Need Advice for My Nephew.

Updated on June 08, 2019
D.S. asks from Rutherford, NJ
17 answers

Hello Ladies, My brother had children later in life so he is very old school in his thinking. I also am about to turn 60 myself but I truly feel I have a different mine set then my family members. May I also add my mom is about to turn 80 and is of the same mind set as my brother. My nephew is about to turn 5 this July. I own and operate a preschool in which my nephew attends, as well as my niece who will be 3, his sister. For well over a year now my nephew is OBSESSED with Elsa, he wants to dress like her, he sings her songs, loves to play with Barbies, etc. He gravitates to all girly things. He also does play with boys, spiderman etc. But he LOVES Elsa. I have read a lot about this and I choose to support it, so I purchased him an Elsa dress, and Elsa wig for when he comes to my home. He literally becomes euphoric when he sees it and wants to come to my house daily to dress up and just be him. I live down the street from my school so I will take him home often to just let him play. Now here's the problem. My 80 year old mother lives with me, and my brother also has a HUGE issue with this part of him. Yet my mother bought him the Barbie dream house for Christmas, and my brother has also caved on occasion and purchased him Elsa dolls. Yesterday he was here and went up to the playroom and brought down the dress and wig. He asked me to help him put the dress on, immediately my mother started yelling at him, and I continued to put the dress on. He loves to sing the song and parade around as Elsa. When he left my mother and I had a huge fight and she told me I encourage him to be gay, and then when I am not around he doesn't do it. NOT TRUE at all. At school he plays dress up with the girls all the time. He did have an Elsa wig at home and my brother threw it out. My SIL is fine with it, and we both are on the same page on letting him figure out who he is. Do I understand my brother and mothers side, yes I do. However, I refuse to let him feel bad about who he is if in fact this is who he really is. I want to be his safe place. The argument between my mother and I was huge and I told her I do not feel I am encouraging him, I feel I am supporting him. Is it possible he is too young to know, or feel his sexuality, he may just be exploring, and he may not be. Whatever he is he is healthy, loving, and a sweet boy, and I will not have him hate himself for being who he is. I know this is a generational thing, and i get it. In my heart and gut I feel he may be because he gravitates to anything female. If I am applying makeup he literally stops to watch and observe me. When we go into a store, he will become ecstatic when he sees Barbies, any doll with long hair. He puts blankets on his head to emulate long hair. The children at school do not even flinch, and neither do my kids who are 34 and 30. In the argument I threw out the dress, and the wig and I told my mother now you can explain to him where it went. As you can tell he is extremely close to me, he begs to come home with me daily for a few hours to play. I know it's because I play with him, and allow him to be himself. I am regretting giving in!! But my mother made me feel awful, and i told her that!! My mother said my brother gets very upset when he sees him with the dress and wig on and it hurts both of them. Sorry for the rant, had to give you some back round. If any of you were in this situation, how did you handle it? And if so was your child gay, or was it a phase? And am I wrong for allowing him to dress up it in the privacy of my home?

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S.G.

answers from Los Angeles on

the kid is playing! leave him alone!! My brother played with dolls and dressed up with me. He is a married man with 3 kids of his own. I wore mens suits too. Yet here I am married, with kids and not gay.

He's five. He doesn't have a clue about "sex". Stop pushing him to be something and allow him to play the way he wants. He's PLAYING. He doesn't say "Call me Elsa" and he doesn't say "I'm gonna be Elsa" right? He's PLAYING. And even if he did? So what? Let him be.

5 moms found this helpful

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D.B.

answers from Boston on

I think it's great that you support him. I don't think your mother and brother have those positions because they are old. I think it's because it's how they are and how they feel. You're the age of your brother, and you don't feel that way, right? I have a son-in-law (much younger than I am, obviously) who thinks like your mother. It's more about how people are raised and who they're exposed to through their lives.

I think it's important to watch out for labels.Dressing has nothing to do with sexual orientation/identity. So gay/bisexual/trans is not the same as cross dressing. And whether they know their "sexuality" at a young age is one thing, but having a gender identity is another - there are recent studies showing that trans people have brains like one gender even if their anatomy and their gender assignment is the opposite. It's not about hormones and sexual feelings at 4 or 5 - it's about deeply knowing who you are.

So, why are we still labeling things as "girly" or "boy toys" and then getting mad if others (like your brother) have strong ideas about what's appropriate for boys and what's not? We're contributing to the problem by keeping to those labels, you know? We are still socializing our girls to like pink things and dresses and princesses, while considering our boys "normal" if they go for trucks and weapons and super heroes.

I agree with the point made below that the "Frozen" movie has female leads - so anyone admiring their attributes is going to act and dress and sing like the women. When I was a kid, little girls didn't have these role models, so we all played Superman - no one thinks twice about us dressing as men and acting as men, do they? But when a boy does it now that some films and books have strong and capable women, ooohhh, "they're gonna be gay."

I don't think we have to cater to every child's passion-of-the-moment by buying costumes for their hero/heroines. So I'm not sure I would have bought the dress and wig. But I think it's awful that you threw them out and told your mother to explain where they went. That's kind of putting the child in the middle of your argument, of trying to prove your point. I don't think you can reason with biased people by putting them in the middle of a child's crisis now that his costume is gone.

I think you can give your nephew space to play creatively without having to prove something to his father and grandmother. There's no nice or effective way to say, "You're a bigot and I'm going to make it my mission to let this child know it." I know you're trying to support your nephew and that's great - but I think you have to respect your brother's parenting decision a little more (unreasonable as it may be) and not necessarily throw this in your mother's face.

Chances are, your nephew will not continue this for long. I think you should ease up on this, allow creative play in your school, and find a way to let him play creatively in your home without necessarily buying expensive things. Kids can make wigs out of paper bags and mop heads, so I'd encourage that rather than "I'll buy you this even though it will upset your father and grandmother." The best thing you can give this child is your time, and I think if you don't throw it in the faces of the objecting (and objectionable) relatives, you'll ensure that you'll be allowed to have that time with this child. If you make your brother mad enough and he says something in your school that puts other kids on edge or ticks off other parents, you'll have a business problem on your hand. You are a professional and need to maintain that professionalism even when your customers are your relatives.

9 moms found this helpful

S.T.

answers from Washington DC on

it's lovely that you're supportive of this little boy and let him express himself freely in your home.

it's a little less lovely that you've put him in the hot seat in your over the top desire to be the Good Guy in a battle with your 80 year old mom AND the boy's own father.

you can support your nephew without all the self-righteous posturing.

khairete
S.

7 moms found this helpful
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J.C.

answers from Philadelphia on

I have a friend who’s daughter acted like a cat. When people said hello to her she would meow and even crawl cat like on the floor. No one actually thought she would grow up to be a cat or respond to people as a cat but it did drive my friend nuts.

I would not encourage or discourage your nephew’s behavior but I do think you need to respect your brother’s wishes in how he is raising his son. That means I would donate the Elsa dress and wig.

7 moms found this helpful

B.C.

answers from Norfolk on

First - your nephew is 4 yrs old going on 5.
Jumping to a conclusion that he is gay because he likes to dress up is a stretch.
Cross dresser maybe - but it's too soon to be drawing any conclusions - he's 4.

While people read into these things - toys don't have a gender.
I didn't care for dolls and liked trucks - I played with my friends toys all the time which were considered to be 'boy' toys - I still love Legos much more than any of my girlfriends did.
I turned out to be heterosexual.
So let's not assign any labels on any preschoolers for what they play with, ok?
You, your mom and your brother are all engaging in that and it doesn't help.

Second - you know how your brother and mother feel about these things so you are stirring the pot.

Third - if your brother and mother are upset enough then they will pull nephew and niece out of your school and you will see them a lot less if at all.

Your nephew will be just as happy with a teddy bear as he is with a Barbie.
While I understand and get your point you are not going to change how your mom and brother think and your nephew is not your child.
So don't provide toys at home that will upset them.
Your nephew will grow up and be who ever he is whether anyone likes it or not.
Everybody just relax and enjoy the kids.

Take a step back, respect your nephews parents choices.
Instead of wigs and dresses try giving him dinosaurs, dirt diggers for the sandbox, pretend police/astronaut/doctor toys, etc.
You are projecting your own choices onto the child and not presenting him with opportunities to try other toys and ways to play.

7 moms found this helpful

L.P.

answers from Tyler on

Pretending and playing dress up is perfectly normal for this age group.To assign gender roles while children are just exercising their imaginations is stifling and frustrating. The LAST thing a five year old is thinking about is sexuality. Truly.
Now to answer your question. I personally feel it is more damaging to a child to witness arguments between the trusted adults in their lives than to be told "let's dress up as this other character today". If there is a happy middle ground that doesn't create the tension and drama amongst the adults, that would benefit your nephew. They need love, support, encouragement, acceptance and boundaries. We provide and demonstrate these qualities in the way we interact with both the child and the adults in their lives. He will absolutely feel like you are his "safe place" unless every time he is with you it results in an argument with his grandma or father. Choose your battles to win the war. And unconditionally love the kid until he is old enough to figure out for himself who he is and who he loves.

7 moms found this helpful

T.F.

answers from Dallas on

I am sorry you are going through this.

I have a relative, he is a very good, well known surgeon in his area. They have 6 children, 4 girls and 2 boys. Boy #2 is the 3rd child and they got so much grief from everyone because he loved to dress up, play with makeup and have polished nails.

My relative and his wife did not curb the behavior, they let him do what he wanted, despite the judgy people.

This child is about 10 or so now, a good athlete, well rounded kid. He no longer does the dress up thing, he is not gay or anything else.

They allowed him to be a child and put aside the judgments they got from EVERYONE. The mom even posted pics on social media which created a stir but they did not believe in making him conform to any type of thinking. They allowed him to be a child and enjoy playing and being a child.

I personally feel that if a boy wants to dress up and be like "mom" or another trusted adult female role model that is is not an issue and it does not make that child gay.

At the same time, there is a fine line of respecting this child's parents views as far as what you allow in your home. Some people are just wound up way too tightly!

6 moms found this helpful
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E.B.

answers from Denver on

I think there's a difference between supporting your nephew, and steering or manipulating him. If someone had bought him an Elsa dress, and he showed up at your house wearing it, then to support him would mean simply greeting him as you always do, and making cookies with him without making a fuss over the dress. But you actually went out and purchased an Elsa costume for him, and apparently he sees you applying makeup when you could do that privately in your bathroom or bedroom (other than touching up lipstick when running out the door, for example). That wasn't your place.

And I feel that you're projecting too much onto his future. This little boy was crawling just 2 years ago, just learned to talk 2 years or so ago, and isn't even 5 years old. Yet, you're wondering if he's gay, if he's too young to understand his sexuality, and if he'll end up hating himself. And you're evaluating all his choices: are they "girly"? It seems to me as though you have already decided what his future self will be and you're doing everything you can to steer him in that direction, calling it "support".

Do you similarly interact with his sister? Do you only play with your nephew, or do you cook supper, or do chores? It sounds as if he has a perfectly acceptable family, with a mom, dad and sister, who do not neglect him or ignore him, who care for him, and that you have noticed that he likes a particular animated movie character and have inserted yourself in much too deeply in an effort to appear open-minded and supportive. Actually you're being manipulative, and you've taken upon yourself the role of parent because you don't think your nephew's parents appreciate what you think his future will - and must - be. Be his preschool teacher. Be his aunt. Buy him ice cream sometimes. Not his guiding parental figure who creates artificial play scenarios in order to facilitate a much much futuristic possibility.

6 moms found this helpful
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R.K.

answers from Boston on

Short answer to the question in the last line of your post. Yes, I think you are wrong to let him do anything because you are in the "privacy of your own home". As a sister, you need to distance yourself from this fight. In the daycare, provide dress up clothes and opportunities for all the children, but not specific costumes. In your extra "Auntie" time with him, love him, while respecting his father's wishes. Without meaning to, you are creating conflict for a child. I think it's time to step back. All my best.

6 moms found this helpful
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M.P.

answers from Portland on

Perhaps you could find a book that explains play at his age. Play does not indicate who he is or who he'll become. Sounds like you're fearful he will be gay and want to reassure him that gay is OK. Sounds like Dad and Grandmother feel how he plays will make him gay. All of you are wanting the best for him. R

I have to agree that you need to follow Dad's rules. When you play with him using the Elsa dress and wig, you're creating conflict that harms your nephew and is splitting the family. Anger directed at a child does more harm than not letting him dress up as Elsa. True he needs your support. He also needs his father's support.

I often disagreed with my daughter when her daughter was young. I tried to "teach" her about why I had different opinions. We argued often. I went to a counselor who helped me accept that my daughter was an adult and the parent. I gradually learned to stay out of her parenting decisions. It's been several years and now we've been good friends for several years. What made the difference was I learned to only give advice or state an opinion if she asked for advice or an opinion. That was very difficult at first. My daughter has been in counseling for a couple of years. We both learned to stay out of each others business. I learned to respect her boundaries. Now, my daughter often asks for my help and she helps me. We treat each other as equals.

You want your nephew to feel good about himself. You encouraging his play is a part of feeling good. It's also just important to have those who love him support him. How did he feel when his grandmother yelled at him. He senses the anger between you and Grandmother and Dad. The message he heard from his grandmother is that there is something wrong with him that makes his grandmother angry..

Nothing good happens with anger and fighting. In your circumstance, people remain at odds with each other, nothing is resolved. In fact each side tries harder to hold on to their opinion. Everyone is stressed. Children don't understand and tend to think that they did something wrong.

The only person we can change is ourselves. Your mother and brother are unable to see your reasoning. The more you fight to take control the angrier they're going to be. You're angry because you have a strong belief that your nephew should dress up like Elsa. They are angry because they have a strong belief that he should not. I suggest it's time to compromise. Apparently, your mother and brother are Ok with him playing with dolls and some "girls" toys. So you provide what they will accept. Be friendly while you find ways to create love and and ways to work together.

Added: sounds like this issue is about your nephew's sexuality. Dressing or not dressing like Elsa has nothing to do with who he is. You can support him without an Elsa costume. Perhaps you can find a costume his father would approve up.

I suggest that instead of throwing Elsa costume away, you tell him his Dad wants him to try other things. Both your nephew and his Dad need your support. Their relationship is as important as yours.

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G.♣.

answers from Springfield on

I've known lots of young boys who enjoyed dress up. This is really just about them playing and using their imagination. Honestly, if they're gay, they're gay, and dressing up like a princess has no bearing.

You are being put in a very difficult position. He is your nephew and you love him, but you are not the parent. You really have to tread carefully. You need to find a way to support and love and accept, but you do need to be respect his father's wishes. Even if his mom agrees with you, be careful. His parents need to work through this together. You don't want to complicate things.

Above all, the way you talk to your nephew and they way you make him feel about himself is what he is going to take with him. If the dress and wig are the biggest bone of contention, save those for times your mother is not there. You can stick with playing with the dolls or coloring or playing a game.

Try not to worry too much. He is really going to remember how he felt during the times he spent with you. As long as you love and support him, he will remember that!

4 moms found this helpful
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M.G.

answers from Portland on

I have gay members in our extended family and no, it had nothing to do with how they played or dress up, or who their friends were as little kids. We had no idea until they came out as teens.

In Frozen, there's no strong male lead so we know little boys who pick to be either Elsa or Anna. ETA: When my nieces were little, it was all about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (and they wore those costumes). My daughter has been sharks and Yoda. My niece was Harry Potter for a long while. Not the girl character - Harry. She's now married (to a man).

I have a son whose buddies were little girls. He had a party where 95% of the invites were little girls. (he played what they played). He's not gay.

I don't really follow. Dress up and who you play with doesn't really have much to do with who you are attracted to sexually.

Added. To avoid friction/family drama (unfortunate), I guess I'd be respectful of dad in your home in your care. Probably easiest.

I'd just allow him to wear what he wants at daycare.

4 moms found this helpful

W.W.

answers from Washington DC on

wow - please use paragraphs - it makes reading your post MUCH easier.

My thoughts on this? He's FIVE. He's not saying he wants to be a girl. Or that he is a girl.
He's using his IMAGINATION and playing. What's the big deal?

I have 2 boys - they wore my shoes and put on dresses. They are now 17 and 19 and are just fine!! They are both dating girls and VERY strong in their manliness!!

I would tell my mom and brother to get a grip. It's called playing and imagination. Maybe they should slow down and stop trying to push something. He's PLAYING.

4 moms found this helpful

R.P.

answers from Tampa on

All female/male issues aside you are wrong on going against the wishes of his parent. You are not the parent and to some degree butt I’m too much. There is no privacy of your home when the child is not yours! If you are trusted with a child and you know you are doing something that you know parents will not approve.. you should inform them of what you actually are doing ESPECIALLY if it goes against their parenting beliefs.

I have 3 boys and honestly they never went for my make up or tried on any of my shoes, bras, dresses nor asked for any dolls or princesses dresses. Honestly I think dressing up in women’s clothing will pass ( unless it won’t) it’s a stage. At this young age it’s not sexual-it’s having proper directions an all and any behavior.. so a child can not be “gay”.

But I also think encouraging ( what you do) is confusing to a child. And if my child at 5 was to dress up in princesses clothing I would gently steer him into proper direction. If he likes the princess he should in “his mind” be with her. Not be like her. But again it’s should be left to parents to decide what is best.

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S.S.

answers from Atlanta on

I had so much trouble reading your post. I'm sorry.

Are you going out of your way to get him "girl" things? Or do you already have them?
Is he using his imagination and playing? Or what? It almost sounds like you are encouraging him to play "girl". That's not right.

Where is his sister in all of this? Does she get the she get the same attention as her brother? Or do you treat him differently?

As a mom of 4 boys, I can tell you that mine have played with Barbie's, GI Joe's, Tonka Trucks and girly things. None of them have expressed interest in being attracted to boys/males.

Please stop. He's FIVE YEARS OLD. Let him play and use his imagination. As long as that is ALL you are doing. Letting him play.

3 moms found this helpful
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T.H.

answers from Dallas on

You are doing the right thing. My son dressed up in any and all costumes we had around, including princesses. It's fun for them and they like to feel fancy too. The thing is as much work that is being done to try and break down gender stereotypes, it's still a long road. It's much easier for people to accept girls dressing up as superheroes than boys dressing up as princesses. Keep providing a safe environment for him to play, explore, and be a kid.

Could he be gay? Sure. Is he too young to know? Not necessarily. Does dressing up in princess dresses mean he's gay? No. At 5 he is too young to be able to vocalize his feelings. I've known quite a few gay people in my life and some of them tell them they knew as early as 5 or 6 and some say they didn't know until they were an adult. Gay or straight, it's important that your nephew have a person and a place that he can be himself, be a kid, be loved, and feel accepted.

1 mom found this helpful

C.T.

answers from Santa Fe on

I think it's a completely natural thing for lots of little boys to do. My son LOVED to dress up in princess dresses, get his nails painted, wear a tiara, and he even had his own skirt he loved to wear. When playing pretend he always wanted to be a girl character. His favorite color for a while was pink. He just thought it was beautiful. And he liked the female characters because they were always kinder and so pretty (I guess!). We just let him be himself. At the time I just thought, well who knows but if he does end up being gay I want him to feel 100% supported by his family. He stopped with the princess dresses and skirt sometime in Kindergarten because some boys told him those things are only for girls. He is 15 now. He has had crushes on girls and had a sort of "pseudo" girlfriend last year...I say pseudo bc I told him he was too young for a girlfriend and to just be friends. He is really into computer art, programming, skiing, mountain biking, video editing and making computer animations...and he has a lot of friends. He is friends with the nerdy kids and with the jocks. He's just very confident. He's also nice to everyone and probably considered a "sensitive boy". Your problem is you can't control other people...you can't control your brother and mom and what they think. I have met many men like your brother and I think it's a shame. What they don't understand is someone does not turn gay by being allowed to wear dresses/girly stuff. One is born gay...it's just in you and a part of who you are.You have no control over it. Anyway, it's nice that you accept your nephew. When your nephew is with you at your house he can be himself there and won't be judged by the things he enjoys.

1 mom found this helpful
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