Parents are bombarded with expectations for their children from the point of conception, most of it based around the sex of the child.
A pregnant woman is used to being asked a dozen times a day ‘do you know what you’re having?’, or ‘is it a boy or a girl?’ To the extent that it appears the focus on being pregnant is often perceived as either having a boy or a girl, not having a child in the general sense.
There is an expectation based on a babies sex, that if you have a boy you will be in for a rowdy old time with a boisterous child who will no doubt love soccer, monster trucks and dirt, and that if you have a girl you will have a placid, polite child, with delicate features who loves drawing, dancing, dolls and cooking.
Many of us unknowingly uphold these stereotypes too, telling a mother to be that her son is going to be a handful, or that her daughter will be the prettiest little thing ever.
Why do we say these things?
I often think it’s almost a bit of foot in mouth or knee-jerk reaction, we feel we need to say something, to fill the conversation with little bits of sage advice. Just like we never seem to tire of asking other pregnant women when they are due, or commenting that they are carrying big or small, high or low, or my favourite, “are you sure it’s not twins”.
So what can we do?
As parents we need to let go of any preconceived ideas of who or what our children will be.
Our children have years and years to figure themselves out, don’t rush them!
Let’s embrace our little ones and celebrate their interests and passions (which means first paying attention to what they are!) and advocate for them with family and friends.
Don’t be afraid to tell your friends that your son likes My Little Pony and not Ninja Turtles so they don’t buy gifts for his birthday that will upset him or be abandoned the minute they are opened (which can be just as disappointing for the gift giver as the receiver).
Remind your parents that your daughter prefers shorts over dresses or rocket gumboots instead of princess ones so that she has the chance to wear something lovingly chosen by grandma, instead of hiding it away in the cupboard.
If your daughter loves barbies and butterflies, great, no problems there at all. Just don’t let others assume that she wants those just because she’s a girl. Boys too have varied interests, and if they like noisy trucks and trains, monsters and robots then great, but if they like playing with dolls or doing craft then remember to suggest those as gift ideas to family and friends. Most will be glad of specific suggestions and delight at the subsequent squeals of delight.
We also need to share own interests, hobbies and pursuits with our children. A shared love of something is a wonderful way to bond.
So reassure your husband that just because he has three daughters, that he can still take them fishing, to see the monster trucks or to ride motorbikes – I bet they’ll love it and cherish the time together.
Be proud of your son who embraces your love of sewing and encourage it, just like you would if it was your daughter.
Gender and sex are not prescriptive, nor are they even related.
We need to be open to our little ones and support and love them for the child they are – not the child we assumed they’d be or want them to be.
Let’s celebrate our children for what they bring us – not what society says they should be based on their biological sex or a simplistic definition of gender.
Society is evolving toward true acceptance – let’s help it along and enjoy the ride the our children take us on.
Can you relate to this? Please share your experiences below in the comments.