Gender-neutral parenting empowers children to explore and define their own identities, fostering acceptance and decision-making skills. While promoting equality and freedom of choice, this approach may pose challenges like societal stigma and identity confusion. Emphasizing open communication and breaking stereotypes, it encourages children to embrace individuality beyond traditional gender norms
The concept of gender-neutral parenting might be new to many, but it is deeply rooted in our history.
It primarily focuses on allowing a child’s natural development instead of what some would call the indoctrinated raising of children. This raises some very important questions and calls for introspection.
Societies across the globe typically conform to practiced norms, cultural traditions, and religious teachings. As we are aware, some societies and nations discriminate against females throughout their lives.
This is an extreme example of stereotyping a child at birth. Freedom of expression and independent autonomy are not up for debate.
So, is gender-neutral parenting wrong? One should keep an open mind to what most parents teach their children from birth.
“You can be whatever you choose to be” is often used to motivate and encourage children to explore the endless possibilities leading to freedom, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
There are both pros and cons to gender-neutral parenting, and this article will highlight these issues in the hope that it will give rise to an open conversation about gender-neutral parenting.
Let’s get started.
Table of Contents
What is gender-neutral parenting?
Gender-neutral parenting is a parenting style where children are raised without being made conscious of their gender at birth. This allows the child to discover and identify their own gender in their own time.
The gender-neutral parenting concept focuses on exposing children to diverse and general options for things like their toys, clothes, and colors.
Children are allowed to choose whatever works for them.
Parenting is a unique individual experience with different parenting styles, each with its own pros and cons.
Gender-neutral parenting does not have specific parameters but is flexible depending on what you feel comfortable with as a family.
How strongly you feel about dismantling gender stereotypes will be instrumental in your stance as a parent.
Some pro-gender-neutral parents raise their children without assigning gender and use the “they/them” pronouns instead.
This sounds absurd, but these parents allow their children to identify their own gender in their own time.
Since about 2018, the concept of “theybies” has been used among progressive parents who wish to grant their children the freedom to self-determine.
Ultimately, gender-neutral parenting is a conscious choice by parents to be aware of how gender stereotyping can be harmful and limiting to their children.
They choose to raise their children without these limitations.
Pros of gender-neutral parenting
Parents do not typically choose a parenting style but rather allow their parenting style to develop based on their personalities, lifestyle choices, and childhood experiences.
It’s fair to say that parents only want what is best for their children, yet not much thought goes into how best to raise their children.
Here are a few baseline gender-neutral parenting concepts:
1. Freedom and autonomy
Gender-neutral parenting gives children the freedom of choice. Your child has the freedom to decide what toys to play with, what colors to play with, what clothes to wear, and so on.
The positive spin-off is that parents are helping their children learn decision-making skills from an early stage.
2. Unconditional love
Imposing restrictions and behaviors on your child can result in behavioral issues in the long run. Forcing a child to do something often results in rebellious behavior, which can negatively impact your child’s personality.
Gender-neutral parents love their children unconditionally and embrace their children’s desires to help them achieve their goals.
Their children are raised to love and accept all people regardless of gender.
Gender-neutral children accept all other children regardless of their gender or choices. They do not taunt others with statements like “She dresses like a boy.” or “He is playing with girls’ toys.”
Children who accept others grow up in a social setting with few to no prejudices.
4. Gender stereotyping
Gender-neutral parenting helps children fit into the roles of our modern and ever-changing society. Their gender does not impact what career path they choose to follow or what activities to take up or be part of.
Previously gender-specific dominated careers such as politicians, doctors, engineers, teachers, and nurses are now open to both genders.
Gender-neutral parents do not allow traditional gender roles to limit what their children learn or wish to do.
Boys can wash the dishes and do the laundry, while girls can mow the lawn or help dad fix the car.
5. Emphasis on gender
In a gender-neutral home, very little emphasis is placed on gender, and it is not used to limit freedom in any way.
However, this does not mean that a child raised in a gender-neutral home has carte blanche to do whatever they want.
Parents create boundaries for their children to teach and guide their children to adopt respect and acceptable behaviors. This is no different in a gender-neutral home.
Yes, gender awareness is not enforced in the traditional sense as it is linked to restrictions. These restrictions tend to curb or dampen a child’s curiosity to learn and engage.
Cons of gender-neutral parenting
The stigma attached to gender-neutral families can be debilitating for both the parents and children, but more so for the children.
Listed below are a few challenges faced by children raised in a gender-neutral home:
1. Gender identity
Not all parents embrace the gender-neutral ideology, which they deem too progressive or liberal. As a result, many children are raised to be conscious of their gender and gender roles.
This makes social interaction difficult for children raised in a gender-neutral home.
According to the Mayo Clinic, a child’s awareness of gender identity is usually established by the age of two to three and further develops in line with normal development stages.
By age five, children will begin characterizing others by gender, either boy or girl.
This coincides with negative reactions to gender diversity in others, like teasing, ridicule, and exclusion.
From seven years old, children become more accommodating and begin to appreciate differences between individuals and how they portray their gender identity.
However, in traditional parenting homes, parents usually retain the constant stereotyping of genders.
2. Education and misconceptions
Gender-neutral children may get teased and bullied at school more than others.
This is largely because their gender-neutral ideas do not conform to practiced traditional norms within society.
Gender-neutral children can be hurt and left confused in such situations.
A common misconception is that gender neutrality promotes homosexuality. This is a myth, as homosexuality is a sexual orientation determined by biological factors.
Such misconceptions alienate gender-neutral parenting and place an unwarranted stigma on gender-neutral children.
An example is a feminist study that states, “Children’s gender nonconformity is still viewed as problematic because it is linked implicitly and explicitly to homosexuality.”
Breaking the mold of traditional gender stereotyping is no easy feat, and the struggle may continue for generations.
Is gender-neutral parenting a good idea?
The theory behind gender-neutral parenting derives from a desire to ensure equality among children. It aims to free children of restrictive norms and allow them to self-determine their identities and pursue interests with enthusiasm and zest.
Gender-neutral parents emphasize helping their children learn decision-making skills from an early stage.
Their children are raised to love all people regardless of gender, follow their interests, and reach for their goals despite society’s expectations.
It is easy to be a gender-neutral parent when colleagues, friends, schools, and extended family are willing to accept and respect your chosen parenting style.
Steps to becoming a gender-neutral parent
If you believe strongly enough in the reasons to adopt a gender-neutral parenting style, then the points listed below may be of help:
1. Begin before birth
Gone are the hideous gender reveal parties. The idea of not knowing your child’s gender until birth has been so since the beginning of time.
A baby shower can still be fun and exciting without sticking to one color when considering gifts. Conversations during your pregnancy can be about health and happiness instead.
2. Create a unisex nursery
A gender-neutral approach to designing a nursery or bedroom encourages independence and exploration.
You can think along the lines of jungle scenes or ocean creatures and emphasize creative play and freedom. Your child’s yet-to-be-discovered interests should not be gender-dependent.
Most children’s toys are marketed at either boys or girls, which may appear to be a dilemma. You can choose to avoid such toys or offer a broad selection.
This way, your child will develop a non-judgemental approach to whatever toy they feel drawn to.
4. Talk to your child
Gender norms and expectations are part of everyday life in online media, conversations, books, and TV. Being a gender-neutral parent, you can challenge these stereotypes through communication, expectations, and your actions.
Talk to your child when someone makes a statement you feel is narrowminded. You need to lead by example in your own actions and language.
Keep an open dialogue about gender and its impact on one’s sense of identity.
5. Refer to role models
Plenty of role models in today’s culture openly discuss their relationship to gender and its impact on how we see ourselves.
Help your children understand that gender should not be restrictive. If your little girl wants to become a fighter pilot, there is little to stop her. Show her videos of female fighter pilots, if you must.
Share well-researched information about gender neutrality with your children and normalize conversations about gender identity.
A few final words
Gender-neutral parenting is not a new concept but has been practiced for centuries by some societies. In essence, it is simply a parenting style that affords your child freedom of choice expression, something that adults go to war over.
There is nothing sinister about raising your child or children to focus less on gender and more on discovering the world around them.
Gender-neutral philosophy is laced with humility teachings. Gender-neutral children accept everyone as equals, and they treat all people with dignity, respect, and love.
Stereotyping genders to prescribed roles in life has caused great strife and conflict throughout our history.
Yet, these norms are passed down through generations without much consideration. Those wanting to become parents should explore different parenting styles and decide what will be best for their family.
How important is language in gender-neutral parenting?
Language plays a vital role in gender-neutral parenting, as your choice of words must complement your parenting choice.
By replacing gender-specific language, you are helping both yourself and your child break free from traditional oppressive gender norms.
Excluding gendered-specific terms in your language ensures that your child sees people for who they are and not just their gender.
What is some good advice for couples wanting to know more about gender-neutral parenting?
You support your child’s interests and always advocate for them and support their choices.
You should lead by example. Your children will naturally emulate your behavior and will grow in confidence regardless of their choices.
At what age does a child recognize gender identity?
Children begin to develop a sense of gender identity at about the age of 3, which develops further with age.
By five years old, children will have acquired a sense of gender stability and will start expressing their gender identity, both in words and actions.
Can gender-neutral parenting confuse a child’s understanding of their own gender?
Gender-neutral parenting focuses on giving children the freedom to explore and express their gender identity without the constraints of traditional gender norms. It doesn’t aim to confuse but to allow natural self-discovery.
Most children, even in gender-neutral environments, develop a clear understanding of their gender identity as they grow.
Is gender-neutral parenting widely accepted in society?
Acceptance of gender-neutral parenting varies widely. In some communities and cultures, it’s embraced as a progressive and inclusive approach, while in others, it might be met with skepticism or misunderstanding.
It’s important for parents to prepare for a range of responses and support their children in navigating these social dynamics.
How can parents navigate pushback or criticism from family and community regarding gender-neutral parenting?
Dealing with criticism requires patience and clear communication.
Parents can educate others about the principles and benefits of gender-neutral parenting. It’s also important to create a supportive network of friends or groups who share similar parenting values.
Ultimately, staying confident in your parenting choices and focusing on your child’s well-being is key.