Jacob’s Baby

When Hannah was 2, I bought her a doll. A very expensive, Waldorf-style doll, lovingly made by hand by a local mama. I had visions of the two of them becoming fast friends. I buried my face in that doll’s woolen hair and inhaled and just knew that my child would love this toy as much as I did. I was wrong.

Hannah liked her doll well enough, but she wasn’t really a doll person. At least not at 2 years old. She preferred noisy toys and finger paint and lift-the-flap books. But still, somehow, we amassed quite an impressive doll collection. There are princess dolls and Groovy Girls and Barbie dolls and baby dolls and custom-made dolls. I bought some of the dolls, friends and relatives bought some and Hannah bought some herself using her allowance money.

When Jacob was born, he came into a home filled with dolls and all things ‘girl’. Oh, sure, we had gender neutral toys and even some ‘boy’ toys, but Hannah loves girly and other people love girly so we had a fairly girly playroom. This is the great thing about having opposite-gender kids, actually – your kids get exposed to much more diverse play. Jacob has driven his cars around while wearing a tiara and pranced around wearing nothing but a tutu and a beaded necklace. And he plays with dolls.

Doll on potty
Jacob likes to put his doll on the potty. I find this ironic as he won’t sit on it himself.

Jacob is far more interested in dolls as a 2-year-old than his big sister ever was. He takes very good care of them – he calls his doll-of-the-moment “Baby” and he nurses it and puts it on the potty and pushes it around in a stroller. He becomes very upset if someone else touches it. He rocks his baby and pats his baby’s back and asks me to nurse the baby. He is honing his parenting skills, man.

Jacob snapping his baby in
Jacob strapping his baby in.

I love to watch Jacob play with dolls. It touches my heart to see him taking care of a baby, even if it is only a doll. Maybe this is just some inborn desire for grandchildren speaking, but I can see how he is practicing parenting and care-taking. I can see how he is learning to gently handle a smaller creature. And I think that his willingness to express this side of himself, just as he expresses his love of kicking balls or hitting things with sticks, is a good thing. It’s a sign that his play is encompassing a wide range of human experience.

Jacob taking his baby for a walk
Taking the baby for a stroll.

Of course, a boy playing with dolls isn’t regarded as a good thing in every circle. I’ve had comments from people at the park as Jacob pushed his doll stroller that went something like, “Oh, my, he sure does like dolls, doesn’t he?” The subtext was clear – this is not OK, maybe there’s something wrong with him. What seems so natural and sweet at home can leave me feeling defensive and uncomfortable in public.

Let’s face it – boys are still not supposed to play with dolls. And if I hadn’t had a daughter first, Jacob would probably not have quite so many dolls to play with. I can imagine I would buy one or two in an effort to be a progressive parent, but we wouldn’t have dozens floating around our house. And we probably wouldn’t have the doll stroller and the play diaper bag and the doll bed and the many changes of doll clothes. Even in my house where I strive to parent neutrally, the dolls mostly came with the girl. But I’m glad I have them, now, and that Jacob is enjoying them.

It’s interesting to see how our children live up to our pre-conceived gender notions, and how they absolutely do not. And it’s interesting to see everyone’s reaction to that. I don’t know what Jacob will grow up to be, and whether the way that he plays now will somehow be evident in his future personality. Only time will tell. For now, I’m happy to be the mother of the little boy who’s pretending to nurse his baby.

Do you have a son? Has he gravitated towards dolls? And how has that played out? Or do you have thoughts on encouraging children to play with non-traditional toys? I’d love to hear!

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  1. My son is three months younger than yours, and he has a doll that he loves a lot. A waldorf-style doll, by the way, handmade by his grandmother. I wasn’t so into these waldorf dolls, we only had plastic dolls at home, but my son really doesn’t seem to care. When we are at friends, he likes the plastic dolls just as well.

    We don’t have much doll accessories, no older siblings, but he loves to keep his doll at the table for dinner and feeds her, carries her around, puts her to sleep. At a friends house he played with a stroller, and just as in reality (him being a stroller-less baby, almost exclusively baby-wearing except for a few weeks) he took the doll out of the stroller after seconds, said “doll crying. carry. better.” – and yes, I loved to see him practice attached doll parenting 🙂

    We have not had any comments from other people on his doll play. And I think its just fine.

  2. That’s adorable.

    We only have one doll which I bought for my daughter when she was two. She mostly ignores it. She’s just not into dolls. Every so often I find her lying down to nurse a variety of stuffed animals lined up along her chest and belly because she’s actually a jaguar, most days, so it makes sense that she doesn’t mother human dolls.

    My son keeps the doll and cradel in his room. He sometimes drags Baby Susie along on his adventures and sings her lullabies and of course drops her on her head when he sees something more exciting. If he nursed her I would get very gushy about it.

    When he finds a baby dinosaur that’s been lost, he usually brings it to me for “num nums.” So I find myself nursing a velociraptor every now and again.

    But just the other day my daughter insisted the cradel and doll be moved into her room and she took a long time dressing her and tucking her in and I must confess I thought, ooooh! granchildren! normal! yay! that’s just being a people, I guess.

    I’d prefer my kids don’t grow up to be the type who explain at parties, “my iguanas are my babies.” You know, selfish genes.
    Betsy’s last post … Chocolate Juice – Some Thoughts on ParentingMy Profile

  3. We’re in the same situation as you, with my daughter born first. Though, truth be told, I didn’t buy any dolls. But grandma did 🙂 and so the kids have baby dolls that talk & coo & drink (a bottle), and little doll baby diapers, and clothers, and a baby stroller, and a baby carrier and a little house with a crib and…. at her house!!
    And its interesting because my son DOES really enjoy pushing around the baby when he’s there.

    At home, they both really enjoy pretending to nurse & sling their “babies” (stuffed animals) and put them down for naps.
    My son also likes to dress up in my daughter’s fairy costumes and beads and crowns – because hey, who wouldn’t? Girls dress up stuff is sparklier and boy’s dress up stuff. Though, they both like to be police officers and fire fighters too.

    I don’t actively encourage them to play with any certain thing. If they want to play, they can play with nearly anything in the hosue (providing its used correctly within the bounds of indoor toy play – i.e. you can’t play with the kitchen knives as doctor tools, but if you’d like to help me prepare a snack, I’ll help you learn how to use the kichen knife in that way).

    Though I do discourage play with certain things – by just not purchasing them myself and/or returning gifts that I don’t approve of (yes, mean mom). Things like: character toys, violent toys, bratty/over-sexualized dolls/toys, or makeup.

    And… truth be told, I always gravitate towards purchasing building & creative toys for our house above anything else. We have tons of different types of blocks, legos, magformers, tubes, bricks, etc.). Because I think things like this allow for more open-ended play, instead of very specifically designed toys. It encourages the imagination if they have to make an airport out of blocks instead of having a plastic pre-made airport to play on/in/with.
    kelly @kellynaturally’s last post … Renewing My Commitment to Peaceful ParentingMy Profile

  4. I’m so glad you wrote about this, because I am in the process of trying to find a baby doll for Ari to get him used to the idea of having a new baby around! There are some pre-conceived notions about gender (as you stated) and not everyone is okay with the idea of boys having dolls. But I like what you said about diverse play. It’s great to expose children of different gender to various forms of play.
    Old School/New School Mom’s last post … The Bread Crumb ArgumentMy Profile

  5. Victoria at 4yo is more into trucks and cars and boy things. She likes dinos, wants books on aliens and outer space. She has gravitated more towards the boy kids in her class and LOVES her older cousin Nicholas and everything he does. She has yet to be into dolls beyond a brief few months when she was around 2 1/2. At that time she carried a baby doll around and put it to bed in a baby crib next to her bed. Oh, and she nursed her baby too (SO CUTE!!!)

    Amelia isn’t really into dolls yet. She is definitely the more girly of the 2 at the moment though. She’ll put on my shoes and walk around the house for example. Her fav toys at the moment seem to be the My Little Ponies, def girly toys 🙂

    Only time will tell I suppose
    Carrie’s last post … Red Writing Hood- Dragon TearsMy Profile

  6. My son has quite a few stuffed animals but just 2 dolls. Probably because we have no girls. These 2 dolls were both a birthday present from his cousin and he adores them, especially the little bean bag baby! They are his buddies and he chatters to them, chews on them and drags them from room to room. Will I buy him a bunch of barbie dolls, etc? Probably not but if he asks me for them one day then yes, absolutely! Some boys prefer dolls, some girls prefer trucks. I don’t know why either way should be a concern.
    Jenn’s last post … Leaving On A Jet PlaneMy Profile

  7. We had Angus first, but he was always a very gentle boy and very interested in other babies and housework. I remember being a bit annoyed that I walked all over Toys R Us looking for a vacuum cleaner and broom and dustpan for him and finally realizing I had to go down the pink aisle that looked like Barbie had thrown up all over it to find them. He had four stuffed toys when he was little — Teddy, Other Teddy, Duckie and Baby Charlie. Little kids still love him. When Eve was one and two if she was upset she would say “I want my Angus” as often as she would want me. Jacob is adorable with his baby.
    allison’s last post … Tarred With the Same BrushMy Profile

  8. I am endlessly fascinated by watching what my kids are drawn to or not. My son is the elder and we did supply him with a few token dolls (no stroller or change of clothes though) he never spent a spare glance at them. He was not interested in babies or even the little people that came with his cars and trucks. I remember when he was very small that I would try to put little figurines in his trucks and cars and he would grab those little people, yell “NO!!!” and throw them across the room. If I kept trying to put little people into his realm of play he would become enraged. Not interested in people then. I have a feeling he could have been surrounded by dolls and stuffies and still wouldn’t have liked them.

    My daughter on the other hand, was surrounded by ‘boy toys’ and from the age of 1 practically threw herself into the pink aisles of Toys R Us and hasn’t left. In fact she grasped onto a baby doll so desperately in the store at that age that I relented and bought it and she’s been happily amassing more babies as she goes along.
    Marilyn (A Lot of Loves)’s last post … That Thing They DoMy Profile

  9. My son, who is the oldest LOVES dolls. He always has and I love that too!

  10. My sons never played with dolls – never showed interest. In fact, they actively dislike babies. They will quickly leave a room if a baby is in it, in case the baby starts to cry. (Fortunately I’m not having any more babies). BUT they love baby animals. They have stuffed animals that they love and take care of. These animals are VERY well cared for. So I don’t worry about the lack of interest (or dislike) of babies and dolls, because I know that the boys are sensitive and caring children.
    Nicole’s last post … I have a bad case of the Fridays!My Profile

  11. oh it’s FINE.
    My oldest boy loved “dress-up” with real dresses at that age to the absolute HORROR of his older generation male relatives, and he is about as traditional a boy as they come. Rough and tumble and full of dirt. My youngest has a soft spot for stuffed animals, the cuter the better! He loves webkins and happily plays pretend with littlest petshop figures and hotwheels alike. Also a rough and tumble mud-pie making kid. Neither of them was great at pushing strollers gently however… it usually was a crash-up derby with motor sounds if they got their hands on one! And dressing dolls is completely beyond their fine motor skills… gently and accurately placing tiny lego bits are no problem however — go figure!
    *pol’s last post … Salsa Revelation!My Profile

  12. My son has one ‘baby’ that he loves to pieces, he makes me tuck him into his bed with him every night. He does have his own baby stroller and we’ve encountered some ‘flack’ from neighbours when we go for walks and he brings baby along. But whatever, he’s my son and I have no problem with it at all, I love it even!
    Jenn’s last post … Homemade Bagels!My Profile

  13. I only have girls, but I love to see little boys playing with dolls. My husband is a very involved dad, which is wonderful, and I guess when I see little boys loving on dolls this is what I think of. When and if my girls decide to get married and have kids, I want them to have a loving, sensitive guy to raise them with and I think playing with dolls can play at least a small part in this. Plus it is so, SO cute.

    I also love to get my girls gender-neutral toys or “boy” toys and it makes me happy to hear Suzi ask for things like trains and trucks. I am not a tool-savvy girl and I want better for my daughters. I think playing with tools and other toys that are traditionally considered to be for boys can be important for developing problem-solving skills and gives kids a chance to use their imagination to build things. I can definitely see how it would be beneficial to have both a boy and a girl. Maybe the one I’m pregnant with now will be a boy and the relatives will give us some tool sets and trucks and dinosaurs and stuff!

  14. We got my youngest son a doll for Christmas a couple of years ago, he was 3 at the time. We were kind of stuck on gift ideas for him and asked his day-care provider what he played with the most in her care, hoping for some ideas. She said he really liked playing with some of the dolls, so we got him one. He loved it. He was so excited to dress it and put it to bed and rock it. He brought it with him to my MIL’s house and her husband promptly said, “It’s not very masculine.” We didn’t really care. In our opinion, little boys need just as much practice becoming good daddies as little girls do becoming good mommies. Rock on with your bad self, Jacob!
    Earth Muffin’s last post … How I sprained my wristMy Profile

  15. That was so well stated. I love the way you describes play with dolls as learning to care for a smaller creature. This summer I brought out the Tonka truck that I was given when I was small to see if my girls would be interested in it. Actually, I think my mom gave the truck to my dad on the Father’s Day before I was born because they thought I was going to be a boy. In 1974 I don’t think many people were forward-thinking enough to buy a truck for a girl.

    Anyway, my girls weren’t interested in it and eventually I gave it to my godson who loved it. A few days ago my oldest daughter was in the basement and came across a toy rifle that her dad had when he was young. It doesn’t fire bbs or caps or anything like that–it just makes a popping sound when the trigger is pulled…but it looks really real.

    I watched out the window as F and her dad took turns playing with the gun and I was torn between wanting them to have this father-daughter moment and being disturbed that my sweet baby girl was handling a gun, albeit a toy. This opened a whole new can of worms in my mind. I’m all about toys transcending gender, but I’m upset that the “boy toy” that captured the imagination of my daughter was a toy gun.

    BTW My 2 year old loves to put her Calico Critters on their potty even though she refuses to use it herself. I feel your frustration on that one.
    Audra’s last post … An InvitationMy Profile

  16. As @Marilyn (A Lot of Loves) said, “I am endlessly fascinated by watching what my kids are drawn to or not.” I have 2 girls and 1 boy, and they have each been drawn to what they are drawn to, regardless of their sex. My son can make a weapon out of ANYTHING, but is also a natural dancer/choreographer. My middle daughter could make up stories and play them out with a set of paper clips — also loves legos and model cars. My eldest was a little psychoanalyst, asking her friends to arrange the furniture in her dollhouse and taking note of their choices.

    Watching my children play without my judgement or direction, discovering their unique interests, has been the joyful ‘upside’ of parenting…for me.
    janetlansbury’s last post … Sibling StrugglesMy Profile

  17. My son is the youngest with an older sister. He wears tiaras, carries purses and pushes dolls in the stroller. Heck his favourite show is Dora and he learned almost all of his early words from Dora. I am completely o.k. with it.
    I know other people who are not as comfortable with it. But my husband is ok with it too and I like that.
    Lisa’s last post … Five on FridayMy Profile

  18. No girls here, just my boy, and he loves babies. Real ones and dolls too. Although we don’t have dolls in our house, anything that could be considered a doll we’ve labeled: Dudes. My MIL actually started the word when she bought him his first set of small figurines of Pooh, Handy Manny, and Mickey. We’ve called them Dudes since last Christmas and it’s stuck. People hear it and think it’s hilarious. I explain that we don’t have any dolls, just dudes.
    But when my son walks into his daycare, he sees the babies and is very excited about them. He yells BABY! So I know he has an interest in the dolls. I try to be gender neutral with my son, but my husband tries to be old school about it and says that his father never let them have things that way, blah blah blah. I wave my hand at him.

    BTW, we’re currently in a discussion about giving a kitchen playset to Jack’s 2nd birthday. My husband thinks it should be a work bench instead. I can tell you right now, he’ll lose that battle with me, however my MIL has already said she’ll pick up the work bench too. I feel like he sets me up sometimes… but then again, she is my MIL, not MY mother. hmpfh!
    Sara’s last post … 22 months laterMy Profile

  19. Rebecca Bluemel says:

    This post describes, in real life, a children’s book called William’s Doll by Charlotte Zolotow.

    I’m glad to see that more boys are breaking through the stereotypical barrier of gender toys! I love the message in William’s Doll and hope to see more of it in the future.

  20. That’s so cute! Personally, I find that a toddler who has the ability to make up and engage him/herself in role playing games is all by him/herself is great. I see in that a very resourceful and imaginative toddler. I don’t find the gender/toy relation an issue at all, but I never had think about it as my boys liked boy games, and by daughter seems to favor girly toys. I did buy a doll for my boys, which they never ever played with it, and my daughter’s playing with it now. But my boys never really played with toys much, unless they could be thrown, or banged LOUDLY. In that sense, I’m sooo glad my daughter likes girly, quiet games:).
    Francesca’s last post … Old TradesMy Profile

  21. I could’ve written this post. My 2-year-old LOVES his big sister’s dolls and always has a favourite or two – right now he has one he sleeps with and another he plays with during the day. He babies it just like my daughter did at his age…hugs and kisses, tucking it in with a blanket, cooing to it, etc. I’ve never even thought about whether it’s “right” or not, it’s just the way he is! I just tell him “what a good daddy you are, Sam” the same way I used to encourage his sister. (And he has the EXACT same green shirt as Jacob does!)

  22. we have a huge collection of stuffies, one of my old dolls (currently headless and awaiting repair) and some pseudo doll houses for my wee guy. he has a huge collection of playmobile figures which are forced into whichever scenario he’s creating.

    once jacob reaches school things might change. my wee guy’s more gender-aligned since going to school and mixing with his peers. (it’s actually the girls that seemed to reinforce the gender roles for the boys at first btw).
    pomomama’s last post … friday forte- flop downMy Profile

  23. My friends, who have identical twin three year old boys (rambunctious as all get out) told me when Theo hits 16 months, he’ll want to push a baby around in a stroller. Naturally they have one to hand off to us when he’s ready. LOL.
    harriet Fancott’s last post … Theo UpdateMy Profile

  24. My son is four now and we got him a doll when his little sister was on the way, but he never showed much interest in it. He’s a wild child – he carried his bee (stuffed animal) in a baby wrap that we made for him, but thats about it. He rather plays with cars, or knights or legos and, to my great dismay, with anything that can be made to look like a gun.
    Lilith is different – she loves her “boopoo” (sounds a little like the german word “Puppe” = doll) so I made her a waldorf style doll.
    I think all boys should have the chance to play with dolls so they can see if they like it or not. Thats why I make boy dolls 🙂
    Veelana’s last post … Silent saturdayMy Profile

  25. My two year old son plays with dolls, pushes them around in the doll stroller, wraps them in blankets to “go na-nights” in their little crib, and gives them medicine and cuddles when they’re sick. He has shown far, far more interest in dolls than his older sister ever has. He’s also really into dress-up of every kind. He thinks the bat costume and the love-bug costume are equally cool, and he has ridden his Tonka truck around the house wearing a tiara and butterfly wings. He’s happy. And that’s exactly what I tell people who raise their eyebrows at my son’s “girly” behaviour: He’s happy. We don’t need to complicate his happiness with anyone’s false perceptions.

  26. Huh, I never thought of dolls as being “feminine.” I have three younger brothers and only one little sister, and all of them like to play with their babies. The youngest boy carries his baby around with him everywhere, and named him Mark after my own son. (Squee!) I think they’re just practicing to be good dads. I can’t imagine anyone trying to keep boys from playing with dolls — that’s like saying “Taking care of children is for women. Men need to be distant fathers and never play with their kids.” Is that what we want? Yikes!

    Not to say, of course, that dolls are a necessity to life, but that the attitude that would keep boys from playing with dolls is definitely an unhealthy one. Bring them on, I say!
    Sheila’s last post … Farmers market!My Profile

  27. My 2 year old son has a doll and a stroller. He uses the stroller to push around his trucks and collect rocks and sometimes the doll sits in there too. When my husband takes him outside with the stroller, he gets lots of comments about how great it is. When I take him out with the stroller, I gave funny looks and a few odd comments, but also a lot of smiles.
    Mama in the City’s last post … Little Yellow Rain Suit- Uniform Of The Vancouver ToddlerMy Profile

  28. He will make a great father one day! Lucky woman – already born?? 🙂

  29. My boy has a baby too. Mostly because hsi sister does. He also loves, loves trains and cars.

    The boy say Jacob and was convinced it was a picture of himself. 🙂

  30. We got my son a baby doll (over Daddy’s skepticism) when he was about 2, and I was pregnant with his baby sister. He gave it the very descriptive name “Baby No Hair.”

    He never played with it a lot, but especially when his sister was very small he would practice swaddling it and sometimes sleep with it. It had two outfits, one pink and one blue, and at some point after his sister was bigger he changed to the blue outfit and it never went back to pink.

    He’s seven now; he is totally wise to the social proscriptions about boys and dolls, so he never talks about it…but Baby No Hair is still in his bed every night, even as several of his other stuffed animals have been dismissed as “for babies.”

    We also, by the way, often listen to “Free to Be You and Me” and the song “William’s Doll”–my son got to be a kid in a household where Daddy changed diapers as often as Mommy did and was/is a total hands-on parent, so he is very comfortable with the concept that a boy having a baby doll is like practicing to be the kind of daddy his Dad is someday. I can dig that. 🙂

  31. My boys have babies and have gone through phases where they nurse them, carry them around. I get to babysit. I was a daycare, for a while. No respect! It is gratifying to see them mimic my loving behavior as well as my more let’s say, noisy behavior. (EG: Elder to younger, “You can’t DO THAT. Because I SAID SO.”) The younger has always been more attached to stuffed toys and actually animates all his inanimate objects (“Sticker, would you like a drink of milk? OK sticker, here you go.”) which I credit to him being the youngest and needing something to be smaller than him. Something to boss.
    clara’s last post … Dark and LightMy Profile

  32. My little guy is 18m and loves his baby, who he calls, “Duddy”. He nurses it or asks me to, and he also gives it his sip cup or a bottle. He enjoys playing with his kitchen as well. He is also very fond of balls and cats, and shares both with his Duddy. I was told by the church nursery attendant that he was mothering the other babies. He is a sweet boy. We do not have other children yet.

  33. I haven’t bought any dolls for my boys, but I was never a doll fan myself. I loved stuffed animals. I am thinking about getting a dollhouse though, since they had fun playing with it and putting cars to bed while at a friend’s house.
    Lady M’s last post … Boyz TownMy Profile

  34. My son, at 2, also likes to play with his doll, nurse it, and comfort it. Also throw it and make it throw balls to him. I’m expecting a second baby so I do encourage him to nurture his doll and use it to explain things about how the baby will be. Since we had a son first, we don’t have many doll things, but whenever he sees a stroller or dollhouse out somewhere, he wants to play with it right away. I haven’t bought him one (we try to not buy many toys, unless we find them second-hand) but sometimes I think I should, maybe it’s my own gender bias. It’s true, they are so gender neutral, and we put it on them. My son says, “When I get big, I’m going to have no penis and I’m going to have big boos (boobs)!” I love it!
    Katy’s last post … Wordless Wednesday- All In A Days PlayMy Profile

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