“My son loves to play with dolls. My extended family isn’t very understanding of this, and things can get awkward around the holidays when it comes time for gift giving and family gatherings. What should I do if my relatives aren’t accepting of my son’s interests?”

Question Submitted Anonymously
Answered by Katie Hadjolian

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Katie Says:
Kudos to you on taking steps to support your son in his choices to play with things he enjoys!  When you know you’re going  to be around folks who are likely to make negative comments, it’s helpful to come up with a few stock responses. The holidays can intensify relationship stresses, putting everyone on edge (see every family holiday party disaster story, ever), so it may be helpful to actually practice saying them to have them easily at hand. Your confidence in responding consistently will speak much louder than your words.
Two examples:
“Aren’t you worried about him playing with dolls?” … “Why would I be worried?”
“That’s going to make him gay.” … “How do you think that would happen?”
In times like these, answering with a question is perhaps the strongest response you can give, because it requires your relatives–not you–to defend a position. You already know you’re right. It’s not your job to enlighten your relatives about appropriate language, gendered toys, gender and sexual identity, or any of the other myriad topics that for some reason turn people on end. There’s a time and a place for that, and it’s probably not during your family’s holiday gathering.
Feel free to tell anyone who asks for gift suggestions about the things your son enjoys. They did ask, after all. They may in turn feel free to take your suggestions or leave them, and the only explanation of your son’s toy preferences necessary is “those are the toys he enjoys playing with right now.” There will be the inevitable Trojan horses, of course–“gifts” that are instead vehicles for expressing the giver’s expectations of the receiver–but you’ve probably already got that end covered in teaching your son how to graciously accept items given as gifts, whether he really likes them or not.
Unfortunately, it’s entirely possible that there may be situations in which the topic is best avoided altogether. If there is a particular relative who is aggressively vocal about your son’s preferences, for example, it may be a good idea to discreetly remove your son’s toys from plain sight when your lovely yet strongly opinionated relative comes to visit. There is no reason to subject your son to abusive treatment by anyone. Be careful, though, to not approach these precautions with an attitude of “hiding.” Instead, try something like this: “Aunt So-And-So has strong feelings about your dolls. We want her to come visit, but we know she may not be kind when she sees them out. We don’t agree with her opinions, but we’d like to help everyone be kind and courteous when they visit our home. May we put them in your room for an hour or two while she is here?” As your son matures socially and becomes able to speak up on his own behalf, he may find better ways to express his preferences on his own.
Best wishes on the holidays!

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Katie Hadjolian is a mother of two from Lancaster County, PA. When not working in software support, she can be found cracking wise and goofing around with her sons. She enjoys the company of a diverse group of women writers and will read anything she can get her eyes on.

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