My son once dressed up in princess dresses. It was right after my husband left on a deployment. The sudden shift in our family dynamics instigated a lot of adjustments. When kids identify as something they are not, it is hard – as a parent – to navigate.
I was alone in caring for the kids, managing the house and trying to find time to recharge. Being the one who needed to do it all each day limited the energy I had for dealing with unexpected challenges.
At first, in my “pick your battles” mindset I did not think my son dressing up in girls’ costumes was all that important. When kids identify as something they are not, it can seem small, minor or not worth the discussion.
I had been telling my son, “Dresses are for girls, boys don’t wear dresses,” but had not been requiring my son to remove the dress. I figured this was just a phase that would die away.
I knew, however, that my husband would view it differently.
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When we talked to my husband via video chat, he saw our son dressed in pink tulle. He immediately commented. Let’s just say he was not happy.
“What is that?” he said in an exasperated manner.
My husband was not ok with me allowing this. He told our son that boys do not wear dresses. He also wanted me to be firm about setting the boundary to reinforce this decision.
I knew it was the right thing to do even though it was going to be hard.
When parenting in survival mode, doing the right thing can be hard.
I gave it another few days. We had a phone chat with the grandparents. This check-in also included our boy dressed up in princess attire.
Both grandfathers in two separate video chats told him that he was being silly by wearing the dresses. Getting help and other perspectives when kids identify as something they are not helps focus on the real heart of the issue.
Deep down, I knew my son was adjusting to life with his main male role model gone. He was home with his sisters and mom all day. His important people shifted a bit. His prime role models were all girls.
Children going through long periods of time with their fathers gone is hard. They are not mentally mature enough to know for sure that it is temporary. Their concrete minds are trying to make sense of life changes. That comes out in strange behaviors at times.
But, that does not mean that we should allow it. As parents, it is our job to mold the character and values of our children.
Deep down, I knew I needed to parent through this with love and boundaries. Kids play and dress up. They identify as a puppy and want you to treat them like their pretend play character.
We do, until it comes to feeding them dog food.
I always told my kids, “You can be a puppy when you play, but you are a human and need to eat human food at meals.” That always set things right.
After eating, the puppy returned.
What I taught my children is what they identify as, is not always reality. Pretending at something is not real. There are boundaries of truth. They may want to be a puppy today. But, they are not actually a puppy. Their biology, their genes, and their values determine who they are in reality…not their imagination or feelings.
That is not denying who they are; that is defining who they are.
When it came to the dresses, I really was glad for the perspectives of the males in our life. Despite them all coming from different political and religious ideologies, they all had a unified opinion. This made the point for me. My trusted village had opinions that mattered and guided me.
After the video chats, I knew doing what was right was necessary. Telling my kids “no” is a necessary parenting action.
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I told my son he could not wear the dress-up dresses anymore. He could still play pretend. He could dress up as animals, or other characters, but not parts played by girls.
I made a point to buy some new dress up outfits just for him. It made him feel special.
It was important for me to reiterate that his being a boy was valuable and necessary. He was made in a biological way that did provide a blueprint for his behavior – as we teach our daughters as well.
Maybe to some this is making more out of a minor issue than we needed to make of it.
My son did push back by throwing tantrums. The first couple of times I told him he could not wear the dresses, he reacted negatively. I had buffered this by purchasing some dress-up sets that were more appropriate for him. We could redirect to his special dress-up sets after he calmed down.
He received something special that made him feel that he has his own unique role to play.
The funny thing is he is now a rough and tumble boy who loves football and climbing trees. He also enjoys playing with his sisters and friends, whether they are boys or girls. He is sensitive, caring, and even at his young age, chivalrous.
No child is perfect because no parent can be perfect. But, I take the lessons learned from reinforcing truth in my home as I raise my kids.
My girls are encouraged to learn what God designed for them as females. My sons are encouraged to learn what God designed for them as males.
I think this means they can all learn to be active, balanced, caring, loving, forgiving, educated, patient, driven, and successful.
God uses us as He needs. He made us male and female. The biblical roles are very freeing when you read them.
We do not need to do it all. We do not need to be everything to everyone. We are led and grounded by real truth.
When we settle in to that role of what God created us to be, we will walk a path of peace and success. Putting on a costume or pretending will not lead us on a successful experience.
Just as my children could not all of the time be a puppy, they can not successfully live as a gender that goes against their genetic makeup. As parents, we can stand firm in this truth.
It is where faith and science come to full agreement.
We can tell our kids they can play as something, but they are not actually that thing. The boundaries we teach will lead them to a more balanced life of joy. They will be affirmed knowing that they are made uniquely as their own person-not as something they are pretending to be.
They each have scientific construction and an internal spirit that God gave them to thrive.
I encourage you to watch this movie on gender identity issues. It is important that we each ground our steps and words in truth and biology when kids identify as something they are not. This will lead our children on a firm path.
Kids should not be anything they want to be because there are boundaries to save us and help us thrive. The risks of the alternative are too great.
That is why children have parents: to steer them in the way of truth while loving them through the lessons.
Have you navigated this challenge with your children? What is your parenting perspective on this topic when kids identify a something they are not?