Why one mom of superheroes supports Brad and Angelina's embrace of 'John'

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt support Shiloh's choice to be known as 'John,' and as a mom of two Batmans, a Buzz Lightyear, and a Thomas the Tank Engine, I get it.

Matt Sayles/Invision/AP
From left: Pax Jolie-Pitt, Brad Pitt, Shiloh 'John' Jolie-Pitt, and Maddox Jolie-Pitt arrive at the Los Angeles premiere of 'Unbroken' at TCL Chinese Theatre on Dec. 15.

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have an eight-year-old daughter, Shiloh, who wants to dress like a boy and be called “John” – and Brad and Angie have no objections.

This has caused some to criticize their parenting, while other veteran parents may smile at the memory of the many fashion and naming choices their own kids went through. Despite the astronaut, princess, and/or superhero years that may define epochs of childhood, their effects rarely last into adulthood.

This little tempest dates back to 2010 when Ms. Jolie told media, “Some kids wear capes and want to be Superman, and she wants to be like her brothers. It’s who she is. It’s been a surprise to us and it’s really interesting, but she’s so much more than that – she’s funny and sweet and pretty.”

Images of Shiloh a.k.a. John on the red carpet in a boy’s suit at a recent premier of 'Unbroken,' with her short blond hair slicked into a boyish do, have given television parenting pundits the opportunity to get all manner of judgy over the Brangelina parenting approach of allowing their daughter to be who she wants to be.

For those who look askance at this, I have two words – Buzz Lightyear.

We have four sons ranging in age from 11 to 21. Avery, now 15, spent more nearly two years – from ages six to eight – as Buzz Lightyear, in a costume he would not exchange for any other outfit without a fight or a great deal of coaxing.

That made school quite a challenge.

Many days, after much bargaining, he agreed to don his alter ego clothing for the classroom, only to make a beeline for the one-piece Buzz costume the second he crossed our threshold.

Before him his older brothers Zoltan (now 21) and Ian (now 19), when they were right around John/Shiloh’s age, spent years fighting over the fact that they were both Batman. 

Quin, now 11, was Thomas the Tank Engine for so long I began to worry he might start belching smoke.

Kids love to get into character. For most kids who come from non-celebrity homes, that often means being a Disney or comic book character.

However, perhaps for the child of two actors, getting into character runs a bit deeper and may indeed involve more subtle choices of heroes.

Shiloh's choice to be John reminds me of when Avery was in his Buzz phase and his best friend at the time, a boy, painted his fingernails daily and wore his mom’s scarves and accessories.

While Buzz was Avery’s hero at the time, his friend’s hero was his mother, who held their home together while his military dad was on one long Navy deployment after another.

I thought the mom was wise to allow her son to make his own choices and help him feel confident enough to hold his ground if anyone questioned his attire.

Also, I admired his father, a military dad, for rolling with his son’s choice of accessories – and nail decorations.

Once, I recall hearing the boy’s father explaining his philosophy of support to another dad at a local park who had given him an eye-roll after seeing the boy’s nails and making some comment about how women shouldn't encourage “that kind of behavior” in boys.

The military dad politely explained that he had so little time with his kids that he refused to waste any of it trying to force them into molds that didn't fit them and in so doing potentially risk their memories of him; if he died while on deployment, he didn't want his son’s last memory of him to be one of disapproval.

He also told the other dad that if his son was actually finding a different sexual orientation and not going through a phase, it was going to happen with or without his support.

No amount of manly clothing and polish-free nails would change who his son was.

He knew that while his career might take him away in body for long stretches of time, he was going to support his child’s choices in every way possible, 24-7.

Jolie and Pitt are doing something very wise and brave by setting an example for other parents to get past the idea that boys will be boys and girls will be princesses, by allowing their child to explore who she is and trust they will recognize her, not by her dress, but by who she is day-to-day – their child.

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