When my daughter was little, she was what you might call a tomboy. She was athletic, wore only athletic clothes, hated dresses, and mostly played with boys. She had nothing in common with the girls around her and had no interest in playing with them. She didn’t play with dolls and she didn’t want to dress up. She wanted to play ball and she was good at it. She even played on boys sports teams until the end of elementary school.
So it was no suprise when in kindergarten she wanted to cut her hair short like a boy. I didn’t want to because her hair took so long to grow, but I felt she had a right to make that choice and then live with it. Even at 5, we can teach our kids about choices and taking risks. Besides, it is just hair, it will grow back. It was a safe opportunity for her to have some ownership over herself and her choices. Remember, all her friends were boys. I could appreciate her wanting to look more like your friends at that age. It was no big deal.
As you can imagine, some people thought she was a boy and some girls even made fun of her and tried to embarass her at school. Luckily, she had greater inner strength than the little bullies. This does not mean she didn’t cry or wasn’t upset by these harmful words and actions but we helped her put it in perspective and moved forward. (also some phone calls we made to the school)
What upset me most was a mother of one of her classmates said to me “maybe she needs therapy” because she looked like a boy. I said “no, she’s fine” but it pissed me off. (Can you tell it still does? This happened almost 11 years ago) Why does it mean something is “wrong” if a child doesn’t fall into the nice little gender categories that society has created. My daughter could have been gay, transgender, naturally more masculine, or maybe it was a just a phase. But for someone to think a little girl needs therapy because she is not all long hair, dresses, and pink ribbons and bows is absurd.
I think about Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s daughter who seems more boyish and wonder if she identifies as a boy or if she is just a tomboy like my daughter. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter. Our job, as parents, is to support and love our children and help them develop the skills they need to be independent, functional, happy, and compassionate individuals. I admire that the Jolie-Pitt’s are honoring their child by allowing her to be herself regardless what the narrow-minded media and society have to say. That has to be really hard. I had one comment that I have held onto and they have a shit storm of comments thrown their way on a daily basis. That is certainly a family leading by example and loving unconditionally.
Today, my daughter is a beautiful, strong, hard-working, smart, compassionate, and athletic young women. Her style has grown to include long hair, cute dresses, sandals, and make-up. However, her clothes and her looks do not define her. Her actions and her heart do. I think too many people forget that.
I am so glad I didn’t let the fear and judgement of others to interfere with my parenting.
Let children be who they are.
Loving them as they are, gives them permission to love themselves.
Self-love is the greatest gift you can give any child.