I have four children – all of which are boys. I feel very strongly that they, and other children, should be encouraged to be their own person, regardless of gender. The gender of a child should not determine the way we treat him, rather the individual needs of that child should provide the guidance we need. For example, if your boy enjoys cooking, don’t discount this interest because that is a “woman’s job.” There are many great male chefs (some who make great money, too) and you may be discouraging your child from a livlihood that will bring him much joy.
I believe that I am practicing what I preach, because when I was pregnant with my twins, the doctor told me they were girls. I had about 8 ultrasounds and this is what she told me each time. The day of delivery – guess what? Two boys. This was not a problem for me, I hadn’t gone out and bought cute little dresses, nor did I paint their room pink and do any other “girly” things. Therefore, I didn’t have to make a mad dash to return items, nor did I have to repaint the room.
Furthermore, my husband and I do not have stereotypical roles in our household. We both share in household chores – he does the dishes and the grocery shopping, while I do the laundry. At the same time, I help with the outdoor work, such as landscaping, and I make repairs around the house. I believe that this modeling of non-stereotypical behavior helps to reinforce to my children that there are no pre-determined gender roles.
My twins are still too young to tell, but the result with my other two boys has been that I have two extremely active, sensitive children. They enjoy playing sports, such as football, soccer, baseball and martial arts (which, by the way, I had planned to include my twin daughter in, as well). At the same time, they also help with household and outdoor chores and they view it as doing their part as a member of the family – not because of their gender. Furthermore, while my boys can rough house with the best of them, they are not afraid to express their feelings to me when something upsets them. They are also extremely sensitive to the needs of others and are always willing to help others. An example, my 8 year old recently asked if he could send his allowance (which comes to about $16 per month and which he earns through specific chores) to St. Jude’s Children Hospital because those kids need it more than him. THAT’S the type of sensitivity we should all feel – male or female – and the sensitivity that is stifled when we attempt to enforce stereotypical gender identities upon or children.
Does this mean that we should never dress our girls in pink or our boys in blue or that we should start dressing our boys in pink and our girls in blue so we aren’t “reinforcing stereotypes”? Of course not! That is a militant point of view that goes to the other extreme. Rather, as parents, our roles are to expose our children to as much of the world as possible. Imposing our own phobias upon or children is not fair to them.
So, how do you maintain a gender free environment? Modeling to your children, as mentioned above, is the single most important thing you can do. Your children will learn more from your attitude and actions than from anything else.
When your child is a newborn, decorate his room with Looney Tunes, Disney characters or any of the other several cartoons that are not gender specific. Go ahead and dress him in those cute little outfits, he doesn’t understand yet, but be careful of how you talk to him. As your child gets older, as yourself, “would I say this to him he was a girl?” or vice versa. Try not to say things such as “tough it out,” unless you can honestly say that you would say the same to a daughter. Current research shows that men die from more preventable illnesses than women because they are less likely to see the doctor – all because they were taught that boys are supposed to “tough it out.”
Finally, try to learn about the person that your child already is – not who you want him to become. Nurture and cherish this person and help guide him toward becoming a well-adjusted, happy, healthy adult.