Should we raise our kids to be gender-neutral?
Many parents wonder if they are subconsciously imposing their own ideas upon their children. LGTBQ inclusion advocate, Lolo, sheds valuable insights.
We have tried not to impose gender norms on our children, but somehow have raised the most “boyish” boy and “girliest” girl. I know this is fine, but we want to do due diligence to be sure we aren’t pigeon-holding them into our ideas regarding gender, sexual preference, etc. What tips might you have for helping expand our children’s ideas about gender?
While serving as a professional caregiver, I’m aware of imposing gender on children—and trust me, I’m also thinking about gender on my own time. Fortunately, with more socially aware parents and childcare workers comes greater opportunities to think about gender and our kids. For most folks, this might seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be!
When many people think about being gender-neutral, they may feel like the concept of raising children with no gender expectations suggests an absence of activities or experiences. Instead, it’s helpful to envision your role in this situation as someone who presents all available options to children, regardless of their gender. Worry less about policing your language, and instead, let yourself broaden your children’s thinking by exposing them to different types of play, no matter if the activity is intended for use by a “boy” or a “girl”. There is an amazing spectrum of experiences and potential when children are presented with all the options for playtime and expression!
When children feel safe and loved unconditionally, they’re often very good at telling us what it is that they want and need. If you’ve made a point to reassure your children that they’re supported in any choice, no matter how big or small, you’ve done your absolute best work. You should be praised for creating an environment where kids know they can express themselves however they’d like. And if it’s currently what some people consider the girliest or most boyish of things, that’s an exploration all of its own!
As for expectations for sexual preference, I believe that the best thing we can give children is a clear and concise message that they are allowed to pursue relationships with whomever they’d like and that this is welcome in your home. You can reinforce this messaging simply by exposing them to many different family structures, whether this is through personal friendships, family, media, or your home library.
In my homeschool classroom, a book we often read together has a line about a family being just a mom and a dad. I simply insert new, inclusive language. I say, “A mom and a dad, or a mom and a mom, or a dad and a dad.” Inclusive language is as easy as that, and you can do the same in everyday conversations about what families can look like. As they get older, if they express to you a preference for a gender that they feel others may disapprove of, honor this first by thanking them for trusting you. If you’ve always been supportive of their development, then they will continue to trust you as they grow and find themselves.
Meet The Expert
Growing up, Lo wanted to be a lot of different things, and so that’s exactly what they did. They live in Chicago, but spent most of their professional experience in pre-pandemic Washington, DC. Their commitment to alternative education and childcare began while working at the same summer camps they attended as a child, where an ethos of “learning by doing” took precedence over competition and concerns about good grades. They have spent time as lead teaching and assisting in Montessori and American Montessori Internationale classrooms, their own nanny share and Cottage School, and intend to certify as a Forest School educator in 2021, with dreams of a co-op entirely outdoors.