Is your child an example of success or failure at gender-neutral parenting? Gender-neutral parenting is a rising trend that his hitting mainstream news sources.
The New York Post article titled “Parents Refuse to Reveal Their Child’s Gender,” published in 2018, discussed two parents who knew their child’s sex yet made a decision not to the share that information with anyone outside of their immediate family in an attempt to avoid swaying that child’s gender decision. Similarly, the Los Angeles Times article “These L.A. Parents Don’t Want to Assign a Gender to Their Baby, So the Government Did it for Them,” published in 2019, described two parents who want to raise their child to be “gender creative” or “gender-expansive.”
While these two options may seem radical, there is a growing trend of wanting to remove forced gender roles and expectations for the first few years of a child's life. How do you determine success when the goal is gender-neutral parenting?
When we learned I was pregnant with a little girl, who was born in 2015, I was beyond excited. My husband and I discussed breaking some of the gender stereotypes and allowing Avery to be whoever she wanted to be and play with whatever she wanted to play with. Our baby registry did not contain an ounce of pink but rather was full of orange and green.
In a weird twist of events, we came home from creating our registry at a well-known baby store to find the registry assistant had manually changed all of our colour choices to pink assuming that any other colour choice had been made in error. I then had to go back through the entire registry website and re-select our actual colour choices. We received a large amount of pink and frilly baby clothes as gifts at our baby shower, which was fine. But in reality, in the early months, those colours were worn sparingly.
Our little girl’s nursery at our first home had tan walls from when I repainted when we moved in. The curtains were a set of repurposed, blue blackout curtains from my apartment when I was in graduate school. Her crib sheets were Finding Nemo, largely because my husband keeps large fish tanks as a hobby. Her room was perfectly gender-neutral.
When Avery was 1 and 2, our desire to keep her interested in any and all toys seemed to be working. She had several different cars and trucks she played with. There was even a small mock front end of a “race car” that she and her father loved to disassemble and put back together carefully removing brakes and rotors one bolt at a time, beautifully improving her coordination. She had dress-up clothes, baby dolls, and even toddler-sized purses and jewelry. Everything was fair game.
My son, Hunter, was born when Avery was 2 years old. He moved into Avery’s former nursery. Her big girl room was painted in the same colour as her old room. Her crib sheets were the same crib sheets as her old bed, but now there were pink accessories creeping into her space. Since my kids were born in the same month, I definitely utilized her old clothes for him through that first winter and I have adorable pictures of him in pink sleepers.
Avery is now 4 years old; she is dainty and at times quite delicate. Hunter is a stocky, rough 2-year-old. Despite my best efforts, I have raised two walking talking stereotypes. Hunter began gravitating towards dumpster trucks and tractors before he could walk. There are days when the small orange monster truck that he is currently obsessed with never leaves his left hand.
Avery, on the other hand, is a pink princess. At around 2 years old, she began wanting to pick all of her own clothes and create her own outfits. Generally, every single piece of clothing is pink or purple in some way. She owns neutral clothes but refuses to wear them. Hunter identifies pink as an Avery colour, not because it is girl colour but rather because it is practically the only colour she will wear. This winter, his snow boots are her old boots from last year. He happily put on the boots with excitement because he loves boots. These boots are pink and white with fur trim around the top. He doesn’t care, nor do I.
How did this happen? How did I raise such a girly girl? If you were to look in my closet right now, you would see one purple floor-length dress that I wore to my husband’s college graduation more than ten years ago and one coral summery dress that I wore on our honeymoon. There is one LuLaRoe shirt that has some pink in the pattern, but frankly, it is mostly gray. The remainder of my wardrobe is gray, blue, or green. I am terrible at doing my own makeup. I can barely do my own hair, but now, I am learning how to manage Avery’s perfect curls with product and a diffuser. Previously, I did not even own a diffuser.
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Did I fail at gender-neutral parenting? I don’t think so. My goal, as a parent of both a boy and a girl, is to create opportunities for both of them that are not limited based on their gender. Avery has a Jeep Power Wheel that she is learning to drive with great precision on the courses that her dad sets up for her in the back yard. She also loves frogs, bugs, and worms. We have to remind her not to kiss all of these creatures she finds in the yard.
Hunter plays dress up with her and takes such gentle care of stuffed animals and baby dolls. When he gets the opportunity to hold a real baby (a cousin or his godparents’ new baby), he does so with pride and self-restraint which is quite the contrast to when he plays with a dump truck. He will tell you that he gets to hold the baby because he is “strong.” Avery, quite frankly, is not even remotely interested in holding the new babies.
My continued goal for gender-neutral parenting is to control my expectations of them. I hope to create opportunities for them to explore their own interests whatever that may be. I will not force my own interests, hobbies, or desires on either one of them. I will allow them to grow into whoever they want to be. So, by my definition, my girly girl and truck loving boy are still success stories at gender-neutral parenting because they are following their own interests, not mine.