Here are the seven ways I fail at gender-neutral parenting:
1) I painted my daughter’s new bedroom peach and bright yellow and my 6-year-old boy’s bedroom gray and black.
2) I bought some “boy” and “girl” toys for the party bags for my son’s birthday. Including pretty stickers and hair clips vs. robot stickers and cars.
3) My son loves football, and my daughter loves dancing. I actively encourage both.
4) Gus had Thomas the Tank crockery when he was little. I bought Joni Peppa Pig stuff when she came along.
5) Gus’s wardrobe was lots of reds, yellows, greens as well as blue when he was little, but now his wardrobe is made up of black, brown and grey. Joni has those colors too but also ALL the colors and a big dollop of yellow, pink and purple.
6) Gus had fairly neutral toys until about 1, but then he was drawn toward cars, trains and balls. So that’s what we bought. Joni was obsessed with dolls by the age of 1. Admittedly introduced by the child-minder but obsessed nonetheless. She now has quite the collection.
7) Gus had a blue scooter to get to school. It’s a bit old and shabby now but perfectly serviceable. However, Joni is getting a pink one for her birthday.
I don’t necessarily think these are brilliant parenting decisions, but they are informed decisions of a parent who very much thinks of herself as a feminist. The thing is, these decisions for the most part are led by my kids.
They, rightly or wrongly, are drawn to certain toys, colors, and activities, and I am not going to stop them just because they’re not the most “progressive” decisions.
“I don’t necessarily think these are brilliant parenting decisions, but they are informed decisions of a parent who very much thinks of herself as a feminist.”
They are led by their own tastes, society’s tastes and the tastes of their peers. While I am aware that forcing girls to wear pink and be obsessed with princesses vs. boys wanting to be superheroes and sports stars is just plain silly, I think there has to be a compromise.
Kids, for the most part, don’t want to feel apart from the “pack.” They like doing things their friends do, and as parents, although we can try and influence their tastes and decisions, I think it would be cruel to force them to do/be/wear things they don’t feel comfortable with.
Saying that, there are loads of ways I DO do gender-neutral parenting well. My kids are growing up in a household where both parents have jobs, we both share all household tasks and childcare equally, we never tolerate “girls do/like this and boys like/do this,” we will bring them both up to treat everyone as an equal, and Joni will be encouraged to do or be whatever she wants ― and I pray that the glass ceiling will at least be cracked when she gets there.
“... as parents, although we can try and influence their tastes and decisions, I think it would be cruel to force them to do/be/wear things they don’t feel comfortable with.”
Gus is taught that he can cry and be as emotional as he likes and never told to “man up” or “stop acting like a girl.”
And in lots of ways they reject stereotypes, too. They both completely love Lego and construction, but they both love playing with the kitchen and food toys, too. Gus wants to grow his hair long like his rocker dad, loves drawing and spends hours sitting quietly to do it and doesn’t give a monkey that his male classmates all have short hair and love charging around playing sports.
“I think approaching parenting with a slightly different view to the 'norm' is usually best done with common sense.”
Joni, when recently faced with hand-me-down dress up clothes. completely eschewed the fairy tutus and princess gowns and went straight for the lion outfit, and we’ve been hard pressed to get it off her since.
I think approaching parenting with a slightly different view to the “norm” is usually best done with common sense. Yes, you could be brave/staunch in your approach… shave your kids heads, refuse to reveal their genders and expect the world to treat them neutrally, but the reality is, the world can be cruel. It’s better to ease them into it than throw them in at the deep end, surely?