24 Mar

A breastfeeding doll? Really? You’ve got to be kidding me! That is so inappropriate! Let little girls be little girls and not little women.

I’ve heard these comments prompted by the news that a breastfeeding doll is now available in America.  Bebe Groton even comes with a flowery halter top for a girl to wear while she’s pretending to breastfeed. This isn’t your grandmother’s doll.

Outrageous? Not really.

I’m a father of a five year old girl, and I realize that she knows about breasts already. She knows what they look like, she knows how they work, and she already refers to her own “boobies” even though they won’t develop for years. I hope.

Now I’m sure someone (with or without children) will be on the other side of this debate, but here’s my perspective. My daughter is continuously learning about divorce while simultaneously dreaming of the day she will get married. She’s learning about the difference between staying up late and having a restful night of sleep. She’s learning about the consequences of following the rules in school and not following them. She’s learning about the benefits of eating healthy and limiting junk food. Why should learning about breastfeeding any different?

Her own breastfeeding experience was cut short due to our evacuation from Houston before Hurricane Rita struck the Gulf Coast. She was only 4 months old when we left. Her mom stayed behind to anchor news on the radio (a mandatory employee), and when we returned my daughter was more interested in the bottle than the breast. It was a hard time for her mother and soon became a costly time for all of us.

When I was in third or fourth grade, I still believed babies came from a man and a woman loving each other very much. It was as if the baby magically appeared in the womb. It took a friend, the son of a divorced mom, to explain to me—using explicit language—the process in which a baby is conceived. I was shocked!

While I am careful to use age-appropriate language with my daughter, I don’t see a benefit in shying away from her questions and curiosity. Whether she wants to talk about divorce, marriage, babies or breastfeeding, I am always striving to be a responsive and responsible dad.

I’m intrigued by some of  the comments suggesting that a little girl who pretends to breastfeed will be at greater risk for having a real baby. Does playing “store” at home make her more likely to run a 7-11? Does singing with a hair comb destine her to become another Christina Aguilera? Does putting on fake tattoos now mean she will come home from college covered in body art?  Okay, maybe that will happen but parenting doesn’t end at five, eight or eighteen.

I could try to keep her in a box and away from anything that might make her think. But I prefer to see these early childhood experiences as raising her awareness of the world around her. When things start to make sense to her, she will spend less time feeling fear or confusion. Seriously, you should have seen the expression on my face when my friend was using the F-word to explain babies to me. Fear and confusion cost me more time, real and perceived time. If I had answers to the things I didn’t know, I could have spent more time thinking about other subjects.

So the breastfeeding doll is out of her sphere of knowledge at the moment. But she could come home from school today asking about it. A classmate may have seen it on the news, and chatted about it during lunch. Then, it’s on. We’ll have the conversation, and I’ll be prepared. Even now I’m rehearsing what will be my final comment on the subject when we’re face to face.

“Let’s put in on your birthday wish list and mention it to Grandma.”

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