When you’re having a baby, the gender norms entrenched in our society hit you like so many Mac trucks . You’re bombarded with items in pink or blue, pressured to have “gender reveal” parties, and asked repeatedly whether you’re having a boy or a girl. But this is a reductive way to look at gender, and, in this day and age, people tend to have at least a passing understanding that gender is more complicated than the genitals a person is born with. As the world starts to understand gender beyond a prescribed binary, parents are leaning towards gender-neutral child rearing. And being less rigid about gender roles and expectations is one of the ways that parents are starting to change.
Chances are that your child will be cisgender, meaning their gender identity will align with the gender they were assigned at birth based on their genitals. But chances are that your child will not be cisgender and may fall somewhere under the trans umbrella. For people who don’t fit neatly into a gender box, being forced into one by their parents or caregivers can be a traumatic experience that takes years to undo. And even for cisgender kids, having expectations placed on them due to their gender can be equally harmful.
Much of that can be avoided by bringing gender-neutral ideals into your parenting, which is actually way simpler than it may sound. It doesn’t mean avoiding gender. It simply means allowing your child the right to determine their own gender.
1. Make Colors Genderless
Pink has nothing to do with girls and blue has nothing to do with boys, just like yellow and green are not the only gender neutral colors. People (and kids) like what they like. Don’t make assumptions about what color your baby will like based on the genitalia they have when they’re born.
2. Go Gender Neutral With Their Name (or Nickname)
Aside from the fact that it’s kind of trendy, giving your kid a gender-neutral name is a great way to let them choose their own gender identity. Since parents have no way of knowing what gender their child will self-identify with when they’re older (and since that gender may change throughout their life), a neutral name means one less thing for your child to worry about changing if they aren't cisgender.
3. Set an Example
Actions speak louder than words, and your kids are hearing what you say from an early age. From the time my child was an infant, I've challenged mainstream ideas about what gender means. When asked if she was a boy or a girl, I'd say things like, "Maybe" or "We're not sure. She's not old enough to self-identify yet." Plus, it's pretty fun to mess with people.
4. Prescribe Interests Based on, Well, Interest
Toy aisles are some of the most gendered places in the world (except at Target. You go, Target!) But some boys like princesses, and some girls like dump trucks. If your child says that they want to play with a toy that isn’t typical of their assigned gender, believe that they’re interested, trust that they know what they like, and consider letting them play. The same goes for extracurricular activities and their favorite characters, too.
5. Give Children Choices
You’d be surprised how well kids know what they like (or maybe not, because you already know). My kid has been picking out her own clothes since she was nine months old, and her preferences have always been incredibly clear: pink and girly. But what’s important is that they are her choices, not the choices that I make for her. Try offering your child an option between two things and letting them choose which one they like, whether it’s the army fatigues or the princess dress.
6. Demonstrate Egalitarian Parenting
Setting an example about what boys and girls can do starts at home. If you break traditional gender roles in your house, your child is less likely to feel constrained by them outside of it.