Parents who wish to raise gender-neutral kids are cast, largely, as lunatics. By now, we've all seen stories about nutty moms and dads who are attempting to raise children devoid of any sense of gender identity, with some going so far as hiding their kids' sexes from the public, refusing to call their kids "boys" or "girls." While these parents are always the people in the spotlight, the fact is that gender-neutral parenting isn't as radical, or as rare, as one might assume. Many parents, including myself, want to raise gender-neutral kids.
I'm the proud mommy of a gender-neutral child-- and I'd be a hypocrite if I weren't. I'm a dedicated feminist and queer activist, and my partner is transgender. My daughter sees women in baggy camo pants and men in artsy babydoll tees on a daily basis. If I'm going to demonstrate that it's okay to defy gender norms, I owe it to my daughter to do the same thing. Here's how I'm raising a gender-neutral kid.
1. Let your child pick his own clothes. I let my child choose her own clothes. This usually means clothes marketed only for girls-- what kid doesn't love rainbows, ponies, and peace signs? However, when she chooses to wear a dinosaur tee-shirt and blue jeans, that's just fine with me, too. I would allow just as much personal choice if she were born a boy.
2. Eschew heavily gendered toys. If my daughter ever asks me for a Barbie or a baby doll, I'll gladly get her one. She's started a modest collection of "My Little Pony" toys because she likes them. But, for the most part, we shy away from toys heavily strongly associated with gender norms. She has given no indication that she wants to play with dolls, dress-up kits, make-up, or any other explosion of pink and purple. We're glad to stick to blocks, barns, toy animals, and other toys that don't constantly scream "Girl!"
3. Don't teach stereotypes. You'll never hear us recite the rhyme about girls being made of sugar, spice, and everything nice. I'll never look at boys playing with swords and bugs and announce that "Boys will be boys." And I will never, ever tell my daughter that a certain movie is for boys or that a certain game is for girls. Gender stereotypes are everywhere, but I'll do my best to keep my daughter away from them. She shouldn't be limited by what's between her legs.
4. Set a good example.If you're a girly-girl married to a man's man, there's nothing at all wrong with that. However, it's always best to emphasize that your preferences, feelings, and lifestyle choices are part of your personal identity, not inextricably tied to your gonads. My daughter knows that I-- a woman-- like to buy flowers for my significant other. She also knows that I don't like make-up and that I wear plaid. I think it's important for children to at least see some examples of gender deviance, no matter how mild.
5. Don't limit your child's dreams of the future.Fortunately, this form of sexism is now fairly rare. However, it's important to be aware of how even subtle gender-based limitations on your child's future can impact his self-image. When my daughter tells me she wants to grow up to be a doctor, I support her-- but I also support her when she tells me she wants to operate a cat shelter. No matter your child's gender, it's important to support his dreams for the future, whether those dreams include being a teacher, an astrophysicist, a stay-at-home parent, or a police officer.
6. Save the craziness for the crazies.You can raise a gender-neutral child without making the news for being the world's weirdest parent. Antics like calling a child "it" or refusing to explain anatomical differences between male and female can be left to the nutcases. Although my daughter is fully aware that some people are transgender, she is also fully aware that she, herself, is a girl who will grow up to be a woman. If I parent her well, though, she will be a woman who doesn't feel limited by her gender, who knows that the deeper aspects of identity are between the ears, not between the legs.
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- gender identity