Defining kids by gender really isn’t anything new. Sure, it’s changed over the years, since girls used to be stuck with “feminine” pursuits and boys with “masculine” ones. And while plenty of men are nurses and girls doctors these days, some things haven’t changed much—especially when it comes to how we welcome boys versus girls as soon as they’re born.
Many moms these days are tempted to avoid the gender bias altogether and leave the gender norms out of raising their kids. And while not all of us go to the lengths of not telling anyone whether our child is a boy or a girl, or referring to them only by name or the gender-neutral pronoun “their,” there are plenty of strategies for reducing gender-based issues with our tots.
It starts with shifting expectations during the pregnancy, and it culminates in what parents expect from their babies as they grow and develop. And just like anything else, parents have the biggest impact on their children’s perceptions of gender. That means it’s on the parents to do things right from the start. From what they wear to how mom and dad parents them, here are 20 things soon-to-be moms can do if they want to raise their babies without gender.
20 Shop For Neutral Tones
Every soon-to-be mom is tempted to start buying up all the adorable onesies when she finds out she’s expecting. But if you decide you want to avoid gender labels from day one, you’ll be avoiding pink and blue outfits from the get-go. The solution is to pick neutral tones for your baby’s layette—and fortunately, there are plenty of gender-neutral outfits that are plenty adorable, too.
And besides, you’re not stuck with plain clothing either. There are yellows and greens, of course, but stripes and prints, too. And if you’re okay with defending your infant fashion choices, you can pick cars, dinosaurs, flowers, clouds, stars, and plenty other symbols, too.
19 Don’t Reveal Pink Or Blue Beforehand
“Gender reveals” are the biggest thing to hit this generation of parents. But not every family has to buy into the expectation of pre-announcing the baby’s predicted gender. By all means, have a baby shower—but don’t tell people ahead of time whether it’s a boy or a girl. The result will usually be that you’ll receive a lot more useful gifts—think diapers, wipes, toys, and baby equipment instead of pink and frilly or blue and sporty clothing and shoes.
Besides, clothing isn’t the most important thing when you’re expecting a baby, so cutting those items off your wish list for the baby shower also helps cut down on the odds of people targeting one gender or the other.
18 Be Okay With Not Knowing
Although finding out the presumed gender beforehand is always an option for expecting parents, you can skip that particular part of the ultrasound altogether. Whether you are expecting your first or last child, or anywhere in between, you can just tell the ultrasound tech that you don’t want to know whether it’s a boy or girl.
Along with helping you hide the news from relatives who want to go crazy buying things that are gender-specific, skipping the defining ultrasound will help you keep your expectations neutral when it comes to your baby’s personality. Just make sure you have a name picked out for either gender, and you’ll be set when delivery day comes.
17 Ban Boys Versus Girls Toys
Although you’ve hopefully avoided receiving gender-specific toys at your baby shower or from well-meaning relatives, toys are an important point to consider. Whatever your preference is for what your kids play with—whether it’s a plastic-free toy box or one void of small parts—make sure you’re keeping an open mind. That means including dolls in a baby boy’s toy box, and gifting little girls some cars and trucks.
In general, try to balance your tot’s toys across the color spectrum, but also don’t avoid a certain toy because it’s labeled as something for either boys or girls. Kids who grow up with a good mix of toys that aren’t color- or gender-specific tend to gravitate toward what they truly want, not what society says they should.
16 Reserve Judgment On The Color Pink
Plenty of parents buy clothing that’s pink for their boys. But the caveat for many families is that the clothing can’t be “girly.” Instead, it has to have some kind of disclaimer on it like “I make pink look cool” or “pink is the new black.” The problem with these messages is that they highlight the fact that pink is “for girls,” and are pointing out that we’re making an exception in this case for boys to wear it, too.
But long before pink became a taboo color for boys, it was the go-to for men of all ages. Back then, blue was for ladies only—considered dainty and delicate. The point is, let boys know that it’s okay to like pink just for the color itself, not “even though” it’s “for girls.”
15 Choose A Name That’s Neutral
For a lot of parents, names are the first thing they focus on after finding out they’re expecting. And rightly so: names are a huge part of our children’s identities! Of course, it’s kind of tough to choose the wrong one, because in the end, you’ll know whether your top picks are a good fit or not.
But if you’re hoping to raise your child from a more gender-neutral perspective, their name is even more crucial. So instead of going with traditional masculine or feminine names, you should opt for something that’s less gender-specific. For example, names like Jessie, Alex, Blake, Logan, and River are all great for both boys and girls.
14 Skip Gendered Nicknames
When you’re gazing at your beautiful newborn, it’s difficult not to start talking baby talk and telling them how gorgeous they are. And of course, you’re entitled to it! But if you want to raise a baby without gender labels, it’s tough to do so if you’re telling your daughter what a pretty princess she is or telling your son how he’s mommy’s sweet little man.
When kids get older, it’s easier to pay them compliments based on personality rather than looks, but for those early days, keep in mind the messages you’re sending with gendered comments to your tot.
13 Don’t Make Hair A Big Deal
When newborns come out, often the first thing mom and dad want to know is whether the little one has hair! Whether it’s a girl or boy, parents want to see plenty of luscious locks on their babies’ heads. And some parents get lucky and their wishes are answered, but other babies are born as bald as cue balls. Of course, mom and dad think they’re gorgeous no matter what.
But when it comes to what strangers’ perceptions are, parents are often more concerned. After all, many little girls get mistaken for boys when they have less hair than average. On the other hand, boys are often mistaken for girls when they have long or curly hair. But parents wanting to raise their children in a gender-neutral environment should hold off on headbands and hair clips!
12 Nix The Nursery Themes
Planning your baby’s nursery might be one of the biggest projects you undertake while pregnant. And it’s so fun to pick out everything from a crib to a matching glider to an entire changing table and dresser set. But one thing many parents tend to buy into is the idea that they have to decorate the nursery to match the baby’s supposed gender.
Parents who want to raise their babies without gender norms, however, will want to opt for plain colors and more neutral themes when it comes to the nursery. Consider picking a color or even a pattern to go with, rather than a sports-themed nursery for a boy or pink polka dots for a girl.
11 Talk To Family In Advance
Especially if you’re expecting your first child—or the first one to be raised gender-free—you’ll probably want to have a talk with friends and family before your tot’s arrival. For many grandparents, and other extended family and friends, it’s tough to wrap one’s mind around a “genderless” baby.
They may criticize your decision, of course, but it’s up to you how to handle dissenting opinions. While you may not be able to convince them you’re doing the right thing, you should be able to expect that they’ll honor your parenting practices and not gift your baby over-gendered items or try to push them to fit the mold of feminine or masculine norms.
10 Toss The Princess Onesies
If you’re pregnant already, you’ve probably at least scanned the infants’ section at your local department store. And no doubt, you’ve already seen (and possibly been maddened by) the onesies that say things like “Princess” or “Heartbreaker.” And although they’re pretty common these days, and seen as cutesy and appropriate for babies, parents who want to raise their babies without gender don’t agree.
Rather than forcing these labels on their tots, parents would prefer to let kids decide on their own who they are and what they want people to think of them. So if you wind up with some of these onesies as gifts, you may want to regift or donate them instead of putting them on your tot.
9 Focus On Personality
Granted, it’s pretty tough to see your baby’s personality the moment they’re born. But rather than showering them with society’s preconceptions about boys and girls, you can talk to your baby about all kinds of other topics at first! After all, experts have proven that it doesn’t really matter what you say to your baby in the early days, but rather the fact that you talk to them in the first place.
So, try to notice other things about your tot to talk about, instead of starting from day one with gender norms. That means skipping things like “handsome guy” and “pretty girl," too.
8 Don’t Expect Toughness Or Fragility
Even from day one, parents can project a whole lot onto their infants. We are their first teachers, after all, so everything we say and do can wind up being monumentally important. The thing is, people tend to treat boys and girls differently from the very beginning.
Parents who want to avoid this gender trap with their babies should keep in mind that both boys and girls are completely capable of both physical and intellectual tasks from the start. While it’s true that boys are often more physical and girls more intellectual, parents can encourage both traits in their babies without labeling them as “tomboys” or “sissies.”
7 Show Equal Affection
Another way that parents (and caregivers) tend to treat boys and girls differently is when it comes to giving out physical affection. Sadly, studies have shown that caregivers tend to give girls more physical affection while giving boys less. Of course, boys are often more active, so they may not wait around for physical affection much.
But if parents start from the beginning and give their sons and daughters both plenty of physical affection and emotional connection, girls will no longer have the advantage when it comes to social and emotional intelligence. Instead, boys will learn to cope with emotions better and learn to seek affection instead of holding things inside.
6 Skip Planning Baby’s First Haircut
Just like many parents choose to skip headbands and hair clips on their baby girls, plenty of other parents skip haircuts for their baby boys. While society’s expectation these days is that boys have short hair and girls have long hair, parents raising gender-free babies won’t go along with those social norms.
Boys can have long hair too—just look at today’s celebrities who wear not only man buns, but also braids and ponytails. In that same vein, girls can also wear buzzcuts—or whatever other style they want—though your child likely won’t express an opinion on their hair for a few years at least.
5 Read Up On Parents’ Experiences
Although it’s early if you’re still a mom-to-be and haven’t welcomed your little bundle into the world yet, you may want to read up on how to handle raising genderless babies later on. An infant isn’t too tough to handle—you just avoid pink and blue and traditionally gendered toys and clothing.
But as children grow, not only does society put more pressure on them to either be masculine or feminine, but they also start to internalize those pressures. Making sure that you always support your child’s interests and identity is the most important part of parenting without gender—so be prepared!
4 Change Your Own Mindset
If you have it in your head that you don’t want to raise your baby within the confines of society’s expectations about gender, the first place you should start is with your own preconceptions. Odds are you were raised with the idea that girls should be sweet and proper while boys should be brash and unkempt.
So before you welcome your own baby, it’s important for you to re-examine your own feelings about gender—and maybe even your own gender identity. After all, society tells us that women should feel most feminine while they’re expecting a baby—but maybe you don’t subscribe to that school of thought. Whatever your feelings, figure out what you want ahead of time, before your baby comes.
3 Get Your Partner On Board
Plenty of people are judgmental about parents who raise their babies without gender. However, there are tons of studies showing why letting babies and kids just be themselves is better for them than being labeled into a gender category. Of course, if your partner (if you have one) was raised thinking differently, during your pregnancy is the best time to try to get them on board with your parenting approach.
Just like other parenting topics, having both parents in agreement on raising a genderless child is way easier than having fights over it later on—especially in front of your kiddo.
2 Ignore Others’ Biases
Though when you take your cue-ball-bald baby girl out in public, strangers may comment what a handsome boy you have, does it really matter? You might be tempted to correct someone who misgenders your child, but the key is, does it truly matter? Whether they’re telling you your baby is adorable or saying how smart they are, or maybe just how much they look like you, it truly doesn’t matter if your baby is a boy or a girl.
Set aside your own feelings about the subject and just say thanks for the compliment, only correcting people if it bothers your child or if it’s significant in some way—like at the doctor’s office.
1 Stock Up On Baby Books
Although it’s becoming more common for parents to be accepting of their kids’ gender identities, and even forgoing gender assignments altogether, it’s still not exactly a mainstream parenting practice. Therefore, your baby may not meet other kids who are being raised the same way. That makes it even more important for you to make sure your ideals are supported at home and among family.
But it’s also helpful to introduce your child to diversity and acceptance via books and media—books about diverse families are a good start, especially when it comes to how children are portrayed, such as girls with short hair or boys wearing dresses.