I’m about to become a Mum for the first time. I’m due in March 2021, and at 16 weeks we decided to find out the gender of our baby. Not because either of us cared what we were having, our child can choose who they are and how they identify when they’re able, but more because I’m a perfectionist and avid organiser and I wanted to know because … well, I hate not knowing! I hate surprises!
Anyway, I recently read ‘The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read (and Your Children Will Be Glad That You Did)’ by Philippa Perry, a British psychotherapist, and author. So, when we found out we were having a boy, not only has the book had me thinking in detail about what I want my parenting style to be, it has had me pondering on how to raise a son that is open-minded, kind, and that holds feminist values.
For this month’s column, I’m sharing some of the advice that I have read up on when it comes to this subject, in the hope that I produce a child who can use his privilege to support those who are not so fortunate and to be an all-round decent person.
Starting with Household Chores
We all know about the great debate of pink vs. blue chores. I’m the first to admit that in my household we do have segregated roles when it comes to chores. My husband is in charge of the bins and cleaning the cat litter tray and I am in control of the laundry and most of the cooking. However, that’s due to trading jobs we just don’t like doing!
When our son is with us, I’m aware that chores being divided along gender lines aren’t particularly great for teaching him about equality and we may need to think about that and amend how we do things to make sure it is more equal. We may need to mix it up and get him involved in all of the chores regardless of whether there seems to be a ‘gender’ tasked with a specific job.
…The same goes for toys
I was already intending on letting our son choose what he wants to play with and avoid picking gender-segregated items. All of the nursery items we’ve selected are in neutral colours, his clothing so far is based on an animal theme and nothing is specifically blue.
When our son is older and he chooses to play with a doll of course he’ll be allowed to. There won’t be a Ross situation as in F.R.I.E.N.D.S where he’s desperately trying to get his son Ben to swap his barbie doll for an action man. We’re not going to push him toward ‘masculine’ playthings such as cars, construction toys and more. He’ll have a variety of things to choose from and we won’t be buying gender-specific toys to try and nudge him toward a particular style of play.
Parenting now requires us to be mindful of the fact that there will be a spectrum of gender identification for our children that we didn’t grow up with. All of the items we purchase for our child will be to encourage exploration, curiosity and help them develop life skills. When he is old enough to choose for himself we’ll be led by his choices for before then, we will try and make neutral choices with a variety of themes and play.
Is the phrase ‘Wait until your Dad gets home,’ familiar? Or the threat ‘If you don’t behave I’ll tell your Dad!’? I think it’s time to knock it on the head! Having one person in the family seen as the ‘decision-maker’ isn’t ideal, and there shouldn’t be a hierarchy when it comes to us as parents.
I can say ‘We’ll wait until your Dad gets home and we’ll discuss it and come up with a decision together..’ To make it clear that we’re a team and a united front.
It’s a small thing to keep in mind but I think it’s an important one.
Teaching Life Skills
It’s never too early to teach life skills to your child. For a son, this means getting him involved in a range of activities from washing clothes, cooking and household jobs through to maintenance tasks, being aware of how a household is run and more.
I want my son to be able to cook, clean and look after himself. I don’t want him growing up thinking that he needs a woman to do that for him. I know that we as women feel the need to cater to our children and nurture them, and of course, we should. But having everything done for them and never getting stuck in themselves is never going to teach them to stand on their two feet, and it’s not going to help the feminist movement with women still being seen as the caretakers and domestic servants.
Using Old Phrases and Gender Stereotypes
I don’t want to be seen as ‘nagging’ or ‘banging on’ about feminist issues and constantly correcting my son with a politically correct rant about every single little thing… but these are things that if thought about early on can be shoehorned naturally into your parenting technique without the need for explanation or constant reminding.
We’re all guilty of using phrases or words that have been ingrained into our culture and are used without much thought for the original meaning. For example ‘You big girl’s blouse’ and ‘Man Up.’
Kids pick things up like this immediately and like to mimic what they see and hear. So, being conscious of what we’re saying and in what context is so important when raising any child. We can’t be perfect all the time, and we aren’t going to be! But it’s enough that we try in the first place.
It’s SO important to teach all children about agency and consent. Starting with teaching them that they control consent over their own bodies and that they must in return respect the boundaries of others.
For me, when I found out I was having a son I immediately thought about how I would raise him to be respectful of women and to be kind, sympathetic and understanding. I had a sudden worry rise up in me of ‘How do I achieve that!?’ I want to teach him that being a man with feelings, manners and emotions is nothing to be ashamed of and is something that is respected and admired.
But this lesson has to start at home. And that starts with asking your child if they want to be hugged and respect if they don’t. To make sure that if they say they don’t want to be tickled, be part of a play fight or be tactile with you… that it stops immediately. Teaching a child about personal space and expecting the same in return will lay the foundation for consent and treating people how you want to be treated… and pointing out when others are not following that rule too.
No means no. Yes, means yes and people are allowed to change their mind so you must listen and respect someone at all times.
Boys Don’t Cry
We all bloody cry! It’s normal, it’s a way to express oneself and it is healthy to let it out when you’re feeling down or upset. Repressing emotions in a boy, or any child, is unhealthy and can lead to deep-rooted issues of suppression and more in adolescence and beyond.
‘Boys don’t cry’ is a sentiment that quite frankly is outdated and a message from society that isn’t correct and isn’t needed. The notion that boys should get angry and that girls should cry is wrong and damaging. I hope to teach my son that he can express a full spectrum of human emotion without being judged and that there is nothing wrong with being a boy that cries.
Providing role models of all genders and sexualities is important from a young age. If we teach our son about Albert Einstein then we should also teach him about Marie Curie. It’s not hard and it will make sure he has a varied understanding of the abilities of both sexes.
Point out that anything a man can do, there is a woman that has done it and can do it too. And vice versa. Equality should be at the forefront of everything we are trying to teach him and help him learn.
Not only does this extend to real life but it also involves exposing him to books and movies with a variety of lead characters. Some people aren’t comfortable with their children watching traditional Disney films because every princess is pining after her one true love and there is a happy ever after once they are together and married. (Kiera Knightley famously picked this issue with the stories.)
However, there is no harm letting a child watch a film with these types of storyline if you help them question what they are viewing. We’ve all seen the viral video of the little girl Madison, getting cross after having watched Aladdin!
“Jasmine needs to go see the world by herself,” Madison said. “Because you don’t need a boy to take you to see the whole world!”
There are likely so many more things we could be doing as new parents to ensure that we’re giving our son the best start in life, including teaching them this life lesson of equality. But we’re happy that we are thinking about these things and being aware of them.
It’s going to be a long time before our son gets to the stage where he will form his own opinions, thoughts and feelings on some of the things we’ve outlined above – but we hope it’s the start of a solid foundation for a young man to grow and come into his own in time.