In mid-September, myself and my family were featured in a couple of articles due to our openness in how my husband and I raise our son, Logan. It received a lot of support, but sadly it received 10x more negativity – mostly from random strangers, so it’s easy enough to brush off and ignore. The positive effect it had makes the negative worth it. However, when Louise asked me to write for the Beeboobuzz blog, I thought I’d use the opportunity to expand a bit on the articles in my own words.
In the articles, our parenting method is described as gender-neutral parenting, which people automatically assume means you’re raising your child to believe they are neither male or female. This isn’t what we are doing – as I said in the article, Logan is aware that he is a boy (as aware as he can be at his age!) and we refer to him as Logan/him/he/his etc.
I don’t really know what I’d call our parenting, but I think ‘gender-neutral’ perhaps gives the wrong impression. It was pointed out that it implies that letting him wear a dress, for example, is, in some way, denying his male sex, but that’s not what we’re doing. What we are teaching Logan is that the stereotypes assigned to each gender are ridiculous. We’re saying that Logan is a boy when he wears trousers and he is a boy when he wears a dress. I don’t want my child to feel constrained by what most of society deem appropriate for a boy because the reasoning for it is utter nonsense.
The only reason society believes these stereotypes is because businesses and advertisers are very clever and do a good job at making sure it’s drilled into us from a young age that this is for girls and that is for boys with their marketing of children’s clothes and toys so that families who have one child, let’s say a boy, then feel they NEED to buy more things because they’re due to have a baby girl.
By allowing Logan to be Logan, without the pressure and restrictions of imposed gender-roles and stereotypes, I am allowing Logan to explore everything the world has to offer with an open mind. I know that not everyone is comfortable doing the same for their child/ren, and that doesn’t mean I think less of them or think they’re parenting wrong. While I would love everyone to grow up not being afraid to be themselves with no restrictions on their clothing or toys, it doesn’t mean your child wont grow up open minded, loving and kind! Most parents I know, including myself and my husband, who parent this way, were brought up with the stereotypes imposed on us and we’ve turned out alright!
Logan has the freedom to wear and play with whatever he wants, and unsurprisingly he loves a huge range of things. My son loves playing with cars, getting muddy and pretending he’s a fireman! My son also loves the colour purple, he sometimes chooses to wear a dress. (This is something the articles twisted a little bit – I think they make it seem like he’s in a dress 24/7, when the truth is, he chooses a dress maybe once every month or two; most of the time he just chooses something bright and colourful. Usually a pair of dungarees and a Beeboobuzz top, or leggings and a top.) He likes his hair long like his daddy’s and he enjoys picking out hair accessories like funky bobbles, clips and headbands for me to put in his hair, he loves pretending to breastfeed his doll, and he loves any chance to dance!
I have never questioned Logan’s decisions because he is simply a person, a child who is discovering his likes and dislikes, and if I were to force gender-based expectations and limits on him, he wouldn’t be able to be who he is 100%. If I were to stand here and tell him “No, you cannot have long hair or wear that dress, these are girl things!” I am teaching him to not only feel ashamed of his interests and desires, but telling him that he has no right to control his own body or life. Why should long hair and dresses be only for girls? Look at male celebrities, you wont have to look for long before you come across one with long hair – it seems as though we are more accepting of MEN having long hair and wearing pink, but for some reason, as soon as you see a TODDLER or a CHILD who is male and rocking long hair or wearing pink, it’s weird and uncomfortable, and the parents are confusing them by allowing it to happen. Do you see the silliness in this?
If I tell him, “No, you can’t play with that doll, you must play with this truck and football”, I’m telling him that only girls can roleplay in a more caring, gentle, loving way, and boys must do things that are loud, dangerous and dirty. I can’t do these things because one day Logan may have a child who he needs to care for and feed, and do all the things he is pretending to do with his doll. I can’t do these things because it is more than okay for boys to do all the things girls do, and vice versa. Logan is allowed to be kind, caring, shy, delicate, thoughtful, loving etc, just as he is allowed to be strong, brave, dirty, adventurous and loud. (Have you noticed that when it’s a girl in more stereotypically ‘boyish’ clothes or playing football, no-one bats an eyelid? Yet a boy puts on a My Little Pony dress up costume and asks for his nails painted and it’s questioned...)
Like I’ve said before, Logan calls himself a boy. He knows he has a penis, he knows what he likes and dislikes, he knows that it is okay to want his face painted like a unicorn because why should it be only girls who can enjoy mystical creatures, pink or glitter. He also knows, sadly, that some people are small-minded but he doesn’t care. When people mistake him for a girl because he is wearing something pink, or because he has a ponytail with a really cute bobble in, he doesn’t care – he might do when he’s older because, unlike what some people believe, Jon and I are not naïve little kids, we know that it’s pretty inevitable that he’ll face judgement from his peers, but I am hoping that the way I am raising Logan to be confident in himself, that he will continue to not care and know that Logan is Logan, and Logan is loved beyond measure.
I trust my maternal instincts - so far, they haven't done me wrong. Raising Logan in this way, without restricting him based on his genitals, has resulted in my son being a strong, confident, healthy, happy child and I do put that down to our parenting choices – with regards to gender, as well as gentle/attachment parenting. I wouldn't change a thing about the way we raise him and we will do the same with our future children.
Shannon Walsh lives in Sussex with her husband, Jon, and their son Logan, who is two. Shannon is also currently expecting their second child!