As our societies evolve, gender roles are being questioned by younger generations and new expectations are coming into place. These changes in behaviour, roles or rules, and identities are everywhere, being informed and aware of them allows you to raise your children beyond gender expectations.

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What is gender?

In order to raise your children beyond gender expectation, it is essential to first understand what is gender? Gender refers to the social attributes and opportunities associated with being male or female and the relationships between women and men and girls and boys, as well as the relations between women and those between men. These attributes, opportunities and relationships are socially constructed and are learned through socialization processes. Gender is considered to be part of the broader socio-cultural context and includes other influential criteria for socio-cultural analysis such as class, race, poverty level, ethnic group and age.

This is where gender identity also comes into play, while parenting getting familiar with this vocabulary will help you give you the tools to raise your kid beyond the traditional gender roles.

Exploring your own gender history as a parent will help you revisit the moments of your childhood where you needed support and you did not have it or enhance the supportive actions of your parents when you were raised.

What are gender roles, and why do they have a negative impact?

Gender roles are the consequences of gender bias and stereotypes, for example, 'boys wear blue and girls pink'. The construction of gender and gender stereotypes has a long history and has proven to be exclusively binary and gender rigid. Thus, making it hard for some to raise their children beyond the blue and pink stereotypes, or tough and delicate, masculine and feminine.

Gender roles have proven to have a negative impact because it is a multi-faced problem. When gender roles go unacknowledged for long, it can cause negative effects on children at an early age. For example, the effects reported related to the gender bias are huge discrepancies between the number of girls and boys who choose subjects like science, technology, maths, or engineering.

There is still a minority of women and girls who pursue a career within these subjects. Similarly, it can be hard for boys and men to select humanities and art subjects because of gender bias and the influence of peer pressure within children.

In other aspects of their lives, children will grow to reproduce the gender roles and biases in their lives and be negatively affected in other areas of their lives: in their intimacy, personal choices, careers and so forth. Where violation or restriction to express themselves and their freedom is most important, thus more harmful for their physical and mental well-being.

gender roles
Gender roles have proven to have a negative impact on both girls and boys from an early age. Source Unsplash

Is it possible to raise completely free of gender expectations?

It is very difficult to raise your children completely free of gender expectations. Because this is not only enacted –often unconsciously by adults and parents, it is present in every child surroundings from toys, advertising, online, on the media, and in the communities where children reside. We can even find gender roles and bias examples in educational materials as well.

In conclusion, it is everywhere you look and influences everyone, it can even make parents think they know what their children like or are interested in, rather than truly listen and observe their children personal preferences without their own bias.

However, when implementing the right tools and tips to raise beyond the gender expectations, you can still have a significant influence with the following parenting options.

Where to start?

Here are a few first things you can start implementing in your parenting when wanting to raise your kid free of gender expectations and roles, whether you want to raise them in a gender-neutral environment until they announce their gender or by providing the child with an array of possibilities so that gendered preferences are not projected into the child.

Start neutral and offer possibilities

Regardless of the sex assigned at birth, it is strongly suggested to avoid making assumptions about what they might like or might be, based only on their sex. Instead, check-in regularly about their name, pronouns, and identity regularly as soon as your child can communicate.

Before your child is able to speak, it is recommended to provide every option available regarding clothing, toys, books, and media. This will allow them to observe from an early age that identities are diverse, and will give them all the resources to construct their own  identity.

Recognize your own bias

Oftentimes, parents are the primary source of gendered examples and roles, this happens because most of us are unaware of the traditional gender roles we enact in our daily life. Recognizing this is a first step to allow a neutral upbringing to your child. If you are unsure about your own bias in a certain situation, ask yourself if you would do or say the same if they were a boy or a girl? You will probably notice how often you might be reproducing gender roles in your home.

It is important as well to recognize your mistakes. Unlearning gender roles and stereotypes can prove more difficult than expected at first, that is why, apologizing when gendered bias becomes apparent is crucial to repair and restore mutual respect to the relationship with whom is concerned–towards your child or any other cisgender, nonbinary or trans person.

You can also take advantage of teachable moments, for example, when watching TV shows or reading a book where there is transphobia or problematic gender roles, stop and discuss it with your child to let them know that there is not only one valid narrative.

Make sure adults are on the same page of your child's education

Children's main models are in their household, at school, or at a friend's house. These places are influential when raising your child because it is where adults model openness to new ideas and experiences. Meaning that, they learn more than gender, they learn that these spaces are safe to explore and be themselves.

If adults are not on the same page about how to raise their children, this might cause conflict or confusion for the child. It is encouraged to discuss this with the adults that are related to your children such as family, adult friends, teachers, and babysitters.

Here is a list of questions as examples that you can work through together:

  • In houses with a man and a woman [co-parenting], how do you split up the chores? The childcare?
  • Who does most of the emotional labour with the children?
  • Who carries the mental load of doctor’s appointments, birthday gifts, and the social calendar?
  • How does the teacher address groups, and have they presented themselves and their pronouns.
  • Are they assigning gender to activities or anything else?

Be part of the change

An essential part of raising your child in a neutral environment, while deconstructing the gender bias, is to create an inclusive and just world. Being inclusive means being open to everyone and not limited to certain people. In regard to gender, this means that every aspect of society and institutions are welcoming kids and adults, regardless of their gender identity and expression.

Creating inclusive and particularly gender-inclusive environments, in which every person and child is welcome, is essential for the success of the children and teens in your life.

gender spectrum
Raising in a neutral and inclusive environment is crucial to allow your children to find their gender identity and expression. Source Unsplash

Build your community

Building your community for you and your child takes time. Finding people that are open to discuss and live differently in the world is challenging. But one thing is sure, it is always worth building a community where acceptance is key and where similar values are shared. This creates a sense of belonging that is also important when raising your children, in order to show them that support can be found beyond their family circle.
Meeting other youth and adults who are transgender or nonbinary will help you and your kid to understand the variety of gender expression, and also enrich your cultural and social experience and representations.

Raising children in gender inclusiveness is indispensable because gender affects all kids. For them to truly thrive and flourish, you need to provide support, compassion, time, encouragement. This allows them to live to their fullest and authentic selves.

Follow your child's lead

Observing your child's interaction and expression is recommended, while allowing for a wide range of expressions. Psychotherapists call it SOUL, which stands for “Silence-Observation-Understanding-Listening”, the aim of observing is to understand your child's unique experience and way of expression. Listening is a significant way to hear what they have to say about their identity and gender experience.

Find resources and groups online

It is essential to confront your anxieties as a parent to avoid parenting from fear and rather parent from support. There are different ways to find support, through therapy, parent groups, faith community, friends, but online resources or online communities related to gender are also a great option to expand the gender spectrum and parenting practices. Read as much as you can to understand gender and the surrounding myths.

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