Monday, October 1st, 2012
Editor’s Note: In a post for an ongoing series, Dr. Harley A. Rotbart, a Parents advisor, will be guest blogging once a month. He will be offering different advice, tips, and personal stories on how parents can “savor the moment” and maximize the time they spend with kids. Read more posts by Harley Rotbart from this series.
As a pediatrician, I may have been ahead of my time in advocating gender-neutral play for kids. Beginning nearly 25 years ago when our oldest was born and continuing with his sister and brother, we gave our boys ample opportunity to play with dolls and our daughter saw more than her share of toy trucks. Despite our advanced thinking, by the time they were 2, 4, and 6 years old, the kids seemed to have already absorbed society’s subliminal stereotyping, gravitating to the predictable playthings for their gender. Our kids really loved playing together, so most of their play was gender generic: backyard soccer, Beanie Babies, Candy Land, card games, and climbing towers. We gradually reconciled ourselves to the fact that some of their play would never cross gender lines.
As they got a little older, our daughter found girlfriends who loved Barbie dolls as much as she did (there were some non-stop Ken and Barbie days from breakfast to dinner) and the boys played ball — all the time, with each other and with other boys in the neighborhood. (Our oldest son’s first question, when we brought his baby brother home from the hospital, was: “When will he be old enough to play baseball?”). Occasionally, when Ken and Barbie were tired or when her friends had to go home, our daughter would join the boys in the backyard for ball. But the reverse never happened, for two reasons: the boys never tired of ball and Barbies were for girls.
That brings us to the fateful day when our now 4, 6, and 8 year old kids taught us an important lesson about the ability of kids’ imaginations to transcend all the TV, movie, children’s books, and playground stereotypes they were exposed to every day. It was a rainy Saturday and Emily’s closest Barbie buddies were all unavailable. This was a potential 7.0 crisis on the kid Richter scale.
Downstairs, in the basement, our boys had a 5 foot basketball hoop set up for rainy days. To compensate for age and size difference, our 8 year old played on his knees. Meanwhile upstairs, our daughter was able to sustain a Barbie soap opera (there was always drama with Ken and Barbie) on her own for about half an hour, but then she exhausted her imagination and needed a friend to contribute to the plot and dialog. But on this day, there were no friends and no outdoor options.
This was clearly a parenting moment, and my wife leaped into action. She called the boys upstairs and told them they had to be their sister’s Barbie buddies, at which point we both upgraded to DEFCON 3 and waited for the explosion. No explosion. Just a loud groan from the 8 year old and an echo groan from the 4 year old, followed by the negotiations. Will she play basketball with us after? How long do we have to do it? Do we have to talk like Barbie? When’s lunch? Each question asked by the 8 year old was echoed by the 4 year old. At that point, mom made it very clear: Your sister puts up with a lot of boy stuff in this house. Please go upstairs, now. Play Barbie and pretend to like it. Big groan, echo groan, synchronous stair stomping.
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Tuesday, February 21st, 2012
Sex-Changing Treatments Are on the Rise in Kids
A small but growing number of teens and even younger children who think they were born the wrong sex are getting support from parents and from doctors who give them sex-changing treatments, according to reports in the medical journal Pediatrics.
Ultrasound Abortion Bill Nears Vote in Virginia
A bill requiring a woman to get an ultrasound before having an abortion is poised to pass Virginia’s legislature this week, placing it on track to be signed into law by Gov. Bob McDonnell.
New Guidelines Planned on School Vending Machines
The Obama administration, in a continuation of its efforts to curb childhood obesity, plans to set nationwide guidelines to promote healthy choices in schools.
Kids Who Don’t Gender Conform Are at Higher Risk of Abuse
Swapping gender roles is common in childhood play, but a new study finds that non-conforming kids are at risk for physical and sexual abuse and post-traumatic stress.
Even Babies Can Recognize What’s Fair
Babies as young as 19 months are affronted when they see displays of injustice.
How Much Sleep Do Teens Really Need? Maybe Less than You Think
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If your teen’s lack of sleep is keeping you up nights, a new study should help put your mind at ease.
Monday, June 13th, 2011
This past weekend, The New York Times published an article about the gender identity/gender confusion debate that has been an ongoing national focus this year.
While it’s nothing new that little boys (particularly toddlers and preschoolers) “cross” gender stereotypes by wearing dresses, playing with dolls, and wearing neon pink nail polish, what’s new is how parents are handling their kids’ interests.
Instead of forcing boys to conform to gender stereotypes, more parents are supportive and letting their kids express themselves. Whether a child really is gay or not or just exploring different interests, parents are keeping an open mind and letting kids grow up confident in their own interests and choices.
As a parent, what are your thoughts?
More about gender identity on Parents.com
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Wednesday, May 25th, 2011
The first question new parents are asked when they’re expecting a baby is: Boy or girl?
A Canadian couple is challenging society’s idea of gender identity by keeping the gender of their new baby a secret…even after birth. At four months, Storm is the third child for Kathy Witterick and David Stocker (a teacher at a small, alternative school that focuses on social justice issues), who have two other sons, Jazz (5) and Kio (2). Despite being boys, both Jazz and Kio were raised without assigned gender expectations or limitations, meaning they’re encouraged to play with boys and girls toys, wear boys and girls clothes (in “girly” colors of pink and purple), and grow their hair long if they choose.
The immediate family (including grandparents), a few close friends, and midwives know Storm’s true gender, but the parents have decided to keep the baby genderless by avoiding the use of male or female pronouns. Inspired by a book published in 1978, “X: A Fabulous Child’s Story” by Lois Gould, about a child raised without gender roles, the couple hoped to give Storm a chance to grow and decide on what gender to identify with, without society’s pressure.
While the couple’s decision has caused confusion and criticism (Will Storm feel marginalized later in life? Which public restroom will Storm use? Are the parents pushing their own political and social agendas on Storm?), the debate around gender identity comes hot on the heels of more recent news. Chaz Bono, formerly Chastity Bono, just released a memoir and a documentary about his decision to become a man through a sex-change operation. Cheryl Kilodavis, a mother of a little boy who loves wearing tutus and tiaras, was on national news earlier this year after writing “The Princess Boy.”
In a world that delineates between the power of princesses and the strength of superheroes, could the couple’s unique parenting decision succeed in helping society get rid of gender labels and stereotypes?
Read more about gender identity on Parents.com
What do you think of keeping your child’s gender a secret? Would you do the same?
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