I decided very early on when becoming a mother that I would raise my children to be kind, open-minded and accepting.
Perhaps it would go a little way in the next generation being nicer to one another without there being so much hate and violence because of the prejudice.
My gut told me that as long as they were happy in doing/wearing what they wanted then that was the right thing to do. Society had other ideas.
The comments and looks when my son Elijah took his “baby” everywhere or the two years where he had a handbag superglued to his side, especially from older generations, saddened me.
We parented as gender-neutrally as we could, educating from an early age that it doesn’t matter what your gender, you treat others with kindness.
Obviously, when he was smaller (he is now nearly 4) we went through biting/pushing or not sharing with others. We encouraged sharing/acts of kindness and always saying sorry if things did turn into the slightly rougher play.
He acts very differently with his dad than he does with me when it comes to physical play. We don’t allow wrestling as I believe this could spill out into play with his peers. But there is a degree of rough play I have noticed that comes out with some of his friends.
A hug that turns into a push. A hit, or a snatched toy.
Is rough play natural in boys?
A friend was told by her child’s nursery as he went through a biting stage that it was apparently because he was a boy!
I don’t buy it.
Now, we have Harlow, 9 months. I am aware he looks up in awe to Elijah and mimics his behaviour. Elijah has matured a lot since he became a brother and cares for him knowing his actions could hurt his baby brother. (He is still fond of dragging him around the floor by his legs!)
Every day before nursery Elijah is reminded to be kind and that he could be whatever he wants to be.
It saddens me that now at the age of 3 Elijah is picking up on the gender stereotypes I tried so hard to dispell. He will label toys and say things such as, “it’s only for boys.” I will ask him if that means Mummy or Nanny cannot play and he has begun to question this.
I am also becoming increasingly aware of the effect some children’s programmes have on Elijah’s behaviour and view on rough play and gender. I recently reminded him once again that anyone can do anything, girls and boys, and that no one should be treated differently because of their gender.
There is a phrase I hear again and again and it makes me want to grab my soapbox and scream.
‘Boys will be boys.’
I do not believe this is is a valid reason to excuse “rough” play or behaviour. If we let this go when they are young what will it lead to when they are older?
Will we as parents watch as they walk free from court after assaulting someone or worse as they were just “being lads”?
Recently we were pulled aside at nursery to say Elijah and his best friend were being a bit rough with one another. They had been involved in a couple of incidents which resulted in bumped heads and a scratch on Elijah’s face.
We could have let it play out. The nursery staff were not worried, but I didn’t like it.
So, that weekend we sat Elijah down to talk about being kind, what he likes about his friend and to make him a card to say thank you for being his friend.
He took it in and presented it to his friend and we once again reminded him of kindness.
I don’t know if this is the correct approach (do any of us know if what we are doing is right?) But since then Elijah and his friend have been playing nicely again.
For me this feels right, we promote kindness we help those that need it, cheer up those who are sad, and we treat others how we want to be treated.
And if things get too rough for my liking we will make sure it stops.
My boys will not just be boys.
They will be held accountable for their actions and we will continue to parent and encourage kindness.
Vicki Cockerill is a NICU/ CHD Mum of two boys, a freelance blogger and social media adviser, Co Founder of #knackeredandNorwich social club and maternal mental health advocate.