What would you do if your son dressed himself in a pink skirt for his first day of preschool and refused to wear anything else? One brave mum explains her decision.
I would like to start by saying that it was hard for me to write this piece. I thought long and hard about it. I feel like it will open me up to criticism and judgement for allowing my son to wear girls’ clothes. I have experienced such judgements from friends and family, from acquaintances and general members of the public. But I chose to write it. I want to tell my son’s story because I feel it is an important one.
When he was just about two years old we received a bag of hand-me-down clothes. In this bag was a girls’ shirt. He found it. He loved it. He put it on immediately. I thought it was cute. When it came time for bath and I took it off him to bathe him he screamed for his “pretty pretty”. After bath I tried to put pajamas on him. He ripped them off and screamed for his pretty pretty. He pulled the dirty shirt out of the washing basket and put it back on. He looked at himself in the mirror. A smile stretched from ear to ear and his eyes lit up. He said “pretty pretty” and turned this way and that admiring his profile. He slept in the shirt. The next day to dress him in clean clothes this same thing was repeated. All he would wear was this one shirt. I was forced to take it off him and wash it. He writhed on the floor naked and screaming until it came out of the washer and the dryer.
Because I did not want to keep wearing the one shirt day and night and night and day I took him to the shopping centre. We went through the boys’ wear department and I tried to get him to like the shirts in there. “Look, this one has a truck!”, “Look, this one has a dinosaur!”. But he was not swayed. Every shirt I handed him he flung to the floor. We went to the girls’ wear department. He ran straight to all the pink and purple and frilly, sparkly clothes, yelled “pretty pretty!” and started pulling them off the shelves. He wanted a Dora the Explorer princess dress. It was bright pink and had a giant frilly skirt. It was $60. I couldn’t afford it. I talked him into some cheaper ones. I bought him girls’ clothing sets in light blue and yellow so they were not so girly. I also bought him his favourite pink outfit.
Every day when I dress him I provide him with two boys’ options and two girls’ options. He chooses which he will wear. Occasionally he will choose the boys’ clothes, but mostly he will choose the girls’ option.
This has been difficult for me. On the one hand I recognise that my child is showing a clear choice and preference as to what he would like to wear. I feel that he has the ultimate right to dress as he pleases and to express his own individuality. I believe there is no such thing as boys’ toys or girls’ toys. Children should be free to explore what they like and don’t like irrespective of their gender. It is society that has these restrictions. I do not want to impose that on my children.
At the same time I see the reactions he gets out in the real world. It is all well and good to have ideals, but in letting my child be himself I am watching him buck the social norm. This makes him different. This makes him ‘other’. This makes life in the real world more difficult for him.
I am ashamed to admit that I have, on occasion, argued with him. I have forcibly put boys’ clothes on him. He has wriggled and screamed and kicked. He has immediately removed the clothing, thrown it on the floor, and screamed “PRETTY PRETTY!” at me in a tone of voice that says “What are you, stupid? I don’t like these clothes! Bring me mine back!”.
So I have come to realise that my initial response was the correct one. It is wrong for ME to pigeonhole MY child because society has set gender norms. This will not work for me, and this will not work for my child. I have to see him for who he is. I have to respect his choices and his self expression. If I try to force the boys’ clothes we have an impossible situation where he screams and carries on and will not wear anything. I have two other children. I am a single mum. I have to go grocery shopping and take my older children to school and do errands. I do not have the luxury of sitting around the house with a naked, tantruming child.
It is my job as his mother to recognise the individual that he is and to support him unconditionally. Will he face challenges? Without doubt. I will try to teach resilience. I will try to teach inner strength. I refuse to force my child to wear clothing he hates. I refuse to make him scream and cry and beg for his 'pretty pretty'. It is his body. He likes what he likes. Will he always wear girls’ clothing? Who knows? He sometimes will choose the boys’ option now. I am not type-casting him. I will continue to support his choices and his individuality. He is a beautiful, smart, sensitive and loving child. He is my child, and I will love him unconditionally, regardless of what he wears, and maybe even because of it.
What would you do if this was your son?