Dear Carolyn: My sister-in-law has a daughter and a son and has always wanted to avoid bringing them up in traditional gender roles. Relatives were told not to give her daughter anything pink. The girl got signed up for martial arts at a young age while the boy got signed up for ballet. That kind of thing.
I have no problem with that, but in the last couple of years, my nephew has become the stereotypical boy who loves trucks and football and hates princess movies, and my sister-in-law is increasingly snapping at him every time he expresses a preference for “boy things.” This culminated on Sunday in my nephew saying he was excited about the Super Bowl, and his mom yelling at him.
Really, he’s getting screamed at by his mom because he wanted to do something that 100 million other Americans were going to do.
She seems to think she has failed — or our culture has failed their family — just because her son enjoys doing things other boys enjoy.
So, what can I do about this? I did tell her after the yelling on Sunday that I thought she had overreacted and she admitted she probably had. But, I worry about my nephew. My niece seems to be allowed to enjoy whatever she enjoys without my sister-in-law viewing it as a Statement About Gender Roles, but for some reason the same doesn’t apply to my nephew.
— Boy Being a Boy
Boy Being a Boy: Disclaimer: Her kid, so, her right to be complete bonehead about raising him. Within obvious limits of course.
But she does seem to have confided in you somewhat, or at least shown some willingness to listen — plus “screamed at” is so extreme for just wanting to watch a game that the kid could use an advocate.
So bring up the kid’s Super Bowl interest, or a more recent example: “You’ve worked hard to break gender norms, and I get why. But wasn’t the whole point to let the kids decide who they are vs. letting society tell them? And so when you correct him for liking something, how is that different from society doing it?”
Maybe she’ll see it as overstepping and push back, but if you (1) acknowledge her original intent and (2) phrase it as a question, you at least give her room to see it as conversation starter more than a criticism.
If she’s receptive, then make your observation about the daughter’s apparent freedom to like girl things. It’s important.
So, er, good luck!
I hope your nephew got to see the game. Holy Bowly.
Re: Boy: My experience, as a former child, as a parent and as an aunt, is that the more you set up constraints and rules, the more likely there is to be a response and counterreaction.
I find myself getting annoyed about my kid’s bullheaded response to something, and then I realize it’s probably because I set some unnecessary rule, or stated the opposite of his preference too forcefully. I try to stop doing those things by asking myself if the thing I seem to care about really matters.
Anonymous: I’ll let you drop the mic on this, thanks.