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Sexism hurts boys + girls alike

Ask my two children what their favorite part of recent trip to Disney World was and you'll get two very different answers. Not only because of their five and a half years age gap, but also because they are remarkably different people. My older child's favorite experience was the Jedi training at Hollywood Studios while my younger loved meeting all the princesses and riding the Frozen attraction. Their souvenirs were a build-your-own lightsaber and a Cinderella doll, respectively. When my mother took them for face painting, the older one opted for a tiger face and the younger, Princess Tiana.

Reading those descriptions, many may assume I have an older boy and younger girl. If I told you that they were the same sex, most people would assume they are girls and the older is a tomboy. Most of you are fine with that. But what if I were to say that they were both boys? Would you be equally fine with a little boy entranced with and identifying as a princess? Would you accept my parenting if I'd let a little boy play princess?

Where is the positive boy equivalent of a 'tomboy'?

Although there are definitely subcultures throughout our country that emphasize femininity and reject the tomboys, that trend has shifted some over the past decade or two. In many circles it's now not only totally acceptable, but even a point of pride to have a tomboy daughter.

Today's girl can be anything she wants. Girls are being pushed into the STEM fields that they've been shunned from for… well forever. Geeky girl culture is booming, with little girls' clothing lines rolling out dresses and tops covered in dinosaurs, computers and video game characters. Girls can play with Legos and trucks and Minecraft and balls.

But what of the little boys playing house, dressing up, cuddling baby dolls? We don't have a name for these boys other than "sissies" or "wusses" or other such derogatory terms; however, many boys choose toys and play styles that are traditionally thought of as feminine, despite being strongly discouraged from doing so. The pressure to change is applied by both society and parents, particularly the fathers.

Why respecting individuality in our kids makes for better adults

Today's parents are encouraging our girls to play with all toys and games to give them a broader perspective of the world. We are revolting against the "pinkification" of every toy and opting for gender neutral colors and toys that cross gender barriers. We are venturing into the unknown lands of the "boy" toy aisle to help our girls become more well-rounded adults. Several years ago this backlash was supported by President Obama and several movements like "Let toys be toys."

But are we doing the same for our boys? In a society in which we increasingly expect our adult male partners to contribute to housework and childcare, why wouldn't we encourage nurturing play behavior with dolls and toy kitchens? If we want our grown men to be able to identify and express emotions and to work with people of all personalities and backgrounds, why wouldn't we encourage imaginative play and dress-up where they get to feel what it is like to be these other kinds of people?

Humans learn through experience. Long-term memories require reiteration. What we practice, we get good at. Our brains are also designed to pay attention to the emotional responses to what we do. When we are encouraged and applauded, we do those things more. When we are yelled at, or shamed or not allowed to do something, particularly by someone we care about, those memories stick. How our parents respond to our choices affects who we become.

While we know that some play is practice for adult behaviors, we also know that play also is important for later stress management and mental health. A recent study of fathers showed their active engagement with their daughters, encouraging emotional growth… and the opposite with their sons. We need to reverse this trend to improve adult mental health outcomes in men.

There is no 'wrong' way for kids to play

My children are both tough and wild, gentle and sweet, thoughtful and intelligent. They are feisty and fierce and stubborn and opinionated. They are both girls. And they're also individuals, and I value their differing choices and encourage their unique selves. My "tomboy" daughter builds her Minecraft world with polished nails and cat-ear headphones perched on her short hair. My "princess" daughter is more comfortable outdoors, pausing in her pursuit of the soccer ball only to investigate the bugs that terrify her sister. As girls, my children are empowered and encouraged to be all these things.

As a society, we need to be doing the same for our boys by encouraging them to expand their play. My nephews love to play dress-up with my girls, and will happily don a frilly dress; just as my girls will happily grab the superhero costumes when at their houses. My youngest brother often got stuffed into dresses as my sister and I played with him, and he'd smile and entertain us with song and dance and play any role, male or female, that our imaginations required of him.

Most of that came from my parents, who modeled atypical gender roles and encouraged each of us children to be our true selves. But I like to think that maybe a little of his later life success comes from his big sister encouraging creative thought at early ages, and that his success as a husband and father are shaped in part by the freedom to play at those roles as a child.

Ultimately, we give our children the best chance by being supportive and encouraging of their interests, whether those interests and toys are traditionally pink or blue.

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Without camps and back-to-school plans still TBD, the cries of "I'm bored!" seem to be ringing louder than ever this summer. And if you're anything like me, by August, I'm fresh out of boxes to check on my "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys.

With that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite wooden toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

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When expecting a baby, there is a lot you can test-run in advance: Take that stroller around the block. Go for a spin with the car seat secured in place. Learn how to use the baby carrier with help from a doll. But breastfeeding? It's not exactly possible to practice before baby's arrival.

The absence of a trial makes it all the more important to prepare in other ways for breastfeeding success—and it can be as simple as adding a few of our lactation aiding favorites to your registry.

MilkBliss chocolate chip soft baked lactation cookies

MilkBliss lactation cookies

Studies have shown the top reason women stop breastfeeding within the first year is because they are concerned about their milk supply being enough to nourish baby. Consider MilkBliss Lactation Cookies to be your secret weapon. Not only are they wholesome and delicious, but they were formulated specifically for breastfeeding moms based on the science of galactagogues—also known as milk boosters. They also come in peanut butter and wild blueberry flavors.

$23

Evereden multi-purpose healing balm

Evereden multipurpose healing balm

Also up there on the list of reasons women stop breastfeeding: the toll the early days can take on nipples. Made from just five ingredients, this all natural healing balm is ideal for soothing chafed nipples, making for a much more comfortable experience for mama as her body adjusts to the needs of a breastfeeding baby.

$20

Lansinoh milk storage bags

Lansinoh milk storage bags

For a breastfeeding mama, there are few things more precious and valuable than the milk she worked so hard to pump—and it's the stuff of nightmares to imagine it spilling out in the fridge. With these double-sealed milk storage bags, you can be assured your breastmilk is safe and sound until baby needs it.

$12.50

Belly Bandit bandita nursing bra

Belly Bandit bandita nursing bra

Nursing a baby is a 24/7 job, which calls for some wardrobe modifications. Because Belly Bandit specializes in making things more comfortable for the postpartum mama, they've truly thought of every detail—from the breathable fabric to the clips that can be easily opened with one hand.

$47

boob-ease soothing therapy pillows

Boob Ease soothing therapy pillows

For nursing moms, duct can quickly become a four-letter word when you suspect it's getting clogged. By keeping these soothing breast pillows in your breastfeeding arsenal, you can immediately go on the defense against plugged milk ducts by heating the pads in the microwave or cooling them in the freezer.

$25

Belly Bandit perfect nursing tee

Belly Bandit perfect nursing tee

A unfortunate reality of nursing is that it can really seem to limit the wardrobe options when you have to think about providing easy, discrete access. But by adding functional basics to your closet, you can feel confident and prepared for breastfeeding on the go.

$59

Bebe au Lait premium cotton nursing cover

Bebe au Lait cotton nursing cover

Nursing in public isn't every mama's cup of tea. But babies can't always wait until you've found a private place to get down to business if that's your preference. That's where a nursing cover comes in handy. This one is made from premium cotton and features a patented neckline that allows for airflow and eye contact even while you're covered.

$36

Lactation Lab basic breastmilk testing kit

Lactation Lab breastmilk testing kit

Curious to learn more about the liquid gold you're making, mama? The testing kit from Lactation Labs analyzes your breast milk for basic nutritional content like calories and protein, as well as vitamins, fatty acids and environmental toxins to help boost your breastfeeding confidence.

$99

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Because parenthood is challenging, we can sometimes forget how to just be happy in the midst of it all.

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