Below is a Facebook post I had published this past November. I have been asked to share that post again and welcome your feedback and discussion!
Lee has been growing recently and currently has very little clothing that fits him. So at the end of a very long work week, I took both kids to a clothing store before heading home. If you’re a momma or know kids at all you know this process must be done quickly otherwise impending meltdowns ensue. I picked up several things, but one was this sweater made by Carter’s. When we got home I showed off all of the new things to my husband, Matt, and cooed over this one saying, “It even says ‘handsome like daddy!’ It’ll be cute for Valentine’s day!”
Today I can’t believe I actually spent hard-earned money on this and I’ll tell you why.
When Emma was born I knew that I wanted her to be her own person. Yes, I know those things get influenced by Matt and I’s personal interests and tastes, but I didn’t want her to not do something because it wasn’t what “girls do.” She loves things like tea parties, unicorns, Sophia the First, and magic wands. But she also loves hockey, dragons, Dude Perfect, and swords. As a result, I have this amazing daughter who confuses pediatricians because “daddy uses the vacuum” and “I wasn’t a princess, I was a knight for Halloween.” We always try to encourage her so that she can complete any task she puts her mind to. Yes, she might need some help in the process, but ultimately the success is hers and I never want her to feel like she needs someone else to help her do it.
There are two other things that really influence our parenting style: The Golden Rule and Conscious Discipline. Treat others as you want to be treated, and remember that it’s ok to feel the way you do; it’s how we handle those emotions that not only make us stronger individuals, but better citizens. We teach her that her actions, both positive and negative, have an effect on others’ emotions. Through this, we try to teach her empathy, consequences, positive intent, assertiveness, and composure.
There’s been a big push recently in the education world and society in general to do a lot of these things for our young daughters that Matt and I have done with Emma. STEM education, #feminism, pictures of women CEO’s and clothing for girls saying things like “do all things with kindness,” “Love will light the way,” and “kind heart, fierce mind, brave soul.”
But what about our sons? The same major clothing retailer that’s selling those wonderful tees for girls also has these tees for our boys: “I’ve got game,” “heart throb,” “let the shenanigans begin,” and my personal fav, “boys will be boys.” Why is this ok? Why do we tell our daughters to be kind, brave, and gentle but our sons to party, hurt the feelings of others and you’re forgiven because you’re a boy?
I think what bothers me the most is that it’s so easy for us to gloss over these societal norms and not pay attention to the bigger message something like this sweater—for a baby—passes along to our boys. The only thing I was thinking when I bought this was how cute and sweet I think Lee is now and how handsome I believe he will be as he grows up. That does not give him an excuse to intentionally hurt another person. I know, I know, “Heather you’re being ridiculous, he’s only a baby. He doesn’t even understand that his clothing has letters on it.” But then that turns into “He’s only 4, he can’t read yet,” and before you know it he’s 8 and then 14 buying God only knows what at Hollister and Abercrombie that just perpetuates the issue and the cycle goes on and on and on.
I’ll keep this sweatshirt though. No, Lee will never wear it, but I’ll keep it as a reminder that I want more for my son. I want him to grow up the same way we are raising Emma—that he can be and do whatever he wants. Whether that’s an athlete, doctor, scientist, ballerina, secretary, or stay at home dad is completely up to him. We will teach him that his actions have an effect on others and The Golden Rule is applicable in all walks of life. These sayings and social norms will still continue around us and they will only stop if we actively make them. I can’t make another parent see things the way I see them or force retailers to stop producing merchandise like this. But I can teach Emma and Lee that it’s not ok. And they can teach their children. And maybe, just maybe, the cycle will stop.
Wishing you well,