What is the difference between having girl or boy children? Is it that little boys are made of snips and snails and computer games but girls are sugar and spice and all things Frozen?
At the moment, I’m learning one of the main differences between having a baby and a toddler (aside from having long and pointless conversations about the colour of bowl that will ensure they eat their lunch) is that they begin to understand gender. Indy has become obsessed with pointing out who are girls and who are boys, and those that are ‘man’ and ‘ladies’ (her words, not mine).
Sticking it to gender-specific parenting.
And, she’s seems pretty clear about the fact that she is a girl (and apparently, so am I!)
But, what I want to know is does her gender really make a difference to how I should parent her?
I read an article recently by a guy called Steve Biddulph, he’s a psychologist who specialises in parenting. He’s written a book called 10 Things Girls Need Most to Grow Up Strong and Free (pretty catchy title, right?) However, as a parent of a wee girl who I want all those things for, I was desperate to read it.
So, here’s the skim: we should take them outside more, stop eye-rolling at the speed of technology and give boundaries rather than timeline that it wasn’t like that in our day. We should work less and spend more time with them and encourage our daughters, by example, to be adventurous, to be explorers and not dress them in clobber that can’t get grubby.
Yes, yes, yes, I think as I read it.
But, there’s more, he says we should teach them to understand and cope with their emotions, their sexuality, and the importance of friendships…
Then it hits me. Why is this particular to girls?
Steve (I feel like I know him now) says that there is an epidemic of mental health issues facing our kids, but especially girls. This devastates me; but I can’t help wondering if continuing this idea that we should raise her this way and him another is not a contributing factor. Gender isn’t contained in a neat little rhyme about snails, we know it’s far more complex than that.
Surely, parenting is about the kid, not the gender? If Indy wants to run around and get grubby I am all for it but if she wants to look pretty and read quietly then why is that not ok too?
Aren’t parenting guides like this - however well meaning - just continuing the damaging stereotypes that lead girls (or boys) to feel they need to be a certain way? I know we don’t live in an equal world nor do we live in a gender-neutral one. When children are born, their sex is the most obvious difference (although, frankly, pop a nappy on and most babies look like Gandhi).
It would be bonkers to say we are all the same, that our children are all the same and, therefore, we should parent them all the same. However, I do think there is something a bit dangerous about continuing certain myths about gender, because it starts in childhood. We’re better than that and so are our children.
So, whether it’s playing with trucks or singing songs from Frozen, parenting shouldn’t be gender-neutral.. but it should be child specific.