When my son was still an only child, we didn’t have any dolls in our home. We never even thought about it until a friend of ours got pregnant with her second child and had bought her toddler son a doll to help him understand that a baby would be coming. We were a bit surprised by that choice — perhaps because we hadn’t known anyone else to do it. My husband and I discussed it and were in agreement that it didn’t really seem necessary, but that of course if it helped their family adjust then it was good for them.
Our son had never shown any interest in playing with dolls. He zoomed right past them without a second glance whenever we were in a toy department — it was just something that never came up. He’s six now and has a little sister, and it still hasn’t. Our son loves stuffed animals of all kinds though, and ever since I can remember, he has played with them as if they are his children — the way a little girl plays with dolls.
It never once occurred to me to shut him down or assert that that type of play is “for girls.” In fact, I’ve swaddled them for him, shown him how to hold them like you hold a baby and used blankets to construct baby carriers for them so that he could baby wear. We always considered this to be healthy play regardless of gender. Our son will probably be a father one day and to us, his interest in caring for other living things is an opportunity to teach him how to be a loving and involved one when the time comes.
Now that my son has a younger sister, there are dolls in the house and lots of them. We bought her, her first real baby doll for her first birthday, and she’s always enjoyed playing with it. And of course, she typically gets at least one doll from family and friends at each birthday and at Christmas. At three, she even has a few Barbies. She’s obsessed with real-life babies, so it makes total sense. My son has never shown the tiniest bit of interest in actual babies other than his sister. Whether this is a gender difference or a personality difference, I don’t know.
These days, my kids who are three-and-a-half years apart in age, spend quite a bit of time playing together and most of the toys we have, end up being shared. That means that sometimes they are side-by-side wrapping up baby dolls and rocking them to sleep and sometimes they are engaging in an intense battle with action figures. We try our best not to interfere and to just let them do their thing. Toys are toys. My son still doesn’t often just choose a doll over any of the other toys in the house, but if he did I don’t even think I would notice. It’s a non-issue. We certainly aren’t worried about it making him gay or less of a man.
If at some point before his sister was born my son had passionately requested a doll, I’m not sure how we would have handled it. Maybe we would have decided it was fine, I’m not sure. But I do know that we always do our best to parent from the heart and that we would have thoughtfully made the decision that was best for OUR family.