Raising Boys Who Can Play Like Girls


I always wanted four boys. I was the first daughter after four sons and it always looked like my brothers had so much fun together when I was growing up behind them. Being surrounded by six brothers but only one sister, I did not feel I was able to raise girls properly. I didn’t start wearing makeup until college when my roommate helped learn the tricks — how I was I even going to raise a girl? 

Raising Boys Who Can Play Like Girls

As Providence (I think of it with a capital) would have it, I have been given four boys. Every few months, I have to remind myself that this is what I had hoped for, in between the wrestling, the NOISE, dirt everywhere, pee always missing its target, stinky feet and sports equipment piled up in any extra space. It is great — I actually like when people ask if they are all mine and I like the energy (when I have the energy to match).

But in the past year, I have been getting nervous that they are getting a little too crazy, wild…unrefined, perhaps. 

My first clue was when I noticed that there wasn’t very much pretend play happening. When a school assignment asked for imaginative writing, my oldest broke down in tears. If they name stuffed animals — those only entered our home recently — the names are very literal, such as “Bluie” because it’s a blue bear or “Fast” because foxes are fast. I am quite literal and we truth-seek through many thoughts and ideas in our house, but it still seemed odd that there was very little imaginative practice. Secondly, their manners are atrocious. Okay, yes, you are right — that is on me! But, if you have boys, it is work to teach manners. They aren’t playing carefully with other kids out of habit or enjoying someone else’s company over a meal; it’s full on go-time all the time. It makes no sense to them that we would sit and talk together for fun. 

Maybe I am misjudging young females of today, but they seem calmer, gentler, more engaged in conversation. Quicker to problem solve (or manipulate) and find ways to play together. My nieces can spend days, years even, pretending to be in Little House in the Prairie land or Narnia, but my boys are inept at trying to pretend along and give up to go climb a tree. Don’t get me wrong; I love that they climb trees. You may or may not remember the first blog post I wrote for Chattanooga Moms about my goals of raising wild boys. Okay, thank you for all the thoughts and prayers — mission accomplished. Now we have got to tame them a little. They need to learn to empathize with friends and be able to jump into an imaginary realm and not greet an acquaintance by wrestling.

They may need to learn how to play like a girl. 


In the pursuit of these lessons, we rebuilt a 70-year-old playhouse and an attached fairy garden. It’s completely adorable and I wish I were five again. We filled the garden with flowers, a fountain, the cutest little figurines, and furnished the house with better appliances and fixtures than our own (okay, kind of sarcastic, but kind of not). My parents came to help us build it, so I send pictures to my mom every time I catch them playing and building the little neighborhoods in the garden. I think my mom is just as surprised as I am that it is actually being used. I believe it’s working; my two-year-old toddles around, picking unripe tomatoes and ruining carefully laid streets and breaking the adorable fairies. The others are careful to watch for new blooms and shriek when they find the random wildlife that wanders in. We have a place they can run to first thing in the morning and enjoy the fireflies at the end of the day. 


More recently, I decided to have a weekly tea time. I knew I was crazy to even attempt it, but I want my sons to experience the age-old tradition of gathering around a table and enjoying the company of those in attendance. Our meal times are usually fraught with picky eaters, places to be, spilled cups and a general exhaustion on my part as I try to get food on the table. In my imagination, tea time would be different. Thankfully, everyone was on board with the plan. It is a new game and they get participate with preparation, execution and clean up. Ashamedly, I realize that they are getting a new side of me that wasn’t willing to “play” with them before. I hadn’t allowed them to help with cooking or decorating very often because it is easier for me to just do it. With our new tea time regimen, we are getting cooking lessons, table setting lessons, conversation lessons and in general, lessons in learning to enjoy a non-boyish activity of refinement. 

Ah, Mr. Darcy: hunter, rider and squalid lake swimmer who also knew how to dance and take tea.

Why is this all so important to me? If you know me in real life, you know that I have fairly traditional opinions on gender. This is not a coup on all things male or trying to make sure my boys grow to be the proper amount of feminine. As I said, it thrills and terrifies me at the same time to see them be wild and messy. I suppose it is because one of my priorities is to raise boys who will not be ignorant of girly things. If any of them should someday meet a girl who expects him to act as a stereotypical male, I hope that she will be surprised when he has the gentle courtesy to ask her to a tea party or for a walk in a garden.

Perhaps my imagination and hopes are getting too far ahead of me, but for now, I’ll continue to try to teach my boys that they can play like a girl. 


  1. Great article, Elizabeth! I wouldn’t worry too much about labels. God made each of these little treasures unique and with the parents they have, He is the One who will “turn-them-out” to be what He made them to be!

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