My dear readers, something has been hurting my heart for some time. Those of you who have children in school can probably relate to my situation to some extent. How can I protect my child from the world (and its assholes)? I wrote a letter to my brilliant friend Marie, who’s also a mom to a boy and a girl, to tell her about what happened and to get her thoughts. This is the first letter in a series between mom friends about how to protect my child from the world.

Dear Marie,
Oh my friend, I have something I wanted to tell you about. It’s been eating away at my motherly heart and soul. Please tell me that I’m not alone. I’d love to get your thoughts on something that happened with my son not too long ago. And how I was thrown into thinking about how to protect my child.
How to Protect My Child From The World, Part One: A Series of Letters Between Mom Friends - Real Simple Mama
As you know, Kiddo is about 4.5 years old; he’s compassionate, curious, and kind. We had signed him up for a half-day class at the local children’s museum just to give him a formal “school” experience (and get some practice away from Mama!). He was a bit nervous, as to be expected, but we’d been talking and practicing for a few weeks and I think he really was getting rather excited about the whole thing.
The camp emailed us the week before to let us know that the kids should bring a backpack, snacks, a drink, a jacket, that kind of thing. Nothing out of the normal. But we didn’t have a backpack. So we headed to the toddler section of the local grocery store where I knew we would have a few choices.
This is where the concern happened. Out of the backpack choices we were given at our store, my sweet son chose the pink butterfly backpack.
How to Protect My Child From The World, Part One: A Series of Letters Between Mom Friends - Real Simple Mama
Now don’t get me wrong, I could care less if he has a pink butterfly backpack. My husband isn’t one of those crazy macho dudes who is paranoid that their boy will end up being the g-word, and I don’t lose any sleep over it either. (Plus, if I’m being honest, the butterfly backpack was the nicest looking option anyway!)
But this decision put a stone of dread into the pit of my stomach, though I went along with it without saying a word to my son.
Because I can help teach and mold my child, but I have no control over anyone else.
And people can be real assholes.
So I went home and thought nervously about the whole thing until my husband got home, when my son excitedly ran up to Daddy and proudly showed him his first real backpack. My husband was excited for my son’s sake, but I could tell in his eyes that he had the same worry I did.
What if someone says something?
What if someone thinks it’s their place to tell my child that this backpack is for girls? What if someone mocks my child or makes fun of him – my sweet, innocent boy who is a peace maker, a calm, old heart in a world of overstimulation and chaos – or calls him “gay”?
What if someone tries to put my boy in that goddamn gender box?
How to Protect My Child From The World, Part One: A Series of Letters Between Mom Friends - Real Simple Mama
Our number one most important job as parents and guardians is to keep our kids safe. And I couldn’t protect my child if I was knowingly putting him in a situation where someone could bully him, hurt his feelings, and make his first “big kid” camp into a horrific experience. My husband and I needed to have a discussion to make sure that we were on the same page.
This is what my husband and I decided to do. While we could care less what my son and daughter like, we know that the outside world is out of our control. The only thing we can do is to prepare our children for people who are unkind, situations that are unfair, and circumstances that we don’t understand.
So the backpack needed to be returned. But I didn’t want to make up a reason and not really let my son what was going on. After all, we’re sending him out into the world for this camp, we should at least tell him the truth.
We chose to explain the situation to him like this: “Some people think that pink is for girls, and blue is for boys. They think that boys should only like certain things, and girls should only like certain things. We know that’s silly – you like to dress up and your sister likes trucks – and that each of us is beautiful and different and unique. But we don’t want anyone to say anything to you at your camp because that’s not fair to you. So we’ll take this backpack back to the store for now – you can use Mama’s old one since it’s just for three days – and then in the fall, when you go to kindergarten, we’ll take you to a better store with more choices. And you can pick any one that you want!”
[We did feel like, if he was to choose a more feminine backpack for kindergarten, we’d have a bit more influence in talking with his teacher who would have the kids for a whole year. As teachers, my husband and I knew that those short camps/week long classes are treated more like “survival mode” with the instructors sometimes. This wasn’t the kind of battle we wanted to fight with a Mother’s Day Out type scenario. But in kindergarten, we wouldn’t have a problem opening up a dialogue with his teacher about how to protect my child and his decisions.]
My son, my kind and gentle child, was totally fine with it. He used my backpack, walked in like a big boy, and had an amazing time at the class. “I wish I had 100 more days!” was the conclusion at the end of the camp.
But my heart is burning over the bigger problem here.
Why do I have to break my child’s innocence by altering what he wants just because of the bastards of the world? Why am I having to arm my four year old with a shield because the world is full of assholes? Why have people become so indignant, so judgmental, so afraid of diversity and the new and different? Why do we live in a world where I have to protect my child, at just four years old, from stuff that is seemingly so stupidly insignificant?
I know that people tend to fear that which they don’t understand – or that which is different – but I’m also not naive to the homes some of these kids go home to. I’ve been a teacher from kindergarten all the way up through seniors in high school; from the most affluent areas to the Title I neighborhoods. Kids are the mirrors that reflect the views of their elders.
How to Protect My Child From The World, Part One: A Series of Letters Between Mom Friends - Real Simple Mama
Do I regret my decision? No. I do think that it was smarter, though perhaps more difficult or even unnecessary, for me to prevent a possible issue by just eliminating the circumstance. I do still think that it’s a smart plan for us to let him choose the one he wants in the fall, too.
I chose to protect my child now by eliminating the possibility of an issue at camp.
I will choose to protect my child when he goes to kindergarten by allowing him freedom of expression, speaking to his caregivers on his behalf, and teaching him some intuitive dialogue in case someone makes a comment.
Marie, I know that you have a son too. Do you ever feel like we have to keep them from being seen as “Mama’s boy”? Did you ever have any gender-driven situations like this? I’m just looking to not feel so alone in all of it. I know in my heart how I feel, I’m just so damn mad at our society for making me this paranoid, from stealing a tiny bit of joy and innocence from my son. I want to protect my child… I just wish that I didn’t have to.
Can’t wait to hear your thoughts.
I appreciate you sharing this out and letting me know how you feel in the comments.
And you can catch Marie’s response once it’s published here. Or see her advice for working moms here.
How to Protect My Child From The World, Part One: A Series of Letters Between Mom Friends - Real Simple Mama