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Little Boys in Pink Shoes

Little Boys in Pink Shoes

By Amalah

Dear Amy,

I have a 2.5-year-old boy who loves the color pink. He also hates wearing shoes. Recently, I was showing him a web page with lots of different shoes on it, trying to get him interested, and I asked him which of two pairs of shoes he liked better. He picked a pair of pink shoes he saw off to the side. Just for fun, I scrolled down the page and again asked him to choose between blue and brown. He again pointed to a different flowery pink pair off to the side. I tried a third set of choices, and again, he came up with pink.

Now this doesn’t bother me in the least. I don’t care if he likes pink shoes, or pink pants, or dolls, or whatever the hell he wants to like. I don’t think this makes him weird, or gay, or whatever society deems male children who prefer pink. It’s just a color. My problem is that I don’t feel that I can let him wear pink shoes because other people/kids will pick on him. I don’t want him to be picked on. Of course I don’t. He will be starting preschool when he turns 3 next summer, and I don’t think I can, in good conscience, send him to preschool wearing pink shoes. But part of me wonders, would he be more willing to wear shoes (in general) if they were pink? Would the daily shoe wars come to an end?

Am I being ridiculous? Should I just let him wear whatever color he wants and not worry about the reactions from other people? Or should I quietly just order the brown shoes and hope he chooses a new favorite color next year?

Since you have 3 boys, I am interested to know what you would do. I don’t want stereotypes to get in the way of his happiness, but I hesitate to have people label my son, who is too young to understand, let alone defend himself if I’m not around.

While none of my boy children ever developed an affinity for pink clothing, all of them at one point pushed a pink doll stroller around our neighborhood, and my six-year-old still takes his “babies” to his friends’ houses, with one of them decked out in her finest pink party dress and flowered headband that he picked out specifically for her. And oh yeah, I fought the ridiculous daily NO SHOES battle with all three of them at some point. So I feel confident in my “what would I do” response, even if it is technically a hypothetical.

Buy him the shoes he will wear. The pink ones. He’ll be fine.

In my (three time!) experience, the 3-year-old preschool classroom is not the junior-high meat-grinder atmosphere you seem to be envisioning. It’s a classroom full of very young toddlers who are still basically babies, many of whom will 1) cry, 2) have potty accidents, 3) suck their thumbs, 4) drag a blankie/lovey around with them, and 5) do any number of things their parents are completely terrified will result in teasing, because we all think everybody ELSE’s 3 year olds don’t still do those things for some reason.

My current 3 year old attends a mixed-age classroom, so some of his peers are technically kindergartners. He also has long hair (for a boy), and at this point is quite vocal that it’s his preference to keep it that way. I asked his teacher if…you know…she’d ever overheard anyone tease him or say anything along the “YOU LOOK LIKE A GIRL” lines. She stared at me, almost a little shocked at the question. “Of course not! I can’t imagine any of these kids saying or even thinking that. This isn’t that kind of environment.”

Obviously, I can’t guarantee that your son won’t be told pink shoes are for girls, or teased for his preference. But that’s the reality of sending your child out into the world. I can’t guarantee that any of my children won’t be teased at school today, no matter what “kind of environment” their teachers are doing their best to create. My oldest son is on the Spectrum and has serious social issues, my middle son prefers the company of girls and would rather play house than soccer, and my youngest has long blonde hair and insists on wearing at least one item of clothing backwards most days. (I don’t know. I’ve stopped fighting that particular battle as well.)

What matters more, I believe, is that my children know that when they come home, to me, to their father, they will be accepted and supported and loved unconditionally. They’re allowed to like what they like and be their authentic selves. By pointedly ignoring your son’s preference (after asking for his opinion/input) for the pink shoes, YOU will be the one sending him the signal that there’s something “wrong” with that preference.

If he comes home from preschool and suddenly no longer wants to wear the pink shoes, go ahead and buy him a new brown or blue or green pair, but don’t make it a huge thing, or panic that he’s been hurt and teased and scarred for life. Buy him some pink pajamas that he can wear and enjoy in peace at home, where he KNOWS his color preference is accepted and honored. And in the end, it’s your unconditional acceptance and love that will translate into self-confidence, and the ability for him to look a peer in the eye and say “I don’t care what you think, I like these shoes, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

I always tell my boys there’s no such thing as “girl colors/toys” and “boy colors/toys” but they (at least the older ones) insist that I am wrong. The marketing gets to them eventually, so I usually just shrug, tell them they’ll understand the insidious, sexist nature  of the gender stereotyping machine someday (WHOOSH OVER THEIR HEADS), and attempt to reinforce that idea that there’s nothing BETTER about boy things or LESSER about girl things. Everybody is allowed to like what they like, and we NEVER tease anyone about liking something “different” than us.

I’m doing my best to raise sons who would never, ever tease a little boy for wearing pink shoes. I really am. I like to think I’m not the only one.

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Comments

  • Amber

    As usual, Amy is exactly right. As a preschool teacher, and mom of a three year old girl, I promise that his shoes will be a “thing”. Kids that age are usually incredibly sweet and nurturing to one another, and very accepting of things that are “different”. He’ll be totally fine, and if for whatever reason a “friend” makes a negative comment, I have no doubt another friend will jump to his aid quick and in a hurry. Good luck!

    • Amber

      Ugh I should really proofread better. I meant to say that his shoes will NOT be a “thing”. 

  • Kate

    For what it’s worth, my 3.5 year old boy recently snagged a sweet pair of pink and purple light up “Frozen” shoes. He, like every other child in the world, is obsessed with the movie and HAD to have the shoes. He wears them to preschool and everyone, boys and girls, thinks they’re the coolest. For “show-and-share” last week he also brought his Elsa build-a-bear lovey, all bedecked in the sparkliest of dresses and tiaras, and he was the coolest kid in school. They just don’t care at this age, and I think the more we reinforce that the more they won’t care later either. 

    • Chris

      I just made my 5 year old a purple and pink Anna and Elsa pillow that he takes to school for rest time. He fell in love with the fabric at the quilt store. Olaf, Sven, whoever else is in the movie? No good. He ONLY wanted Anna & Elsa in all their girly glory. Not a one of his classmates cares or makes fun.

    • MR

      This. When I was reading the letter, my first thought was, “Some girl in the class is going to have the same shoes, and they will be sooooo excited to match!”
      Kids that age don’t know what they aren’t supposed to like. They just know what they like. Ask any three year old why they like something, and they will tell you quite simply, “Because I LIKE it.” Period, end of discussion. And every other little kid 3-5 completely understands that. When my then 4 year old decided she wanted to cut her hair short (like mine), one of her best friends (a boy) ran up to her and said, “Your hair is like a boys!” I kind of bristled a little and gently responded that girls have short hair too. But, this was all MY issue. He was just super excited that her hair matched his. It is hard as a parent not to project things onto our kids, but, OP, don’t put your issues onto him. Buy him the pink shoes.

  • Myriam

    I agree with Amy that “not” bying him the pink shoes reinforces the stereotypes you don’t share. He will not be tease about them. My 4 yo daughter’s favorite color is PINK, all the things pink, and for a while didn’t want to where blue because it was a “boys'” color. At one point, she even refused that my mother in law put mosturizer on her because the bootle was blue, “it was boys’ cream”. My MIL explained to her that no, blue is a color for girls and boys, and that the cream was hers. And suddenly, my daughter was ok with blue. Still not her favorite color, but a totally acceptable choice! What I’m trying to say is that even if someone was to point out to your son that his shoes were girls shoes, the teacher would quickly redirect the conversation and explain that there is no such thing. If you are afraid that the teacher would be the one teasing your son, then, it might be a good idea to find a new preschool! 😉

  • My friend’s 2 year old LOVES to wear his (female toddler) friend’s clothes and shoes, so it’s totally normal for her to be wearing his skull rainboots while he wears the Hello Kitty ones. I don’t think any other kids even realize why that might be weird, and while there might be some parents with raised eyebrows, I think if you are confident in your decision to let him make his own choices, then nobody is going to say anything to you about it. (And if they DO, well then you’ve just identified them as someone you don’t need in your life!) 😉 

  • Dana

    I have a 2.5 year old boy who loves pink too.  I think it is probably more common than you think.  He doesn’t have pink clothes that he wears out, but he loves Elsa and all things Frozen and would happily wear pink if he had any.  He likes beautiful things and why shouldn’t he.  I don’t have a lot of experience with preschools but every once in a while when I go to pick him up at daycare he is still wearing dress-up clothes and they are usually skirts or dresses.  It doesn’t bother me what he chooses to dress up as, what I like it that the adults don’t try to tell him that his choices are “wrong.”  If adults in the rural south are that accepting, I think you will find most preschools very accepting too.

  • C

    My 4 year old loves dressing up (his favorite gift this holiday: Frozen dress up dresses) and often wears his older sisters shoes. He insisted on wearing her outgrown pink sparkly shoes (which I was all over because ALREADY PAID FOR shoes!!). A couple kids at his gymnastics class commented on the fact that he was wearing girls shoes, and his instructor replied that girls often wear shoes like these, but since they’re Simon’s shoes they’re boys shoes.” I’d get him the shoes…ending the shoe battles is so worth it.

  • Liz

    I think people (and by extension kids) are getting more flexible about that sort of thing. Pink socks and shoelaces were all the rage with the boys in my 5th grade classroom last year. 

  • J

    My 5 yr son goes to a Montessori and LOVED pink as a toddler. Once his sister was born (when he was 2), he wanted flowers and clips and head bands. He wore a pink tutu for school on his 3rd birthday.

    Every time he made those choices I grimaced inside, terrified in case somebody hurt his feelings. He has 5 and 6 year olds in his class too, and sure enough he’d report ”X said that pink isn’t for boys, mom!”. Eventually, as I suspected, the other boys have conditioned away his affinity for pink. Although today he had an internal battle about whether or not he should remove his blue nail polish before school. I was very neutral about it. ”I think it looks cool but I will take it off if you would prefer that, it’s your choice”. He decided to keep it on, and this morning I bought some ”boy” colors so we can do ”Batman nails” and ”Captain America nails.”

    Basically, yes, there’s a chance your son will eventually decide it’s not socially appropriate to wear pink shoes, and that will likely come from the odd snarky preschooler comment, but I think it’s better for *him* to reach that conclusion by experimentation as opposed to having the stereotype reinforced by a parent.

  • Alissa

    When my guy was four he broke his arm.  He chose a pink cast, as pink was his favorite color at that time.  My husband cringed, but allowed the pink cast (good thing, because I’d have KICKED HIS BUTT if he’d said no).  Never a minute of teasing from anyone – most people thought the pink cast was cool.  He had a pink kick for about a year, and then it changed.  Don’t believe that just because he likes pink now, he will like pink forever.  Pink shoes rock.  Get em.

  • SarahB

    I don’t know why, but all these stories of boys wearing pink shoes and Frozen gear is making me all teared up.  I love it.

    And, if I saw your son in my son’s preschool classroom sporting some awesome pink shoes, I would totally compliment him on them.

    • Hillary

      I’m tearing up, too!

  • Maggie

    My 3 year old son likes to wear his sister’s tiara around. I don’t think anyone will pick on your son, especially at this age, for pink shoes. Go for it!

  • I love Amy’s answer (and her blog too). Who knows? Maybe this next generation will be able to shake off more of the gender limitations of the past. 

  • Kim

    My girls love superheroes.  When my oldest shared the BatCave she got for Christmas at her preschool, the strongest reaction was from an older boy “Huh.  I didn’t know girls could like Batman, too!”  She got a few remarks on her awesome Batman backpack in kindergarten, but we have two sayings around our place: 1. The first rule of being cool is never letting anyone else tell you what you like, and 2.  Superheroes  are for everyone, because superheroes are awesome.I think both of those can apply to colors, too.
    When they’re this age, they’re trying a lot of stuff out. He will follow your cues as to how big a deal this is.  The phrase, “In our family, we think….” is very useful, and comforting.

  • Jess

    At daycare one day, my 3 year old saw that the teachers were painting the girls’ fingernails. He asked for his to be painted, and was told that she had to check with me first .  When I picked him up that day the teacher asked if it was ok, and said she could use clear polish. I basically laughed and said he could have whatever color he wanted. 
    The next day I was informed that the second the other boys saw his nails painted they all asked for the same. My son ended up with painted finger AND toe nails for that whole summer, and thought it was the best thing ever. 
    At that age, even when they are starting to recognize some of the societal differences between boys and girls, it’s still much more about what looks fun to them. 

    • Kate

      My son had painted finger and toenails most of the time from 3-5. It started pretty much the same way; he saw me painting my nails and wanted in on the action. Then I quickly discovered he would sit still and let me clip his nails without complaint as long as he got them pained afterwards so it became a weekly ritual. We don’t do it nearly as much now that he’s older and doesn’t need that incentive but he still had yellow fingernails for most of October and as far as I know none of his K classmates said anything about it.

  • vanessa

    get him the shoes…you are over thinking it 😉 for one thing, I teach in a 4/5s room, and we have some kids who are kind of mean (like in the sense that they are disturbed and sometimes will swear at or threaten other kids) and THOSE kids wouldn’t tease a kid for wearing pink shoes. a classroom full of mostly neurotypical 3s? forget it. also, if you are refusing to buy him the shoes, you are totally reinforcing the idea that he is somehow bad or wrong for wanting them.

  • Ann

    My husband tells our daughter is favorite colour is pink in order to combat some of the “pink is for girls only” marketing rhetoric. If anyone says anything to him it gives you a chance to start a discussion with him about prejudice and how people think in different ways but we don’t always have to agree. My 4 year old recently had a long discussion with her friend because I told her girls can marry girls and not only boys which I take as a win

  • S

    Totally agree. There’s no teasing like that in preschool. Any kid-caused hurt is all just based in, “I want that! No, I want that!” I have boy/girl 3-year-old twins and can’t imagine trying to not have them share all the things. There’s no girly/boyish distinction here and none of their peers even notice.

  • liz

    When my son was 8, he chose purpley-pink sandals for the summer. The only other option in his size that day was a muddy green. I wrote about it here: http://mysterymommy.blogspot.com/2010/06/he-makes-decisions-and-braves.html

    and here’s how we got him to prefer one bed over another: http://mysterymommy.blogspot.com/2005/12/thats-my-boy.html

  • My boys (now 5 & 7) both went through a hard-core pink shoes phase that lasted more than a year. It was roughly from 3-5 with both of them. They wore bright pink Crocs everywhere, every day, school included. They also sometimes wore nail polish. For context, we live in a mid-sized city in the South — not what anyone would point to as a model of progressiveness. I don’t know of any instances in which a kid or adult made a mean remark to either of them. They did, however, slowly take in the more subtle social message about pink being a girl color, and so have abandoned their pinky ways. I think it was much more painful for me than it was for them to see those days pass.

  • Melissa

    My son, at NINE THROUGH TWELVE, had a pink bike and not one kid said a word to him.

    Their parents would say something to me….and I’d tell them to stop it, but the kids didn’t care at all.

  • JenVegas

    OP, Amy is on point 100%
    Amy, YOU ARE NOT ALONE!

  • Elizabeth_K

    This topic hits more close to home than many others; our boy, now 6, loves to wear dresses, has a pink bike, and always chooses ‘girl’ clothes when given a chance. IT was hard for my husband, and honestly, for myself when he started — back at age 3 — we said, “boys don;t wear that” but when he asked “why?” I was fumbling … “oh, um, well, people will talk.” and he said, very clearly, “I don’t care what people say.” Oh. So we let him, and he led us, and now he wears them a lot — to school, to everywhere. His friends at school (he’s now in 1st grade) don’t tease him — they honestly don’t even notice … and we are sad when he DOESN’T wear dresses cause we wonder what is wrong. He does get teased by other kids, sometimes, but they also tease his friend for his last name, and another friend for another reason — all kids (heartbreakingly) get teased. The hang ups about ‘boy’ things and ‘girl’ things — those are all ours. I’m so proud of him, and proud to be his mom, and when people call him a girl I ask — ‘does it upset you?’ and he looks at me like I’m weird and says, “no, mom, I know I’m a boy.” Ah, yes. He’s now rocking the red Dr. Marten boots. Sorry to ramble on. Let him wear pink! They are being the change we want to see in the world … 

  • KW

    My then almost 4yo son told his friend (a girl) that his favorite color was purple. She told him that was a girl color and when he looked at me sort of hurt I told them, “Boys can like purple too, it’s Daddy’s favorite color too!”. He got the biggest smile on his face and went proudly back to loving purple. When I had him pick a new tshirt for a DIY project he went with the neon pink one. He wore it into the ground and always got a ton of compliments on it…

    At 4.5 his favorite color is now blue and only wants to wear ninja turtle shirts. Sigh. Things change fast at this age and I think you’re probably safe from any real teasing until elementary school starts. Enjoy the pink shoes 🙂 (Although the DIY in me is thinking you could probably turn his pink shoes into some super cool pink truck/trains/whatever he loves shoes with a sharpie…)

  • Ellie

    Little kids, heck! My 39 yo husband’s favorite color is pink. His lunchbox is pink, his favorite travel mug is pink, there’s the 3 pink dress shirts, and I have knitted him a scarf, 2 pairs of mittens, 3 pairs of socks, and a sweater in, you guessed it, pink. (Oddly, he chose yellow for his hat) Yeah, he gets a comment or two sometimes, but he doesn’t care.

  • Alison

    Late to the show here, but I have a 2.5 year old boy who loves trucks and dinosaurs and Frozen and (thank goodness, if you ask me) pink and purple. He has a pair of purple and pink Vans he’s worn to day care for months now–often with a flourescent pink t-shirt he’s also fond of–and he and his friends at school (boys and girls ages 2.5-3.5) don sparkly tutus and firefighter hats and dance around to Frozen, and then they all go play with dump trucks (often driven by doe-eyed dolls). I’ve never heard any of them pull out the “boys should” or “girls should” nonsense, but if they did, the other kids would just stare in confusion, because those are silly grown-up boundaries and hangups. By the way, I live in rural Mississippi, not some cozy hippie enclave.

    My point? Let your kid wear the cute shoes. What kid wants to be stuck in beige when there’s a whole rainbow of pretty colors to embrace?

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  • Anne

    My nearly 3 daughter loves dinosaurs and superheros. Nearly every preschooler she meets thinks that’s cool so I can’t envision your son getting teased. You MIGHT get parent flack ( some adults think my little one is a boy) I always laugh at thos adults and insist that at this age there is no difference to them so why should there be to us?

  • Grammy

    I can’t begin to tell you how it warms my heart to see so many parents who don’t live in the Dark Ages. Amy and all the commenters here are raising kids who are changing the world, for the better. For the record, my grandson listed his favorite color as pink when he was in preschool, and he dearly loved Frozen and all things princess-y, and so did all the other kids. He also has parents who don’t care what colors or styles he likes.

    Now in kindergarten, he says his favorite color is red, and I’m pretty sure it’s because some kids have talked during recess about what is appropriate for each gender. Kids do that when they’re figuring things out. I am confident, though, that if any little boy wanted to wear pink, or even wear “girl” clothing, any criticism of that would be stopped immediately. But red is a good color, too, you know?

    And just to belabor the point, the other day my 72-year-old husband was shopping for a cover for his smart phone and said, “I like this brand, but they don’t have anything in pink.” I asked if he’d buy a pink one if they had it and he said, “Pink’s a nice color. If they had one I liked in the shade of pink I like, sure.”

  • Emma

    What no one has said, and I think bears pointing out: you are worried about whether your kid is gay, right? Or gender-bendy in some kind of way that will last longer than a few months? That is probably not the case, as all the parents above pointed out, but as you work all this out you might want to follow that thought through and think about what kind of parent you want to be to your child if he IS gay or gender non-conforming in some way. If this is who your kid is, trying to make him some other way will make him miserable and will fail — the only “change” outcome is that he learns to hide it for some period of time — a serious source of suffering. A study of transgender adults (http://endtransdiscrimination.org/PDFs/NTDS_Exec_Summary.pdf) found that an incredibly depressing 41% have attempted suicide — and parental rejection is a major risk factor. If what you fear is the case, he will need you on his side, not trying to change him. 

    • Melissa

      Actually, no.  I am the OP, and I do NOT care if my son is gay.  I also don’t think that liking pink, or dolls, or flowers, or whatever, makes him gay.  I was just trying to gauge the reaction of other parents/children on this issue before I send him out in pink, as he is my first and only child and I have no reference point.  For the record, I did end up buying him pink shoes, out of the boys section!  They are little salmon-colored canvas slip-ons that Carter’s offered last summer, so I also got them on the cheap, and he LOVES them.  No arguments about shoes. Everyone has said to him, “Cool shoes!” when they see the shoes.  I’m happy to let him be himself, and I am thankful for the support that everyone has shown.  I have also seen lots of pink spring clothing options in the boys’ section recently.  I intend to buy him lots of pink this year! 

  • Olivia

    I regularly paint my 2.5 year old’s nails pink and purple because he asks me two. He calls his little bag a purse and I don’t correct him. He will know that no matter what gender policing messages he gets, at home we think that is bullshit.

    Last week a grocery store was doing face painting and my five year old daughter got a pink heart design on her arm and a ring complete with a gem. Then it was my son’s turn and I could tell he was not happy with the bat the last was steering him to, but I demurred. Then he asked for a ring like his sister’s and the last flat out said they were only for girls. She finally did one minus the gem.

    My son was so upset he cried all the way home and asked for it to be washed off. I was really mad at myself for not sticking up for what he wanted. My husband took him back and got him the same exact, pink design as his sister’s and he was so happy (stupid lady still argued, but my husband put his foot down). I will not make that mistake again.