I’m going to be honest about some long-term parenting choices I’ve made today. This post might upset some of you. I’m going to share with you ways I chose to treat my kids based on their genders. Before I go on, you should know that I’m not talking about clothes or toys or food. All of my kids had trains, blocks, balls, dolls, etc., and were encouraged to play with whatever they wanted. This post is about a few big-picture things I chose to do differently.
As a young mother, I read articles about how girls and boys are complimented differently. Most of the time, girls are told they are pretty, while boys are told they are strong, smart, and capable. I then made sure to tell my daughters they are strong, capable, and smart. But I think that isn’t uncommon today. I think we talk a lot about lifting up girls and being mindful of their self-image.
Where I took this a step further was that I made a choice that I’d also tell my son he is beautiful. I think we send a societal message that beautiful things are for girls because we tell girls they are beautiful. I wanted my son to know that beauty is also for him, as the man he will eventually become.
My son recently realized I wasn’t exactly fair about how I punished my kids for fighting when they were little. I was harder on my son about not hurting his sisters than I was on them. I told him he was right. Some day, if the growth charts don’t lie, my son will be over 6 feet tall. He’ll be a large man, and I don’t want to raise a man who thinks it is okay to hit a woman. I want him to be calm and careful when he gets angry. That is a skill that is easier to learn as a child.
Does that mean I never let my kids fight when they were little? No, they fought some. Most kids do. They also had some playful fights and wrestling matches. But I had rules about how if someone ended up crying or actually injured, everyone got consequences like losing their TV time for the day. I also was hard on my son about not hurting his little sister. Not only is she smaller now, but she will also always be smaller.
I recently explained to my son that he is right. When she came in and said he had hit her, I’d call him in for a talking to and often take away whatever toy they had been fighting over. However, if he came in and complained she had hit him, I would ask him to tell me more. Who started it? What happened? I was much more careful to only give her consequences if I felt it was necessary. She was allowed more often to hit back at her bigger advisory when she felt pushed around.
Why? I wanted to raise a woman who is okay with fighting back. My youngest will likely be an average-sized woman. In our country, women are abused physically, verbally, and emotionally far more often than men. If my little girl has to deal with situations where she has to fight back, I don’t want training in childhood to make her back down from taking care of herself.
That said, the day she was 3 and tested out a toy sword on her siblings, I did take away the sword. It went into a rather long time out until she could promise it wouldn’t misbehave like that again. There were limits, they just weren’t the same limits. They were chosen specifically for her.
Cooking and Cleaning
I’m just kidding, I have made all of my kids learn to cook and clean regardless of gender. My husband and I both cook and clean, so we set the example that those are not gendered tasks. I also put them all in an outdoor and service-based scouting program, so they could all learn to camp.
Many of my parenting choices involve encouraging my kids to do whatever they want in life, without ideas about gender. But I think it is naive to assume gender will not be a factor in their lives, so I’ve tried to always be honest with my kids about the challenges they may encounter.
About the Author
Laura Sowdon, OTR/L is an occupational therapist, writer, speaker, educator and creator of the Five Senses Literature Lessons homeschool curriculum. She has worked as an occupational therapist with children in public and private schools, as well as private practice. Laura has taught and managed homeschool co-ops as well as homeschooling her own three children. Laura is dedicated to the idea of educating children at a pace that aligns with brain and physical development milestones and respects neurodiversity in all its forms.