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.
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 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.
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!