Milin’s Christmas presents (apart from the big one, the LeapPad) are largely themed around trains and firefighters.
Jasmin’s Christmas presents include a doll’s house, a beautiful rag doll, a super-sweet cot for her dolls, a bath for her dolls, and – wait for it – some new dolls.
(Both are getting books and Duplo and blocks too, I should add.)
As I began sorting through and wrapping the presents last week though, I looked at them all in complete dismay. What happened to the mother who was bringing her son up to be a Feminist? What happened to the mother who promised to defy gender conditioning and bring up her children free from the constraints of social stereotypes? Looking at the presents being wrapped in red and blue paper to differentiate whose was whose without tags (lazy, I know), I certainly wasn’t that mother I’d told the world I was going to be.
I stopped and thought about it a little more. At first glance, Milin was getting practical presents and character-themed toys marketed as ‘presents for boys’. Jasmin was getting toys which were marketed as traditional girls toys, designed to appeal to their apparently nurturing nature.
I tried to work out how this had happened. Last year we bought Milin a wooden kitchen for Christmas. He also got a train set and has a tool bench and lots of Lego. Both children play with all of these things. The only thing Milin – until recently – had never showed much interest in was dolls and cuddly toys – so we never got a lot of them. Jasmin, however, has shown an interest in these – and so we’ve bought some more as it’s the one kind of toy we don’t have much of. But is that because Milin hasn’t shown an interest, or because we’ve not nurtured an interest? This is the kind of stuff that keeps me up at night. Really.
I recently found a very old Barbie doll I’d had as a child. Since I discovered it, Milin has decided he adores it. Barbie sleeps in his bed (along with a giraffe, a bunny, a turtle, two teddy bears, and a train). Whatever my thoughts about the body image Barbie promotes – I’m pleased he’s taken to her. What it shows is that there really isn’t any ‘boys toys’ and ‘girls toys’ divide. Kids like what they like. They like toys that spark their imagination (or that they can chew, or undress, or put in boxes).
We will nurture an interest in all toys and all genres of games and books and activities for both of our children. I’m determined about this. So is saying we’ve bought the children the presents they’ve shown the most interest in actually a bit untrue? I’m not convinced.
Milin met Santa last week at the Christmas Wonderland at Springtime Nurseries in Crews Hill. The grotto was full of dinosaurs, animal puzzles, train puzzles, action toys… and Milin asked for a Mermaid Doll. The Santa looked at me in panic. What should he do?
“OF COURSE you can have a doll my darling”. I said it pointedly.
There was no way a man dressed up in a cheap red suit was about to tell my son he couldn’t have a doll for Christmas.
And so, Milin has kept his plastic mermaid by his side ever since. With his second-hand Barbie.
He’s happy, and I’m happy. And maybe I’ve learnt that I should have bought him more dolls for Christmas. At least he can play with Jasmin’s. If she lets him.
And all of that aside – I suppose what I’ve realised is that this idea of perfect gender neutral parenting is a little harder to live up to than it sounds. I without doubt wish to bring my children up without pigeon-holing them into gender stereotypes. I want them to question the assumptions and conditioning that goes on around gender. I want them to ignore the idea of toys and games and clothes for boys and girls. But sometimes, what I am certain are their own choices, make me question whether or not I’m doing as well as I could be.