Raising a Gender Neutral Child: A Maternal Perspective
The day I found out that we would be adding a girl to our family was one of the happiest of my life. I remember walking out of the ultrasound and calling my parents and my sister. We all cried tears of happiness. She would be joining her amazing big brother and her big cousins... all boys.
Dreams of pigtails and tutus, of glitter and hearts filled my thoughts. I couldn’t wait to meet my daughter. The day she was born, I helped to deliver her. Her big brown eyes looked right into mine. She was there.
My little girl. 7lbs 5oz of sheer perfection. For the first three years of life, she relished anything pink. She carried my purses around and spent countless hours shoving my high heels on her squishy baby feet. She was “all girl”.
Then around the age of four, we noticed a subtle shift. She would still wear skirts but started to request to pair them with her big brother’s shirts. She stopped wearing her hair in braids and pigtails, instead fighting me to do anything more than just brush it. After a time, the skirts fell to the wayside.
Replaced by camo cargo shorts, and jeans that used to belong to her big cousins. Admittedly, as her mom, I had a hard time with the change. Where did my little girl go? Why was she so invested in looking like a boy? The day she asked to cut her hair super short was a hard one for me. To me, the hair was my last foothold into the world of “girl”. But, it wasn’t her. So it went.
My poor husband suffered through hours of endless conversations. Is she transgendered? Is she a lesbian? Is there something more we should be doing to support her?
Each time he would calmly tell me, “She’s fine. She’s happy. She’s loved. She is who she is.” It took a while (longer than I want to admit) to finally hear what he was saying. Not hear it with my ears but hear it with my heart. Once I did, it allowed me to see that she is who she is. Clothes don’t mean anything, they’re just clothes.
Once I stopped focusing on the material and societal ideas of what it means to be a girl, I focused instead on my child as a person. It no longer matters if someone calls her a boy and tells her what a gentleman she is when she holds a doors open and offers to help, or chastises her for going into the ladies’ bathroom. She holds her head up high and says thank you, or calmly says “Yes, I can be in here” and walks in. She’s fine with it and so am I.
She has short hair, pierced ears and wears mostly camo with the occasional kitten shirt thrown in, to show off her love of animals. My child is uniquely who she is. She’s a little sister and a big sister. She’s a scientist. She’s a shark expert. She’s so smart it’s shocking sometimes. She’s one of the best human beings I’ve ever known. She has a confidence and a security that I hope she never loses. Children should be allowed to be who they are. Why do we, as adults who have (theoretically) figured ourselves out put pressure on children to do the same? Would your son not be your son if he had an unashamed love of tutus? No. Is it so awful and embarrassing to have a daughter who would rather talk trucks than barbies? No. It takes a shifting of your brain as a parent but it takes no shifting of your heart.
Once in the car after listening to a news report about transgendered people using the bathroom of the gender they identify with, I had a long talk with my kids about what it means to feel like you were born in the wrong body. I told my 8 year old little girl that for a while I thought she might be transgendered since she tends to dress like a boy and tends to lean towards more “boyish” activities. I’ll never forget her response: “I wear “boy” clothes because they’re comfortable. Society tells me that because I’m a girl I have to wear pink and dresses. I don’t believe that. These are just the clothes I’m wearing. They have nothing to do with me being a boy or a girl. They’re just clothes,” she told me. I sat there shocked. Tearing up that it had taken me most of my life to learn what my child figured out by the ripe old age of eight.
Raising a gender neutral child isn’t easy. Many people don’t understand or respect children enough to understand that what’s most important is love and support. That forcing your child to be who you think they are is bad for their spirit and yours. I no longer argue with my daughter about clothes. I don’t care. Her clothes don’t make her any more or less than the amazing, funny child she is. Be true to your children and follow their lead. One day my little girl might decide to put away the camo and pick back up the pink glittery dresses. She might not. Either way is fine with me. I have full confidence in her ability to choose who she is and love her and respect her while we all figure our way through it. Parenthood isn’t easy. I have days where I struggle with parenting a gender neutral child. Some days I want to shout “She’s a GIRL!!!” to whoever calls her a boy. Sometimes I want to hold her as she navigates what it means socially to be gender neutral and deals with kids and parents who just don’t get it. But, ultimately, it’s ok if no one else “gets it”, they don’t have to. She gets it and that’s all that matters.
About the Author: Quinn Savard is a writer, mother and wife who lives on the beautiful island of Martha’s Vineyard with her crazy crew. The first book in her Young Adult series; Goddess Blessed is available on amazon.