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4 Ways to Raise a Gender Neutral Child

Mighty Mommy addresses a listener's email about raising gender neutral kids. Here are 4 suggestions to help you avoid the blue and pink traps while parenting.

By
Cheryl Butler
6-minute read
Episode #270

                

I recently received an email from a listener who had a bone to pick with Mighty Mommy. More specifically, a gender bone.

So in today’s episode, I’d like to address an issue that has sparked some controversy: gender biased parenting.

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This email is from Thor A., who takes Mighty Mommy to task on her gender biased parenting:

Dear Mighty Mommy,

I'm a stay-at-home first-time dad to twin girls. Before they were born, I downloaded all of the Mighty Mommy podcasts in the hopes of getting some good advice about parenting. My wife and I...consider ourselves proactive parents, rather than the reactive parents that raised us. 

The advice that I've heard from your podcast...has been mostly fine. Some of it I agree with, some I don't, and some doesn't apply. However, I've had a curious animosity towards the podcast for quite some time and it finally hit me today why that was.

In your episodes 6 Ways to Create Family Traditions and How to be a Better Father, you talked about one particular tradition - for fathers to "take their daughters on a date" or "if you have a son, go on a bike ride or other outdoor activity."

It is this kind of gender bias that I've come to realize is exactly what I don't want my daughters exposed to. I want them to know that their identity is not wrapped up in their gender. They can play with "boy" toys or "girl" toys and they can rock climb or do ballet. It is up to them. Your subtle gender bias, while commonplace in the 1950s, is really anachronistic in 2014. Additionally, whenever you refer to the care-tending parent as "the Mommy" it gets under my skin since I am the primary caretaker for my daughters while my wife works. I'd make a fair bet that of the fathers who listen to your podcast, I'm not alone in feeling the alienation.  

Best Wishes,

Thor A.

First, I’d like to thank Thor for taking the time to write and express his viewpoint.  After reading his letter and then listening to the episode on How to be a Better Father, I could see where he was coming from.

I'd like to address his concerns now.

My first tip in this episode stressed the importance of one-on-one time between a father and child due to the crazy pace families live these days. Therefore, establishing just one new habit in your family’s routine could be life-changing for everyone. This new tradition could be anything  like taking over the bath and bedtime routine, playing video games, drawing, mealtime, anything.

Next, I suggested making regular dates with your daughter for lunch every other Saturday or, if it’s a father-son relationship, engaging your boy in an activity such as a building project or biking to the park every Sunday morning.  The point was that whatever you decide your one-on-one time would be, you consider doing it somewhere other than at home. The change in setting can help you and your child relax and open up more.   Once this new habit of spending time together is established, you and your child will have something to look forward to on a regular basis.

My suggestions of scheduling regular dates with your daughter or outdoor activities with your son, while perhaps somewhat gender biased, were simply examples of activities that would allow one-on-one time between dad and child. They were certainly not meant to be prescriptive based on gender.

It’s important to recognize that the traditional parenting paradigm very often doesn’t apply for today’s families. Nowadays, we see a lot more of what used to be called "alternative" families, consisting of same-sex couples, single parents of both genders, foster parents, and grandparents and/or siblings raising kids. 

If you are looking to steer clear of all things blue or pink, here are 4 ways to encourage gender neutrality in your kids:

Tip #1: Make Your Home Gender Neutral

Parents who want to raise kids with a more flexible outlook on gender roles have to adopt an androgynous attitude at home. They shouldn't panic if their son prefers to play with dolls or their daughters decide they want to cut their hair short and ride dirt bikes. Parents need to give both sons and daughters the chance to live their lives free from the fetters of gender norms. 

Nowadays, we see a lot more of what used to be called "alternative" families, consisting of same-sex couples, single parents of both genders, foster parents, and grandparents and/or siblings raising kids.

As the mother of 5 boys and 3 girls, I’ll gladly go on the record as saying that I believe that parents should be allowed to raise their kids based on their own feelings and lifestyle choices that reflect their identity, rather than something tied to their anatomy.  I have one daughter who is a girly girl, while the other two would much prefer roughing it in the great outdoors and wouldn’t wear a skirt unless their lives truly depended on it. 

And though 3 of my sons feed their passion on a dusty baseball diamond or football field, the 2 others love good fashion and baking three-layer cakes from scratch.  They’ve been equally exposed to trucks, dolls, arts and crafts, flowers, building blocks, cooking, and playing nurse and doctor over the years. 

At the end of the day, if you raise your kids to be kind, trustworthy human beings, with a healthy respect for others, their preference for wearing pink, blue, or aquamarine with orange stripes is pretty much irrelevant.

See also: 5 Ways to Be a More Playful Parent

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All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Cheryl Butler Project Parenthood

Cheryl L. Butler was the host of the Mighty Mommy podcast for nine years from 2012 to 2021. She is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. You can reach her by email.