The Dilemma of Gender Neutral Parenting

Box O' Toys
Gender neutral toys?

We didn’t find out the gender of either of our children because it didn’t matter to us which gender they were when they were born. I decorated our first child’s room in a gender-neutral palette, and the second child got the exact same crib and decorations because they had to share a room (when she wasn’t sleeping with us) until she was around 9 months old.

For years, we’d read about gender neutral parenting. You might have heard about the Canadian couple who will not tell anyone the gender of their child in order to avoid gender stereotyping. That’s probably going a little far, in our opinion, but the avoidance of gender stereotyping did sound like a good idea. Moreso after my friend Ashley came out as transgender and I started thinking about how to foster in my children a knowledge of themselves. But as I’ve traveled this road of parenting, I am realizing it is more and more impossible to be completely neutral. For one thing, there are simply no affordable clothing options in gender neutral colors or designs after the age of 3 months. It was actually quite a challenge to find gender neutral newborn clothes when we were preparing for the births.

Both my children play with cars and trucks, because that is what my son was given as gifts in the past few years. My daughter has been given some baby dolls, but overall she shows little interest with them except to cuddle them – she cuddles everything, whether it’s dolls or blankets or stuffed animals. At 18 months, I’ve never seen her try to feed them, diaper them, rock them, or push them in a stroller. Of course, I guess we’d probably need to have baby doll diapers, a rocking chair, or a baby doll stroller for most of that to happen. None of which we have. She does emulate me by picking up reusable cloth bags, saying “bag!”, putting it over her arm, kissing everyone “bye” and “going out”. I guess that’s what she sees me do when I leave to go out in the evenings or go to work. But that’s hardly a female trait.

Since my daughter has so few “girl” type toys, my son doesn’t really get to play with many “girl” toys. They both love their play kitchen. He loves to color and paint. Whenever I paint my toenails around him, he always asks to have his painted and I always do. If he asks to wear his sister’s hairbows, I let him. He’s usually so rough with them that he loses them pretty quickly. Which, incidentally, is exactly what she does with hairbows too.

Overall, we are doing the best we can to be neutral, but it’s not what I had envisioned when I was pregnant. To tell the truth, I see other little girls playing with dolls and I feel like my daughter might be missing out. I know I loved combing my dolls’ hair and dressing my Barbies when I was a kid, even though I was never a “girly” girl. We actually don’t own any sports equipment for my son, but I’m starting to have the same feelings about that as I do about the baby dolls. He actually picks up t-ball bats and balls at the stores and asks to have some, and when he goes over to friends’ houses he is very interested in their sports equipment and talks about it afterward.

I like this article from the New York Times last year where the reporter concludes, with the help of Chaz Bono, that gender isn’t determined by parenting. I know it’s not up to me to determine how my kids are inside, and I guess there’s always therapy…still, I obviously want to nurture them in a way that allows them to make choices avoid putting other people into boxes. I don’t want either of them assuming that all women stay home and have kids, or that all men work full time in order to make that possible, just because that is how our family currently works. I don’t like the fact that somewhere my son picked up the idea that his sister’s favorite color must be pink and his must be blue when it used to be orange. I want to keep their hearts open so that ideas of inequality don’t creep in.

I’d love to hear from you – how do you discourage gender stereotyping in your children? What do you think about dolls and sports equipment?

6 thoughts on “The Dilemma of Gender Neutral Parenting

  1. Lauren says:

    I think you’re doing a great job of being neutral! Our house is the same way. However, let’s remember that once they go to school all bets are off so treasure these moments while you can. 🙂

  2. Sara E-C says:

    I think society in general really, really tries to enforce these norms, and I want to applaud your efforts to fight those influences. I think, too, that being sensitive to varieties and variations in gender and gender expression lead to great conversations – so perhaps neutrality isn’t what is necessary, but rather plurality and communication. So while neither of your kids really want to play with dolls, you’re much more likely to be open to them wanting to play with… whatever it is that someone else might scoff at and say, “That’s just for [insert arbitrary definition here]!”

    My kid (a boy) loves his dolls and pushing them around in a stroller (nevermind that he’s been in a stroller himself only a handful of times), he loves “cooking” but he also like to play with the [real] drill, and to work on house projects with his parents, and to bounce off of everything. I think these are all appropriate “kid” and “person” behaviors, so that’s all we treat them as. I hope we remain capable of resisting the influences of others – I know that’s a hard job.

  3. Valerie says:

    I aim for gender neutral as well. My son knows that there’s no such thing as “girl toys” and “boy toys” and I always support whatever he wants to play with (even though he used the adorable Pottery Barn pram I bought him to cart his balls around the house). He’s in a My Little Pony phase at the moment. AND when he is at school and a boy said something about “girl colors” he set him straight 🙂 All I want for my little boys is for them to feel free to not have to define themselves and just BE themselves.

  4. Jenny Bradford says:

    Thanks for the encouragement! I think surrounding ourselves with other parents who share the same goals is a good idea. For me, that is mostly online since I’m in a super conservative area. I sure do appreciate my bloggy friends!

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