Boy & Girl Babies Are the Same -- Until Parents Get Their Hands on Them

boy baby girl babyI was lucky my first child was a girl. Because after you give birth for the first time, you know everything. You do everything right! Your child will not be one of those babies that dares to disrupt people on an airplane, in a restaurant, or anywhere that doesn't have paintings of Elmo on the walls. And having one baby girl gave me the opportunity to do that whole "gender neutral" baby raising thing.

While I didn't ban pink, I chose baby clothes of all colors. I had no expectations regarding toys; instead I let her choose whether it was the Hess truck or a baby doll. We bought her a mini skateboard as toddler, and signed her up for soccer before she even really knew what it was.

Then we had a boy.


As my son aged into toddlerhood, we were surprised (but maybe not too surprised) about his obsession with his older sister's skateboard. His incredible physical stamina and coordination in tossing and catching a wiffle ball blew us away. He'll start swimming lessons a good two years before his sister did, and will be on the t-ball team starting next year (also two years before the girl in the family.) We decided our avoidance of stereotypes was perhaps wrongheaded, and thinking more traditionally was where it was at. So naturally a new book has come out saying we'd better go back to our original way of thinking, or we'll be hurting our kids. I'm so confused.

Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow Into Troublesome Gaps -- And What We Can Do About It by Lise Eliot calls out adults -- even well-meaning, pro-equality adults -- for falling for gender stereotypes, and in fact creating them in our own children. Because girl and boy brains are more alike than different, and studies that highlight differences are deeply flawed. Unfortunately, as adults, we look at baby boys and baby girls differently, and treat them differently, to their detriment.

For example, baby boys are seen as more irritable (I'm guilty of thinking/saying that about my own son), even though that's not the case. Boys are seen as more remote and detached, and so parents treat them differently than the "social" girl baby. Naturally, boys will become more detached if they're not on the receiving end of eye contact and physical affection to the same degree as their female counterparts. Thus, creating a stereotype that did not even exist before parents mucked it up.

And baby girls are underestimated in their physical abilities, even though there are no differences in what they can achieve; as seen in a crawling study of 11-month-olds. I admit to recently giving up on my daughter's skating ability and handing over her board to her little brother. Mostly this is because I was never into sports, and so I'm assuming my own daughter isn't either. Luckily, her father hasn't given up on her yet.

More importantly, this book highlights the way we treat our babies. Instead of talking to our girls more and letting our sons play independently, we should be equally engaged. Instead of only encouraging boy babies (or simply being more encouraging) to take physical risks when they're testing out their new walking legs, we should let our little girls go for it as well. And leave any male/female expectations at the door. Which is something a lot of us believe we do already, but even the most subtle difference in our demeanor can shape our boys and girls. Scary, right?

So I'm going to start checking myself a lot more often when I'm hanging with the kids. And perhaps not gasp the next time my daughter climbs a tree in a dress. Perhaps.

Do you treat your girl and boy babies differently?

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