The other day, I pulled into our neighbors driveway to pick something up with my 5-year-old son in the car. Parked outside their home was a large pick up truck. My son peered through the front windshield and said, “Wait, I thought we were going to Ms. Perri’s house. Ms. Perri is a girl.”
“That’s right. This is her house,” I replied.
My son, appearing confused, responded, “but there’s a truck in the driveway. Girls don’t drive trucks.”
I have some version of this conversation with my 5-year-old daily, if not weekly. Despite all of our best efforts to be proactive and ensure our children’s world views on gender and gender identity are expansive beyond the boy/girl binary, my son is receiving and absorbing messages from his environment and his peers.
I’m feeling stuck, because I know research supports that by age six, most children play with kids who share their own gender identity. We are definitely seeing our 5-year-old prefer to play with boys for the first time in his life. He’s also repeating gendered stereotypes to us and his friends, which troubles me since we are a feminist family. The newest challenge is my son has learned how to respond when we interrupt the stereotypes or generalizations he makes. The above conversation ended like this:
“Honey, why do you say trucks are only for boys?” I asked, turning my body to face him in the back seat.
“That’s what my friend at school told me. His Dad drives a truck.”
“I see. Well what do you think now that you see a truck in Ms. Perri’s driveway?”
“I guess that girls can drive trucks?” he questioned.
“That’s right. And remember, there is nothing in this world that is just for girls or just for boys. Everyone gets to decide for themselves what they like.”
This is a line we often say in our house, and it triggered my son’s new and improved, automated response.
“Mom, I was just kidding! Don’t worry, I know there’s no such thing as for girls or for boys.”
For folks that know me in real life, I rely on humor and levity a lot in my parenting. It does not surprise me, therefore that my 5-year-old is now attempting to use humor to get out of conversations he doesn’t really want to have.
“Well, I do worry, honey, because saying ‘trucks are just for boys’ could make someone feel bad. How do you think a girl who likes trucks would feel if they heard you say that?”
“Not very good,” he replied.
“What do you think you could say to your friend if he says trucks are for boys again?”
“That I don’t think that’s true.” He paused. “But what if he doesn’t believe me? What if he still thinks trucks are for boys?”
These questions hit me like a dagger in the heart. My 5-year-old is already feeling the pull and pressure that come with peer relationships, How do you fit in and develop friendships while being true to yourself and your values? As a 36-year-old I struggle with these concepts, for Pete’s sake, so hearing my little one be so vulnerable and astute reminded me this is a life long journey for all of us as a family. Deep breaths, Shannon.
“That is the challenge, isn’t it?” I said. “What do you think? Imagine responding to your friend, ‘I don’t think trucks are just for boys.’ If he said ‘yes, they are’ what would you say back?”
He thought for a moment and said, “maybe, ‘well, I don’t’ and that’s it?”
“I think that would be a great response.”
The conversation ended there, but I knew the next one would be right around the corner.
What do y’all think? Am I doing enough? It feels like such an uphill battle to raise little people who see beyond the gender binary. But I can and will continue to have proactive and reactive conversations about gender and gender identity. The work continues.
P.S. In seeking images for this piece, I typed “boys trucks” into google image followed by “girls trucks”. If anyone wants to witness what we’re up against, go take a gander.
12 thoughts on ““But Mom, trucks are for boys””
I think at this stage it is about as good as it gets.
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I think that for a 5-year-old, he is remarkably astute! Developmentally, this is the age when children begin to truly separate themselves from their parents, so they categorize everything according to how they perceive those groups. Gender is especially obvious and important at this age, but other groups (size, race, age, etc) also shape how they perceive themselves and which group they identify with. As he gets older, he will be able to deal with the nuances of these categories, but for now, I think you’re doing great to have these discussions with him.
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Thanks, Maureen. It’s hard to see the long game from the weeds some days. I appreciate your words!
I honestly feel sorry for your kids. And I’m not writing that to be a troll. I really do feel sorry for your kids. What a horrible way to grow up. Boys and girls are different. That is not a bad thing. Boys like certain things and girls like certain things. Sometimes girls like boy stuff, and sometimes boys like girl stuff — and that’s fine, but it’s not the norm. Disconnecting your kids from reality is not going to help them in the future. Aren’t you watching the young adults of today, and how completely inadequate they are in dealing with the real world? Is that the future you want for your kids?
Harley, differences are to be expected and celebrated, but I will always push back on gender norms for both of my kids. I don’t tell either of my children that they can or cannot play with a certain toy or in a certain way based on their genders (as long as they are safe of course). I find our kids to be expansive, curious little beings as a result. I would have thought it a universal goal that parents would want their kids to be unapologetically who they are, no matter what. Based on the trolling I’ve received today, however, clearly not everyone shares that goal. It’s sad.
Thank you for responding. I would ask though: Where do gender norms come from? If they are simply social constructs designed to prevent people from living healthy and full lives, then fine, reject them. But, if they exist for the express purpose of enabling humans to live healthy and full lives, then we need to embrace them. Where do you believe gender norms come from? And are you sure you want to dismiss them so readily? What’s best for your children? Do you do what you do for them? Or for yourself?
I believe the former, that’s gender norms are social constructs, as evidenced by the fact they have changed significantly over the course of time/eras. I also look at the horrifying stats around violence commited against Trans, genders nonconforming and gay people. And the suicide and homelessness rates among LGBTQ youth. Who do these norms serve? No one. They set unnecessary limits on individuals that cause real harm.
I should add: I don’t want to tell you how to raise your kids. Obviously you need to teach your kids what you believe will make them good people. I’m just curious. If my son said, “Only girls drive trucks,” I would simply have said, “Nope, sometimes girls do to,” and that would have been the end of the conversation — because that’s more in line with reality.
Shannon, I think you are doing a fantastic job, and so is your kiddo. We have had very similar conversations in our house (often about colors… Pink is for girls, blue is for boys, etc) and my 8yo really understands now that colors are universal and for everyone, but he also sees the push back from some boys at school about those kinds of ideas. The peer pressure was definitely there in the beginning (“I don’t want to say my second favorite color is pink”) but he’s learning slowly to feel more comfortable with his own views in the face of others (having like minded friends helps!). But it is absolutely an uphill battle. We just gotta keep those conversations going. Thank you so much for sharing!
Thank you for reading and for sharing how you discuss in your house!