Pink for girls, blue for boys. That’s the way it’s always been, right?
It seems that, lately, these stereotypes are taking a backseat as parents are choosing to raise gender-neutral babies.
But what exactly does that mean?
Gender-neutral parenting is a wide spectrum – to some parents, this means simply exposing their children to interests that appeal to both boys and girls while others are opting to completely mask their child’s gender as they grow and develop.
It seems to make sense to allow your child to navigate toward activities, colors and toys that pique their interest instead of pigeonholing them into expectations (such as girls play with dolls and boys play with trucks).
However, there are parents that completely eliminate gendered pronouns for their babies – referring to them as “theybies” and using the “they/them” pronouns in reference to their little ones.
To each their own when it comes to parenting choices, but are there any long-term effects or benefits to any of these parenting options?
Let’s take a look at the implications of both parenting methods and then you can decide for yourself – is it important to raise a gender-neutral baby?
Traditional Gender Classifications
There’s no arguing that, as a whole, the days of stereotyping our children are long gone.
While we do love dressing our girls up in dresses and our boys in bowties, there seems to be a general understanding that children should be encouraged to pursue their interests – no matter if they are “boy” things or “girl” things.
Many parents choose to stick with traditional gender classifications such as “he” and “she”. With the exception of certain medical conditions, your baby is born with either male parts or female parts.
There’s really no reason to explain this choice as it has been the natural way of dealing with a child’s gender since the dawn of humanity.
However, it’s important to note that some parents consciously choose this route because they don’t want their child developing confusion over why they are not a “he” or “she” while their parents are.
And the experts agree – this is a common and well-founded concern.
Eliminating gendered pronouns for your child is a way of imposing your views onto your offspring. This can contrast with what the child experiences in the real world and can create difficulty when it comes to related to their peers.
There are actually studies that demonstrate innate gender preferences in the very early stages of development.
Encourage or Discourage Gender Preferences?
For example, when my daughter was a baby, I exposed her to a variety of toys and activities. She had dolls and trucks and wore both pink and blue.
Somehow, and certainly not by taking after me in any way, she grew to love princesses, dresses and makeup.
At no point did I try to discourage these things because I didn’t want her to be a stereotypical “girl”. I understood that she came to these preferences on her own based on her interests and personality.
In a 2016 study, it was found that a majority of boys and girls preferred to play with toys that are typed to their own gender – although it is still unclear at what age these differences in gender first appear and under what conditions.
However, the study showed that stereotypical toy preferences happened in a variety of age groups, indicating that these preferences do appear early in development.
So it’s important to understand that, by choosing to eliminate gendered language as your child grows and develops, they may feel confused and left out of their community.
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t teach your child to understand the concept of gender-neutrality when it comes to identification and pronouns but the “real world” may struggle with this understanding and create challenges for your little one.
Helping Your Child With Their Own Gender Identity
All that being said, there is certainly a rise in the number of children who are questioning their own gender identity at a young age.
This can be a difficult challenge for a parent to face – how seriously do you take when you know that they could still reach a stage of their development where these confusions fade away?
The answer is: Just take it seriously and follow your child’s lead. If your boy wants to wear dresses, don’t discourage that. If your daughter wants to have short hair, go for it.
Children have the extremely difficult task of navigating self-discovery without a substantial arsenal of understanding or emotional maturity. Many of the “real-life” choices they make at a young age are based on trial-and-error.
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? Are you doing that now? Or did maturity and growing up take you down a different path?
That’s not to say that gender confusion at young ages is just a passing phase or simply experimentation. But it is a journey of discovery and, as a parent, your job is to guide them through it.
“Theybies” and the Other End of the Gender-Neutral Spectrum
I know I’ve made mention of the concept of raising a child with no gender, but I want to dig into that a little bit deeper.
At this end of the spectrum, parents don’t reveal the sex of their child to anyone but close friends and family.
Many parents who choose this approach do so understanding the data and studies related to the different standards and impressions formed once a child’s gender is known. They don’t do it to simply be “progressive” or unique.
The idea is to allow the child to develop their own gender identity without the social imposition of gender-specific stereotypes. They want their children to decide how they experience their gender without the limitations of societal expectations and anatomical differences.
However, this approach is not without risk. Kids who are “different” can experience ridicule and exclusion. Is it right? No. Is it reality? Yes.
Kids do develop best in non-judgmental and open-minded environments but what you can control in your own household is vastly different than what happens in the real world.
As extreme as this approach may seem, it is definitely a step toward a society where children are not gendered and are allowed to pursue their own individual interests.
Which Approach is Best?
Like many parenting choices, there is no perfect way to raise your kids. Every decision you make is a delicate balance between your beliefs and what is best for your child.
While there is data supporting arguments for both approaches (and arguments against them), there is no hard and fast evidence to prove either method is the best parenting choice.
Even after reading this information, you may be wondering: “Why is this is even a topic for discussion? Why can’t we just let our kids play and enjoy life?”
Don’t forget, however, that parenting debates have been happening throughout our history. It wasn’t too long ago that we accepted corporeal punishment as acceptable and necessary. Things have come a long way since then.
Is it worth stressing yourself out about? Not really, but it is important to understand the way the world is changing in regards to gender so that you can better guide your child through these concepts.