Parenting from the Heart

Lessons About Gender Identity From My Kids

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Parenting from the Heart

Whether we like it or not, gender neutrality and gender identity are unavoidable topics we parents must face. Caitlyn Jenner’s recent debut, Target letting go of its signage denoting Girls’ and Boys’ toys, and the increase in popularity of gender ambiguous names are prompting us to answer questions about gender identity we may never have given much thought to in the past. Maybe it’s because of the liberal climate of the city I grew up in or my psych degree’s emphasis on the negative implications of gender stereotypes and on transgendered issues. Or, maybe it’s because I know that, though I loved Disney Princesses, I was a little girl who avoided dresses, loved to catch frogs, get muddy, and ride my bike up and down any trail close to home. Maybe it’s because of all of the above that none of these recent societal changes have me remotely surprised. What has surprised me though, is how far we still have to go in accepting gender identity as it presents itself. When I had my kids, my goal was to assume less and observe more. And though that has been overall successful, I have found that even my own liberal nature needs to get things in check every once in a while. Here are three lessons I’ve learnt about gender identity since having kids.
photo credit: http://www.crewmagazine.com/
Femininity Is Still Mistaken As A Sign of Weakness

When my daughter was born, I waited with anticipation to see how her little personality would present itself. As she got more mobile, she began showing interest in a variety of toys. Noah’s Arc and her fire station were among her favourites. “This is good,” I thought. But in virtually no time at all, any chance she got, she was draping herself with visitors’ purses and asking to wear other people’s jewellery. Honestly, I was surprised. I almost never used a purse and barely wore jewellery. Despite my own minimalist tendencies, my not-even-two-year-old daughter was determined to dress like she was about to attend the Kentucky Derby every. single. day. At just three years of age, she has started asking me if I can wear dresses and “glass slippers” (high heels) more.

For the first few months of her expressions of real girliness, I felt a need to disclaim my parenting. “This is all her,” I’d say. “As you can see, I’m hardly into that stuff.” When it finally dawned on me that I was almost apologising for my daughter acting like a girl as if femininity deserved a footnote or an excuse. It was a very humbling ah-ha moment to realise my hypocrisy.

Some Boys Will Be Boys

The birth of my son yielded additional learning in this arena of parenting. I anticipated that he would be different from my daughter, but that his personality, like hers, would slowly emerge. Haha. Boy (pardon the pun) was I wrong! If my son could have come out with his foot on the gas, he most certainly would have. At just shy of eighteen months, much to my heart’s dismay, my kid would go down any slide head first. On top of it all, when he is bored, hungry, or tired, he tends not to whine as my daughter does but goes on the attack. Give him a ball to redirect his energy and suddenly, he’s fine. It didn’t dawn on me that masculine tendencies could appear so strong so fast. But here we are. And it’s pretty funny to see it all play out, as long as he’s safe and everyone else is too 😉

Parenting from the Heart

We Still Haven’t Gotten To A Place Where We Are Okay With Boys Showing Interest In Girls’ Stuff

Society seems to think it’s okay for girls to play with “boy toys” or be interested in typical boy interests. On the flip side, boys interested in anything feminine requires the same sort of explanations I learned to stop giving for my daughter. Case in point, my daughter asked to be Buzz Lighter last year for Halloween and I received nothing but compliments on her costume. No one has ever questioned her playing with the above-mentioned fire truck or when I’ve dressed her in boys jeans. In contrast, my son still uses a pacifier and when he has used ones passed down from his sister, I’ve been told countless times that he looks silly. When I have painted mine and my daughter’s toenails, my son has asked to have his done. I typically pick out a darker colour and paint a few of his nails. I’m okay with it.  In saying yes to his request to join in the pedicure fun, I’ve ended up getting remarks that have left me scratching my head. Why on earth are people asking me to explain navy blue paint on my kid’s toenails? It’s PAINT.

Based on the research I’ve learned from, social media, and my own experiences, it would appear we have learned so much about transphobia and gender identity, but we still have so much further to go. While it is brave for transgendered people to come out and publicly identify with their gender identity, it is also okay for girls to be girlie and boys to have an affinity for things masculine. Not only that, but we should also be okay for our kids and the kids around us to be fluid in some of their interests and expressions. After all, we are all unique and unrepeatable. There is no reason why we shouldn’t be okay with all of this.

What are your thoughts? Please share your own experiences, whether you agree or disagree, I’d love to hear from you <3

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18 thoughts on “Lessons About Gender Identity From My Kids

  1. I love what you’ve written and always appreciated a perspective that comes from education (& not a Googled one) and personal experience.
    I’m not passionate about the gender identity topic per se (although I did rant a bit about Target from a different perspective), but I do 100% support tolerance and individuality being supported and nurtured starting early in the home. I have a child who has a physical condition that gets about as many stares, questions, and judgements as a boy with paint on his toes…so we teach and preach a lot on the importance of being yourself and also not judging others by their cover. (Once someone seriously asked if he was in a house fire. And we get a lot of just, “What’s WRONG with him?” Chaps my rear.)
    Also I really liked what you said about not needing to apologize for steriotypical behaviors. I went through similar when my “Tom boy” girl suddenly went girlie girl. I thought I must have said or done something to make her feel she wasn’t conforming. But I’m finding now just how truly unique they all are and it’s got to be one of the coolest things about parenting 🙂

    1. Thank you so much for your incredible perspective, Melissa! Everything you wrote is of such importance. I really appreciate every word of what you wrote. My own family has gotten questions of, “what’s up with him?” And it hurts, frustrates and is hard to handle when it catches you off guard. Again thanks for what you wrote

  2. My daughter is very girly and loves pink (I am totally not) I have found myself explaining that too… Not too sure why either. I don’t beg her to wear dresses, she begs me. At 2 she wants to bring purse, I am still mad I can’t shove everything in my back pocket!! As girly as she is she Loves to play with my son’s action figures. When she yells “HULK SMASH” everyone finds it cute. If my son is walking around with a babydoll most people say “quit playing with your sisters toys” Most our sons will someday be fathers… I love the idea that mine will want to help with the baby 🙂 The only thing that I shove down my kids throats is creativity!!!

  3. My daughter is a “girlie girl” and my son is “all boy”. My husband and I have nothing to do with either. They can like what they want. I love watching their personalities develop and along with that, their likes and dislikes come out. This is such an important post. I always love your posts, but this has got to be one of my favorites.

  4. I definitely love this post! It is so true. Did you hear how people are upset about Target? People are upset that the store is not separating boys and girls items and clothing anymore. I say good for them.

    1. I did! Honestly, if people can’t tell the difference between toys their daughters might like and their sons might like, there’s a problem! I don’t understand why people are so upset about it tho.

  5. My boys are definitely on the rough and tumble side, but I actually wish they would do more things considered feminine, like take dance class. Since I’m the only girl in the house, I have no problem with them liking things perceived as “girly.” We’ve painted nails before, and they stomp around in my shoes, but they love to play in the mud and trucks/trains are their favorite. When we’re picking out a movie or TV show, and my oldest says, “That’s a girl show,” I always tell him it’s an everyone show. As a society, we definitely have a looooong way to go. Thank you for this great post. It’s so important.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Shann! I really appreciate it. It’s true we have a long way to go. But I think we are ever so slowly starting to get there.

  6. My experience has been similar to yours!!! I think what makes us human is that we’re all so different (and yet, we can still find others that are similar). We’re never going to please everyone, and not everyone is going to fit into our definition of the box.

    I’m just going with the flow… and will let them pave the way for their kids, with the same openness (I hope)

  7. Great post Alana. I love reading your thoughts as they are usually similar to my own. My boys rock out nail polish, pink shirts and have baby dolls with a selection of accessories to go along. I’ve had eyebrow raises from close friends, family and strangers as if I’m doing something wrong in providing them access to such things. My boys are both most definitely ‘boys boys’ but I really see no harm in allowing them to explore their OWN identity ?

    1. Thanks so much for commenting and reading Lesley. I’m with you 100%. My son plays with “baby” dolls more than my daughter does. She doesn’t at all. And I love it. I don’t totally understand how people can be so backwards still.

  8. Before my daughter was born I believed that gender identity was a social creation. While I still believe that there is a social component,(how often is a girl complimented on the way they look versus a boy?) I learned that much of her gender identity is innate. I gave my daughter cars, my friend gave her son dolls and yet the kids have clear preferences. My daughter and her son loved to play princess and the knight. Their choice, not ours.

  9. I do have many experiences in my daycare where parents are not okay with choices kids make about what to play with. To me, it’s all learning. A boy playing with a doll is practicing being a good father. we NEED more good fathers. Play on boys!

  10. The other day I was giving the blue towel to my daughter and the pink one to my son…for a moment I hesitated and wondered why. And, it’s because it’s been ingrained in us that pink is for girls and blue is for boys. Then, I thought, who cares it’s a towel.

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