Daughter obsessed with unicorns and rainbows

We're two dads. Daughter is 4, almost 5. She's a very girly girl, which is surprising because we never "gendered the baby." She's obsessed with stereotypically little girl things. I find it annoying, but I try not to show it. For instance, she won't wear any clothes unless they're "pretty," which means pink, pink, pink, maybe purple, unicorns, rainbows, clouds, glitter, ice cream, flowers and butterflies. Lots of tantrums if it is anything else. Ask her what she likes, what she knows a lot about, what she wants for her birthday, what she dreams about, and it's always the same answer: rainbows and unicorns. We have lots of those things decorating her room and school supplies, but I find it cliche, frivolous and unimaginative.

In contrast, her boy cousin (7 yo) is equally obsessed with trains and cars. At least cars actually exist, there are mechanics and engineering, even career options. He can recite brands, models, specifications, statistics, prices, etc. We adults all tire of it too, but at least it has depth and is semi-useful. How far can you really take unicorns and rainbows?

My question: what becomes of little girls like mine? Should I try to get her interested in something else or is it futile? If this is a phase, when will she grow out of it? Thank you.

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It is a phase and she will evolve. I feel like rainbows dovetails with being a two-dad family, right? And unicorns are way better than princesses, but all of the girly girl "stuff" on the whole is way less prescriptive and rigid than when we were kids! There's lots of fun books like Princess in Black series, Rainbow Magic fairies, that have girly girls saving the day. My now 10 year old daughter went through phases of fashion fixation and now wouldn't be caught dead in pink.

I hear you, you're being driven up the wall. Maybe you can encourage some evolution or at least broadening the horizons with preschool girl champs like Doc MacStuffins (some sparkly fuschia in her signature outfit), Dora the Explorer (pink shirt), or one of the "career oriented" Barbies.

Obsession with unicorns and rainbows and princesses and glitter and “pretty” things is extremely common among young girls. Find a way to accept it, because at age 4, you’re only at the beginning. You have several more years of it.

Our daughter is a girly girl and is super into girly things and it definitely wasn’t our influence as parents - she owns the only high heels in the house (which she bought with her allowance). We didn’t “gender” our children either. In fact, our son also went through a unicorns and rainbows and pink phase and frankly the only reason I think he didn’t obsess the way our daughter does is because his other boy friends at school were less interested. While not obsessed, he still often says pink is his favorite color and will happily wear “girly” clothes - his favorite PJs are pink rainbows - and he’s in upper elementary.

Rest assured that your daughter can love rainbows and unicorns and still love other stuff. Our daughter rides a bike and a skateboard (decorated with unicorn stickers), collects Pokémon cards, plays with snap circuit sets, and builds Legos (the Friends collection sets are her favorite). She loves reading and board games and tasteless fart jokes (so many pooping unicorn jokes). She has gone backpacking and camping in tulle. And she has given her older brother a black eye while wearing a dress. She’s still a multidimensional person.

If you’re looking for ways to come to acceptance, read some Fancy Nancy with her. Or if you want her to expand her interests, introduce new things and just slap a unicorn on it to get her interested. And rest assured that she will grow out of it. Eventually. Maybe when she’s a teenager.

We have a girl who loves girly toys and clothes. We were dead set against gendering our kids but when a grandparent gave her a Disney princess barbie doll (much to our displeasure) and a princess costume, it was like a switch flipped. She LOVED it. She loves unicorns, rainbows, my little pony, shopkins, LOLs, lego friends, AG dolls, barbies. Just about every drawing she makes has a rainbow with some sort of horned creature — unicorn, narwhal, caticorn, etc. But, there is a lot more to her than “girly” things and many STEAM activities can incorporate girly things. We made unicorn poop cookies (sugar dough with edible glitter and sprinkles), we built a fairy garden in the backyard and planted lots of interesting flowers and produce, we built a snap circuit disco ball and had a doll dance party, we made a citrus battery to solve the energy crisis in the doll city, made a volcano experiment and rescued a unicorn trapped in lava, potion making with the evil witch, used legos to build a mansion for her LOLs and shops for her shopkins, made a huge fort and giant slides with cardboard boxes for her dolls. She rides bikes and skateboards wearing her rainbow helmet and pink gloves. She has glittery pink shoes but runs, cartwheels and climbs trees and can outlast just about anyone I know when jump roping. She is learning to play chess while dressed as the princess commanding her army. She tumbles and dives to catch a flying frisbee in her frilly dress and she has been wearing the same unicorn necklace for the last 3 years... She won’t take it off ever. She is obsessed with anything that sparkles, so we turned her interest into gems and geology. We explained to her glitter is bad for the environment and led her toward playing with color sand and bubbles which has turned out to be a huge hit. Have fun and enjoy this phase. It won’t last forever but some girls really do love unicorns and rainbows. At 40 years old, I am a fully grown woman with top rated graduate degrees and a successful career who loves to wear unicorn leggings, rainbow sweaters and my pink sapphire ring. 

My daughter was like this--pink only, rainbows, etc. I gave in, or more appropriate, "chose my battles". I bought only pink clothes so that there was no conflict about what she picked out to wear (who cares if stripes don't match with stars). I celebrated what gave her joy. I offered many options but responded to her interests. I worried she wouldn't be a feminist. She is a feminist, an activist, a strong young woman, an EMT. 

Also, as others have said, whatever comes after this phase will likely be distasteful for other reasons--trashier, Goth, who knows. I learned too late to hold on to the more-innocent phases, because what came after them made me long for the sweetness of the previous phase.

My daughter was obsessed with rainbows and unicorns at 3-7ish years old and would ONLY wear skirts or clothes with ruffles.  Now she is 8 and is obsessed with sports car, superheroes, and refuses to wear a dress.  So, things may change!

The tone of your post is dismaying to read. It reads as though you are okay with interests typically deemed "for boys," but not "for girls." I think you should consider examining your own sexism, biases, and attitudes toward gender. Would you be so annoyed if you had a four-year-old boy who liked rainbows and unicorns? It is not your four-year-old's job to meet your standards of what you deem not cliche, not frivolous, and imaginative. Children know when they are being judged, especially by their parents. How far can you really take rainbows and unicorns? Very far. Imaginary play and an interest in make believe are fertile ground for the arts, for writing, for narrative, storytelling, etc. The real predictor of success? Loving parents who support your exploration of what interests you, without judgment. 

What is wrong with rainbows and unicorns? Heck, I'm a full grown woman (with a PhD and a good career, btw) and I love rainbows and unicorns. I find it ironic that you call her interest "unimaginative" in one breath, then extoll her cousin's interest in cars because they "actually exist" in the next (yes, exactly, because unicorns are imaginary and hence imaginative). Look, I get it, you're sick of the pink and the rainbows and unicorns. Anything that gets overdone can feel tiresome and adults tend to have less patience with children's obsessions. But what I don't get is the focus on a 4 year old having a career-ready interest. She's 4. Let her like what she likes. And there's a good chance she'll move onto other interests when she gets older. And there's a good chance you'll get sick of them, too. But it's not your place to judge your child's interests and hobbies and it's certainly not valid to worry that her interests as 4 year old may not lend themselves to a career in 20 years' time. Please just let her have fun with her rainbows and unicorns. She's not even in school yet. And you risk her feeling unsupported if you criticize her interests and - as she grows older - that may cause her to stop sharing her interests with you. That's not where you want to as parents as your little girl enters school and develops peer groups and eventually enters adolescence.  Show her that you support her interests now, even when - maybe especially when - they're not necessarily your thing. She will grow to really value that in your relationship. 

Don't worry about this. My daughter was exactly the same at this age, and now as a teenager is highly practical and wears only black. FWIW, we also didn't use gendered clothing for our daughter - think browns and purples - until she begged for pink at age 3-6.  Also, it might be useful for you guys to get to know more women and girls so you can find your way around with parenting a girl beastie. What you may find cliche and frivolous is an amazing expression of fantasy, sweetness, and fun. 

I similarly concerned when my girls were in preschool (and kinder). When I brought it up to one of our preschool teachers she wisely said to me, Don't worry--they will need something to rebel against when they are older.

That resonated. My girls are now 10 and nearly nine. They still like unicorns and rainbows, but it's not a big deal to them. What they love is making things, science projects and music. We intentionally make sure they do these things--while they were/are wearing whatever they want. I let them pick their clothes because kids have so little control over their lives, that's one area they can feel empowered. (It sounds like you do the same.)

We never rejected pink in our house, or even princess movies or stories, my girls just gradually and naturally moved beyond that. And these were girls that spent all day at preschool wearing the fanciest dress up they could find. And came home to change into princess dresses.  I tried to talk about what their bodies were capable of, how they were strong when they used their muscles and how their brain got stronger when they did science, asked questions or learned to read. I have a great photo of one of them in a princess dress with her toolbox--hammering away into some wood. The other one, who loves fashion is learning to sew and loves home design shows. Though now she dislikes stories with "happy endings" and just finished reading a Series of Unfortunate Events. 

Your girls will likely outgrow the fixation, and even if she remains a girly girl--she may still love science, building or math as one. It has been so fun watching how my girls have changed and evolved over the years.

You're a wonderful Dad first off. I had 3 brothers and wasn't super girly but I had lots of friends that were. And they eventually "shed" the fascination with all things girlie. It's just a phase. The media (not sure what you let her watch in terms of content) also promotes all things girlie. I especially hate the way they have the female characters talk: "Like, oh my god! LOL!" so if I have any advice maybe limit what she sees on a screen if you can? Or at least enforce that strong smart women like Oprah, Kamala, Brenna Brown don't speak that way? Hang in there, this too shall pass!

I have a very boyish boy but just wanted to make a broader point — your job as a parent is to get to know your child as she evolves. It is a gift to grow up knowing what you are authentically interested in. Let her discover that herself. If you push your values as better then she won’t grow up trusting herself. My son is into all sorts of dragons and magic the gathering and computer programming that I have no innate interest in but I make myself get interested as that is my connection to him. It may not always be unicorns but keep paying attention to her likes so she doesn’t feel inherently wrong or broken. 

I'd encourage you to give some thought to why you find "girly" things to be "cliche, frivolous, and unimaginative," while recitations of the brands and prices of cars have "depth." Our culture codes traditionally feminine things as silly, and their traditionally masculine counterparts as serious and important. None of us are immune to that. 

I got a lot out of this advice column; maybe you will too: https://slate.com/human-interest/2020/09/gender-neutral-child-pink-care-...

We're two moms (neither of whom has worn a skirt or dress in recent memory) with two daughters.  We had a similar experience.  We ultimately let them wear, play and decorate with, watch (My Little Pony, ugh) and read whatever pleased them.  The older one chose to wear only dresses and skirts from the age of three or so -- she still does, and enjoys fashion, doing her hair and makeup and shopping.  She's now a physics major in college.  Her younger sister, now 16, alternates between midriff-baring crop tops with flowy skirts and flannel shirts and jeans.  She loves Dungeons and Dragons and is a whiz at math.  Whether it's society or something else, a lot of who they are and what appeals to them does not come from the parents' preferences.  My suggestion, for what it's worth, would be to keep offering different things but also respect her choices.

Kids often have different interests and likes than their parents. It's humbling and annoying and totally normal. I'm not sure why a 4-5 year old's interests need to be useful, but as the mom of a similarly inclined girl, I acknowledge that rainbows and unicorns are adjacent to many useful or interesting things such as color, animals, optics, art, magic, imagination. The parent who posted about all their unicorn-related STEAM activities should get a MacArthur Genius Grant IMO.

Also, if you belittle or push back against your daughter's traditionally feminine interests while promoting the "depth" and usefulness of her boy cousin's traditionally masculine interests, you are gendering her in a different way. My understanding of gender-neutral parenting is that it views all these interests as acceptable for everyone rather than defining "girl" things as feminine and therefore bad, and "boy" things as neutral and therefore good. Doing the latter actually reinforces the idea that maleness is the central, default human identity, which is probably not your intention.

Hello, 

I hear you!  But I also think that this is completely normal and is a good lesson in one of the many ways that our children surprise us as they grow.  My son who is growing up in a peace-loving, mom-only family went through a phase of obsessively being interested in all things "army." I hated this and didn't buy any army toys--but sticks and other toys all became guns.  We didn't model this and weren't sure where he even got exposed to it. The more we worried, the more he was interested.  Many many young children go through periods of intense interests--some of them are very gender stereotypical (some not, of course).  To the extent that you can, I would embrace it and accept it, and try to find the ways that you can be interested in her and her interests and celebrate them.  Kids are very good at picking up on our disapproval, and I would guess that the more you push back on this, the more entrenched she'll become, and she may also be hurt by your disapproval of something she loves.   I'm sure you don't mean this, but when you mention her boy cousin and his interest in trains and cars, it sounds like there is some value judgement that this is a more valid interest because it could lead to a career.  Both children are so young--what they are doing now is far from career oriented.  They are playing and imagining and being children!  Your daughter's rainbow unicorn phase will develop--she may always like traditionally girly things, or she may change.  Your nephew will very likely move out of the car/train phase and onto something completely different. My niece, who loved pink frilly things as a 6 year old is now a 16 year old who would not be caught dead in pink.  If you can find a way to lean into her interests and also include things that interest you, maybe that would help--how about a unicorn puzzle to do together, bake rainbow cupcakes, make a birdhouse together and paint it with rainbows, plant a fairy garden together out in the yard....etc... All of these things involve making, creating, building, doing things--these are all useful skills, if that's something that is important to you.   It seems like there are so many ways that you could combine something fun for you with something that would capture her interests. Good luck! This won't be the first time you are surprised by something your daughter likes that you don't like! 

I find it odd that a “girly girl” needs to be redirected to more useful interests.
 

Former (current?) “girly girl” here with a director level fashion career. If my parents were so ashamed of my interests I could be miserable in a more ‘useful’ career. Gender presentations, even those which are so-called cliche deserve respect. In fact when my son went head first into trains/trucks etc I was also a bit disappointed, hoping he would follow my artistic sensibilities instead. However now I know more about excavators and steam engines than I could ever have imagined. It’s your job to support and even learn from her interests, not force them in a different more preferred direction. 

She’ll be fine. I had similar obsessions when I was a kid, grew out of it, and have had a successful career path, etc. I hope you can find a way to mitigate your annoyance, because she may be able to sense it. I think teaching our children not to be ashamed to be themselves and not be embarrassed about liking what they like is quite important. 

I completely understand your concern as I share it and have gone through it.   Our son was completely into trucks and trains and that morphed later into monsters and then dinosaurs.   He would have loved a gun but since he didn't have one, he just turned everything into one.  I was appalled. We got him a little wooden kitchen and a baby doll to balance things a little.   The kitchen worked.   The good news is that he grew up to be a wonderful very feminist young man who can talk about his feelings.   And I know a lot of young kick-ass feminist women who were totally into the pink princess stuff.   Don't worry about their occupations quite yet.  It will work out but you have my sympathy for the time being!   I cannot stand how gendered all the clothing and toys are.   hang in there! 

Please, please, please just let it go.  It will (mostly) pass.  The more you push back, the more negative it will all become.  Indulge her. Embrace her. She's little. It will be fine. She's four, so these things can't possibly be "cliche, frivolous or unimagninative" from her point of view -- yet. Let her get to that point (which presumably took you some portion of your life) herself...The fact you haven't 'genderized' her is all the more reason to think that this is probably just a phase (even though she may just be a girly girl her whole life).  Keep exposing her to things but don't push and don't judge. Yes, this, too, shall pass.
 

You & your partner sound like wonderful parents who are paying attention & are not too proud to ask questions. As for the pink & the unicorns, I assure you that it's a phase. My two teenage girls both were super-girly as toddlers -- now both are smart & accomplished combat-boot-wearing young women. I suggest that you indulge your little girl & not worry too much about the future. And please disregard the person who said that YOU are sexist. You're learning how to parent a little girl, & I bet you're doing a great job.

I’m a queer mom and I resist girly stuff too...and my daughter loves it. “What will come of this?” is a question no one can answer, but generally I think if her gender expression and interests are genuine and not forced upon her, then—then that’s her, and accepting and celebrating our kids’ authentic expressions of themselves is a great way of showing our love for them. I’m not interested in princesses either and I make sure to curate a healthy mix of representations around both gender and princesses (I hope you’re familiar with The Paper Bag Princess)...but I don’t attempt to steer her away from just being who she is. Also—she’s little! And fascination with rainbows and unicorns at this stage has nothing to do with her intellectual potential! She may totally outgrow it, or she could go on to win awards for her unicorn fantasy novels! I get how grating it is, but I say accept it and let her know you SEE her and love and affirm her for exactly who she is...as I would hope any parent of a male (or male-presenting) kid with the same interests would. 

While I am trying to feel compassion for your annoyance with your girly daughter, I am laughing out loud.

As a young child, I was a hard-wired tomboy.  Pink?  YUCK!  Dolls, YUCK! Trains, engines?  Bring 'em on.

A reasonable observer might conclude that I was Lesbian.  But no, I am totally cis and straight.

I did, however, get an engineering degree.

My now-adult daughter says: "I was raised to be a tomboy and had to discover my inner Girly."

So, yep, gender is a fluid, not a solid.

There are no unicorns but there are horses.  U.S. Pony Club has chapters at equestrian centers where there are lesson horses, in case you don't want to dispose of income on buying your daughter her own hay burner.  Many's the nag who has had a horn affixed to their forehead by a little girl who imagines that they are, in fact, a unicorn.

Rainbows can be understood through physics and meteorology. Or not.

Sounds like you have a wonderful daughter who knows where she registers on the scale of femme.

Our child, female at birth, came into the world obsessed with princesses, fairies, mermaids, unicorns, rainbows, etc. I remember having concerns similar to yours, but our child happily pursued those interests and would have done so no matter what. We had many years of princess birthday parties, fake plastic high heels, and 24-hour-a-day fairy costumes. Then, during adolescence, our child came out as a transgender male. He still loves princesses, but he also loves science, and he's one of the most imaginative kids I know. He also loves analyzing gender roles in fairy tales and other media, and rainbows are of course still his thing. Just wanted to provide perspective -- showing appreciation for your child's interests is the important thing in the long run, because that's what will matter to your child. Their interests and aesthetics always evolve over time. In the end, pink is just a color. 

Cishet "tomboyish" mom here -- you've gotten lots of great responses already, but couldn't resist popping in to add my $.02. As others have said, preschool is one of the most "gender-policey" ages. Is your kid in preschool? I also don't love a lot of the stereotypical "girly girl" aesthetic (pink, florals, lace, etc.) and so avoided it with my kid when she was too young to express preferences -- and then she started school, and started coming home saying things like "I can't wear sweatpants, those are boy pants." And now, at 4.5 (and after being pretty well quarantined for the better part of a year), she's somewhere in the middle.

As others have said, I can't tell whether your concern is aesthetic or feminism-based -- whether you're worried about your kid's conception of what it means to be a girl, or just don't like rainbows and are sick of buying them. ;) Alas, I think it's one of the lessons of parenthood that our kids' tastes and interests won't always map onto ours. I have many times been super excited about doing something w/my kids only to have them go "meh." If you're concerned about her models for womanhood/girlhood, make sure there are lots of different kinds of women in her life; some who like rainbows, and some who might like other things more. And just reinforce, reinforce, reinforce. We talk a lot in our house about how different people like different things and how those preferences and aesthetics aren't tied to gender. Some picture books we like: Annie's Plaid Shirt, Julian is a Mermaid, The Most Magnificent Thing (girl inventor), Ada Twist: Scientist, and Made By Maxine.

Also, I'd heartily recommend Peggy Orenstein's Cinderella Ate My Daughter. Talks a lot about the trials and tribulations of this age in that respect and helped me get a larger sense of context for it. Good luck!

It’s great that you didn’t encourage your daughter to exclusively engage with toys that are considered feminine. However, I would argue that pushing her away from toys she had naturally shown a preference for is just as bad. The best thing for her development is to play and be engaged. I know plenty of successful, amazing women that played with girly toys as children. Support her, no matter what her interests are. 

I have to say, with all due respect, I strongly disagree with your disdain for your daughter’s “girly” interests. I find there’s a segment of progressive politics that is actually quite sexist in its rejection of femininity and feminine interests as lacking intelligence and depth. What message does it send a girl (or a boy, for that matter) if we reject her natural interests in feminine ideas and activities and pressure her to take up more masculine ones? That’s certainly not encouraging autonomy and independent thinking. Why are trucks inherently more weighty or important than rainbows and unicorns? Rainbows are beautiful and fascinating. Unicorns are imaginative. Princesses are magical and powerful. Engineering as we think of it is boring to most young kids. They’re kids. And not everyone wants to grow up to be a tech bro. 
 

Maybe it’s a phase and maybe it’s not. But I’d gently suggest that you reevaluate the premises on which you’re making these judgments, and just let your daughter delight in what brings her joy. I guarantee you she can already sense your disappointment in her natural interests. Give it a rest. 

I was exactly like that as a five year old - you'd have to pry the My Little Ponies from my cold, dead hands. God forbid she might grow up to be like me, with a PhD in engineering. As long as you provide positive role models for her and encourage all kinds of practical interests, there is nothing inherently wrong with unicorns, rainbows, and all the rest. interests like those can inspire her artwork and her play with friends.

Your daughter sounds amazing and I would go along with it and enjoy it as it may just as quickly change. It's a beautiful wonderful thing to daydream about those things and probably lets her escape to a magical world.

There are so many things you could do to build upon those interests--glittery slime, tons of DIY options on Etsy for unicorns and rainbows, even Michael's for craft kits if she is into building, providing felt and glue to make clothes for animals it goes on an on. How about books about unicorns? Spending time reading together. I know it is not your interest but it is hers...my son is really into construction vehicles and I find myself reading up about trucks.

Does she have any sitters or even neighborhood girls (or boys) that are a little older who could support these interests with her? I would try to avoid making her feel bad about these choices she enjoys right now...that foundation is set so early on and what is most important is making her feel confident and capable.

I think sometimes we are given children that are so different from us to teach us about ourselves...take the time to listen and appreciate your little girl. Things change so quickly so let her be and ask her questions about this magical world.

When my daughter was young, she only wanted to wear dresses and pink throughout MOST OF HER CHILDHOOD despite our careful avoidance of pushing anything of the sort. She is 17 now and wears nearly all black and Doc Martins and loves all things alternative. I would advise you to allow her to be who she is, as much as you can, and enjoy every age for what it is. It goes by quickly.

-Mom of 3 teens

This is funny.  If you hate girly girl stuff, just wait until she becomes a teenager.  You will hate her choice in clothes, her friends, most especially her music.  Rainbows and unicorns are not your culture, they're hers.  Try to accept it.  I've known boys her age that were the same.  I've known vegan families that were agains nerf guns because they gendered and encouraged violence. Their sons would weapon up with sticks and play war games anyway. And why do their interests have to conform to what you think is imaginative? She can start with rainbows and spin off from there--and anyway, who cares?  Parents in our part of the world can be pretty puritanical about this sort of thing.  Try to meet her where she is--get into whatever she's into.  What she's into now probably won't be what she likes 3 years from now.  Or maybe it will.  Find the humor in it, if you just can't make peace with it.  You can't control who your child is, so change your expectations now and it will be a lot easier as they grow up and into themselves.

Your post made me laugh! I was just talking about this with a friend whose niece is unicorn-obsessed and has been for years. The great news is that she can be talked into doing pretty much anything, as long as it's pink. So my friend bought her a pink oyster mushroom growing kit for her birthday and told her that because the mushrooms are pink, they are unicorn food. I could go on and on about this. But if you are worried that your daughter is stuck in the "girly" part of the toy aisle and won't develop useful skills, just press yourself to get creative. Buy 1,000 pink legos and challenge her to build a unicorn with you. (Better yet, work on her engineering skills by challenging her to build a rainbow.) Study rainbows, prisms, and visible light with her. She is not missing out on anything by being a girly girl! That's just the surface. It sounds like the person who is lacking imagination might be... you.

But seriously, she's FOUR. She can like what she likes; you have NO IDEA what that will evolve into. Maybe someday she will become a large animal vet. Or a brilliant atmospheric scientist. Or maybe none of this will connect to her future career, because, again, SHE'S FOUR. Your post reminded me of the teachings of one of my favorite Marxist philosophers, Grace Lee Boggs, who critiqued our capitalist society for the way that we treat children as if they do not have value until they become wage-earners. Fight against that way of thinking and just enjoy the beauty and fun of being four and being so easily pleased that unicorns and rainbows bring delight. My kids are older, and I long for the simplicity of those days.
 

I still love unicorns and rainbows and I turned out fine. I'm glad my dad wasn't worried about it. I hope that you're not making your negative opinion known to your daughter. Who are you to decide that liking trains is fine because trains are real but liking unicorns isn't fine because they're not?

I can understand how you feel! I would just try to laugh at the humor and irony of the situation and totally embrace it. It's definitely a phase but I think if she gets an inkling that you object or are resistant, she might actually dig into it harder. I see how an interest in cars seems like it has more utility but honestly SO WHAT at this age? Kids like what they like and sometimes that can lead in interesting and unexpected directions later in life. For now, you can build off her obsession and steer toward learning opportunities within the rainbow-unicorn realm e.g. painting colors of the rainbow, tactile experiences with glitter and other art materials, making sculptures, reading stories about unicorns, writing her own stories, making a costume, etc. You could commission her to draw a family portrait with rainbows and unicorns (I'm envisioning both dads and her each riding their own unicorn under a giant rainbow). Lean into it and have fun! I'm sure it won't be all rainbows and unicorns forever - enjoy it while it lasts ;)

I recommend you watch a few episodes of Mighty Bee, specifically "Running with the Rainbow Unicorns". Also, congratulations - she loves color, sparkles, and fantasy and doesn't really care what her dads think.  She's an independent thinker.  Embrace this and encourage her. If it's embarrassing to you, then realize this is your issue, not hers.  In middle school she will wear all black, dye her hair dark purple, demand a nose piercing and speak only a few words to you; you will long for the sparkly days.  Been there!

You've obviously gotten a ton of responses so I'll be brief. Both my kids (older boy, younger girl) were obsessed with pink, purple, glitter, sparkle, etc. when they were that age. Our son was a fairy-princess-ballerina for Halloween when he was 3. Now 17 he's your typical teenage hoodie-wearing boy - plays lacrosse, skateboards, etc., and in the engineering academy at his high school. Our now 13-year old girl turned into a complete tomboy after the "sparkle" phase, first eschewing anything but sports attire, now wearing men's clothes and doc martens yet collecting antique teacups. When she was 9 she was intent on being on the Supreme Court. Now she's not sure what she wants to do (other than read anime). Point is, the obsessions of 3 and 4 year olds, and even their later interests, don't necessarily translate into anything permanent. Give her the space to explore who she is now and who she wants to be. If you are supportive, you will have a solid relationship, no matter what she "grows up to be."

I would encourage you to step back and think about why stereotypical girl things annoy you. A lot of us grew up in the era when the feminist project was about expanding horizons for girls and allowing girls to do "boy" things, but we didn't really question how society values "boy" things and devalues "girl" things. Saying girls don't have to wear pink doesn't necessarily mean that pink is bad. Pink represents "the feminine" so hating pink sends a very negative message about femaleness. What if, as a society, we really valued girls and what they like? What if aesthetics were actually important? To reassure you as others have already done, my own kids went through phases of loving the Disney Princesses, pink, sparkles, etc. They both have been into makeup and fashion as teens. That didn't stop them from being fierce soccer goalies, math nerds, and other non-feminine things. Now one is in college studying aerospace engineering and the other is nonbinary. So yes having a girl who is super into typical feminine things doesn't mean they will always be that way. But I also want to caution you that they might. What if your daughter continues to be a "girly girl" and ends up in a stereotypically feminine job? Will you be disappointed in her? I hope you can find a way to value who your daughter is and what she loves at the moment, not just wait for her to "grow out of it" and hope she'll take up more masculine interests. 

Dear Fellow Parent,

It makes me very, very sad to hear your very overt value judgements and related gender bias about what interests your daughter. In one breath you mention how "frivolous and unimaginative" unicorns are, and in the next, extoll the virtues of her cousin's memorization of car models. A four year old needs to be exploring whatever interests HER - not you. And she 100% should not be worrying about career choices.

I must note something which also stands out: you don't say anything about what her other father thinks - just you. Does he agree with you? Disagree? Remain neutral? The silence on this is notable.

But back to your questions: what becomes of little girls like yours, and how far can you really take unicorns and rainbows?

At age 4, our daughter was convinced she was a kitty princess. She wore exclusively dresses, loved pink and purple, Hello Kitty, stuffed kitties, sparkles, jewels, etc. That continued for a number of years. She is now 20; she is majoring in science, is a fantastic mathematician, loves archery, wilderness survival skills, open water swimming and martial arts. She writes science fiction. And now, as then, she wears whatever the heck she wants, because that's her choice. That usually means pants with lots of pockets and very practical shoes; but she also likes sparkly things, jewelry, stuffed animals, and other typically "girly" stuff.

Her best friends are majoring in science: physics, astro-physics, integrative and evolutionary biology, and working on CRISPR and other cutting edge technologies. In their spare time they play Dungeons and Dragons, LARP, read science fiction and fantasy, and other things which take imagination. Which is exactly why they will be brilliant scientists. 

Science and mathematics take oceans of imagination; if you can't imagine it, you can't understand it, or create it or invent it. 

Please, fellow parent: do not judge your child - celebrate what she is interested in now, and in the future.

This more I think about this, the more I wonder if you have some unpacking to do. Why does it really bother you? Sadly, society places numerous stereotypes on gay men, including rainbows and glitter and things traditionally considered feminine. Do her interests make you uncomfortable because you worry that others may feel that they reflect back on you and confirm or perpetuate stereotypes that you would prefer to eschew? Just something to consider. 

Hello, 

It’s a phase and just go with it. It goes away eventually and they move on to something else. Enlist in an extra pair of hands like another family member or family friend to play all things rainbows and unicorns with her so it’s not all on you and your partner.  At three, our daughter was obsessed with skulls, skeletons and pirates. Her other parent  and I were thrilled because like you, we never pushed the feminine stereotypical  stuff in her direction nor did we care for it ourselves. Unfortunately that phase wasn’t without it’s own issues when she started drawing her family members “without skin” at preschool....  There were some fun parent preschool teacher conferences then. Afterwards at four  she was obsessed with kittens. Everything had to have a kitten on it. She decided she would be a kitten. Eat and drink like a kitten. Dress like a kitten. Scratch other kids like a kitten.... we don’t miss that phase. Hang in there. It gets better. 

My grandtwins, now 6, have always lovedpink, pretty, flowers, and fluff. The more dominanet twin, when she was two, refused to wear a superman shirt, saying "Man, no." (many clothes were hand-me-downs.) I try to steer them toward blue jeans, but they manage to climb,  tumble, and even ride their bikes in tutus.  I raised a boy, so this was surprising.

     I really hope this is a tongue in cheek response. My mom showed this post to me, it really reminds me of when I was little. My parents raised me in a non-gendered way and never pushed me into any boxes of what types of interests I was allowed to have but my interests were super “girly”( pink clothes always, fairies, unicorns etc). I am 17 years old now and have evolved and changed ( language, theatre, fashion, math, activism, etc) but I am still the same person with appreciation for traditionally “girly” aestheticism. 
     Interests that are thought to be frivolous are often the brain food for a budding artists. I don’t understand the sentiment that liking unicorns is “unimaginative”. What is more imaginative than thinking about mythological creatures 24/7? Interests and passions are formed off of what someone finds most alluring and wonderful. Not what a 4 or 5 year old thinks will be a good career path 15 or 20 years down the line. 
     It’s hard to tell what your problem is: maybe a capitalistic mindset (“only interests that are good are those that are useful for making money”). Maybe you have some internalized sexism against interests that you have been socialized to think are “feminine”. In any case, I hope you think about how this will impact your daughter. Children are a lot more perceptive than adults often give them credit for. I know that when I was little I could tell when someone was being condescending or hiding annoyance. I don’t know what I would be like if my parents had valued my brother’s interests more because they were more STEM-y. I really hope you are able to examine why you feel so annoyed with her interests and reframe your mindset. Whether or not this is a phase is irrelevant. Your daughter likes this at the moment and even if she grows out of it she will remember how you responded to her now.

Hello from another two-dad family here with a pre-teen daughter who used to be obsessed with unicorns and rainbows.  Up until maybe 2nd or 3rd grade she fought to wear frilly dresses to school everyday (which would come home filthy because she was pretty active on the playground at recess).  It got tiring for us, but slowly she grew out of it and now we have trouble getting her into dresses for any reason.  Don't worry about it - it's your job to introduce new things to her but she'll like what she likes and over time her interests will change.  When she gets older it will likely be her friends that will influence what she likes/doesn't like (in 3rd grade a friend of our daughter told her that playing with my daughter's favorite toys was "for babies" and, boom, that was the end of that favorite toy).  Try to enjoy every stage of your daughter's childhood - one day you'll look at photos of her wearing a pink unicorn dress and you'll wonder where the time went!  

I'm getting out my crystal ball to look into your daughter's future 20 years hence. I see two possible outcomes:

Your daughter as a successful young adult is speaking with her friends: "Gosh, I remember when I was like 4. I was so obsessed with rainbows and unicorns and I had to have EVERYTHING pink. It was crazy how into it I was - I didn't even want to look at anything else. But you know what? My dads were amazing. I loved rainbows and unicorns and they gave me rainbows and unicorns. I don't know how they could stand it all, but they were so awesome and I always felt so supported, special, and loved by them, no matter how crazy i was."

Your daughter, also as a successful adult, speaking with her friends: " You know, when I was little, I used to LOVE rainbows and unicorns. But my dads didn't think that was very practical and they wanted me to develop some more useful interests. I gave up the pink and started memorizing car facts to make them happy - they kept talking how great it was that my cousin knew so much about cars and I desperately wanted their approval so I learned about cars. You know, all I really wanted for my birthday that year was a pink unicorn dress. I got some model car that sat in its box until my dads guilted me into building it. I understand where they were coming from, but it really hurt that they never understood or accepted me as I was."

Which future do you want for your little girl? 

I think this is just a stage.  My youngest daughter was into rainbows and Rainbow Brite characters in the 1984-1986 animated show.  She is now an accomplished, independent gay woman with skills in visual art, writing, accounting and work as a mate on ferry boats in the SF Bay.  My older daughter and I use to fight because I wanted her to wear pants and not purple and pink long dresses.  She is also a strong, accomplished woman.  The modeling your daughter gets from you and the opportunities she has access to will be formative.

I really agree with Wild Oakland, crm, and several other responses you've received. A few things I'd add:

- Ezra Klein did a fantastic interview with Kate Manne - I'd strongly suggest starting there in interrogating the misogyny that so many of us have internalized

- Do we associate an interest in cars with a solid career path because they are so intrinsically more useful than unicorns? Or because we code an interest in cars as masculine and it is men who, not incidentally, have had preferential access to well-paying work for centuries in our society? I don't see any reason that a love of unicorns and rainbows could not lead to interesting and educational discussions of (imaginary) habitats and essentials of life, the physics of flight, the science of weather, etc. 

- The idea that a 4 year old's interests have to lead to a defined career path is, frankly, depressing.

Ouch! At the risk of having my comment censored, you sound pretty harsh and judgmental about your daughter's preferences. She's a girl. She's 5, it's totally normal for her to be girly and like rainbows and unicorns (heck, I'm pushing 52 and I LOVE rainbows). She's FIVE - she's not going to be able to discuss geopolitics for quite some time, so maybe just go with the flow and let her love what she loves. What's the harm? Annoying you? Please. As if anyone has kids that don't annoy them. My DD is almost an adult and she's been through LOTS of phases of interest, some more compelling to me than others, but I never made her feel bad for what she liked. You say that you 'try not to show it' but please consider the harm you are doing to her if she senses that you hate the thing she loves.......not good! Trust me, she's not going to be wearing rainbow unicorn clothes in high school. Honest! In a year or two she will like something else. Please have patience, she's just a little one and before you know it she'll be all grown up. Patience dad, and deep breaths!

LOL!  As the mom of three, and someone who works with kindergartners, I can say this is all extremely normal, and it will change!  Just go with it.  My eldest was obsessed with pink, frilly, swirly skirts, etc. from age 4-6.  Then suddenly at 7, she wanted her hair cut short, loved navy blue, and wore jeans every day.  Developmentally normal.  Don't fight it.  It will change.  

Instead of thinking of how to remove or replace interests, how about supplementing?  Otherwise you might be in a bigger bind when they grow up to be teenagers.  Multiple books that I have read suggest that you take an interest in what your children care about.  Validate their feelings and work on building a trust credit.  And don't spend your time worrying.  Today it is unicorns and rainbows, tomorrow it will be something else that you might also not care for.  Don't judge, since these girls may be exploring careers in flight-related technology or scientific research into photons when they're grown.  Both of my girls went through these unicorn and rainbow phases.  In addition to buying them stuffed unicorns and rainbow stuff, I also bought them trains and cars (blue track is cool) and worked with the preschool to have the pretend-play area adjacent to the blocks to better integrate the genders.  There was some strangeness at home of course:  mommy car racing baby car, Thomas the train in a stroller... but the older girl is now a Patrol Leader for a mixed gender Scouts BSA troop (formerly Boy Scouts of America) and the younger girl does science experiments all over the house with whatever she can get her hands on.  Yet, our gamer/programmer/artist/scouting daughter also likes having a pink mouse pad, a pink chair.. pink pink pink... a gazillion girly stuffies... wears a unicorn hood around the house and to her zoom meetings.  And quite frankly it's not wholly unexpected.  I started my career as a hardware engineer and I put bright pink duct tape on my personal lab supplies to make sure they always come back to me.  Anyways instead of worrying about all this girlishness, I spent my time plotting exciting activities and sales pitches for the purpose of broadening the girls' horizons.  But I think what really might have made a difference was that in sharing my interests I was also sharing more of my time.  That got their attention and made competing for their time, when I had the time, not very difficult at all during those younger years when parents are still so important in their world.  Lastly, if you really want to rock their world then read to your kids a lot:  stuff that they like and stuff that you'd like them to hear about.

Seriously? There is nothing wrong with being into traditionally “girlie” things. The underlying assumption in your post and many others is pretty offensive and sexist. Try re-reading your post and flipping the genders of these two children and it’s downright cring-worthy.

Why on earth would this be something to be concerned about? You don’t have to like or be interested in all the things your kids are interested in. You just have to let them be themselves and love them for who they are. 

I’m totally a fan of gender neutral but your missing the whole point, it’s about letting kids find what they like and who they are without pushing gender norms and stereotypes on them. Since when can you not love unicorns and math? Cars and fairies? Engineering and Barbie? Rainbows are a scientific phenomenon for goodness sake. 

What becomes of little girls who likes rainbows and unicorns? They grow into adult humans... who may or may not like unicorns and rainbows. Hopefully adult humans that are happy and fulfilled and don’t assign meaningless value judgements to their gender expression and interests.

I actually decided to use this post as a teachable-moment and read your post to my two sons (6 and 10). They both were quickly able to identify the stereotypes and implications here. My 6 year old would also like to point out that rainbows are just as real as cars. 

-Your neighborhood data-scientist/faerie princess 

I have boy/girl twins. They both love rainbows and unicorns. We got an inflatable rainbow unicorn for their grandparents pool- their overwhelming joy was worth every penny. Life is full of difficult experiences, sadness and struggle. I work in a hospital. Today I supported a family (with multiple kids, the youngest is 4) who lost their dad to covid.Your daughter sounds fun, joyful and lovely. Love what she loves, let her feel excited to share it with you, let her be her (unicorns rainbows and all) if she is girly- good for her, if she is not good for her. Let her be who she is. Who we are is not something a parent gets to control. Please support her, love her for who she is, and worry more that she is happy than that she has interests that have career potential. She’s 4. That is a magical joyful age, it only comes once. Also, the anti girly girl stuff is a bit sexist.  

I ran a club when I was a little girl called the Unicorn Pegasus Club. Everything magical horses and rainbows. I went on to riding horses when I got older, advanced trick riding (handstands and flips on/off the horse while trotting etc..) and then into bareback riding (no saddle) with friends as an adult. And I’m still very much into the magic of rainbows and the universe. I used to make magical potions and perfumes as a child and then I got really into studying hens as a teenager and now I’m an urban farmer. I think these are fierce and strong attributes and I think the trick is not to “feminize” them. Pink and sparkles are pretty and pretty is fierce and strong. And magic is  practical, useful, and very important. Hope my experience is helpful! 

*herbs 😂 not hens, though I love keeping chickens!

I feel for you!  I am a mom of a girly girl, which caught me by surprise since I used to be a tomboy and never liked playing with other girls since I thought their games were boring. I'd suggest reading up on child development by age, even the old stuff like Piaget's stages of child development and the importance of play.  Take heart, things change all the time. My girl used to be just like yours until she turned 7, and now that she's 8 she's wearing drab color clothes and plays with LEGOs. Although, she also loves making slime of different colors with all kinds of smells and dresses up like a ballerina (only at home so others don't see!) and prances about to.

Also, I couldn't help thinking when I read your post:  What would you do if you had a boy who'd be into princess staff?  People are hard-wired to an extent, so she'll probably stay girly in some ways forever even if she ends up a goth in her teen years (one of our girly girls grew up to be that!). I have watched all kinds of kids grow up, and there's no way to predict how the nature/nurture balance plays out.  My neighbors have twins, a boy and a girl, and the girl is the physical one and into cars while the boy is the one who was obsessed with everything princess.  Their mom hid all of the princess things one day when the twins turned 4 in hopes her son would forget all about them and start playing with other things, but now 10 years later he's still into what people consider "girly" things. Our other friends wanted to make sure their little boy would be gender neutral and got him both girl and boy toys.  One of the "girl" toys was a doll house, which he promptly emptied out and turned into a garage for his cars.  On the other hand, my daughter is now playing LEGOs that used to belong to her brother, and while they are stereotypically "boy" toys she plays with them in a very different way than her brother used to.  She has them interact and talk a whole lot more than my son used to. 

Enjoy your little girl, unicorns and all. They say that play is child's work, and it's true. Also, 7 year old is a totally different developmental stage, so don't compare your almost 5 year old to her 7 year old nephew. The world outside is scary, especially now. Thinking of flowers, rainbows and unicorns makes a kid feel safe and happy. That's a good thing, and lets them be open to learning about the world without fear and anxiety. My daughter is now 8 and gets very anxious about the world, and it got a lot worse after she saw the images of the rioting at the Capitol on TV. I try to turn off the news when she's around, but she still sees it on occasion and asks why people are so mean and crazy. 

I read your post to my 13-year-old daughter and she really wanted to reply:

When I was your daughter’s age, I loved pink things, unicorns and everything stereotypically “girly.” My mom and dad never gendered anything I did, and they were always supportive of my interests. Your little girl gravitates towards pink things and unicorns, and there is nothing wrong with that. There is something wrong with your concern over her enjoyment of aesthetically pleasing “girly things.” In all honesty, I think it’s ridiculous you find “boys” things useful and “girly” things “annoying, cliche, frivolous and unimaginative.” That is sexist thinking, and you may want to reevaluate how you see your child’s interests. Just because your daughter’s interests are not useful to you does not mean those things are not needed in this world. 

As a 13-year-old girl, I want you to understand that your 4-year-old daughter’s enthusiasm for rainbows and unicorns does not make her unimaginative and frivolous. While I was once very interested in those things, I am now thinking about a career as an interior designer. Your little girl is beautiful the way she is and she will find her own way in life. Don’t try to change her.

You are annoyed that you have a normal little girl? I think you need to be examining yourself, not her. It is fine if you are interested in cars and trucks, but you have to learn to let her follow her interests, and at least encourage her, if not be happy about it. What do girls like her grow up to be? Doctors, mothers, lawyers, social workers, politicians, veterinarians, designers, CEOs and on and on. She will probably not be a car mechanic, and there is nothing wrong with that.  It is important that you love her for who she is and support her on her journey. Yes, you can of course read all sorts of books to her and take her all sorts of places and do all sorts of things with her, even changing the oil in your car. But give her the freedom to pursue her own interests. You both will enjoy your relationship much more if you do. And you may even remain friends though the teenage years. But if you try to control her and her interests, you will both be miserable. 

Embrace it. Go with it. My "girly" girl is now 14 and identifies as non-binary. It's a journey. Expose her to a wide variety of things but don't judge what she gravitates towards. And some interests will be more interesting to you than others. Thats part of the gig. Good luck!

When my first child, a girl, was three, I bravely got her a nice big shiny red metal dumptruck. This was in 1967.  I was deterined to raise her to be strong, imaginative, and self-sufficient, when these things were not the norm for girls.  We took the truck to the big sandbox at the park.  She filled the truck with sand, found a stick, and began stirring the sand while she proudly announced, "I am baking a cake!"  What can you do?  I was crestfallen -- but really, what's wrong with baking a cake? At age 57 she is a strong, imaginative, and self-sufficient woman.

My niece was the same way -- and insisted on wearing a princess costume every day which ended up getting so ratty and disgusting that they had to get her another one. My sister (her mom) is hardly girly--she's one of the biggest tomboys I know. So when her daughter was loving all-things-pink-and-sparkly, we were a little surprised. But I will say, though, she had a wonderful imagination and made up lots of thought-provoking stories. Now she's a young adult and is an amazing snowboarder, loves to build things, and is one of the bravest people I know. She's been through a lot, and I really admire her strength. My advice: Don't worry--neither her nor your nephew will be defined by what they are interested in at 5 and 7.