Between ¨gender neutral parenting¨ and ¨the Google manifesto¨, there’s a recent ongoing conversation about defying traditional gender roles we can’t ignore. With powerful influencers as role models, such as Malala and Emma Watson, who are constantly inviting us to challenge our perceived notions about gender, women and equality. And, inspiring men, such as Justin Baldoni and John Legend, who are redefining what masculinity looks like — the fight towards gender equality is slowly, but surely, becoming an intersectional affair.
As a psychologist with a strong commitment to promote gender equality, I’ve found myself re-thinking traditional parenting habits and imagining how these innovative conversations will affect the way we look at parenting.
Nowadays, there are many parents who are actively discarding some of these gender normative habits. Whether it’s the choice to raise boys in an emotionally open environment by discarding the outdated ¨boys don’t cry¨ rule, or allowing their daughters to thrive in STEM related careers. There is a variety of ways to challenge these archaic expressions of gender.
One topic that feminists and those involved in the gender equality movement strongly advocate for is the liberating notion of choice. When we allow our children the freedom to choose their toys - forgetting about the gender-typical attributes which society has given them — we are building a safe environment in which they can express who they are.
Play is the natural language of the child, and part of its beauty is the openness it allows for children to unapologetically display their inner world. When we limit this by restricting the mediums through which they can express their anxieties and struggles, we are reducing their imagination and potentially harming their self-worth.
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In simpler words: If your son wants to play with dolls and kitchen appliances, let him; if your daughter wants to play with cars and planes, let her. Your prohibition will only do more harm than good, because it sends the message that you don’t accept nor respect their choices, which may harm your parent-child bond.
Give them role models
A few months ago, my sister and her husband gifted my 6-year-old niece this book, filled with stories about powerful women — way ahead of their time — who have set a precedent for their field of work. Browsing through it I felt inspired and unstoppable and isn’t that the way all kids should feel?
It’s our responsibility, as adults, to cultivate our child’s inner strength helping them to believe that they hold within them the power to face any challenge life throws at them.
Listening to tales about Frida Kahlo, Amelia Earhart, Marie Curie, Simone Biles or Maria Montessori — only to name a few of the heroes in this book — is a way in which we can teach our children that no dream is too big if you set your mind, heart and soul into it.
Don’t succumb to patriarchal pressure
One of the hardest tasks of parenting is facing other parents. There’s a lot of ¨parent shaming¨ going around, and that is truly unfortunate. Sometimes parents feel like a failure because they don’t have it ¨all together¨ at all times, or they might feel angry at other parents who won’t raise their kids with the same values as they do.
Building a network of parents can be an incredibly rewarding experience, only if everyone in that network supports and encourages each other to become the best possible versions of themselves. Just like you tell your children, surround yourself with people who raise you up instead of bringing you down, the same is applicable for parents.
At the end of the day, most parents are doing the best job they can do. If they’re not doing a ¨better¨ job — and I use this word cautiously, because it’s impossible to simplify what a ¨better¨ job looks like — it is because they don’t know how to.
If there’s one thing that we’ve learned from those studying generational differences is that children in 2017 are not the same as children back in 1957. If children change, then parents change as well. If we demand flexible thinking and empathy with our kids, we owe to them to be open to change and learning, as well.