As you may have read or heard in the news, gender neutral parenting is becoming a more and more popular option these days. In fact, one article in the popular magazine notes how one family chose to keep their child’s actual physical gender a secret until the child went to preschool! While most families don’t choose to be quite this extreme, gender neutral parenting is gaining in modern parenting practices. Here’s what you should know about gender neutral vs. gender specific parenting.
More Parents are Choosing Gender Neutral Parenting
The rise of gender neutral parenting has come along largely with the effort to make the world and workplace more gender neutral. As women fight for equality in the home and workplace, they seek to use gender neutral parenting as a way to teach children early on that boys and girls are equal and that traditional gender roles are not correct or necessary.
With that said, many families still practice gender specific parenting, as evidenced by the fact that you can walk into any baby store in the country and find very “girly” girl clothes and very “boyish” boy clothes. Even baby basics like crib bedding, swings, and car seats come in colors and designs that clearly delineate traditional gender roles and perceptions.
Combining Gender Specific Parenting and Gender Neutral Parenting
One of the things that confuses many people about gender neutral vs. gender specific parenting is that many families practice a bit of a combination of the two. The fact is that families who start out gender neutral are normally just focused on ensuring that they don’t push their children in one direction or the other. In the infant years, they’ll dress their children in pink, blue, green, and yellow without regard for the baby’s physical gender, and they’ll provide their baby with plenty of choices in toys – including dolls, blocks, tea sets, and cars.
The truth is, though, that gender is complex and is influenced by both nature and nurture. Girls, for instance, have stronger connections between their neurons, which makes for better listening skills and better memories. Boys, on the other hand, tend to have better spatial skills. This has nothing to do with who dresses in pink or which toys children are offered. Instead, these are biological differences that are innate in the brains of little boys and little girls.
This means that girls, even when dressed in baseball caps and allowed or encouraged to play with monster trucks, are likely to choose toys with a social component, such as dolls. Boys, on the other hand, are more likely to choose active toys like balls, blocks, and cars.
Families who parent in a truly gender-neutral way don’t push girls to like things that are more typical for boys or vise versa. Instead, they simply encourage their children to choose what they want, rather than what society tells them they should choose. This means not taking dolls away from little boys, but it also means not disallowing little boys from playing with monster trucks if that’s what they prefer.
Gender neutral parenting really involves following the lead of the child. In some children who eventually identify themselves as transgender, choosing things typical of the opposite gender is very common, but many other children whose mental and physical genders are in alignment will end up choosing toys and activities that are very typical of their own gender. The parents in a gender neutral family simply allow their children to self-identify and to choose whatever they prefer.
The Parents’ Values Influence Gender Specific Parenting and Gender Neutral Parenting
Many parents become gender neutral parents without necessarily meaning to do so, and some parents become very gender specific parents without meaning to do so, either. Gender neutral parenting really starts in the parents’ value system. If the parents tend to buy into traditional gender roles and to follow them, their children will most likely follow that example. However, even in a family with a stay at home mom and bread winning dad, parents can model gender equality. They can allow their children to break the norms by offering a broad choice of toys and activities and by demonstrating in their own partnership that they agree with gender neutrality.
The Effects of Gender Neutral Parenting
Raising smaller children in a gender neutral environment mostly involves offering children a broad choice of toys and activities. However, for older children, gender neutral parenting means intentionally providing your children, no matter their gender, with the life skills they need to make it in any role.
This means teaching your teenaged son how to properly clean a bathroom and do his own laundry or cook meals, and it means teaching your older daughter how to change the oil in her car or take care of a flat tire. If you have college students, it means teaching all of your children how to manage their finances, no matter which parent in your own household mainly handles the family finances. For instance, you can look at the best credit cards for college students along with your child, and you can teach all your children to properly handle a credit card responsibly, no matter what gender they are.
Gender neutral parenting is not necessarily better than gender specific parenting. In fact, some consider it worse. However, it can provide children with broader choices and help them forge their own identity rather than feeling that they have had an identity thrust upon them. Maybe you won’t keep your child’s gender a secret for five years, but by teaching all of your children valuable life skills, you can set them up to succeed in the world, no matter what their gender.
How do you raise your children? Leave a comment below.