Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Celebrating Your Child's Gender

This weekend the Toronto Star's front page story had a picture of a beautiful baby with the headline: "Is this a boy or a girl?" The article went on to detail how the parents of this child has opted not to share the child's gender with anyone but the immediate family. You can read the original article here. While that family has made a very unique, extreme choice in parenting their children, it does prompt me to question why they are so against celebrating their child's gender. I have 2 boys and a girl. For my husband and I, their genders are part of them. When it comes to gender it isn't about hair length and toys they play with. My 4 year old son just last week played dress up to be a mermaid boy, using a pillowcase. My 1 year old daughter pushes little cars and airplanes around making vroom noises. It is more about identifying themselves as being male or female. I believe this is a healthy perspective to have.
Boys are boys and girls are girls. It is what it is. It doesn't mean one is superior to another. It just means there are differences.
Case in point - the week before we were married, my husband and I each went out with our friends as a pre-wedding celebration. My girlfriends and I spent an afternoon at the spa having manicures and pedicures, followed by a nice meal at a restaurant where we traded stories of love over a glass of wine. My husband and his friends headed into the woods with and ATV and lots of meat to roast over a fire. They too shared stories of love and marriage, just in a slightly different way. We both loved these nights out we had and they are fond memories for us. I'll tell you what though, my husband would never, ever want to spend his day at the spa the way I did. Though I enjoy the outdoors, his pre-wedding celebration would not have been my cup of tea. Neither way was better than the other, in fact both celebrations were perfect, they were just different from each other.
During the 70's many parents rebelled against the idea of genderizing their children. They bought gender neutral toys and clothing in hopes erasing male and female stereotypes. To their surprise, their little boys still wanted trucks and their little girls still wanted dolls to play with.
I remember a chat I had with my oldest son's daycare teacher a few years back. She said she noticed something interesting with the dress up stacks they had. The younger kids (2-4) would dress up in anything, but somewhere around the 4-5 year old marker the boys would only choose costumes that were male oriented and the girls would only choose the female oriented costumes. Non-prompted, that's just what happened.
Reading I've done since confirms that age marker. Something happens inside children at about the age of 4-6 when they feel a need to confirm their gender. I know my boys have stated quite clearly to me that they are the same as daddy, but their sister is like me. This is an important marker in their development. I think they need that confirmation and it is part of our job as their parent to validate it.
One of the more popular books making the book club rounds in the past 10 years was The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. (Fantastic book if you haven't read it yet.) She touches on gender identification with the rites and roles associated with women in Biblical Times (She uses Dinah from the Book of Genesis as her main character). There is such a wonderful celebration of womanhood in this book. It serves to remind me that generations and cultures the world over celebrate male and female. The Jewish religion has their Bar and Bat Mitzvah's which celebrate the coming of age for young men and women. Other religions have their own coming of age ceremonies and celebrations , most of them gender specific.
I know my thoughts are flowing fast and furious here and I'm hoping to make some sense of them all. As a parent of both genders I can say that I've noticed subtle differences in them. Sure all my kids love to play in the dirt, but my daughter is the one who squealed with delight at the sight of a baby doll in the store and wouldn't put it down. My sons are the ones who think it is fun to spend the afternoon at the Harley Davidson store with their Dad checking out the motorcycles. I would rather celebrate who they are in their gender than pretending it didn't exist. Maybe that's why this article hit such a nerve for so many people. (You can read the follow-up article here).
To better understand my husband and my sons I read a fantastic book by John Eldredge called, "Wild at Heart". It is the best I've read in confirming and celebrating the masculine side of men. I've since learned that he and his wife co-wrote a follow-up book celebrating the feminine side of women called, "Captivating" and have just today put in an order for it. I look forward reading to what they have to say.

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