When 4-year-old Azai Willis of Ojai, California, received two of the same gifts for his birthday, he got the fun opportunity to hit the toy store and return one in exchange for a toy of his choosing. His choice — a Little Mermaid Princess Ariel doll — and even more so, his dad’s reaction to his choice, have gone viral, as they’re blowing people away… in a good way.
In a video filmed in their car outside the toy store, dad Mikki Wills holds up Ariel in all of her sparkling mermaid glory and asks, “How do you think a dad feels when his son wants to get this?” He then launches into a beautiful promise to his sons to love and accept them “no matter what life you choose.”
Every child should be so lucky to have parents like this and to know without a doubt that they will be loved and supported unconditionally. That no matter what they like or don’t like, what their sexuality or choices in life, they are loved just because they are who they are.
He’s not jumping to conclusions about what a 4-year-old boy choosing a doll may mean in the future. According to experts, it likely means nothing, and it is common for children to choose toys across gender lines when not influenced by what they think they should play with. In fact, a 2013 study from the University of West Sydney found that baby boys actually prefer dolls over trucks, leading researchers to conclude that preferences shown later in life may be largely influenced by social pressure and not necessarily a child’s preference. Fortunately companies are starting to realize this too, as evidenced by the recent move Target made to get rid of the rigid “boy” and “girl” sections in the toy section of their stores.
He’s also not worrying about if it does mean something about his son’s sexuality. And that’s important. Studies have shown that if a child is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, parental acceptance can actually protect them from things like depression and other health ailments.
Parents have all sorts of justifications for trying to push children into traditional gender roles: so they’re accepted, so they don’t get made fun of, etc. However, most every child is going to be left out or made fun of for something in their life, and more important than trying fruitlessly to protect them from those occasions and force them to be someone they’re not is to arm them with confidence that comes from believing in themselves and knowledge that they have parents who love and support always.