doll, Baby Fred)
- cooking (real and pretend)
- reading books
- pull-ups with fairies and unicorns
- pull-ups with cars/planes/helicopters/trains
It is so fun to see him exploring the world and figuring out more about who he is and who he wants to be. And I love that he hasn’t (so far) experienced a lot of pressure to cut off parts of himself in order to fit into the “boy” box. I think if someone now told him that “boys don’t like purple” or “boys don’t like fairies” he would look at them like they have three heads. Obviously boys like these kinds of things because he is a boy and he likes these things. I am proud that much of this freedom from “boys don’t ___” messages comes from Roo and me. It also comes from his classmates (many of whom are being raised by “good hippie folk” with values similar to ours) and from his teachers. And it comes from the folks who we have in our community of friends.
But I’m sure that gender and defining gender roles will likely become more important as he and his friends get older and as he experiences a wider world. I suspect that he will get a lot more messages about what being a boy means and what things boys are not allowed to do/like/feel. Thinking about that future makes me sad and mad. I love all of the pieces of our little boy and I don’t want him to have to disown or hide any of them.
Maybe that’s where Roo and I will come in more–helping Tadpole figure out how to hold onto all of himself as he moves in a world that is less tolerant of some of the parts. We’ll have to help him figure out what parts of himself he feels comfortable sharing in which settings. I imagine we will also have conversations about how to stick up for what he believes in and create space for things that are important to him. This feels like a far more intimidating challenge than just having to round up some men to hang out with my kid or put some pictures of boys up on the walls. But it seems like a challenge worth undertaking, both for him and for the world at large.