My Son Wants to be a Mommy, Not a Daddy

His name was Aaron.  He had stick-straight, baby-fine blonde hair that fell in his eyes.  He had glasses and was tall for his age.  We were in early elementary school and I could always count on my persuasive powers to lure him toward the corner of the classroom where the pretend “house” was.  There was a small kitchen, a bassinet and an olive-green-colored rotary phone with a long spiraling cord. 

That’s where it happened.  That’s where I could convince him – when none of the other boys were paying attention — to be the Daddy, the token male who would play house with us.  Finally, we had a traditional, nuclear family.  I was the Mommy and Aaron was the Daddy.  Sometimes we posed like we were getting our family portrait taken in the Sears photo studio.  He sat on a stool, I was behind him with my two hands on one of his shoulders, he held our babies in his arms. I played the part of Sears’s photographer, too.  The picture is still in my mind.

One big happy family.  Poor Aaron.  I thought of him one morning last week.  I was tying C.J.’s shoes and noticed that he had been quiet while getting dressed for school.  C.J. is never quiet while getting dressed; after all, he has big opinions about what he should and shouldn’t wear.

“Mommy, today when we get to school, can you tell Gigi that I don’t wanna be the Daddy all the time?  Sometimes I want to be the Mommy.”

“What?,” I asked, a little confused.

“When we play house at free time she always makes me be the Daddy and sometimes I wanna be the Mommy.”

I stared at C.J. as numerous thoughts ran through my mind:

  1.  The NERVE of some little girl telling my son that he can’t be a Mommy!
  2. Well, at this point it really isn’t possible for him to be the Mommy.
  3. What does it matter to Gigi if C.J. wants to be the Mommy, she really is a bossy little thing.
  4. Maybe C.J. needs to learn that he does have to be the Daddy because he is the boy and boys are Daddies.
  5. How would Gigi’s parents feel about me and my son teaching her a thing or two about gender and identity?
  6. Maybe C.J. can be the primary caregiver “Daddy” while the “Papa” is working the 9-to-5 at some hip ad agency or modern design firm.  Or, maybe the “Papa” to C.J.’s “Daddy” would be a lawyer or doctor.

C.J. has a group of four or five girls he hangs out with consistently at school.  Occasionally another little red-headed boy will join the mix.  At free time they like to play house and C.J. is always relegated to the role of Daddy.  This, to most, would be the obvious and only choice for him, unless he wanted to be the baby, but he is way too type A for that.

We were walking up to his classroom and he started crying, which he has never – in his illustrious, two-year academic career – done.  They were slow, silent tears, but they were there. 

“What’s wrong?” I asked as I knelt down to his level.

“Will you talk to Gigi?”

“I’ll talk to Ms. Sensible and I’ll help you, okay,” I said.

His peers filed into the classroom and we hung out on the sidelines.  Ms. Sensible could see that C.J. had been crying.

“We’re having a rough morning.  Do you have a minute?”

“Sure,” she said

I explained the situation to Ms. Sensible. I explained that, sometimes, my son wants to be a Mommy, not a Daddy, and the girls in the class won’t let him.  I explained that I understood both sides.

“I don’t know how to handle this.  I’ve never done this before,” I admitted to her.

“Me neither,” she said to me and we stood quietly.

“I’m going to email his therapist and see what she says,” I said.

“Yeah, do that and let me know what she suggests,” Ms. Sensible said.  “For today, I’ll keep an eye on the situation.”

“Thank you.”

C.J. looked at us with hope in his eyes.  Today, he might get to be a Mommy.

I emailed C.J.’s therapist.  She’s amazing.  She’s cute, hip, sweet and spunky.  I think she’s my age.  If she weren’t my son’s therapist and there wasn’t the whole doctor/patient thing going on, I think we could hang out and have fun.  We would get a mani-pedi while reading gossip magazines and, then, sneak off for a Starbucks and some chocolate.  Or, maybe we would meet up for dinner and each say “yeah, I could do a glass of wine” and that glass of wine would turn into two and a half glasses each and we would end up in Nordstrom trying on perfume and giggling uncontrollably at something that amused no one else in the entire store.  Maybe we would go to a farmer’s market.

But, alas, in the real world, I only see her once a month when C.J. has an appointment.  She specializes in gender issues, parenting and children.  So, she’s a perfect fit for us and well worth the hour and a half drive each way.

Anyway, I emailed C.J.’s therapist and she immediately proved why we adore her.  I don’t know how she got so smart, but I’m glad she did.

She said that we should step back and look at the bigger picture.  “C.J.’s friends won’t let him ___________ and it hurts him badly enough that he cries about it.”  She told me to encourage C.J. to use his words to express himself to his friends, tell them that they are hurting his feelings and ask them to stop the action that is hurting his feelings.

Simple enough, right? We practiced at home.

“I don’t wanna always be the Daddy, I wanna be the Mommy sometimes, too.  It’s not fair that I always have to be the Daddy,” C.J. told me he was going to say to his girl friends.

I picked C.J. up from school.

“How’d it go?,” I asked him.

“Gigi said no.  I can’t be the Mommy.  I always have’ta be the Daddy.”

I listened and observed.  He didn’t seem that upset.  The next step is for Ms. Sensible to talk with the girls to discuss the importance of taking everyone’s feelings and opinions into consideration.  It’s more a lesson in empathy than gender. 

We can all use a lesson on empathy every now and then.  I thought about looking Aaron up on Facebook to possibly apologize for not asking him if he wanted to be the Mommy, instead of the Daddy.  I don’t remember his last name.  Maybe it’s for the best.  But, Aaron, if you are reading this, I’m sorry.  I never thought to ask if you wanted to be the Mommy.


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35 Responses to My Son Wants to be a Mommy, Not a Daddy

  1. overgender says:

    I have a gender-fluid kid who always wants to be the mom. When someone else wants to be the mom, usually we (or some other parent) reminds them that a family can have two moms–in fact, as many moms as they want.

  2. Stella says:

    add on
    What I wanted to say, if change is not possible, add something new. This post is almost 2 years old now, but if CJ still plays house, and if the only role available for him is dad, see if he can be an uncle instead, or a a godparent.

  3. Stella says:

    Back home, in Sweden, this was a problem for my neighbours’ daughter too. At pre-school there was always a fight over which girl who had to play the daddy. Then the solution came in the shape of new neighbours, 2 mommies and their 2 little girls. Suddenly there was no daddy-issues, now they play house with two mommies, or occasionally, mommy, big brother and baby. Works too.
    The thing is this is a game of monkey see, monkey do. Changing the rules of the game, the hetronormative family (the Swedish name for playing house is mommy-daddy-child), is going against the whole point of the game. But throw a real-life non-comformative family into a child’s world and they, unless told not to, will accept this whit out much questions and add it into their repertoire of make-belief and practicing games

  4. Tiffany says:

    I wonder what his reason for wanting to be the “mommy” is. It seems unlikely that, at his age, it has anything to do with childbirth or breast-feeding. I imagine it has more to do with what his perception of a mommy is vs. what his perception of a daddy is. He likes clothes and bright colors and wearing makeup and other things that his mommy likes. Therefore that’s the role he gravitates toward. I don’t think it’s a gender issue in this case, and maybe it doesn’t have to be treated like one.

    Perhaps his teacher can find a book about stay-at-home fathers, or fathers who are also fashion designers or actors or whatever his little heart desires. He wants to be the “mommy” because mommies do what he wants to do. Maybe if you can find examples of daddies who like what he likes and show him that he can be a daddy and still like those things. If at that point, he still wants to “be the mommy” then that’s what he should be. However, I suspect it’s a bridge you may not even need to cross.

  5. DJ says:

    When I was that age I was often clamoring to be daddy because it seemed like the most important role and I wanted to be the “big boy” as it were. Secretly however I wanted to be the maid/secret agent. But I was always a wierd kid and instead of House we would play movies or TV shows. When we played Independence Day I wanted to be will smiths wife but my cousin made me be the dog. Then we played alien And I finally won because nobody wanted to be sigourney weaver but me.

  6. Stephanie Millard says:

    I was just turned on to your blog and have been playing catch up reading all of your posts, this one really hit home. My CJ is 10 but I can remember kindergarten like it was yesterday! See at free time my CJ would run, I mean skip as fast as he could to get the sparkling silver beaded beauty of a hand bag. This drove his girl friends crazy! “I want the purse! ” and my CJ would reply with, “it’s a clutch, not a purse! “! Today when playing house my CJ will always give the good fight to play the mommy, but will settle with the sister!

  7. The Hook says:

    You’re an incredibly deep, thoughtful, emotional person, aren’t you? Good for you!

  8. Rosemary says:

    First time reader, here, and your story reminded me of my own kindergarten experience with the “play house” section of the room during play time. It was always only other fellow girls who played house, but there was a mommy hat and daddy hat to put on. I decided one day to be the daddy so that we’d finally have one in our play, but the other girls got mad and said I couldn’t be the daddy because I’m a girl. My response? “This is pretend! Anyone can be anything they want!” I mean, why can’t a boy play mommy and a girl daddy if human kids can be dinosaurs and adults and anything else under and beyond the sun??

  9. Pingback: Playing (gender noncoforming) House | Proud to Be Here

  10. neoboi says:

    heya awesome mom!

    long time reader. first time writer. as the super effemanite boy in elementary school came up (as it frequently did) it was around the time women were returning to the professional workforce with a vengeance and there were lots of stay at home dads. I used some allusion of “some mommies go to work and some daddies stay home. maybe this might work.

    Ms. Sensible needs to have a unit about alternative families. like everyone draw their family. I’m betting in your area there are stay at home dads. or at least unemployed ones. with working mothers.

    just a thought. without even even having to breach the two daddies or mommies. etc. everyone’s family is different. etcetc

    also: this may sound really weird. but does cjs brother play his more gender creative games with him? also. is cj in some kind of martial arts or something? aside from the whole let’s run the heck outta them until they can’t stay awake……it’s an activity where there is very little gender separation.

  11. Tal says:

    My son went to this wonderful daycare/preschool, and I wanted to tell you about an interaction I saw there a few years ago that is relevant to this post. A couple of 3-4 year olds were playing family, and another girl (who was 3 and small physically) came in and wanted to join the game. She said she wants to be another daddy (there was already a daddy in the game). A 4 year old boy say ‘you can’t be daddy! you are a girl! dads are boys!’. The teacher sitting in the room said ‘well, she can pretend to be a daddy. Emily, can you pretend to be a daddy?” Emily nodded yes, and the kids accepted her happily into their game. I was surprised and impressed (I would assume the boy who loudly objected would further object, but he really accepted the “pretend ” thing.) Since then I used it myself in other circumstances — it works surprisingly well (and thinking about it, a 4 year old cannot be a parent either, right? but it doesn’t prevent them from playing and pretending).

  12. DRKellogg says:

    I would find out what the expectations are for “Mommy behavior”. Maybe the mommies in their game get to cook or take care of babies or decorate the home. Maybe *that’s* what CJ wants to do. Once the behaviors are identified, CJ can go back to Gigi and say, “OK, I’ll be the Daddy, but I want to take care of the baby, make curtains for the kitchen, etc.” How can Gigi argue with that? Just an idea…

  13. Chris says:

    I remember how disappointed I was to find my Easter basket in the “house” area of my kindergarten room — a part of the room I don’t think I ever went in otherwise. But I was a girl, so I “should have” figured it out sooner. I’m glad CJ has you as a Mom — he feels comfortable telling you what is wrong, so he’s getting practice articulating his thoughts. I couldn’t explain even to myself at the time why the Easter basket location so upset me. And no one cared when I didn’t like feminine clothes — I had to wear them anyway, always. I like that you always try to acknowledge his preferences, even when you do make him wear/do something else.

    Keep up the good work!

  14. disturbinglynormal says:

    I got a little choked up, just now. Remembering growing up and having to be the mommy all the time, even when I didn’t want to be. I didn’t understand why there couldn’t be two mommies, or, if there wasn’t, why I couldn’t be the daddy.

    Thank you for supporting your son, and for helping him learn to express himself. Thank you, also, for being able to connect his experience to experiences earlier in your life. I think that’s a big, big piece of being accepting–seeing that, in the end, we’re often pretty similar.

    I just want you to know that reading your site gives me hope for a world in which all children, (and then, eventually, all adults) are safe and free to be whoever they are when they are it, rather than being forced into conformity.

    Sincerely, thank you for sharing yours, C.J.s, and your family’s stories.

  15. Elyse says:

    Thanks for this post. It reminded me of a situation at my daughter’s preschool. My (gender conforming) daughter and her girl friends all like to play house and, alas, never have a boy to play with them. My daughter was getting upset because the alpha girl in the group constantly assigned her to be the daddy. It had all to do with the other child being bossy and not wanting to take turns. We encouraged our daughter to speak up and stand up for her feelings, and eventually, she did get to be the mommy.

  16. Kelrick says:

    I’ve never comment but I’m an avid reader of your blog. The things about this reflection on your life that I particularly enjoyed you sharing were:
    “It’s more a lesson in empathy than gender.” – Lovely.
    How you apply CJ’s experience to your experience and come up with a new understanding.
    Your thoughts on his therapist – and by extension your therapist.

    Thank you for sharing.

  17. Hope Naomi says:

    “It’s more a lesson in empathy than gender” – good word!!

  18. Tommy says:

    Piaget would be proud of this blog. One of your best pieces this year.

  19. Jim says:

    Pure genius.

  20. Peg says:

    I agree with Bloomsburyboy and would take it even a step further – rather than Ms Sensible telling the kids mommies can do anything daddies can do and vice versa, a discussion about what they do would be good, so the kids can all hear that mommies and daddies in different families have different roles. It might be good for you to have a similar discussion with CJ too – what is it exactly that the daddy in their game does that he doesn’t want to do, and what exactly are the mommies getting to do that he thinks would be more fun? Maybe it’s not a mommy/daddy label divide at all really. Maybe, in Gigi’s version of playing house the daddy sits around and does nothing, and CJ is just bored with that.

    • Giselle says:

      That’s what I was wondering about too: what specifically is it about their playing house that makes CJ want to play another role some of the time than the one he normally gets. I also suspect that there is a favourite or disliked part that makes the difference.
      Please let us know if/when you find out!
      And yes, Gigi does sound quite bossy and that could clash a bit with CJ’s exuberance. Poor mite, that it affected him so much. It might be good for him to learn that he can become active to try and fight his corner. Perhaps he wasn’t quite as upset as he could have been because he at least got the chance to get his request off his chest and didn’t have to keep quiet about it. If that makes sense. But it would still be good if their play could be a bit more equally shared in terms of their favourite things to do.

  21. Ali Eldridge says:

    I think it might be worthwhile to ask CJ what he thinks makes Mommies different from Daddies. He may be happy to know that Mommies and Daddies can fulfill the same roles for their families. If there’s dressup involved that may bring in some tangled issues (though some Daddies *do* wear dresses or heels or grow their hair long, or whatever), but if it’s just a matter of caring for the baby or pushing the broom or doing the pretend grocery shopping…plenty of Daddies do those things, too.

  22. Your piece is written with so much love. It really makes me think about all the ways I expect things of others in my life without really considering what they want. Great job.

  23. Matt D. says:

    I thought this story was pretty amazing, and I thought that you (or your readers) might enjoy it:

    It touches on some issues that come up regularly here.

  24. Amanda says:

    You’ve taught me another beautiful lesson. Also, how did you manage to find and awesome therapist AND an awesome teacher for C.J.? What a lucky kid & Mom!

  25. Mark says:

    Another great blog post. i always look forward to reading them.

    I read a very interesting article today about a family that have been through a similar situation to yourself. After reading it I thought of you and wondered if you had seen it also.

    Here’s a link to it in any case:

  26. Mark says:

    Oh, and BTW, I thought your apology to your Aaron was a nice thing to do. Very thoughtful of you. I don’t suggest beating yourself up too bad for not thinking of asking him what he wanted. It was also up to Aaron to express what he wanted too. If you were the then GiGi, then you might have have some regret. You weren’t a mind reader back then. probably aren’t today very good at it either. But that you see the possible viewpoint of another person is quite a big step in your own path, and perhaps Aaron, and now GiGi have served their purpose for you in your life.

  27. Mark says:

    Interesting. I think your therapist’s suggestion was good, looking at the big picture. It gives CJ the ability to express what he’s not happy about and allows him to express what he does want. The way I see it, GiGi has already considered the request and rejected it. For why, I have no idea. perhaps her own control issues about getting what she wants all the time, or perhaps she has already deecided on what the social norm is, and that because CJ is a boy it is impossible in her mind for him to ever be the mommy. But the fact remains, the ball is back in CJ’s court, and while I think it fine that teacher starts discussing voicing opinions, and viewpoints and all that, GiGi, and all those like her that CJ deals with through life will just keep on doing what they do, and the CJ’s or anybody else who comes across them will have to decide how they want to proceed next.

    I think it’s time for a conversation with CJ as to what he thinks he should do about it. He can accept GiGi’s decision, and either play the daddy all the time, or he can not play at all if he decides that it isn’t worthwhile if there’s no give and take. We as adults do that all the time in relationships-the effort we put forth simply isn’t worth it any longer and at that point we decide we don’t want to play any more and the relationship dies off. That’s not a bad thing at all. It’s just the divergence of life and lives.

    Although I do like the idea you had of CJ being Mr. Mom, play he’s been laid off, the wife goes to her high powered executive job and everybody wins. To me that sounds like today’s reality TV play, versus GiGi’s 1950’s version. But it sounds to me like GiGi is already setting herself up for fights in the future with her demands, and also thee frustration she might feel when others then tell her she CAN’T do this or that because she’s a girl. Payback’s a hoot, ain’t it! Perhaps at that point she’ll look back and CJ will become her Aaron.

    BTW, at that age, isn’t it interesting that there is this seemingly imprinted software running in the background of the 1950’s nuclear family vision in her and I suppose others, when all one needs to do is look around and see that that is SO no so. Families are like that, and then there are the ones with one mom or dad only, some with 2 mommy’s or 2 daddies, some with no mommy and daddy, and I won’t even go where some other families may be today. But then again, your socio-economic class and age might only show these kids the traditional look, at this time. The kids haven’t had the opportunity to be exposed to any other scene. yet. but my bet is they will by the time the bunch of them are 15, onlt 10 short years from now.

    • Lyn~ says:

      whole hearted agree with you…. but within those 10 short years as you put it kids are hearing from their parents what ‘they believe and ascribe to’ not all of the diverse families are visible to all kids and thus some parrot what is heard in their homes…. learning “that what is taught them is gosspel’ so many people blindly walking about their days and lives only accepting what has been told to then without consideration for changes in generation or modernity!!!!

      • Mark says:

        Excellent point Lyn. That’s part of what I was trying to get across. I see too many of us today just being robot thinkers. Someone else also made a really good point about asking CJ just exactly what he thought mommies and daddies do that would be fun for him to do when playing house. You’re initial thought may be dress up but it may be more nurturing or something else altogether. It’s mainly important as to why it’s important to CJ rather than what we or anybody else think why it’s important to him.

  28. bloomsburyboy says:

    I always love reading your posts, but I think that this one is particularly well written! Keep up the excellent work!

    Perhaps when Ms. Sensible talks to the class, she could also mention that “daddies” can do anything “mommies” can do, and “mommies” can do anything “daddies” do… so even if the girls continue using the traditional terminology, all the kids can play how they want to and might be better off?

  29. mooremom523 says:

    I hope it all works out for the best. It is also a great lesson in standing up the right way for what you want even when it seems nobody will listen. I also find this interesting because I currently nanny two boys in their home full time 4 and 2 and when they play “house” the four year old always says he gets to be the mom because he is the oldest.

  30. I hope you will find this as interesting as I do. However, it’s an interesting story showing empathy behavior in rats. I think it can be very telling that we as humans seem more prone to Schadenfreude with one another than the rats who will forgot a treat to help a cagemate in distress.

  31. Kat says:

    The therapist is very wise. I hope it works out and everyone learns more about empathy and communication. CJ’s experiences help us all to remember and recognize how our gender judgements impact people in all kinds of situations. I also have a curiosity about Aaron and how he remembers that play time.

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