A couple who allow their twin boys to wear dresses and play with dolls say their relaxed parenting will make their sons better fathers.
Gabriella and Joe Haughton-Malik allow their 5-year-old twins, Caleb and Kai, to make their own decisions when it comes to dressing up and choosing their toys. And as well as toy guns, cars and Lego, the excitable twins also love princess dresses, dolls’ houses and playing hairdressers.
Parents Gabriella and Joe with their twins Kai and Caleb
Mum, Gabriella, a cake designer, says: ‘We let them choose what they want to do. It’s something we’ve done from day one. I want them to feel that they can express themselves and I tell them they look beautiful whether they are wearing trousers or a dress.’
Caleb and Kai play around the house dressed as Anna and Elsa – the two stars of Disney’s animated hit, Frozen.
After watching the film, the boys were taken by the characters and their dazzling dresses, and the couple, from Sheffield, saw no reason to deprive their sons because of their gender.
‘We were in the shop getting some school uniforms, and they saw these dresses,’ says Gabriella. ‘They were just going nuts over these dresses so I caved and bought them for them. They just love them, they spend a lot of time in them.’
As well as playing dress up, Kai and Caleb also enjoy playing with each other’s hair and having their nails done.
And rather than rebuke such ‘feminine’ behaviour, Gabriella, 33, and Joe, 34, encourage their sons to be creative and express all sides of their personality without restriction.
‘They like being able to explore their feminine, diva side – completely immersing themselves in being somebody else. It shows that they have huge imaginations,’ says their mum.
And the couple think that playing with dolls will make their sons better fathers in the future.
‘I think playing with dolls shows that they are caring people and hopefully if they go on and have children they will be caring parents,’ says Gabriella. ‘They are very loving little boys and I think that shows through the way they care for their dolls and teddy bears.’
The boys also enjoy running riot with toy guns and swords, and their dress up isn’t limited to princesses.
‘If they can dress up as pirates and Darth Vader and zombies, why can’t they dress as princesses?’ questions Joe. ‘I think I’d be a bit of hypocrite if I let them dress up as somebody who marauds over the Seven Seas, murdering and stealing things, but I can’t let them dress up as a princess.’
Although Gabriella and Joe both had traditional upbringings, they don’t see anything controversial about their parenting style. But Gabriella says the family has raised eyebrows with their freeform approach to parenting.
‘Sometimes I do worry they may get teased about certain things,’ she admits. ‘They’ve gotten embarrassed about wearing dresses outside of the house before. Children do make comments like, ‘Oh, that’s a girl’s toy’, or, ‘Oh, you’re dressed like a girl’.
The boys are not immune to the criticism, and are sometimes nervous expressing themselves around other people as they do at home.
On a trip to Ikea, the boys were too embarrassed to keep their dresses on after facing stares from other shoppers.
‘I think it’s more to do with other people and other children, than it is to about how they feel about it themselves,’ says Gabriella. ‘I think that in their own space they are completely comfortable with it. It doesn’t faze them.’
Joe, a teaching assistant, says: ‘I think they are very lucky to have lots of opportunities where they can do exactly what they want to do and have no limits on their imagination.
‘I don’t care what they do or who they are, as long as they are happy.’