Watching children in my neighborhood follow their mom or dad into the nearby Halloween Spirit store after school yesterday brought back a rush of memories. Halloween was (and still is) my now-27-year-old-son Harry’s favorite holiday. What young child doesn’t love the nationally observed day that celebrates fantasy and imaginative play!
The October Harry was two, I excitedly explained all that would happen at our annual Halloween block party in Milwaukee: trick-or-treating at night, a piñata, fireworks, and everyone dressed in costumes. I told him that he could be anyone he wanted. And, as you’ll read in my first big Halloween mistake, after he told me who he wanted to be I surreptitiously re-directed him from that costume to another one.
I worried about what others might think of his dad and me for letting our boy be a girl.
Then two years later, when Harry was four, skipping the year he wanted to be a skeleton, I made my second big Halloween mistake. That mistake used to haunt me more than the first, because Harry remembers that one.
On both occasions Harry wanted to go trick-or-treating as a girl. But I didn’t let him. I cared more about protecting him from teasing. And I worried about what others might think of his dad and me for letting our boy be a girl. I, I, I, and me. See the pattern?
I’m going to cut myself some slack now. At least that’s what my closest girlfriends tell me to do whenever I bring up the errors of my early Halloween ways. I knew Harry liked Barbie dolls and other so-called “girl toys.” He had, after all, told me at age two, “Inside my head I’m a girl.” What I didn’t know were the terms gender nonconforming, gender creative, gender expansive, gender diverse, gender fluid or transgender. They weren’t used in the early ’90s. And I had no idea what gender identity meant either. In fact I’d never heard of it.
Kids need freedom of expression to discover themselves.
Even though I have forgiven myself those two big mistakes, I still wish I’d been secure enough to let Harry be a two-year-old Wendy or the Pink Power Ranger at age four. How fun it would be to share those photos here today and inspire other worried parents of gender creative kids. But I didn’t know then what I know now:
- Children’s gender identity and expression develop over time, and they may or may not match society’s established gender stereotypes.
- Kids need freedom of expression to discover themselves.
- There is no such thing as “girl” or “boy” clothes, toys, colors or costumes.
- A happy child’s likes or dislikes are not about you.
- Let your child be. Especially at Halloween.
If Harry were a pre-schooler this Halloween, he could be Wendy, Moana, Wonder Woman or anyone else he wanted to be. I just wouldn’t care, and neither would his dad. We’d tell him there might be people who will think he’s wearing a “girl costume,” but that there is no such thing as “girl costumes” or “boy costumes,” just as there aren’t differences between any other clothes. And if someone asked me, “What’s up with Harry’s costume?” I’d reply, “Isn’t it great? He’s so happy.”
There are many parents who celebrate their children as perfect just they way they are. But gender stereotyping is alive and well in this world. Let’s all question our assumptions everyday. Let’s allow kids to be kids.
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