This weekend, my adorable daughter turned five years old. My little girl had some very specific requests for her big day. She wanted the party to be at her gymnastics studio. She wanted her cake to have pictures of her entire family on it, including every cousin. And when it comes to presents, she didn’t want any more “boy toys.”
For years, Brenna has loved superheroes and action figures. She liked construction toys and spent weeks working with my dad to build her own robot. The fact that these toys came from the blue aisles of the store never bothered her too much. Sure, she was thrilled to find Wonder Woman and Bat Girl toys, but she likes Spiderman and Martian Manhunter just as well. I was always happy to see that my little girl didn’t seem worried about the serious gender pressure of children’s advertising.
Then, we started talking about what she would like for her birthday. When I mentioned the idea of some Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle gear, she shook her head. When I asked if she wanted a Batmobile to go with her Bat Cave that sits permanently in the middle of her toy room, she declined. Finally, my daughter told me, “Mom, my friends from school will be there. I can’t get a bunch of boy toys.”
My heart sank a little in my chest. Alright, my heart plummeted. My brave, strong, independent little girl went to school and suddenly she was concerned with being “girly” enough to fit in with her classmates.
In that moment, I tried to be the most thoughtful, encouraging and supportive mom I could be. I pulled out every line I could think of. “There’s no such thing as boys and girls toys. They’re just toys.” “A real friend will like you for who you are. They won’t tease you because you like playing something that they don’t.” “It’s not important what anyone else likes. Your birthday presents should be about what you like.”
Still, my little girl was having none of it. She shook her head. She rolled her eyes. And she told me that all she really wanted were Winx Club dolls, My Little Ponies, and Littlest Pet Shops. Brenna wanted her birthday to be pink and girly and to have butterflies everywhere. Last year, she defiantly shot down the store clerk who assumed that her Batman party supplies were for a brother. This year, she wouldn’t be caught dead having a boyish party.
It’s not that I have a problem with pink and girly and butterflies. I’ve been a life-long princess and Barbie fan. I danced ballet for over a decade, and now let Brenna flutter around the house in my old tutus. I have no problem with her becoming the most ultra-feminine little girl on the block. The only reason it would bother me is if she were doing it to please her friends, instead of making herself happy. I hate to think that she’s already trying to conform to a social group.
Honestly, that idea, that she’s already swayed by her friends’ opinions, is pretty terrifying to a parent. Suddenly, there’s this force that I can’t control at all and it has a hold on my little girl. I feel like I’ve entered into a fight that I wasn’t prepared to have for another decade. Aren’t the effects of peer pressure a teen situation?
I don’t want to push my little girl to be interested in superheroes or LEGOs for the sake of having a “unique” child. But I don’t want anyone else to push her into a path she doesn’t want. At this young age, I just want her to feel free to make her own choices and try things out.
So what am I going to do? Well, I’m hoping that I can arrange playdates with an array of kids who have all kids of different interests, so that my daughter can see that there are a variety of ways to play and toys to play with. Other than that, I’m just going to keep pushing the idea that she needs to focus on what she likes and let the friends come to her.