Thursday, December 15, 2011

curious birds: a fine balance

the other day i was talking with a coworker about gender neutrality in regards to parenting. i have started to realize that our son is coming to a point in life where he only wants to do "boy" things. well, let me rephrase...he wants to take cooking classes and hip hop dance classes, but he doesn't want his friends to know about it. 

as a parent, i have found it (so far) to be very easy to not push any kind of gender issues on my kids. eva plays with trucks and henry likes to cook (and yes, i am aware that by writing these words, i am saying trucks are a boy thing and cooking is a girl thing...bear with me, please). when you have young children, there is no peer pressure for girls to be girly and boys to be masculine (unless in comes from an overbearing adult). kids at that age might lean towards masculine or feminine tendencies, but they really have no clues about stereotyping.
 henry is getting older now, and he has a wide range of friends. some like to read and play science games, some like to play football, and some like to climb under the bathroom doors after they've locked them just to be funny. the thing i've noticed is that henry really tries a bit harder to please the latter two groups. he loves to read and experiment, but he tries so hard to prove himself in school as an athlete and a class clown. and now i realize i'm going to have to start dealing with a whole other set of issues. when your kids are babies, you have to worry about sleeping and eating and changing diapers. now, as they grow up, you have to worry about how they fit in at school, what they are willing to do to fit in, and how other kids react if they don't fit in.
i want henry to take dance and cooking classes. i mean, as an adult, what woman doesn't love a man who can cook and dance? am i right? so i will continue to encourage these activities. but as my coworker pointed out to me, you also have to look out for your child in the sense that you don't want them to be made fun of for participating in said activities (and yes, some of his more "jock" friends would and will make fun of him). in fact, this particular coworker went so far as to say that if boys are still dominantly playing with dolls at the age of 13, than they probably need some sort of therapy. (for the record, i adamantly disagree with this thought.)
so i'm asking you today, if you have children, how do you plan on raising them to be well rounded and unbullied? if you don't have children, what is your take on the issue? i always thought it would be easy to raise your kids to not see gender in making their decisions...but that was before they learned how to talk. i still think we are doing a great job as just gets harder as they get older. i can't wait to hear everyone's feedback.

megan bird


  1. There are really no easy answers. I raised my son to not only be respectful to women, but to also think of them as his equals. He also played with dolls and played some sports. Now, at 16 (He'll be 17 in 15 days!), he is picked on a lot because he's smarter than a lot of the other boys and sensitive. He is tall and skinny and likes to wear vintage shirts and sweaters while thinking about the way the world works. He is smart and thoughtful. What I try and remind myself is that the bullying will only last a few years, but the fact that he is a well-rounded individual will last a life time.

  2. Disclaimer: I don't have kids.

    That being said, I think the easy answer is to say that yes, of course encourage whatever it is your kids are passionate about or interested in. I plan to let my kids try as many things as they like (and we can afford). At the same time I wonder how I will react if the things they choose aren't generally socially acceptable. I see and read about all these bullying incidents and the horrible consequences and I wonder if I should almost "groom" my future kids to fit in and hopefully help them navigate bullying better. Honestly, I don't think I could actually do that so I'm hoping to be able to help them explore all of their interests while giving them the support and tools the need to overcome any bullying issues that may arise. Easier said than done I'm sure! LOng story short I think kids have it a lot tougher these days because bullies don't seem to exclude anyone from their wrath!

  3. I don't have kids, but I think that being well-rounded and learning things like cooking and dancing will probably benefit Henry in the long run, even if he does get teased a little now.

  4. I think the most successful people in this life are the ones who pursued their interests and were strong enough to not let others' expectations bog them down. So I definitely support my kids activities, whether traditionally "masculine" or "feminine". I just hope I can also instill in them the confidence to not let those bullies dictate their interests. Ugh.


  5. I love that you are encouraging Henry to do activities that he loves. I also worry about this with my daughter (she's 4). She likes to dress herself and most days, she looks ridiculous, by societies standards. I, being her mom, think she looks adorable and want her to explore her style. The other day she wanted to wear a dress to school that she had worn the day before. It was washed, but I told her she probably shouldn't because kids might make fun of her for wearing the same clothes. She's only in preschool, but I know how kids can be. After I said it, she looked totally defeated. I felt horrible, like I crushed her soul. I figured it's easier to hear from me, than for her to have to listen to teasing at school. Did I do the right thing? I don't really know...I hope so. I agree with you Megan, I want my kids to explore all activities and styles. It is what makes them who they are. I just hope it doesn't result in too many tears or teases. Being a parent is hard work :)

  6. When Henry is 23 and living in some party house with other post-adolescent pre-adults, he'll stand out for being 1) a good cook, 2) sensitive, and 3) a great dancer who knows all the words to 90s hits. Girls will flock. Flock! And he'll have an eye for fashion, thanks to his mama, sister, aunts, grandmas, and, perhaps, oft-drunk family friend/psuedo-aunt, Kimi.

  7. no i don't have kids, but i do have a degree in early childhood, if that means anything. so i've worked with little ones from 6 wks through 18 yrs. when i was watching tv with my friend's 3 yr old son, i noticed the commercials featured girls, NOT boys. the toys were pink or purple, & the items were dolls, toy pets, toy houses, or toy kitchen sets. i thought is was weird because the tv show featured boy & girl characters. i didn't think the show was gender specific, but the ads were most definitely targeted to girls. it bothered me. i notice the colors of what my less than 2 yr old nieces & nephew are wearing. i also see what toys get bought for them from birth to now. i wish i had an answer. it's tough stuff. maybe the fact that your questioning it should tell you something?

  8. The only way children can grow up without being bullied, is if all parents take the time to teach their kids to be accepting and open and welcoming of different people and their traits, habits, beliefs etc. I was a total tomboy growing up, and I really got picked on for it. I was called a lesbian and some pretty terrible stuff. I didn't understand what the problem was, since all my little boy cousins loved the fact I played all their little-boy games with them. But they were used to me, had always known me as I was, while to the kids at school, I was weird, different, unlike them. And their parents had just never taught them properly that different does not mean bad, it just means... different. I'm happy to hear you'll support your little boy in his various desires like cooking and dancing, kids deserve the opportunity to bloom as they are :)

  9. I dont have kids, so I may be way off base here, but isnt it the adults that put pressure on kids to act a certain way or treat others a certain way? If we all allowed our kids to grow up the way that is natural for them, and to enjoy doing whatever it is they want to do, I think we would have a lot less bullying in the world.