By Afsaneh Moradian, author of Jamie and Bubbie: A Book About People’s Pronouns
It’s surprising to realize how much gender is a part of parenting, even before we welcome our little ones into our lives. From gender reveal parties to gendered baby showers to pink or blue balloons in the birthing room, ideas and decisions based on gender are present. What clothes the baby wears, do they wear a baseball cap or a headband to clarify their gender to strangers, what toys they see and touch, what images are on the way, what figures are on the mobile—all of these decisions tend to be influenced by gender stereotypes and what each gender is supposed to have and wear.
We define gender in so many ways for our children before they are able to talk and share with us who they are. Without meaning to, we’re teaching our young children that their gender is a defining trait.
In some cases, we let gender stereotypes guide how we expect children to think and act. For example, many adults expect girls to sit quietly and boys to be restless.
This reaches a whole new level once kids start playing. For example, we expect girls to play princess and house while boys play superheroes. Of course, girls and boys have more options for play and can choose to play anything they like. While, as parents, we encourage and facilitate that, we still have to push gender stereotypes out of minds that creep up in the form of concern or worry. Do we get concerned if a girl shows no interest in dolls or if a boy does? While we encourage young girls to be athletic, do we worry when boys don’t want to be? Does a girl have to wear a dress? Is it a problem if a boy wants to wear one?
What if we didn’t emphasize gender so much from the beginning and what if we just let children develop without any connection to gender? What if we focused on who are children are as people, rather than holding them up to other girls or boys their age?
Finding out who your child is as a person is far more important than whether or not they fit an idea of what it means to be their gender. There are many ways to do this, but here are a few:
- Give your child a choice of two outfits to find out what they want to wear. Remember, girls don’t have to wear dresses and boys might like to.
- Pay attention to which toys your child likes to play with at home, child care or preschool, and at other people’s homes so you know how better to set up your child’s play area.
- Giving your child room to make choices in as many areas of their life as possible is empowering and makes children feel confident in themselves.
- Ask lots of questions to find out more about how your child thinks and what their preferences are.
Creating a gender-neutral environment in your home where colors, clothes, book, and toys are for everyone plays an important role in the child developing with any constraints or expectations rooted in gender stereotypes. Here are more ideas for creating a gender-neutral play area.
Becoming aware of the gender stereotypes we’ve internalized is key to creating space for our children to be themselves without feeling they are disappointing or upsetting us. This is especially true for children who, in fact, are not the gender listed on their birth certificate. Gender is commonly thought of as a spectrum and, as children grow, many will realize that they are transgender, nonbinary, or a different gender identity.
As parents, we’ve got to let go of the gender stereotypes we were taught so that our children feel loved and celebrated for who they are. We still have a lot of work to do to create inclusive spaces in our society, but we can make our homes places where our children feel accepted 100%.
Afsaneh Moradian has loved writing stories, poetry, and plays since childhood. After receiving her master’s in education, she took her love of writing into the classroom where she began teaching children how to channel their creativity. Her passion for teaching has lasted for over fifteen years. Afsaneh now guides students and teachers (and her young daughter) in the art of writing. She lives in New York City.
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