Parents are constantly shamed for their choices. From how we feed our children to how we educate them, everyone has an opinion. The result? Moms and dads feel endlessly judged for the choices they make — even if they have no other options. This week, families around the country are sharing their inspiring, funny, honest, and heartbreaking stories with Yahoo Parenting in an effort to spark conversations, a little compassion, and change in the way we think about parenting forever. Share your story with us — #NoShameParenting.
Just like the sisters in Frozen, Paul Henson has his son Caiden’s back. And when the 3-year-old recently got flak from his preschool classmates for wanting to be Elsa for Halloween, the Chesapeake, Va., dad didn’t just let it go.
Henson took Caiden shopping for the Queen of Arendelle costume, offered to dress up as Elsa’s sister, Anna, and detailed the duo’s plans in a Facebook post that’s gone viral with more than 20,000 shares in less than four days.
“It’s mind-blowing,” Henson, a manager at Subway who co-parents with Caiden’s mom, tells Yahoo Parenting about the response he’s gotten to his Oct. 4 photo of his son in an Elsa costume. “And to me it’s weird because I’m not doing anything that should warrant attention. It should be second nature to support your child. If my son wants to be Strawberry Shortcake, so be it. Let’s do it.”
As the 28-year-old explained in his Facebook post, “Anyone that knows us, knows we generally let Caiden make his own choices, to an extent. … He wants to be Elsa. He also wants me to be Anna. Game on. … Halloween is about children pretending to be their favorite characters. Just so happens, this week his is a princess.”
Caiden and Paul Henson (Photo: Paul Henson)
The idea that kids as young as Caiden thought it was wrong for the preschooler to dress as Elsa really irked Henson, he says, explaining why he decided to share the photo. “A girl wants to be a firefighter or Thor or Spiderman and it’s OK, but when my son wanted to be Elsa, he was getting bullied,” he reveals. “Caiden told his classmates [his costume choice] and they told him, ‘No, you can’t be that. That’s a girls’ costume.’ But his mom and I have always been firm believers in abolishing gender stereotypes so it upset me that his classmates’ parents were probably saying these things. I don’t want Caiden to think that he’s a better person because he’s a man.”
So Henson had a talk with his son, who he describes as “very sensitive.” The boy wanted to back down from his first-choice costume, says Henson. “He was like, ‘I can’t do it.’ And when I asked him, ‘Do you want me to be Anna?’ he just lit up.” The photo that the father shared was soon after their heart-to-heart while shopping for Caiden’s costume. “We’re still looking for the right one because he’s complaining that ‘this one’s too tight’ and ‘that one’s so itchy,’” says Henson. “He’s a diva.”
Caiden (Photo: Paul Henson)
The dad is still getting his own outfit together. “We’re gonna do the whole thing,” he declares. “One woman who reached out on Facebook said that she crochets Elsa and Anna beanies to raise money for leukemia research and she’s offered to send some. The level of support we’re getting is incredible.”
Caiden and Paul Henson (Photo: Paul Henson)
All the better, as psychotherapist Amy Morin tells Yahoo Parenting that Henson’s message is an important one. “Boys aren’t born with the love of blue any more than girls are born with the love of pink. This is something kids are taught over time,” says the author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do. “But there’s no reason parents need to reinforce gender stereotypes that say boys should play with action figures and girls should play dress-up. By joining his child in dressing up, this father shows that as men, they don’t have to conform to traditional gender roles. Perhaps this story can help other parents relax a bit about their child’s desire to break gender norms.”
Henson admits he has received the inevitable negative responses to his post from people with more rigid gender ideas, but he’s freezing them out. “I want to teach Caiden not to be embarrassed about anything and try to show him that we don’t have to worry about what others think, just have fun,” he says. “We’ll stand beside him no matter what.”
(Top photo: Facebook/Paul Henson)