I'm Raising a 'Gender Neutral' Kid & It Doesn't Mean What People Think It Means


MNStudios/Shutterstock

One of the first things many people say when they find out they're expecting is something along the lines of, "I don't care if it's a boy or a girl, I just want it to be healthy." That was totally me -- and I meant it, too -- right up until it was actually time to find out the sex of my baby. I was immediately overcome by the reality of what it would mean to raise a child of any gender in a world so obsessed with placing everyone into neat little pink and blue boxes. For me, choosing to raise my son in a gender-neutral environment was an easy decision, but I've noticed that plenty of people still have wild misconceptions about what that means.

Advertisement

The most common misconception about gender-neutral parenting is that anyone who chooses this parenting style is attempting to make their kids "genderless." There seems to be a healthy dose of fear that gender neutrality will disallow girls from displaying "feminine traits" and prohibit boys from embracing things that are traditionally "masculine." Hopefully, I speak for most gender-neutral parents when I say that our goal has never been to force our kids to abandon their gender or the things they enjoy, but rather to open the door for them to be who they really want to be.

For me -- and for most other parents I know -- gender-neutral parenting is about ensuring that kids are given every opportunity possible, regardless of whether their interests are viewed as traditionally feminine or traditionally masculine. Studies have shown that kids already show strong preferences for playing with toys that are "meant" for their own gender as early as 9 months old. While scientists admit there could be biological factors at play, they also believe these preferences are largely influenced by the adults in kids' lives who decide which toys are "appropriate" for them to play with. And that's what parents like me want to avoid.


LetToysBeToys/Instagram

More from CafeMom: By Age 6, Your Daughter Already Thinks Boys Are Smarter

As a gender-neutral mom, I don't push my son in any direction as far as toys go. I refuse to only present him with toys that are meant for "boys," but I also don't force him to play with cotton candy pink items meant for "girls" -- which is what opponents of gender-neutral parenting seem to think happens in households like mine. Instead, I allow my son to play with whatever he likes, and at 19 months old, he's perfectly content to play with anything he can throw around or use to make noise.

Clothes are also a huge source of contention when it comes to criticisms against gender-neutral parenting -- as if the world will stop turning on its axis if a little boy wears a dress and a little girl rocks a Star Wars T-shirt. When Target announced a new line of gender neutral clothing earlier this year, all hell broke loose, with many threatening to boycott. "So Target is releasing a new gender neutral kids line of clothes. I guess it's not politically correct to be a boy or a girl now. WTF," one annoyed parent wrote on Twitter. The same thing happened when the retailer made its toy section gender neutral in 2015. Many people lashed out, bashing the store for letting "political correctness" disrupt the "natural" order of things.


iStock.com/RawPixelLtd

Contrary to some people's beliefs, I do not force my son to wear dresses. But my partner and I do make a point to avoid buying items that are unnecessarily gendered. For example, my kid doesn't have "I'm a ladies' man" onesies, or T-shirts decked out in sports paraphernalia that he couldn't give a crap about yet. While my son is pretty much always in pants or shorts these days, if he came to me one day and requested that I buy him a dress or a fluffy tutu, I would have no problem with that. Nor would I take issue with his wearing sports jerseys or superhero shirts if that's what he wanted to do.

Often, we have a tendency to unconsciously push our preconceived notions of boyhood and girlhood onto our kids. Even if we don't mean to be malicious, we find ourselves asking our sons, "Are you sure you want to wear that purple shirt? This green one would look better." Or, we push our daughters into dance lessons when they really want to play T-ball. 

But science has proven that the concept of the "male brain" and the "female brain" doesn't really exist on an individual, interest-based level, and by pushing our kids in one direction or the other, we're sending them unconscious messages about what is and is not "okay" for their gender. I view gender-neutral parenting as a way to let my son make those decisions for himself, without the influence of stereotypes about masculinity or a fear of seeming feminine.

More from CafeMom: 30 of the Most Gender-Neutral Names in America

To achieve this, my partner and I are always watching our words, actions, and responses when it comes to our kid. We present him with books, films, and TV programs that show girls and boys with a wide array of traits, and we refuse to limit his emotional expression. In the future, we will do things like encourage him to explore his love of moving around in dance class, just as much as we hope he'll show some interest in soccer, his father's favorite sport. Honestly, this is totally natural. Who among us doesn't have traits or preferences that could be seen as both girly and boyish?


LetToysBeToys/Instagram

Of course, my partner and I get a lot of crap from the outside world about our parenting choices. Particularly this comes from family members, who wonder why we decided to paint Leo's nursery yellow instead of blue, or why I get so angry when someone makes one of those sexist "he's going to be such a ladykiller when he gets older" comments about my young child. I'm sure the criticism will only be harder to deal with as he gets older.

Ultimately, children who are raised in gender-neutral households will grow up. They'll start going to school, using the Internet, and interacting with people outside of our immediate, accepting circles. With this will come harmful societal stereotypes that claim there is only one way to be a girl or argue that "real" boys do this or that. As a parent, I feel it would be naive of me to think that my kid could never be shaken by these ideas just because of what we do at home.

But that's not going to stop me from raising my son in a home that refuses to limit his emotions, self-expression, or interests. Gender-neutral parenting may be the buzzword, but all I know is that I want the best for my child. If that involves his wanting to wear a puffy pink dress to preschool, attempting to drag me to football games in the dead of winter, or even a combination of both, I'm damn sure going to embrace it. And if other people could let go of their misguided ideas about how gender-neutral parents raise their kids, perhaps the rest of the world could start to embrace it as well.

Read More >