Raising a Gender Neutral Child

“A tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation, a stand-up to what the world could become in Storm’s lifetime (a more progressive place?....).” These were the words penned in an email to family and friends in 2011 by Kathy Witterick and David Stocker, parents of a household of five living at the time in Toronto, Ontario as explanation for their choice not to reveal their baby’s gender after birth.

You see, Kathy and David chose to raise their third child as gender neutral, revealing the sex of the baby only to their two older sons who were then aged 2 and 5, and one close family friend. The two midwives who delivered the baby in a birthing pool at the family home knew the sex of course, but were asked to keep it secret as well.

It goes without saying that this must have been a challenge, to continually answer the questions of why they made this decision for their family - and keeping the secret would have been a test in itself.

Storm’s two older brothers were being raised in a non traditional fashion already. Choosing their clothes from whichever section of the store they wanted, the oldest son often selected pink dresses and he loved to wear his long hair in braids. Baby Storm would not be wearing gender related colors, though - this child was to be dressed in reds, greens and oranges and other neutral colors until the time came when a personal choice was made. The family co-slept in two large mattresses on the bedroom floor and were “unschooled” by Kathy.

Storm was not the first child to make headlines in regards to being raised in a gender neutral environment. In 2009, a child in Sweden known only as Pop, was revealed to be gender neutral as well, sparking much conversation and debate on the topic of raising a gender neutral child. Since then, the country of Sweden has made many changes to the roles of parents, and some advances in gender neutral living, which we will take a gander at later on.

Kathy and David have since declined further interviews with the press about their family. We do not know if Storm’s gender has yet been revealed. Presently, in the year 2015 we do not see stories in the news headlines about children being raised in a gender neutral home, perhaps because more families are making this choice. The bottom line is society today is accustomed to the concept of non traditional homes, such as single parent or same sex parents, and families containing transgendered members, conceivably making the gender neutral lifestyle more commonplace.

Here are a few points to consider if you want to raise your children in a gender neutral household:

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7 Clothing

Gender can be defined as an identity or expression assigned to a person based on their sexual anatomy. Gender neutral, I think personally, is letting a child express themselves without being concerned with the traditional roles given to people depending on their biological make up.

This being said, personal likes and choices in colors and style of clothing is what it’s all about, and allowing kids to wear what they like can be a cool form of expression for them.

Based on what we are seeing from retailers today, gender neutral fashion is already making its way on to store shelves.

Quite frankly, I think that clothing for infants is pretty easy to purchase; one piece outfits and sleepers for newborns come in many neutral colors, along with the pinks and blues we often see.

●As our wee ones grow into toddlerhood, and begin to show some of their own personality and likes or dislikes, it’s perfectly okay to let them wear what they find comfortable.

●If you are raising your child to be gender neutral and would like them to dress as such, websites like Tootsa MacGinty.com offer great suggestions for dressing your baby. A unisex children’s clothing company with high ethical standards, their duds offer comfort and durability.

●And of course, hand me downs from one child to another is an economical choice we can all make, gender neutral or not.

Moving forward, as your child grows and seeks an identity, you will at some point need to let them head in the direction they choose in regards to style. There will come a time when your son or daughter will want to make personal fashion decisions, quite possibly based on the latest thing their friends are wearing or a nifty fad that is all the rage, and while guidance is good, influencing them is not the way to go. Kudos to you for letting them make the clothing choices they want, when they want.

6 Toys

Now, many times I have heard comments on boys playing with Barbies or girls being obsessed with race cars, and I for one don’t really get what all of the fuss is about. To be truthful and for reasons unbeknownst to me, I find that a boy playing with dolls gets a lot more flak than a girl playing with a dump truck and I’m not sure why.

A gender neutral home will offer kids the option to play with any toy they like. There are different ways to approach the gender neutral toy box; many parents choosing this lifestyle for their infants will offer a totally nonaligned selection of playthings such as puzzles, games, and animal figurines.

While keeping an inventory of only totally neutral toys is the choice for some parents, others offer a wide variety of toys favored by both sexes in order to give their kids a wide variety of activities. The point is, why not offer our children the opportunity to try their hand at learning about roles in society without putting a gender on them?

●- And of course, we know it’s a great thing for our kids to see dad doing housework or staying home while mom goes to the office. Never hinder the nurturing nature in kids.

●- Watching a boy enjoying a dollhouse is watching a child delight in the fun of family life.

●- Play food, musical instruments and bath toys are excellent gender neutral choices.

●- Moms and daughters enjoy building blocks, too. Let’s make all things available to all kids.

Parents who choose a gender neutral lifestyle for their kids know for a fact that the personal preferences and likes of children is a freedom we must allow. Just remember that gender neutral parenting ultimately needs to be a lifestyle that a child is happy about too, not just a parent strategy and choice.

5 School

As I read about Storm and Pop, I learned that the gender neutral parenting theory is still under review when it comes to schooling. Gender neutral parenting is a strategy whereby behavior, dress and non communication of gender are key in creating a gender diverse environment.

If we review the case of a third child who was featured in the news in 2012, also being raised as gender neutral, we learn that his parents revealed his sex to be male when he turned five. Sasha was about to enter primary school in Britain. Sasha’s parents felt that keeping his gender a secret and having him continue to live as a gender neutral child would prove too hard once Sasha was in school.

Dr. Daragh McDermott, a psychology lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University in the United Kingdom stated that, “the family setting is only one source of gender specific information and as children grow, their self identity as male, female or gender neutral will be influenced by school, socialisation with other children and adults as well as by mass media.”

To be sure, as parents seeking to raise a gender neutral child, the topic of schooling must be well thought out from the beginning.

●- Many parents choose to follow a homeschooling curriculum and there are pros and cons to consider. A gender neutral family seeking to allow their kids expression without traditional influence, may find homeschooling to be the choice they make because there are less pressures on the gender neutral child to mask personal preferences and likes.

●- Storm’s parents chose the method of un-schooling for their offspring. Some may find this concept hard to grasp but this schooling method is based on the belief that learning should be driven solely by a child’s curiosity.

●In Sweden, a preschool even removed free playtime from its curriculum because it was felt that hierarchy and stereotypical gender patterns should be avoided in school.

●Freedom from peer pressure and bullying is world we all want to see.

Storm’s family decided un-schooling was best for their family and committed themselves to raising him as a gender neutral child after reading the book, X: A Fabulous Child’s Story by Lois Gould.

4 Peer Questions

No doubt, friends of your child and parents of peers will ask many questions about your decision to go the gender neutral route. And I know, deep down, heart and soul, some of the questions may even make you think twice about it. No one wants their child to feel uncomfortable or wonder about their upbringing.

I think the key here is to have strength and fortitude in your choice, just as we all must have, as we begin the journey of raising kids best we know how, and let your little one know that it is A-OK to not constantly feel the need to explain.

When your child is an infant or toddler, a gender neutral upbringing is not often brought into question unless you are not divulging the sex of the baby, as was the case in the three families we have looked at from Canada, Britain and Sweden.

- Not disclosing the sex of your child is considered the extreme form of gender neutral parenting and will be the parenting framework that draws the most curiosity.

- Allowing your child to dress as they choose, whether it be dresses for a boy or jeans and nothing but jeans and dark colors for a girl, is categorized as a lesser form of gender neutral nurturing. It allows for attire of any fashion along with a form of play that does not conform to male or female. Less questions may be asked with this style, but for certain, some children may inquire about your child’s like or dislike for dolls or the color black as opposed to pink, for example.

Some people find it hard to understand the unfamiliar, and because the gender neutral parenting style may not be their cup of tea, your child may face issues socially. Some families feel homeschooling or un-schooling may be the best way to avoid social backlash and constant questions. Rest assured though, if your child feels secure in your family as a whole, then they will be able to face any questions that their peers may have. Arm them with confidence and security. Before you know it their friends will be learning the all important point: gender does not determine the value of a person.

A book you may find helpful in your quest for success as a gender neutral parent is Gender Neutral Parenting: Raising kids with the freedom to be themselves.

You must expect that while some of your friends and family may applaud your decision to raise a gender neutral child, others may question your motives and even assume that you are doing this for your own agenda as opposed to doing what is best for your child.

3 Language

Some parents say they want to raise their child in the conventional manner and feel the child will determine who they want to be as a teenager or adult, when maturity helps them to make choices. Moms and dads who choose to raise a neutral gender child do so because they want to avoid the influence of simple stereotypes in the life of their child.

In Sweden, there is a general push among many people to make the nation not just a gender equal one (Sweden is leagues ahead of other countries in this area), but a gender neutral nation, avoiding stereotypes of any kind.

Sweden has made strides in the neutral gender world by introducing the word hen which has been added to the country’s online version of the National Encyclopedia. Use of hen is being found in books and magazines. Preschool classrooms are utilizing the unisex personal pronoun hen, as opposed to hon (she) and han (he). Some preschools are calling the kids buddies, rather than boys and girls.

●- More parents and teachers than ever before are choosing to use they, them and their when referring to students and kids.

●- In a gender neutral environment there is no use of he/she, girl/boy, his/her or man/woman.

●- Zie (pronounced Z) is used by groups as opposed to he and she.

●- Hir (pronounced here) is used instead of him/his and her/hers.

I think the goal with neutral gender language is to erase traditional gender roles and allow the kids to have a wider view of gender and allow them the freedom of behavior and dress in order to communicate gender as they feel comfortable. That seems like a pretty simple and fair concept to me and may eventually become more the new normal.

2 Exposure

No two ways about it, exposure to many scenarios is a win-win situation for all kids today, not just those who are being raised as gender neutral. When I talk about exposure, I mean opening the door and putting all scenarios and opportunities at the disposal of every child.

Every child, whether boy or girl should be given the chance to try each and every sport they choose, for example. I know that society today has made improvements towards gender equality on the sports field, but to be truthful, I personally think more needs to be done.

A child being raised as gender neutral should not feel the same pressures as some kids today when it comes to sports, if they are truly secure and confident in their gender neutral role.

●- If your child has no preconceived notions about which sports are “for girls” or whether “boys are better at that sport”, then all should be fair on the playing field.

Hobbies are another great way to expose your gender neutral child and encourage them to seek out non traditional roles for themselves.

●- Cooking and baking are activities that both sexes find fun, as are painting and gardening. But don’t stop there, let’s bring to light hobbies like sewing, and mechanics to both boys and girls.

Teaching your child about careers is another cool way to show them to think outside the box. Sure, society has come a long way when we think of careers or homemakers. But there still seem to be cultural rules that come with being a boy or girl. Progress is an ongoing process though, and I think that the parents who want to raise their kids in a neutral gender household have it right in that respect.

1 Boys vs. Girls

Now, I know it shouldn’t matter one iota whether your gender neutral child is a boy or girl in regards to anatomy, but from my own research I think I can conclude that boys may have it a little tougher being raised as gender neutral than girls will, and I’ll tell you why I feel this way.

There are so many preconceived notions of masculinity and femininity - you know, how boys are always looked at as more aggressive and energetic and are often frowned upon for showing emotion, and girls are seen to be more quiet and the natural nurturers.

Some people may find it difficult to grasp that the kids of today would want to be seen as anything different than the traditional stereotype of masculine and feminine, but we all know that as parents we want our kids to be seen for who they are and what they want to be. That is essentially what the idea is for parents who hope to raise their child in a gender neutral environment.

But getting back to the boy vs. girl discussion and whether is it easier to raise a girl as gender neutral than a boy, well, factor in the reality that girls have more freedom to act like boys. What I am saying here is that a boy dressing in a tutu to go to preschool will face more questions than a girl arriving in a pair of overalls. It’s unfortunate that things are still this way and I believe this is the point that the gender neutral movement is trying to make.

When you approach the topic of sports for example, boys seem to have a harder time breaking into girls teams than girls do with boys. Society often looks at a girl breaking the barrier of a male dominated sport as empowerment for females. Males are often questioned as to their motives for wanting to do a “female sport.”

However, as children grow older it is often just a tough for a girl to be placed on a team due to the fact that boys are often bigger physically and in a contact sport such as hockey, there is concern of injury for the female.

●- This being said, we have to consider the idea that it may be more the parents than the children who have an issue with who plays on what sports team.

●- Moms and dads may look twice at what a playmate wears to school more than their child does. I think kids have a greater understanding of personality and diversity than adults do. Children seem to be able to explore their own gender identity without shame.

If we look things from this angle, we see that gender neutral parenting is a decision that is not for everyone, but none the less a choice that should be respected by others. There is no one perfect way to parent, and understanding the differences between all of our parenting strategies and choices is something we should all strive for.

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