Parenting

Gender awareness rules (when you’re 3)

Recently, girl things and boy things have become a thing in our house. Not boy’s actual thingys and girl’s actual thingys – those don’t seem to be of any import whatsoever. No. The supposed rules of things that boys can do, and girls can’t. Colours that boys like, and colours that girls like.

This morning Sidney asked me if I liked pink

This has come about over the summer. For the record, until he was, let’s say, 3 and a quarter, Sidney’s favourite colour was actually yellow. Now its blue. This morning Sidney asked me if I liked pink. I said I did, and that I liked blue as well. Sidney does not currently like pink.

We also had a weekend a little while ago when Noel’s parents came and stayed, and gender roles unwittingly came to the forefront. Noel and his Dad are both pretty handy when it comes to building, and spent the weekend constructing a wonderful wardrobe to fit within the sloping ceiling of our bedroom – no mean feat let me tell you! … So Noel’s mum and I did the lion’s share of the children duties and the cooking for the weekend. Also no mean feat. And this was basically the simplest, and most effective way to get the weekend’s main task of wardrobe creation, done. However, this meant that by the end of the weekend, Sidney was convinced that only men could be strong and wield tools.

Mummy was fixing the pipe, with tools

At this point, I am going to add that we also had a leaking waste pipe from our bathroom, (don’t worry, it wasn’t the poo pipe), which needed fixing. This pipe runs between our house and next door, and me, being a skinny sort of bean, was the only grown-up person who could fix it. So, fix it I did! Noel was on hand to assist, and we made a point of showing Sidney that mummy was fixing the pipe, with tools.

Noel and I have never sat down and discussed how we should go about teaching Sidney and Harriet about gender. Its never really been a thing. I am mindful that I don’t say that ‘Sidney is handsome’ and ‘Harriet is pretty’ – instead I tell them both that they are cool dudes. And that they are gorgeous. Or, that they are both ‘as noisy as each other’.

Harriet knows that the most coveted toys in the house are Sidney’s racing cars

And, for the most part, their toys and bedrooms are pretty gender neutral. There are a few pink, Harriet things, and a few blue, Sidney things, but they both play with everything regardless of what colour it is. … Also, Sidney is very partial to Shimmer and Shine (Oooh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh) and gets pretty excited when he sees it on the telly! Likewise, Harriet knows that the most coveted toys in the house are Sidney’s racing cars. So, like most gender ‘consciously-unconcsiousing’ parents, we encourage Sidney and Harriet to play with whatever they enjoy playing with.

However, I am not a total hippy either. I’m afraid that I don’t dress them as completely androgynous child X’s. Sidney’s clothes are standard boy clothes; jeans, shorts, t-shirts and the occasional shirt for parties and Christenings. Harriet’s clothes are mostly leggings, shorts, tops and – I confess – dresses too. I try not to pink or blue them too much, and Harriet has as many of Sidney’s more neutral hand-me-downs as I think we can get away with. But of course I am guilty of genderising them by this – even though my main aim is for both children to look and feel like they could go out to play or have an adventure whenever – because thats what I want them to do. But yes, I still like Sidney to look like a cool boy, and Harriet to look like a funky girl.

Is that so very bad? I think Sidney’s sudden awareness of boys and girls has mostly been learnt through interactions with his peers. He is learning that there are differences between himself and others. He is also learning about where he wants to fit in. A few weeks ago he told me that he wanted to wear trainers to nursery instead of sandals, ‘because everyone wears trainers’.

I see it as our job to nurture their individuality

I guess the important thing is to allow them both to try all sorts of things, and then let them find their own preferences. If Sidney decided that he really wanted a Shimmer and Shine (Oooh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh) doll for his birthday, would I let him have one? Yes, probably, why not! And if Harriet decides that she wants to only play with racing cars, would I suggest she has a doll instead? No, of course not. I see it as our job to nurture their individuality, and also help them to fit in where they feel it is their place to be.

I wonder if it is hypocritical of me to dress them as the genders that they are, and not androgynous siblings? No, I don’t think so. As long as they feel happy and comfortable in the clothes they are wearing then thats great. If at some stage we come to a point that they should wish to identify as something other than what they look like, then we’ll adapt. I don’t dress Harriet in anything that she might feel physically limited in, compared to her brother, so I know that they are equal. And if Sidney thinks that only strong men can use tools, mummy will always be on hand to show him that puny women can fix stuff too.

 

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