My kids have been saving up money doing chores around the house. They receive a quarter each day for making their beds and cleaning up their toys at night. At long last, they had each saved up enough money to buy a toy from Toys R’ Us.
My 5-year-old son, Raymond, knew exactly what he wanted. A Lego set depicting an ancient Egyptian scene, and my 3-year-old daughter, Anne, was set on a talking picnic basket.
While checking out, I overheard the following conversation between the kids:
“Anne, when we get home, let’s have a picnic together with your basket. We can set up a blanket in the backyard.”
“No, Raymond. This picnic basket is for girls. See, there are girls on the box. It’s not for boys.”
Now, you might assume this will be a post chastising marketing departments for not using an assortment of boy and girl models on their packaging or gender segregation in toy creation. The latest uproar about the female marketed "Lego Friends" line has me sighing with frustration and making a simple statement:
If you do not like Lego Friends and believe they support a sexist stereotype against women, do not buy them for your children.
Or, how about this?
Do not let a marketing department dictate what you buy for your kids.
I teach my children about life. Not a toy company.
I took that moment to take my children to the car and remove the toys from their cardboard boxes. I explained that we would indeed have a lovely picnic together. To my expectation, little Anne reminded her brother that the picnic basket was for girls and not for boys, to which I responded:
“Anne, boys have picnics all the time. Daddy goes on picnics.”
Anne pondered this thought for a moment and nodded in agreement, "yes, boys can have picnics, too."
You see, when a toy is unearthed from all its fancy packaging and stronger-than-hell plastic twist ties, it becomes just that - a TOY.
Just a toy.
And we as parents decide how to market it once it comes out of the box.
I believe in exposing my children to a variety of toys and do not allow my own personal taste and opinions to get in the way of their interests.
How can I possibly encourage my children to follow their dreams if I am constantly thrusting my opinions upon them. Children are smart and they listen to everything their parents say. If my daughter liked Barbie, for example, and I scoffed and rolled my eyes whenever she played with it, what message would I be sending her?
I would be letting her know with my facial expressions and attitude that she should question her interest in Barbie because “mom makes fun of it all the time.”
My daughter should not feel ashamed for liking a toy. That is why in my home, there is a smörgåsbord of playthings. Toys labelled for girls or boys are played with by girls AND boys.
My son plays with his Legos and his sisters Lego Friends sets. In fact, they borrow each others Lego pieces to enhance their own cities and build upon what they are visualizing in their own imaginations.
I asked Raymond why he wanted to use the pastel colors from his sister’s set and his reply was straight forward and innocent:
“Those are the colors I see in the world, mama. Not just these colors.” (Gesturing to the brown, blue, red, and black pieces in his giant bin.)
Simple and true. We are talking about the colors of blocks. Once we bring these toys into our homes, it is our job as parents to educate our children and impress upon them that they have all the options in the world to create.
They can have any job, read any book, wear whatever clothes that appeal to them- blue, pink, yellow or fuschia!
My goal as a parent is to encourage my kids to explore their interests.
While I was growing up, I remember playing with my brothers toys right along with my own.
I consider myself a well-rounded woman. I enjoy getting gussied up with fancy accessories and find it fun to enhance my natural beauty with makeup.
But-I can get down and dirty in my garden and plant a tree by myself. I participate in an annual canoe race, I like shoes and purses, I eat steaks, and squeal with glee when I sit down to tea with tiny pastries like petit fours.
I can gracefully strut through a room in 4 inch heels but I love slipping into my Chuck Taylors.
I am proud that I can put a worm on a hook, mow my yard, and change a tire.
My point in sharing the details of my personal interests is to prove that with the right guidance from various adults in my life, I was encouraged to appreciate everything and not settle when a barrier was in front of me.
I was taught to charge through, try out new challenges, succeed and learn from failure-and not one of these lessons was ingrained in my spirit from a marketing department.
As adults, we must be a guiding light and a positive role model for the children in our lives. Let them know it is okay to have interests, even if their preferences are not popular.
These are the opinions I will impress upon my daughters.
I will teach them that they can do anything and buy anything they want in their lives. That they should not be ashamed of their interests, to stand up for themselves and not let other people dictate or sway their passion.
Of course, as my children grow older, I will have less and less say in what they watch, who they choose as friends, and what they buy, but I will know I offered them a solid choice of being an independent, creative, and assertive individual.
Did the toys you played with as a child define you as the adult you have become today?
What was your favorite toy as a child? Why?