U.K. singer and first-time mom Paloma Faith is making headlines this week, after telling the Mirror at the Q magazine music awards, “I’m loving being a Mum. I want two or three kids in all, and they will all be gender neutral.” Faith’s reasoning sounds simple enough: “I just want them to be who they want to be,” she told the mag. And yet, in the days that followed, her comments drew praise from some, and raised eyebrows from others who are apparently still uncomfortable with the words “gender neutral.”
Faith has yet to publicly announce the name or sex of her child, who was born last December. That fact, coupled with her recent quotes, was enough to throw the press into a frenzy, as headlines wondered aloud whether the singer was specifically trying to raise her child as neither a girl or a boy. To clarify her statements, Faith soon took to Twitter, writing, “For the record @DailyMailUK gender neutral means equal amount of so called ‘boys toys and girls toys’ it doesn’t mean anything sensational.”
The fact that such an innocent statement can set off such a flurry of reactive articles and blogs — especially when they come from a giddy new mom, who’s simply sharing how she hopes to raise her child — is disheartening, to say the least. But it also made me realize that gender-neutral parenting is still a relatively new concept that’s met with its fair share of skepticism.
I first heard the term “gender-neutral” back in 2010 — the year my own daughter was born. At the time, a Swedish couple was making headlines for calling their child “Pop” and refusing the reveal his/her sex to anyone. Sweden had opened a gender-neutral preschool, where its goal was to free children from social expectations based on their sex. Teachers there didn’t refer to a child with the pronoun “him” or “her”, but instead used “hen” — a genderless noun.
That story may have surprised me then, but the truth is, now that I have seven more more years of parenting under my belt, I understand it a bit more. I can appreciate not wanting to dress your daughter in head-to-toe pink or put your boy in nothing but blues and greens. I also see the strong argument for why we need to be aware of the kinds of toys we hand them, and cognizant of not slipping into other gender-based stereotypes.
As I read through the many headlines Faith’s simple comment had spawned, I couldn’t help but feel like everyone was missing a crucial point in the gender-neutral debate: Children will make decisions for themselves, no matter how much we try to steer them in one direction or another. No matter how much a mom puts her child in fairy costumes and paints her nails, filling her hair with bows — if the child doesn’t like them, they will sure let her know. So calling out a mom for simply letting her child choose what they like, right from the get-go? That helps no one.
Trust me, I know a thing or two about letting your kid find their own way. My own daughter has known her own mind since she was practically out of the womb — and has denounced all things “girly” ever since — so I’ve had plenty experience with standing back and letting your child define themselves. I’ll never forget her second birthday, when I bought her a tutu I thought was adorable. She wore it for precisely 10 seconds before promptly tearing it off. She has since refused to wear dresses and has never worn her hair in anything other than a low ponytail. At day care, I watched as she was invited to various birthday parties: for Milo, Nathan, Orsen and Ben. She finally was invited to a girl’s party — the theme was inevitably Frozen. My daughter went, but dressed as Batman.
To this day, her closest buddies are all boys. She still won’t wear dresses (even her school uniform is trousers or shorts) and she hates dolls or anything pink. I have never tried to encourage her in any gender direction, nor have I had felt it necessary to raise her in a specifically gender-neutral way. Just like Paloma Faith, I have just let my daughter her be herself, and that’s all.
In my experience, children will gravitate to what inspires them and gives them joy — so aren’t we limiting them if we simply conform to social stereotypes?
Thankfully, the toy and clothing industry is finally helping us do that. In recent years, toys have become more and more gender neutral, and Amazon has even removed the labels “boys” and “girls” from it’s search list, categorizing toys in the child’s age group instead. Target’s popular line Cat & Jack has been known to smash gender norms itself with empowering messages like “Strong Like Mom,” and it even debuted a gender-neutral kids’ home line that does away with all the stereotypical girls’ and boys’ bedding.
I can’t support these strides enough. Allowing our kids to develop naturally, without the artificially-created limitations that society has placed around gender, can only be a good thing … right?
Two nights ago, when I read my daughter Sleeping Beauty, I realized that Paloma Faith and I aren’t so different when it comes to parenting philosophies. I was at pains to explain to my daughter that she didn’t need a handsome prince to rescue her in life — that she could rescue herself. So together, we re-wrote the story. Beauty – now called “Brain Box” — gets to wake the prince from his hundred year slumber. Not with a kiss, but by squirting a water from a water pistol all over him.
I think I like that story better … what about you?