Gender neutral parenting is growing in popularity globally. Forward-thinking parents are not willing to place their babies in a gender-coloured box from birth. Instead, they’d rather allow them to make this decision when they are older and able to do so themselves.
It’s an interesting concept – and to call it a trend is to belittle what this actually entails. It’s a lifestyle choice. It’s a way of raising children to be less aware of their own gender and perhaps, then, more aware of who they truly are (and being allowed to embrace this).
Currently, you have only two boxes to tick when it comes to registering your child at birth: male or female. Your ID number has a sex marker – and ‘other’ is not a current option. Changing this sex marker, is technically, legally possible. But, this requires supporting documentation and so generally, only happens when your child is a teenager or older.
We tend to think that gender identity is hard-wired, that we identify gender to match the sex we are born with. But, a growing pool of research suggests gender can be influenced by the environment your child is raised in.
Society shapes us
Developmental psychologist and author of Parenting Beyond Pink and Blue: How to Raise Your Kids Free of Gender Stereotypes, Christia Spears Brown, explains that in general: “The differences get larger as kids get older, which really suggest that it’s society and culture that are shaping the differences that we see – not innate differences from birth.”
A study entitled, “Pink gives girls permission: Exploring the roles of explicit gender labels and gender-typed colours on preschool children’s toy preferences”, published in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, found that children engage in gender-typed toy play to a greater extent than in non-gender-typed toy play. This, in turn leads to different development trajectories for boys and girls.
But, the question remains, is this due to the fact that children have been raised seeing gender from birth?
What would happen if a group of gender neutral toddlers followed the same methodology – would the outcome be different?
This couple is raising a gender neutral child
Brent and Kyl Courtney-Meyers, founders of Raising Zoomer.com, have created a website to help those wanting to follow a “gender creative parenting approach”. Their aim, through their own personal experience, as well as research and evidence-based articles, is to help parents navigate this relatively new lifestyle to the best of their ability.
The couple are parents to Zoomer, or Z, a two-year-old who is being raised as gender neutral with the pronouns “they” and “them”. Kyl says the primary reason they wanted to parent this way was because they wanted to “re-write the script for how our child grew up to think about gender.”
Kyl shares it was the best way they could teach their child about gender and sexuality. “We never wanted our child to hear that something wasn’t for them, or that they were expected to behave a certain way, or like a certain thing, or dislike a certain thing, based on their sex chromosomes,” he says.
“Gender creative parenting felt like the best way we could mitigate sexism and gendered microaggressions against our child. I just could not imagine raising a ‘boy’ or a ‘girl’ in the way our culture expects us to raise boys and girls. I want to change the expectation and norm for how boys and girls are raised.”
He shares that too many people seem comfortable at the pace at which gender equality is progressing. “I’m not comfortable. We need drastic systemic changes to be made and if more people commit to gender creative parenting. I think those gender creative kids could grow up and bring about that radical change.”
A public resource for gender creative parenting
Kyl and Brent believe that creating a public resource about gender creative parenting has brought a lot of good into their lives. “I think gender creative parenting is happening whether people like it or not and gender creative parents will be more than a tiny proportion of parents in the near future.”
Backed by science, Kyl believes their child will let them know their gender by the time they are around three or four years of age, as this is when most children get a sense of their gender identity. “Of course, as they grow and mature, their gender identity may change or be fluid. Growing up in a gender creative home will hopefully give Z the freedom and confidence to feel comfortable to express their gender however they want,” adds Kyl.
The benefits of being a gender creative parent
Being a gender creative parent has helped Kyl be more alert and proactive: “I am very conscious about what I say and don’t say, and what I do and don’t do.” The most important aspect of raising a gender neutral child is that both partners share the parenting and domestic chores. Both can work, and cook, and clean, and mow the lawn. Your child doesn’t grow up believing women and men have different roles in the home or in society.
“Parenting this way feels right for me,” says Kyl. “I have been invited to give lectures at universities about gender creative parenting. It is rewarding to hear from college students that they feel like I have provided them with an alternative way of parenting that resonates with them and one that they will practise when they start a family. Turns out there is a community of gender creative parents out there already, raising theybies and changing the world. I am honoured to be a part of it.”
5 quick and easy tips to raise a gender neutral child:
- Create a gender neutral home.
- Dress your baby in gender-neutral clothing. When they are older, allow them to choose outfits and colour schemes they prefer.
- Offer a wide selection of toys that are suitable for all genders.
- Don’t teach stereotypes and be role-models of this in your own home as well.
- Expose your child to a variety of different environments and settings.
Kim Bell is a wife, mother of two teenagers and a lover of research and the way words flow and meld together. She has been in the media industry for over 20 years, and yet still learns more about life from her children everyday.