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Raising Children With Choices

 by: Barbara Freedman-De Vito

There's nothing wrong with little girls playing with dolls and taking dance lessons. Those activities are fine. Dolls are fun and they allow little girls to vicariously experiment with and prepare for real life social interactions. Dance lessons may reveal a future professional dancer or give your daughter the pleasure of a lifelong hobby, a great way to stay trim and fit, or a passion for ballet music. The problem arises if little girls are only exposed to traditional "female" pursuits and interests, such as dolls and dance lessons. Starting from the youngest age, give girls the opportunity to play with toy boats and cars and trains, as well. Encourage participation in organized sports and, when old enough, give your daughters science experiment kits. Don't limit your children's potentials by restricting their activities to traditional gender-based categories.

As your daughters grow up, expose them to as many different pursuits, of all types, as you can. Let them know how important their intellectual achievements and success in school are to you. Show them your pride in their accomplishments, but without making them feel unduly pressured. With time, their natural proclivities, abilities and talents will become more apparent and they will gravitate towards certain activities, while dropping others. In order for each to find the career and the leisure time activities that are a perfect fit for them, however, they need to have a smorgasbord of things from which to choose. Sure, this is all just common sense but, amid the hustle and bustle of everyday life, it's easy to reinforce old gender roles and girl/boy stereotypes without even being consciously aware that they exist.

After a childhood rich in opportunities and choices, a young woman still may ultimately choose a profession that's always been a female-dominated one and become a nurse or a teacher, for example, and that is fine. Those can be wonderful choices and they're important jobs in our society. I'm not denigrating any one job in relation to any other job. I just feel that a choice can only truly be a choice when it is chosen from a maximum variety of possibilities. If a girl (or a boy) becomes a nurse because it is the job that most appeals to her or him, that's wonderful. If a girl grows up to be a nurse, however, because she never realized that her interest in health care might have led her to become a great heart surgeon, then that is sad and not a true choice.

Ii's not just little girls who might suffer from an unnecessarily restricted set of choices. Little boys should also have the opportunity to experiment with the widest possible range of activities and interests. If dolls can help little girls practice for motherhood or for social interactions with their peers, then why can't they help little boys learn to be more nurturing future fathers ?
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