Is He Gay? Boys Will Be Boys—or Will They?

Dear Mr. Dad: I’m worried about my eight-year-old son. He loves sports and does a lot of “boy” things, but sometimes I find him playing with dolls. Does this mean he’s gay? Is there a way to tell this early on? And if he is gay, what should we do?

A: Whew, that’s a lot of questions, so let’s dive right in. Boys play with dolls all the time—they’re just named Batman, the Hulk, and Captain America. But since you’re worried about it, I’m assuming you mean that your son is playing with Barbies. Does that mean he’s gay? Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer. Plenty of heterosexual men occasionally played with dolls (girly ones) when they were kids. At the same time, studies of women conducted by Kelley Drummond and of men conducted by J. Michael Bailey and Kenneth J. Zucker have found that those who engaged in “gender nonconforming” play as children were more likely as adults to identify as gay or lesbian.

There are two important things to keep in mind. First, we’re not talking about occasional cross-gender play, which is incredibly common—and perfectly normal. The gay and lesbian adults in these studies were almost always bucking the stereotypes as kids. Second, the operative phrase here is “more likely.” In other words, while cross-gender play may be an indicator of homosexuality, it is by no means 100% accurate. Plenty of boys who play with dolls and girls who play hockey are heterosexual—and plenty of boys who play with trucks and girls who wear frilly dresses and have tea parties grow up to be gay.

With Bruce Jenner publicly (and bravely) announcing that he’s really a woman, I’ve heard from a lot of parents who are worried about “gender dysphoria”—that their son might actually become their daughter or vice versa. Again, while play may be an indicator, what’s more predictive is a child who refuses to acknowledge his or her biological sex, refuses to wear clothes associated with their sex or to play with opposite-sex children, and wants to go to the bathroom the way opposite sex people do, according to Britain’s National Health Service. But it’s nowhere near 100% accurate. Bailey and Zucker found that the majority of children who seem to have gender dysphoria grow out of it by adulthood. As a preschooler, my oldest daughter (now 25 and heterosexual) spent 18 months wearing pants and a cute hat and insisting that she was Oliver Twist—and refusing to answer to any other name. (She also insisted on calling me Mr. Bumble.)

Bottom line, it’s pretty unlikely that your son is gay. But either way, does it really matter? There’s nothing you can do about it anyway—if he’s gay, you’ll find out about it sooner or later, if not, you’ll find out about that too. If he is, you have two options: You could give him your unconditional support, understanding, and love. Or you could make him feel rejected and unloved. Choose option A. Please.

In an article in the journal Pediatrics, Caitlin Ryan and her colleagues found that “lesbian, gay, and bisexual young adults who reported higher levels of family rejection during adolescence,” were more likely to be bullied in school. Worse yet, they were 8 times more likely to have attempted suicide, 6 times more likely to suffer from depression, 3 times more likely to use illegal drugs or have unprotected sex.

In the end, your child’s sexuality is his business. Watch and learn. In the meantime, love him. He’s your son and always will be.

My Baby Doesn’t Like Me

Dear Mr. Dad: My two-month-old baby doesn’t like me. He’s perfectly content with my wife, but when I try to hold him, he gets upset and cries. I’ve backed off a little, thinking that he just needs a little time to get used to me, but that doesn’t seem to be working. I’m starting to think I’m just not a very good dad. Is it too late for me to build a relationship with my baby?

A: There’s not much in this world that can make a grown up man feel more incompetent than a baby can. The good news is that there are a lot of things you can do to get past those feelings—and no, it’s not too late. Not even close.

Before we get into the what-to-do part, we need to do something about the way you’re thinking. First, get the idea that your baby doesn’t like you or that he thinks you’re a bad father out of your head. Do you really believe that someone who’s a few months old is qualified to make a judgment about your parenting skills? What other dads could he possibly be comparing you to?
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How Toddlers Thrive


Tovah Klein, author of How Toddlers Thrive.
Topic: What parents can do for kids ages 2-5 to plant the seeds of lifelong success.
Issues: Who are toddlers? why they do the things they do; teaching self-regulation; why they pull you close, then push you away; the importance of learning to think like a toddler; solutions for common toddler issues like tantrums, toilet training; sleep; sharing, and playing.

Connecting with Kids through Play

Dear Mr. Dad: I’m the father of two kids, five and six. I love them fiercely, and I think we have a good relationship, but I worry that I’m a bad dad. One things I hate about myself is that I can’t seem to connect with the kids during play and I actually have a hard time making myself play with them. That doesn’t seem like something a good parent would have a problem with. What’s wrong with me?

A: Ok, first off, there’s nothing wrong with you—the fact that you’re worried about this aspect of your personality says you’re not a bad parent at all. Many of us were raised to believe that good parents play with their kids (and they do). However, the reverse—that parents who don’t get down and dirty with the little ones are bad parents—is simply not true. Chances are excellent that you’re struggling with playtime not because you hate your children (again, the fact that you’re worried about it takes that option off the table), but because spontaneous or casual play simply may not be part of your personality.
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Unleashing the Power of Children’s Play

[amazon asin=0465025994&template=thumbnail&chan=default]Peter Gray, author of Free to Learn
Topic: Unleashing kids’ instinct to play
Issues: How play makes kids happier, more self-reliant, and better students for life; play’s crucial role in children’s intellectual, social, and emotional development; how play has changed in today’s tech-filled world.

The Importance of Play + Wisdom from the Workplace + The Parents We Mean to Be

[amazon asin=0465025994&template=thumbnail&chan=default]Guest 1: Peter Gray, author of Free to Learn
Topic: Unleashing kids’ instinct to play
Issues: How play makes kids happier, more self-reliant, and better students for life; play’s crucial role in children’s intellectual, social, and emotional development; how play has changed in today’s tech-filled world.

[amazon asin=0470381310&template=thumbnail1]Guest 2: Jamie Woolf, author of Mom-in-Chief
Topic:
How wisdom from the workplace can save your family from chaos.
Issues: When to step in and when to step back; why working with your spouse is crucial to team happiness; how to maximize learning opportunities that come from mistakes; how to feel less like a maid and more like a skilled leader.

[amazon asin=0547248032&template=thumbnail1]Guest 3: Richard Weissbourd, author of The Parents We Mean to Be
Topic:
How well-intentioned adults undermine children’s moral and emotional development.
Issues: The difference between morality and religion; what a child’s behavior on the sports field says about his or her character; how organizing our children’s lives around achievement is harming them; how to regain our influence as moral mentors.