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?

baby development, play


To add a comment, please log in with

Use Your CafeMom Profile

Join CafeMom or Log in to your CafeMom account. CafeMom members can keep track of their comments.

Join CafeMom or Log in to your CafeMom account. CafeMom members can keep track of their comments.

Comment As a Guest

Guest comments are moderated and will not appear immediately.

mustb... mustbeGRACE

I also like for my kids to be a social experiment.

Looking for the next trend................


femal... femaleMIKE

I think I will just keep it simple.  Parents teach their children their own values. 

Freela Freela

I don't think I treated my son and daughters differently.  But then again, the point of the study is that I wouldn't notice if I did, right?  Realistically, I don't see a whole lot 'traditional gender' differences between my kids overall.  My dh shares emotions far better than one of my dds... my dd is more athletic and more willing to take risks physically than my son.  One of my dds is more interested in traditionally feminine things (painting her nails, jewelry, etc.) and one isn't.  They're all unique and I don't necessarily see a strong correlation between their personalities and their genders.

Kritika Kritika

Can we please stop with the political correctness withour kids. Boys ARE different from girls. They may want to play with the other side's toys ocassionally, or maybe all the time, but bottom line they have different bodies, different hormones, different natural instincts and biological urges. If we were meant to be gender neutral we'd all have blank Barbie crotches.

You parents that purposely buy your children toys and clothing intended for opposite genders, despite what your children actually want and ask for, are proving nothing. Get over it.   

Aeris... AerisKate

No, I don't think I treat them any differently...not yet at least.  My daughter is almost 4 and my son is almost 8 months.  What is different is that I'm getting to spend more time with my son at this age because I was still working when my daughter was a baby.  I'm not sure I buy in to all of this stuff about forcing gender roles on our kids with how we dress them, what toys we give them, etc.  Since she was born, family members have been buying my daughter your stereotypical girl toys (dolls, dolls, and more dolls).  My daughter has never played with them, will tell you she won't play with them if you ask if she wants one, and will gladly give those up when doing a toy purge.  She likes what she likes and it's not dolls or frilly things or hair bows.  Give her worms, bugs, dirt, stuffed animals, and art supplies and she will be one happy child. So honestly, I think kids are going to like what they like.  Of course, my opinion is based on my own personal experience and someone else could have experienced something different with their own kid.   

nonmember avatar blh

I do think boy babies and girl babies are the same but they certainly act different when they're older. And that's ok. Im lovey and cuddly to my son no different than I would be with a baby girl. And ill let him play with any toy he's interested in.

Juli Buys Picklesimer

I treat all my children differently because they are all completely different people. I have 2 boys and a girl and they are all very different from each other and have been since the moment they were born. One size does not fit all for my kids, and I see nothing wrong with treating them differently from their siblings. My job as a mom is to get to know my children as individuals and use my instincts and judgmenet on how to raise them, instead of letting books and studies written by people who have never met my children determine how I should parent them.

nonmember avatar A

I don't think I treat my daughter any different then if she was a boy. I did buy girly clothes and all when she was a baby, but now at 4 she loves red and blue, Pokemon, painting her nails and putting on make up, she loves to dress up, and color and get dirty. I believe that children will like what they are going to like no matter what you buy them or try to get them to like. As long as my daughter is happy she can play whatever sport she wants and she can play with whatever toy she wants.

the4m... the4mutts

I'm just going to say "ditto" to Kritika.

These opinions, biased studies, and blogs telling people who their children are, need to just fly out a window

MomLi... MomLily67

Kids mark their own path early on life. I have two very manly boys, no interference by showing them what was "blue" or  "pink", just being themselves. My 2 nieces are "girly girls" since early childhood, but my boys never saw wrong in playing withe their doll babies, just saw it as fun and toys. Now my 6 yr old is a dinosaur, stuffed toys, glittery shiny stuff, radio controled anything lover!! I think it is all perfect.

1-10 of 42 comments 12345 Last