What's the deal with gender-neutral parenting?

June 30 | Guest post by TheTruthfulJ
What's the dill onesie from Etsy seller EmeeJoCo
Gender neutral "what's the dill" onesie from Etsy seller EmeeJoCo

Many of us were raised in an age where being a boy meant one thing and being a girl meant something totally different. But does this mean our children need to grow up in the same environment?

In recent years, we’ve seen a trend come about: parents are now choosing to raise their kids in “gender neutral” ways, eliminating in varying degrees a lot of preconceptions about what a child should like or not like based on the sex they’re assigned at birth.

What is the gender-neutral parenting movement about?

Gender-neutral parenting (GNP) can be quite hard to define. Paige Lucas-Standard of Everyday Feminism does her best to describe what it is by describing what it is not:

It’s not about imposing androgyny; rather, it’s about not imposing anything at all, and allowing children to create their own identities, freed from the constraints of conventional gendered parenting. It’s a difficult concept to grasp for many people, especially those who grew up with these notions of what a girl likes or should be like, as opposed to what a boy likes and should be like. And often, people have said that GNP is nothing more than a social experiment — a strategy used by parents to use their children for whatever political or social commentary they want to make.

This was how many people reacted to the case of Storm — a child born into a genderless family, whose gender was never disclosed to relatives.

Storm’s parents have chosen to live off the grid, where they raise their three kids to be more explorative and open. However, they've received some backlash that this was too extreme a form of gender-neutral parenting. The appeal was there: without preconceived notions of what either gender meant, the children could theoretically better develop their own identities. However, to be raised without ever broaching the topic of gender was thought to present problems in the future.

Less extreme gender-neutral parenting is more common

Some parents choose simply to avoid imposing their own gender choices on their kids — for example, not making purchases based on what they feel their child should like based on the sex they were assigned at birth.

Kate Pietrasik, founder of unisex childrenswear line Tootsa, told Wales Online:

I don’t believe in hiding a child’s gender, and what I do isn’t about rendering children genderless — nor is it about forbidding girls to wear dresses or outlawing pink. It’s about not wishing our children to be defined or restricted by their gender… We should be providing our children with a childhood void of limitation, free from restrictions and full of opportunity.

This seems to be the prevalent idea in most families that practice gender neutral parenting: it’s all about letting children choose their own genders and create their identities for themselves.

Perhaps the most popular example is John Jolie-Pitt, the oldest biological child of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. Although assigned female at birth and named Shiloh, they’ve been exploring their identity since they were three years old, and their parents have chosen to support their motions, allowing them to cut their hair and dress in whatever way they like, as well as be referred to as “John.”

Many years ago, Jolie told Reuters that “…I would never be the kind of parent to force somebody to be something they are not. I think that is just bad parenting… children should be allowed to express themselves in whatever way they wish without anybody judging them because it is an important part of their growth.” The world saw the results of this decision when John appeared the premier of Unbroken in a suit and tie, much like their brothers.

Is genderless or gender-neutral parenting for you?

It’s a decision that you might want to take up with your family. Its differences from more conventional parenting styles may put you at odds with those unfamiliar with the concept. There are many pros, including allowing children their own paths to self-discovery and self-identity. But engaging in gender-neutral parenting takes research and commitment, as well as the support of a family or a partner willing to understand what gender-neutral parenting is.

Now that Offbeat Families' posts have been merged into Offbeat Home & Life, we have a whole gender-neutral archive!

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