In the world we live, there is a constant sliding scale that is our social evolvement. In social evolution, not all of us are at the same place, there are many factors, background, exposure, education just being a few. This is an exciting time to be a parent, as many social issues are coming to the forefront, and that sliding scale is moving forward for many. It is a perfect time to start a dialogue now with your kids about social justice, and discuss issues, like gender, race, equality and consent. Our children are not only advocates for the future, but also advocates for change now. This is the first part in a series of articles about the discussions of social justice with my kids.
MY BEGINNINGS WITH GENDER NEUTRAL PARENTING:
First of all, there are many, many misgivings on gender-neutral parenting: (discussed here.) As a kid, I liked Boy George, and Depeche Mode, and wore earrings, and even once had my naval pierced. It never seemed odd to me, but it did seem odd to others in West Texas.
When I became a parent, the phrase ‘gender-neutral’ was not at all on my radar. As I continue the process of parenting, I have learned a lot. I hope to raise my kids in an environment that encourages freedom for personal growth, period. Wait, that lacks emphasis, I guess I should type it in all caps: FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION. PERIOD.
Many things we do, without even thinking about them, encourage gender stereotypes.
Girls: We talk more to them. We compliment them, how they look, how pretty they are. Words we use: cute, pretty, princess, sweetie, cupcake, etc.
Boys: We talk about their future conquests, how they could end up as the next linebacker for The Cowboys, how they are so tough, no one will mess with them. Words we use: heartbreaker, lady killer, or the less insidious but equally divisive; athletic, strong, wild, brute.
ELSA SPARKS A DIALOGUE
So, let’s go into when I realized I needed to have this dialogue. Way way back in the Frozen –crazed days of 2014 (shudder: I swore I’d never speak of them), there was an argument in our house:
My daughter tells my son: “You can’t be Elsa, she’s a girl, you can be Sven.”
This was a pretty telling statement, 1. That gender trumped species, (though to be honest, my 3 year and Sven share similar eating – and likely, hygiene habits.) 2. There was an understanding that in play, boys were boys and girls were girls, regardless of species even. That’s when I started to be more aware of the gender-controlled world we live in.
Just after the SCOTUS decision on gay marriage, I talked with my daughter about love and gender.
Me: Adelaide, do you think that men can love men and women can love women, like I love your mom?
A: Yeah, I know that.
Me: What do you think of that?
A: I like it. Wait, Do you mean like mommies and daddies?
Me: Well yeah. Some families have a mommy and daddy like you, some have 2 daddies, some have 2 mommies.
A: Aww, how sweet.
Me: Yeah, 2 men and 2 women can love each other, and can have families, just like a man and a woman can. But not everyone likes that. Some people don’t think that people of the same gender
should be married.
A: That’s so mean of them. I think they should be married.
Me: I agree with you, and so does the law now. I think that love is love, and it doesn’t matter what gender you are.
Adelaide smiles in agreement.
But a couple days later, it was a harder discussion about clothes and toys:
Me: Adelaide, do you think there are some clothes just for girls?
A: Ummm, dresses, and skirts.
Me: Do you know that in some places, boys and men wear something called kilts?
We look it up on google images.
A: That’s only in pretend land.
Me: Let me ask you this, is it OK for you to wear boys clothes?
A: I can wear what Asher wears. Pants and shorts and shirts.
Me: Ok, so, can he wear what you wear?
A: No, silly, boys don’t wear pink.
Me: I wear pink.
A: Well, my teacher said boys don’t wear girl’s stuff, and she knows everything.
This helped me realize that there are lots of influences that a child has, and I’m only one of them. In many classrooms, there definitely exists very specific gender lines and roles – that go along with toys, dress up clothes and even class jobs. Getting to know them is part of being an advocate for your child, and will help in your continued dialogue.
Me: What about pretend play? Is it OK to pretend to be a boy or a girl?
A: yes. I like to pretend I am a boy –I’m Batman (in a gruff, and surprisingly accurate Lego Batman voice)
Me: And your brother?
A: Yes. He likes to be me, and play with my toys.
Me: You like that he likes to be you? (shocked)
A: Yes… sometimes – as long as he doesn’t copy.
BUILDING PARENTING WINS – 1 VIRTUAL LEGO AT A TIME
So, we had this proud parenting moment in our house recently when playing The Lego Movie video game. In the game, you can switch between a wide assortment of Lego characters and superheroes.
She felt an affinity for Batman, while she was curious about Wonder Woman, she decided she definitely preferred Batman. She ran around the house for days saying “I’m Batman!” in legit Batman voice. It made us happy that our daughter didn’t feel she HAD to be Wonder Woman, just because Wonder Woman happens to identify as Wonder Woman.
I know some people that I know would stop her if they heard, and correct her “You can be batgirl. Haven’t you heard of her?” She also wants to be Batman for Halloween. Boom.
(Wanna have some fun? If you have both a girl and a boy, challenge them to get dressed in each other’s closet. It is a guaranteed good time. It seemed they felt like they were breaking the rules that society already set- and we all know breaking the rules feels really good.
EMOTIONS ARE FOR GIRLS AND WORK IS FOR BOYS
I have accepted that I will never have the communication skills of my wife. For instance, she can go into such detail explaining what happened during her day on the drive home from school. I have trouble mustering a 4 word statement to explain my day. “Good” or “Not bad” will usually be all I can muster. I am aware of this, and really try at it. But growing up as a male, I don’t think society challenged me to develop my communication skills.
I want both of my children to learn to deal with their emotions and communicate better than I have myself. So far so good, as Asher already is able to recognize and express his emotions more quickly than his 5 year old sister.
Ash: I’m mad
Me: You’re mad? What are you mad about?
Ash: I wanted to close the car door and jump out.
Me: Did you ask?
Pauses for effect and stares at me.
Can I close the car door and jump out?
Me: Sure, just reverse the order.
At just 3 he is able to express his feelings so well, and communicate them to me, I have a lot to learn from him.
Emotions are not girl stuff. It’s life stuff. Learning how to handle your emotions is going to be pivotal in our child’s lives, and in their relationships the rest of their lives. Why would we prepare our daughters for heartbreak and conflict, but not our sons?
What’s your son going to do when he suffers his first breakup? What is he going to do when he has a conflict at work? “toughen up” is no longer an acceptable strategy.
It’s important that our kids understand their emotions, and have productive, helpful strategies to get through the big and powerful ones.
Breathing exercises have been great for our family, and we practice often when we’re happy. And sure, sometimes, when she is especially mad at me, my daughter chooses to hold her breath.
PRACTICAL LIFE SKILLS ARE FOR EVERYONE
Asher loves to help cook. And he has always wanted to “put back” whatever he is playing with. Montessori schooling only tells part of the story, Adelaide on the other hand would rather do anything but cook or clean. She will occasionally spread her bed, or put clothes away, but only ever under duress. Asher doesn’t mind, ever. And he loves to do dishes.
Oh how I wait for the day when kids are doing work independently around the house, cooking, dishes, trash, and, dare I say it: laundry. It is hard to believe there was a time when laundry was thought of as girls work. Learning how to cook, to clean after yourself, to take care of things, these are life skills. How did anyone make it without this crucial training? My wife will tell you these people just found someone else to do the work for them. Ahem. But if we want to raise independent, capable, confident little humans, how can household chores be skipped?
Giving our kids the opportunities to be themselves, enjoy a wide variety of things – instead of just boy and just girl things is a great start. But I encourage you to start a dialogue with your kids, about their thoughts on all this boy/girl stuff.