In our house, we have always encouraged The Smalls to be whoever they want to be – both when they are playing make believe and in the every day.
This means, obviously, that sometimes instead of children we have cats, or dragons, or fighter pilots, or firefighters, or Pokemon, or superheroes.
It also means that they choose their own clothes and hairstyles (within sensible parameters – we do ask them to get changed when they put on shorts and t-shirt to go for a walk in the snow for example).
Artie’s hair is steadily getting long again after he requested that he was allowed to grow it long enough for plaits. Not an issue for us, but it did take a while for some of the other children in his class at school to get used to him turning up with bunches and pretty hair clips and bows in his hair. That said, none of them ever mention it or even seem to notice any more. He loves having pretty hair and it always makes me smile when he skips into school and gets complimented on his collection of My Little Pony hair clips from classmates, teachers, and other parents, because he always looks so proud as he turns round to let them have a proper look.
He is also slowly building up his own collection of dresses and leggings.
That all started when Tori announced that she had grown out of her Minions dress and it could be passed on to the charity shop and Artie immediately stepped up and asked if he could have it instead because he’s smaller than Tori still (just!)
He has since acquired a couple more that were in Tori’s ‘too small’ pile and supplemented them with a few pairs of leggings and some pretty turtle neck tops.
These are all now integrated into his daily wardrobe alongside his trousers, t-shirts, bow ties and shirts, he doesn’t think twice about wearing them to go out in – and why should he?
(Well, I say it started then, it probably actually started when he was two and demanded to be pretty like Tori when we were going to a Christening – he had a kilt from when he was groomsman at my best friend’s wedding so that was his ‘pretty’ to swish.)
Obviously, Artie is still only little – he turns 7 next week – and this could be a phase that he grows out of and will be mortified by the photographs when he’s 17 and all manly. But it might not be, and that’s just fine with us too.
It goes without saying that the same stands for Tori – she can choose to have long hair or short hair, dresses or trousers – whatever she is comfortable in, she can wear. If she wants to climb a tree or wants to be a builder or play with cars, then great. If she wants to wear nail varnish, be a hairdresser and play with dolls, that’s great too. In reality, she does all of those things, sometimes at once and we encourage that. We want her to feel free to be and do anything she wants, without having to consider whether or not she can because she’s ‘a girl’.
Our hope is that by giving them the freedom to play and wear whatever they feel comfortable with now will help encourage both Tori and Arthur to be non-judgemental of others’ choices, to be open minded and kind, accepting of people for who they are and not just their gender, what they are wearing or how they have their hair.
The best way to teach is by doing, so we accept them for who they are and never tell them they can’t do something because they are ‘a girl’ or ‘a boy’. They are themselves and nobody knows who that is better than them.
I also hope that Artie’s confidence in who he is at school has passed a little of that message on to his classmates too. Once upon a time they would be cruel to him for choosing to wear a purple coat, now they barely blink when he shows up with sparkly pink hair clips in and a bright purple turtleneck top covered in daisies. They know that he is still going to play Star Wars in the playground, or Pokemon, or whatever else it is they play these days. He still plays rough and tumble with the boys when his hair is in bunches – he’s not anybody different when he is wearing a purple coat.
So long as Tori and Artie are happy in themselves and kind to others, then that’s just fine with us, regardless of what they choose to wear.
After all, they are just children being children and children like being anything and everything they can dream of.