Progressive moms are on a mission: to spare our kids as much sexist, patriarchal nonsense as we can, so we can raise them to be whole, happy people who treat all people with the dignity and respect they deserve. We want our kids to be safe, which means confronting and dismantling rape culture and all other forms of systemic and gendered violence, and we want our kids to be free, which means questioning anything or anyone who tells them they have to be a certain way just because of the assumptions people make about them based on how they were born. Often, "anyone" is a person in our own family, so there are definitely some things in-laws say to kids that no progressive parent will tolerate.
I'm really fortunate to have a positive relationship with my in-laws. I know that's not always the case for many folks, and I and other parents I know have definitely had to field problematic questions, comments, and other less-than-desirable behavior from our extended families and families of origin (especially once we have kids). So, while in-laws often get the most heat when parents start chatting, plenty of following could (and should) apply to the rest of our families, too.
Honestly, there's just some stuff that would never, ever come out of a feminist mom's mouth unless it was also accompanied by the world's biggest and most obviously sarcastic eye-roll, or a prelude to what would surely be a withering rant. As a result, there are things a progressive parent wouldn't tolerate someone else saying to their kid, family or not. Our choice not to say certain things isn't enough, as we're all well aware that our children will spend as much (if not more) time with many other people throughout the course of their life. When we can, it helps to make sure that we surround our children with positive, progressive role models, which is why a progressive parent wouldn't tolerate the following:
“You Need To Be A Man"
I could rant for hours about why this is a ridiculous thing to say, starting with, “My son is still a small child, so it’s not his job to be any form of adult, man or otherwise.” Folks who trot out the “be a man” line are usually shaming boys for expressing emotions other than anger, which is a dehumanizing and destructive thing to do. It definitely doesn’t fly in my house, and my in-laws and extended family know better than to say it to my kid (or if they don’t, it’s because they’re the part of the family I'm not in contact with. Welp.)
“You Can't Play With That Toy, It's Just For (Insert Opposite Gender Here)”
Back when Target first decided to do away with sorting toys by gender, the comments on their Facebook page seemed very split between progressive parents (with some progressive aunts, uncles, and grandparents) who appreciated the help dispelling the idea that toys have anything to do with gender, and angry grandparents (with some old-school parents, aunts, and uncles) who were so pissed because, “How am I supposed to shop for gifts now?”
Wake-up call: Family members should know their youngest members well enough to shop for them as individuals with specific interests, not as generic gender stereotypes. Not only is the latter unhelpful from a gender equity perspective, it’s kinda strange and impersonal.
“There Are Different Rules For Boys Than There Are For Girls”
Have you seen those “time out” stools painted pink or blue, with cutesy little rhymes describing why the girl or boy in question would end up in the seat? The chair intended for cisgender boys basically says, “You get sent here if you physically hurt someone,” while the one directed at cisgender girls says they can end up in time out for being “sassy” and speaking in a way that isn’t “nice.” Um, what?
We’re trying to teach everyone in our home to be respectful and resolve problems peacefully, regardless of their assigned or perceived gender. I expect anyone who is helping me raise my kids, extended family included, to address unacceptable behavior in a firm, respectful, and age-appropriate manner. No talk about what “nice girls” do or don’t do, and no letting things slide because “boys will be boys.”
“You Need To Give Grandma And Grandpa A Hug, Immediately And Regardless”
If a kid doesn’t want to kiss or hug you, they don’t have to, because their bodies belong to them and only them, no matter how small they are.
“You're Eating Way Too Much. In Fact, You're Being Greedy.”
Yeah, no. Kids should eat as little or as much as they need to feel their best, because they are people, and all people should eat as little or as much as they need to feel their best. Let’s not go down the “moralizing about food” road; it’s all disordered eating and confusion over there.
“You've Gained Too Much Weight, And You're In Danger Of Getting Fat.”
Our kids are whole, interesting people who have way more going for them than what they look like. Even if you want to talk about their looks, cause they’re gorgeous and stylish and amazing, there’s so much more to be said that has nothing to do with their size. None of those compliments need to be qualified by a shaming remark about their weight, either. Also, definitely don’t suggest there’s something wrong with their size, ‘cause there isn’t.
“We Don't Say Words Like 'Penis' Or 'Vagina' Around Here. That's Inappropriate.”
Just because something is private doesn’t mean it’s shameful. Genitalia are body parts just like all the other body parts, and we need to be able to talk about what they do, what they’re for, and what’s going on with them so our kids can stay safe and healthy. Body parts don’t need euphemisms.
“The Stork Is Where Babies Come From”
Progressive parents aren't about to let anyone erase a woman's physical and emotional labor from pregnancy and birth, and wont' let someone hide any possible connection between sex and reproduction. When the revolution comes I plan to use all stork imagery as kindling to burn to all the other patriarchal nonsense surrounding sex and childbirth.
“We Need To Talk About Dieting”
Or, let’s just enjoy our food, and not act like we need to apologize for it. Food is for sustenance and fun and culture and history and lots of things, except self-imposed deprivation and penance. Please eat what makes you feel good, whenever you need to, and stop when you’re full, so our kids see that’s not just something their parents made up.
“Tickling And Horsing Around Is So Fun, So Why Should I Stop Playing With You? You're Hurting Grandma And Grandpa's Feelings.”
Respecting kids’ physical boundaries is the minimum standard for getting to hang out with them. If they say “no” or “stop” while playing, that means stop what you’re doing and check in, because we want them to be safe, and to learn to do that for others. Continuing to touch someone after they say to stop is creepy AF no matter how close a relationship you have.
"You're Confusing Your Kid About Gender And Sexuality"
Nope, not at all. For starters, we know that "confused" is code for "not straight and cisgender," and we don't see anything wrong with being queer or trans. So we wouldn't stop trying to raise our kids to be open-minded and respectful even if that did have some influence on their sexuality or gender expression.
More to the point, people are born how they are born, and feminist parents are trying to create the best possible environment for our kids to be their fullest selves, whatever that ends up looking like for them. Respecting all people regardless of how they present or who they love isn't at all confusing. Deciding to treat people better or worse based on those attributes, is.