The Correlation Between Pretending and Saving the World
My 2-year-old daughter has been living in an elastic-waist pink skirt with balloons of lace at the sides, trimmed with silver beads and pink feathers. Her “princess skirt” is now being layered over the garage-sale leotard and tutu I found, and isoccasionally tripped over in cloppy plastic dress-up high-heels adorned with feathers to match the skirt.
Often she twirls around to music in it till she falls down in giggles. Or she might drape the matching purse around her arm to push her stroller full of “babies” and serve me bowls of plastic food. She is sleeping in the skirt, and the tutu, as I type.
My sons, on the other hand, will be jumping off the arm of the sofa with foam swords in hand, shouting, “ARRRRGH!”, sometimes with plastic helmets on. My daughter does not hesitate to get involved in protecting others with a sword as well! They are knights, or sometimes pirates (from the VeggieTales movie The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything), rambunctiously saving the world.
These are the kinds of play that I love most, partly because it’s so creative (and just plain cute), but largely because I know that they’re learning so much about their roles in life. They’re beginning to answer an all-important question: What it means to be a girl? A boy? A woman? A man?
My daughter is learning about femininity, nurturing and beauty – and protecting others. My boys, about showing courage, protecting and reinforcing the message “I can”—gaining the confidence to surmount obstacles, to tackle what lies in front of them.
This kind of play lays the groundwork for identity, and more specifically, gender roles. You may think I’m reaching, but I believe these games are the elementary forms of learning how to be a God-glorifying wife or husband.
I let my daughter play along with the boys and my boys use the play kitchen (Jesus and Abraham are among the chefs of the Bible) and pal around with their stuffed animals because they need to learn to nurture as well. And my hope is that they are learning that from my husband and me, too.
My mom pointed out early in my motherhood that it’s important for fathers to be involved in the everyday tasks of caring for children—giving baths, getting drinks, the endless needs children fill our days with—because our children can otherwise conclude that nurture is only women’s work.
Fortunately, I have a husband who does these things, whose own father loved being a dad, which made my husband long to be a father, which laid the framework for generations after him: children who will grow up, excited about the job of caring for a child and deeply involving themselves in their children’s lives. My middle son, in fact, has informed me that when he grows up, he wants to be a grandpa!
I’m inspired about the fact that the games my children play and the hours we log with them now can ripple through centuries of children to come. That makes my kids’ pretending to be knights and a princess look like it really might have a hand in saving the world.