Boys & Dolls
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!
7/7/2016 07:34:03 pm
Wow! A little bit nervous, aren't we? What's wrong with playing with dolls? Nice response as usual!
7/7/2016 07:34:39 pm
Very nice. Giving an alternative is a great idea.
7/7/2016 07:36:16 pm
What took so long to publish this week? It's usually ready by 5:00. Kidding. I look forward to these emails every week.
7/7/2016 08:03:54 pm
7/7/2016 07:37:18 pm
While I understand the mother, I agree with you. Sometimes we as parents create the issues because of our fears.
7/7/2016 07:44:50 pm
These are all great point. Siyata Dishmaya was my favorite song by the way!
7/7/2016 08:05:21 pm
I was hesitant to put that phrase in...how many people actually know the song? Am I dating myself?
7/7/2016 07:47:49 pm
It's the opposite by us. When my mother-in-law comes, my wife hears all about it. :-)
7/7/2016 07:52:19 pm
It's amazing how different we have it nowadays. My parents didn't bat an eyelash if my brother played with dolls. (My father was more worried about the dolls being Tznius.) Another wonderful response.
7/7/2016 07:59:19 pm
As a mother of a twenty five year old son who is not interested in dating girls, let me reassure you. It's not the playing with dolls or acting girly. It's a complete attitude that manifest itself at a young age, but really blossoms during the teenage years. Has I spoken to my Rav, I could probably have handled it better, but we tried dealing with it ourselves.
7/7/2016 08:51:02 pm
It's such a double standard. As you wrote, this only applies to boys. When girls play boy games they're merely called tomboys.
7/7/2016 08:52:30 pm
I know of a few moms with this problem. They make huge issues when their boys do anything that could be misconstrued as girlish. Relax everyone. Your boys will be boys.
7/7/2016 08:53:54 pm
Thank you for this email. I also worry when my son acts feminine. I know he's being silly, but deep down I'm terrified. I'll follow your tips. Have a great Shabbos.
7/7/2016 08:54:45 pm
My son sounds similar. He is 9 and is not into sports. Last Chanukah he asked for an American girl doll as a present. I got him a doll to my parents disappointment. In all I believe he has played with it about 5 times and usually with my younger children. My daughter takes ballet and sometimes he tries to copy her dance moves. He does like Lego and games like mine craft. I sat down with the older kids and we talked about how to respond to the dolls. Not to make fun and just to comment shortly like oh nice present. I think my other children's reaction to the situation helped a lot. I would remember to tell your son you love him and find other outlets for him. We found board games have worked and we play together as well as comic books. We've also found ways to engage him in sports such as making family fun dinners and watching a sports game. He usually picks the opposite team of my other son and the results in some good old sibling fun. B'hatzlacha
7/7/2016 09:17:32 pm
I really enjoyed this article! Boy, you don't shy away from the uncomfortable topics do you? You kept it simple and to the point. Nice work!
7/7/2016 09:33:38 pm
Another thing parents should keep in mind, is that competitive sports are not for everyone. One of the reasons that kids don't like certain games, is due to the competitive nature.
7/8/2016 07:14:27 am
It's so interesting. When I was a kid, I played with GI Joes all day, which are basically dolls. It's an imaginary type play. I'm sure this mom just has no action figures, hence the dolls. Well said Rabbi.
7/8/2016 07:28:43 am
I have a question for this mother. Are you older daughters leaders? I know a family that the oldest girl is looked up to by the other kids, and they try to emulate her. Could that be the case here?
7/8/2016 09:48:19 am
It's a whole new world. Rabbi Ross, you were very careful how you responded, and I applaud that. Just remember, helicopter parenting is not necessarily a good thing.
7/9/2016 11:08:24 pm
Read this printed over Shabbos. At first I was laughing, thinking how this poor mother is imagining her son to have serious issues, then I realized in these days it might be a valid fear. you were spot on with the boys in girls bathroom joke. All in all, another excellent email/ article. Thanks!
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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.