In our house, we make conscious decisions to raise our daughters as gender-neutrally as possible.
I never want them to feel limited by artificial social constraints, but rather allow them to develop their own preferences and ideas about themselves as people. We choose our words carefully, praising behaviors instead of appearance and never labeling things as “for boys” or “for girls.” We avoid items marketed to specific genders, such as the “girl” sippy cup with hearts and bows on it. Santa always brings books, and two years ago, a tool bench.
Our oldest was content in this and in her wardrobe of toddler sweatpants and t-shirts. Since she knew her colors, she loved red and yellow. This pleased me deeply: mass marketing had blown right past her and she took delight in colors she was drawn to, not ones society said she should like.
Then she went to school.
Overnight, if it wasn’t a skirt and tights, she wasn’t going to wear it. There was a lot of princess talk. And then, one day she came home and announced, “Mom, pink is my favorite color now. Girls like pink.”
My heart audibly shattered. “No, no, you like red and yellow. Those are your favorites,” I argued.
She shook her head, “Nope. Pink,” she stated. I continued to fight with her, forgetting how dumb it is to even try to disagree with a four-year-old. Suddenly, I took a hard look at myself for a moment and realized that my closet and accessories did nothing but fuel her argument. I love pink. What had I done?
In the same afternoon, I noticed her little sister sitting on the floor, holding a mini-tambourine flat in front of her. She gingerly dabbed her finger on the smooth surface and then swiped her finger across her cheeks, her eyes, her lips.
“What are you doing?” I gasped.
“Putting on make-up,” she replied matter-of-factly.
What had I done? I wear make-up. Not every day, but I’ll admit that I feel better about myself when I do. My favorite color, my beauty routine….was I thwarting my own efforts to raise gender-neutral daughters?
These “what have I done?” moments come to us all.
Maybe it’s when your child repeats an unsavory word that you yourself uttered in a moment of frustration. Maybe it’s when they announce to their teacher that mom drinks wine for breakfast after they watched you have a mimosa at brunch. Maybe it’s a curiosity about makeup or the inflection they use in their voice or the way they stick out their tongue when they concentrate, just like you do.
This too shall pass. Or maybe not. And that will be ok, too.
Strong women can wear makeup. Independent women can rock a pink purse. To raise young women who are sure of themselves, confident in who they are and go after their dreams is a good goal.
After lots of thought and self-doubt, I decided to start with myself. I want to show my girls that I am happy with who I am and my choices in life. I don’t depend on others for approval in everything I do. I work to treat others with kindness and respect. I believe that if they take these kinds of behaviors to heart, even if it’s along with some of my girlie tendencies, I am doing my best as a role model and mom.