When I had my first son, Jackson, my heart birthed a new sense of understanding for boys. My life would go from fashion and flowers to trucks, choo-choos, and superheroes. That was until my darling daughter arrived, equipped with enough fairies, dolls, and princess dresses to dominate his boy-trodden throne.

By the time his little sister could walk, talk and insist on wearing the same costume every day as if it were a school uniform, my son had already developed a mild obsession with trains and racecars. And just like any younger sibling does, my daughter very much enjoyed playing with her older brother’s toys. But instead of wearing overalls, she rocked her tutu. They shared toys and experiences and had fun playing together, just being kids. 

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”― Oscar Wilde

boy dancing on chair kid dancing in living room

Kids Take After Their Siblings

Fast forward a few years, a couple of moves, and two new Schaffer brothers later, and our family was complete. Par for the course, both younger brothers followed the trend of wanting to do everything their older siblings were doing. Our third child, Roman, took to sports like his older brother, and by the time we had our youngest, AKA Boss Baby Brody, our daughter had become very involved in dancing. Now, a standard Friday night at the Schaffers’ wouldn’t be complete without a popup dance party.

For as long as I can remember, Boss Baby Brody has been completely mesmerized by his sister’s dancing. And as soon as he learned how to walk, guess what? He was right there next to her.

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kid in heart sunglasses kid in cool fashion

Letting Him Live His Passion

Our Boss Baby Brody dances every day with his big sister and is fascinated by all things music, dance, and costumes. Looking at life through the lens of my kids as they interact with one another is the sweetest gift, so why in the world would I discourage such innocent play when Brody wears a princess dress?

Just like his older brother suiting up for lacrosse when Boss Baby Brody puts on that dress, his eyes light up, and he gets in this zone. And just like his big sister, the costume-turned-uniform puts the ultimate smile on his face, setting the tone for what’s ahead. And did I mention he also takes after his Mommy? At the grocery store or otherwise, he welcomes and encourages compliments on his chosen outfit from both patrons and passersby. At the end of the day, there’s no lack of confidence in this young man, so why on earth would I want to change that?

“Always be a first-rate version of yourself and not a second-rate version of someone else.” ― Judy Garland

toddler in halloween costumetoddler in disney frozen costume

If You Have Nothing Nice to Say…

What I don’t understand is how or why some individuals spend their time criticizing and bullying something so innocent. Maybe I’m ignorant of the times, but I didn’t realize the real-life humans who hide behind the internet would have such profound feelings about Boss Baby Brody’s princess persona. Or such negative thoughts about me as his mother.

Do I not have morals or values because my toddler wants to play in his sister’s princess dresses?

Shouldn’t kids be allowed to play dress up, and enjoy being a kid? I believe so.

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

boy and mom in matching pjsboy and mom posing in elevator

Bullying Happens to Moms Too

Grocery shopping with kids is not exactly how I like to spend my Saturday mornings. In fact, I try to avoid it at all costs. But when the kids are literally crying over spilled milk, a mom’s gotta do what a mom’s gotta do. In my dreaded attempt at saving the day one weekend, I grabbed Boss Baby Brody and we left for the store. My son, who would’ve only added to the chaos if I had tried to leave him at home⁠—or worse yet, change his clothes⁠—cheerfully accompanied me to aisle five. In his Elsa dress.

Low and behold, a woman soon approached to compliment my “beautiful girl.” I chuckled and said, “Oh, I’m sorry. She is actually a he… who just loves to play with his sister’s dresses.” And as those very words were leaving my mouth, I could see the look of disgust on her face.

She was mad at that. She then proceeded to reprimand me by saying, “Well, shouldn’t he be wearing boy clothes? You are his mother.” My response: “No ma’am, his dress shouldn’t spark any surprise, as I am raising a fine young gentleman. Are toddlers not allowed to play and pretend?”

boy playing with dollsboy dancing with tea set

Understanding Our Family

I grew up an Italian Catholic from NYC, and in those days, no boy would ever be caught playing with his sister’s “girl” toys, much less their clothes. But what I have learned as a seasoned mother to four is that children are innocent. And they should certainly be allowed to play dress-up if that’s what makes them happy.

I try to be an open-minded parent. Not that I would go to the extreme of painting his room pink and filling it with dollhouses. (Okay, he has a few play castles, but who cares as long as he’s kind?) But I do think it’s ok if my Boss Baby Brody wants to watch princess movies and play in his sister’s dresses. Wouldn’t you agree?

“Don’t you ever let a soul in the world tell you that you can’t be exactly who you are.” ― Lady Gaga

mom and son in ballet tutusmom and son in tutus

Raising Kind Men

There’s no doubt that for years boys have been discouraged from playing with “girl” toys. Going down the toy aisles in most stores, we see that they are organized by gender. With my first son, naturally, I bought most toys from the boy aisles. However, after having two more sons following a daughter, they were then naturally exposed to girl toys. Our daughter Dylan loved dressing her younger brothers up in play dresses, and before you knew it, I had three princesses enjoying tea parties. Immediately, I thought it was the sweetest thing and knew in my heart that this type of exposure would only make them better men. This type of play makes them more nurturing and connects them to their sister. And it works both ways; she certainly loves a good basketball game in the front yard.

Watching my kids navigate childhood has been most rewarding. And I’m afraid that if I don’t let my children just be children, I’m going to wake up one day, and they’re going to be all grown up! As a mom to three boys, it is my hope to break all rigid stereotypes out there. I want to raise my kids to be themselves, whether Boss Baby Brody’s in a dress or Dylan is kicking butt during a basketball game. My daughter has certainly demonstrated being tough, so why can’t my boys demonstrate a more playful, nurturing side?

So, to the woman in aisle five, I will say this. A little shift in perspective can go a long way. And with more love, acceptance, and kindness in the world, we all win.

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funny unicorn quoteboy dancing in back of SUV


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26 thoughts on “How I Raise My Kids to Be Themselves”

  1. I just discovered Brody and he is awesome. However, I can’t help but notice you always capitalize the male pronoun making a point that he is a HE. Even here you mention that he’ll “buy his wife”. I think allow children to be themselves is wonderful. And, I also think that he may end up wanting to be referred to as SHE or THEY someday. And that’s okay. But, I see no declarations of that. For example you could have said, “Brody will buy their partner whatever they want to wear, tux or gown someday,”. It seems like you assume that Brody internally identifies as male gendered and heterosexual. I’d say, that could be 100% his future, but it would be even more inspirational to acknowledge that maybe he won’t and that’s allowing Brody to be themself, too.

    • By calling Brody “they” you are misgendering him. Currently, HE identifies as a HE- this is why his mom emphasizes his preferred pronoun and it’s clear that she’s receptive to any changes, should there be one in the future. If there comes a day that Brody decides to change his pronouns, that’s up to him.

    • Its a real possibility he will become gender neutral but hes old enough to tell his mom what he’d like to be reffered as. Do you not remember jazz jennings?

  2. I love this so much!! Thank you for letting your babies be whatever they want to be and express themselves however they want. I absolutely love your little man Brody! When he dances he puts a smile on my face and brightens my day. His facial expressions are so intense, and I love it!! Thanks for being an awesome person/mom!!

  3. I have 3 girls and 1 boy, the boy is the 3rd child so with that being said you can just imagine what he did, his older sisters dressed him up in many tutus, and many Barbie play dates… he is 21 now and is one of the most kind sweetest happiest guys around. As he grew older he grew into his own. There is nothing wrong with your little boy wanting to wear his sisters princess outfits, believe me I had many stares so you let boss baby be his self and all things will be good. Thanks for sharing… totally agree with all that has been said.

  4. Love this I had two Daugters and one son, The son was the Youngest so he certainly did play with the girls. He played Barbies and definitely played the little Girl and was dressed up as one.

  5. Danielle,
    As a mother of 4 myself, I know how hard it can be everyday. But every child should be able to express themselves and their creativity the way that make them happy. I love watching him dance. He’s so compassionate about the love of dance and music. No matter what he’s wearing. Today’s world is hard enough. A child should be able to express themselves any way that make them happy. That’s what life is all about. So let the woman in aisle 5 know how ignorant she is. And if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Danielle, you are a PHENOMENAL mom, raising for amazing individual children. I love you my friend. And tell Baby Brody to keep on dancing!!!

    Kim Lombardi

  6. Brava!
    Kids ARE innocent and we raise fractured adults when we say things like “girls can’t” or “boys don’t” – raise kind kids, who know themselves and that’s it. BTW I have no kids so I’m always ready with parenting advice, just holla.

    But your little Brody gave me some joy today so thank you both!

    • I just loved that nutcravker dam I g video and so did all my friends. I said I just hope this little boy becomrs famous from this and his fabulous personality . He brings joy to do many people. Thank you for letting Brody be Brody and not complicating things for him.

  7. Literally just found you via Oprah. Have to say, you are so eloquent and kind. You are, in my opinion, are the voice that so many should hear. Who gives a yahoo if your son wants to wear a dress or whatever. You go girl. Love to all ❤️

    • Really interesting post, thank you! We have an Elsa-obsessed 4 year old boy too. He’s been wearing the costume at nursery since he was 3 and goes dance class every weekend. We assumed at 4, once he started ‘reception’ (big school in the UK) he’d forget about the Elsa dress but his new teacher is the head of drama! They’ve developed quite a bond: she really encourages his theatrical nature and he’s allowed to wear the costume whenever he wants. For Christmas, we bought him a huge dress up box and filled it with loads of other costumes, although he mostly wears his mums old canary yellow silk top for our regular evening dance routine! Boys will be boys..! Good luck! X

  8. I love this story. And I can tell you from my experience as a mom, a few tea parties makes for a really terrific young gentleman.
    He and his Nana even threw me a tea party for one of my birthdays. Including little sandwiches and cookies too! Best party ever!!

  9. Bless you as your family! Letting your kids be themselves is beautiful. If only more of us had the same upbringing then this world would be a better place. Just love and be kind!

  10. I too grew up Italian Catholic where boys who showed any kind of female tendencies were considered “sissies.” Fast forward I have 3 beautiful sons. My 2 younger sons are teenagers now. As a toddler, my oldest son loved his girl cousin’s toys. My 1st born son wore Princess heals with a Princess purse (inside was a hot wheels car and a flavored chap stick). My playroom had a play kitchen, vacuum and tea set…He wore nail polish. Fast forward years later, my 1st born son loves fast cars and women! My 1st born son is also a very kind, empathetic, loving man. My 1st born son appreciates and respects all human beings…My 1st born son became who he is today, because of the freedom to express himself as a child…It helped him learn to have an open mind and heart❤

  11. I am raising two biracial daughters and I always think about what should I do to make them love who they are. I let them choose the outfit they like, allow them to express their passion and preference involve them with volunteer activities and so forth. Thank you for sharing the story, so much love, and kindness.

  12. You are doing everything that a good mother should. You give your babies the freedom to be whomever they want to be and unconditional love. Well done.

  13. Hi, Danielle!
    I love watching Brody dance! He is a beautiful child and I love his free spirit. You and your hubby are amazing parents. To let a child be who they truly are inside is the best gift you can give to them.
    Blessings to you and your wonderful family!


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