Dear Rabbi Ross,
I have been reading your emails for a few months now, and I'm confident enough in your advice to share something that's been eating at me for a long time. My middle child (I have 5 kids - 3 boys and 2 girls), is really into playing with dolls and he's almost 9. He also has girlish tendencies, and I'm petrified that he is going to have serious issues. I'm too scared to even share my fears with my husband. Please advise me. Anonymous
First and foremost, thank you for your vote of confidence. I tend to over-analyze many of the questions I receive, and yours was no different.
I can’t imagine any scenario in which a spouse would be scared to share his/her fears (unless, perhaps if your mother-in-law is coming to visit). Seriously though, part of marriage is sharing thoughts and working together. Keeping these fears to yourself just makes everything worse.
Your question really forces me to differentiate between regular parenting and Jewish parenting. In a non-Jewish family, you might be told, “There is nothing wrong with what he’s doing. If he identifies with being a girl, he can even use the women’s bathroom!” However, as Yidden, we answer to a higher authority.
It’s really hard to answer this particular question without more information. For example, have you tried setting up play dates? How did they work out? Who are his good friends? Have you introduced him to the exciting (and expensive) world of Legos?
Let’s take a step back. You’re assuming that there is a problem because he’s playing with dolls and acts different than your other boys. However, it could be that he just does not like sports, and enjoys playing quietly by himself. Alternatively, what you are interpreting as “girlish tendencies” could just mean he is a sensitive kid, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
What you do need to be careful about, is how you respond to these “issues”. Even if you are subtle, you run the risk of creating a real issue. Your son might resent the “hints” to go play outside, and even worse, might act out because you’re bringing it up. For example, if you keep saying, “Let’s stop playing with the dolls, and play some boy games”, he might deliberately play with the dolls more frequently.
On Purim a few years ago, a six-year-old boy that I know wanted to dress up as Elsa from the Disney movie, Frozen. His mom spoke with me, and decided to let him, although she warned him that kids might laugh at him. She also prepared an alternative costume. After a few hours of snickers, he decided that he was sick of it, and switched over to the Spider Man costume. By not making his costume choice a big issue, she allowed him to make his own decisions.
On the flip side, it might not be a bad idea to wean your son off of what you call “girlish tendencies”. You certainly don’t want to encourage him in any way. There are a number of ways to do this without antagonizing him, and I’ll list them below. Keep in mind, this article was only written in regards to boys.
Have a wonderful Shabbos!
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a Rebbe and has been working with parents and kids for many years. You can read more about him in the "about" section.