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Q. Much to our chagrin, our 6-year-old son Robbie has always preferred to play with dolls and other "girl" things. He also prefers playing with girls because boys, he says, play "too rough."

We recently went to a therapist who wanted Robbie to be present at the first appointment. I felt this was unnecessary, even humiliating, so we went by ourselves. The therapist accused us of not only being "resistant," but also "enabling" Robbie by, among other things, letting him play with dolls. At that point, my husband and I walked out, but now I'm worried that perhaps the therapist was right. How serious is this sort of problem, and do you think we're enabling?

A. Let me answer the first half of your question by asking: If Robbie were a little girl named Roberta who preferred playing with boys and doing boy things, would you be worried? I'll just bet your answer is, "Of course not!"

My point is, your anxiety over Robbie's play preference reflects a knee-jerk cultural bias. Unfortunately for boys, it's generally regarded as OK, even admirable, for females to do traditionally masculine things, but a male who prefers stereotypical feminine things is generally looked upon with suspicion, to say the least. You neatly avoided any mention of your real worry, which is that Robbie's preference for "girl things" presages adult homosexuality.

The fact is, masculine play preferences for boys do not guarantee heterosexuality any more than feminine play preferences foreshadow homosexuality, and that's equally, but oppositely, true for girls.

I can't guarantee that Robbie won't, as a young adult, announce that he's gay, but I can assure you that whether he plays with dolls or toy guns at this age will have nothing to do with his later choice of sexual partners.

Are you enabling Robbie's preference for "girl" things? My dictionary defines enable as "to make possible," so in the strictest sense of the term, the answer is yes, you are definitely enabling, but so what?

If Robbie were my son, and he wanted to play with dolls, I, too, would make it possible for him (i.e., enable him) to play with dolls. If, however, the therapist was using enable in the pejorative, psychological sense, to mean you are aiding and abetting improper behavior, then my answer is, "Hogwash."

In the first place, Robbie's play preferences are not improper, much less pathological. In the second, it would be highly improper of you to force Robbie to play with things he doesn't enjoy.

In answer to "How serious is Robbie's problem?," I don't see that he has any problem at all, outside of the fact that his parents think he might have a problem.

If he hasn't already, Robbie will eventually pick up on your anxiety, which will cause him to feel self-conscious about something that is really quite innocent. (In this regard, I approve of your decision to leave Robbie out of the appointment with the therapist.) Which is why it's so important that you stop worrying and enjoy parenthood. You'll only get one shot at it, you know.

When all is said and done, this is a matter of Robbie's personality. You didn't cause Robbie's personality and you can't change it. You can, however, make him feel as if there's something wrong with who he is, in which case Robbie may never become the person God intended for him to become. And I suspect God doesn't like us messing with his creations.

John Rosemond is a family psychologist in North Carolina. Questions of general interest may be sent to John Rosemond at P.O. Box 4124, Gastonia, N.C. 28054 and at on the World Wide Web.
If you or someone you know has parenting problems, call the Parents Anonymous 24-hour confidential Help-Line at 892-2172.

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