The "Girl Bowl" Fiasco
Around the age of two, my son began judging every move I made as a parent, every activity we tried, every outfit, every meal, everything. While this new running commentary from my previously complacent child was something I began to anticipate, nothing prepared me for the day that I placed a bowl of cereal in front of him and instead of hearing the usual, “Thanks, Mom!” I heard this: “I’m a boy! This is a girl bowl!”
A girl bowl?
What he meant was that the bowl had a picture of a girl television character on it, but that picture was hidden by the cereal and milk. The only indication that I had handed him the “girl” bowl instead of the boy character bowl was because of a slight difference in the colors along the rim of the bowl. I, of course, told him that it wasn’t a boy or a girl bowl, and he ate his breakfast without further incident. But this was the beginning of a bigger issue. Suddenly he was protesting girl spoons, girl forks, and girl cups.
This is an issue that I never saw coming because I thought I had done everything to avoid gender stereotypes in our house. Because of his older sister, my little guy had always played with toys traditionally meant for girls. He pushed doll babies in strollers, loved his sister’s magnetic dolls, and for a time was even known to dress up in heels and a feather boa. I never once told him those toys were not for boys, in the same way that I would never tell my daughter that she can’t play with baseball bats and diecast cars.
Despite this apparent gender equity, I realized that what I had done was a bit of subliminal parenting. It seems that at each meal I inadvertently placed a blue bowl or plate in front of my son and a pink one in front of my daughter, with the occasional purple one thrown in for good measure. Never did I say, “Here’s your boy bowl,” but the message was there, loud and clear. And until my son raged about the bowl with the picture of a little girl on the bottom, I had no idea I had been sending this message.
After the “girl bowl” fiasco we began to mix things up at meal time. Occasionally my son uses a pink bowl and sometimes we go completely wild and hand a blue fork to the child using the purple plate. This experience opened my eyes and helped me to keep a closer eye on my subliminal parenting, those messages that I’m sending to my kids when no one is looking, including me.
What messages are you sending?