Here is what you should know about the gender-neutral parenting trend and if it's right for you.

By Linda Diproperzio
Alexandra Grablewski

Blue is for boys and pink is for girls—that's what most of us were raised to believe. But some parents are taking the opposite approach to parenting by choosing to raise their children gender neutral. In fact, several states are now allowing parents to choose "X" rather than male or female as their child's gender on their birth certificate. Kate Hudson recently announced she taking a genderless approach to raising her daughter, Rani, and years back, Sweden took a big step in addressing this trend by adding a gender-neutral personal pronoun "hen" to the country's vocabulary.

This gender neutral parenting style is still a controversial topic here in the United States. Although some think it's a great way to encourage a child to embrace his or her true identity, others believe it will confuse the child and alienate him socially. Here, some common questions and answers about this parenting style.

What exactly is gender-neutral parenting?

There are different degrees of gender-neutral parenting. Some parents take an extreme approach. One couple from Toronto still hasn't revealed the gender of their 3-year-old, Storm. According to the Toronto Star, Storm's parents wrote in an e-mail to family and friends, explaining that their decision was "a tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation, a standup to what the world could become in Storm's lifetime (a more progressive place?)."

Parents who want to practice a lesser form of gender-neutral parenting might simply encourage their children to play with both "boy" and "girl" toys, keep clothing and room décor neutral, and allow their children to pick their own clothes--even if that means their son goes to school in a tutu or their daughter goes out dressed as Spider-Man.

Lisa Cohn of Portland, Oregon, is raising her kids in her family's version of gender-neutral parenting. "We definitely avoid stereotypes about Mom doing the dishes and Dad mowing the lawn. That's not what our kids see at all," Cohn says. "I generally let my youngest son wear pink if he wants to, and he often appears in public wearing a headband. And I'm very careful about how I talk about girls and boys--and don't choose books that stereotype men and women."

Is it healthy for the child?

It depends on whom you ask. "A major pro to raising a gender-neutral baby is that you will be allowing your child to develop without the artificially created limitations that society has placed around gender," says Israel Martinez, a licensed clinical social worker. "As human beings, we crave to make life simpler and new information easier to digest. So we naturally want to establish categories, or boxes, that everything needs to fit into." Unfortunately, Martinez says, these gender norms are too limiting and can make kids feel like they have to be something they're not--and this can keep kids from being as happy and healthy as possible.

For Jane Ward, an associate professor of Women's Studies at the University of California, Riverside, the decision to parent her son this way was an easy one. "Raising a child under these strict gender guidelines is denying them an entire world of colors--they become tracked into the characteristics of their biological sex." Ward's 4-year-old son has grown up wearing both jeans and dresses, plays with all types of toys, and, until recently, had long hair. He told his parents not long ago that although he identifies with being a boy, he doesn't want to give up wearing girls' clothes.

But other experts--like Fran Walfish, Psy.D., a psychotherapist based in Beverly Hills, California--disagree. "Every boy and girl child must make a strong identification as a male or female person. Without it, the child feels lost and confused about [his or her] own identity. Gender and sexuality are only aspects of a person's identification. The goal is for clarity. Without male or female gender, clarity the child is not a full person."

Does gender-neutral parenting affect sexuality?

Most research supports the idea that homosexuality is the result of genetics and biology, not environment. And according to a study in the journal Pediatrics, 85 percent of gender nonconforming youth identify as heterosexual in adulthood.

How does it affect a child socially?

Strict gender-neutral parenting is difficult to do if your child is in day care or school, says Marni Axelrad, Ph.D., an adolescent psychologist at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston. "If you're not going to have your child in social situations with other kids--if he's just at home with you or a sitter most of the time--then it's possible."

People do get nervous with the unfamiliar, though, and your child's dress or play style might open up difficult questions from classmates and friends that their parents will have to address. So don't be surprised if it causes issues with those parents--and for your child socially.

Cohn definitely worries about her 5-year-old son being teased. "While I like that it teaches kids to buck stereotypes and that they should follow their hearts and intuition, they can be teased for dressing or acting like the stereotype of the other sex. And I think the teasing is a big issue--I don't want my kids to be teased."

Dr. Axelrad agrees that parents shouldn't base their decisions on what others think, but cautions that the decision to raise a gender-neutral kid shouldn't be done to "make the child an agent for social change. It should be done to help the child develop [his or her] own identity, regardless of what [his or her] gender is."

How does it affect playtime?

It shouldn't. In fact, parents of gender-neutral kids typically encourage their children to play with all types of toys. "The healthiest thing is to have a variety of toys available--cars, dolls, et cetera--and let the children decide what they want to play with," Dr. Axelrad says. "Parents also want to encourage imaginative play on all levels, not just specific to a child's gender."


Comments (8)

March 4, 2019
I've noticed a trend in these comments of conflating sex and gender. Understanding the difference between those two terms is an important starting place for having a discussion about gender issues. Yes, babies are typically born with two X or one X and one Y chromosome. This determines your sex which is to say what set of genitals you have. But that's actually not the end of the story. There are some exceptions here in rare cases; for example, androgen insensitivity (in which someone with XY chromosomes does not respond to androgens/male sex hormones and develops female characteristics - many are unaware until they are unable to conceive and discover undescended testicles instead of ovaries) or Turner Syndrome (single X chromosome). Biology throws a curveball sometimes. Gender is not the same as sex. Sex happens in your genitals. Gender happens in your brain. Those sex chromosomes aren't done after creating sex organs. You'll often hear that gender is a social construction. While socialization is absolutely a part of gender (and that is a complex idea I'm not addressing in this post), I believe in, and there is scientific evidence to support, a biological basis for gender as well. Hormones act both in our brains - we see difference in performance on spatial tasks between men and women; there's even differences that can be detected across women's performances dependent on the menstrual cycle - and bodies - this can be observed most notably around puberty when secondary sex characteristics emerge. Now imagine there's a mismatch that occurs between how hormones are affecting a developing brain and a developing body. Gender and Sex may not always have a 1:1 correspondence. Some people may choose to raise their children with this dichotomy in mind, whether their child is gender nonconforming or not. And that's a fine choice for them to make. Mostly, people are just trying to make the best decisions they can for their children. My husband and I are raising our 4 month old son as a boy, but whoever he turns out to be is just fine with us. I mean, who wouldn't want to wear dresses? They're so comfortable, especially in the summer.
March 3, 2019
This is so ridiculous and extremely concerning. Either you have two X chromosomes and you are a girl or you have an X and a Y chromosome and you are a boy. End of story. I can't even believe people are screwing up their kids and society as a whole by being so ignorant. I'm not saying a boy shouldn't be able to play with a doll and a girl can't play with a truck but you don't just let your child decide what gender they are. That was already decided at conception.
March 3, 2019
This article could have been much shorter. Under the headline, the full text should have simply been "No." End of article. Interesting that of three experts cited, it appears that the more qualified the expert was, the less receptive they were to this ridiculous trend.
February 4, 2019
This article is concerning. There's a reason we have had gender association across the world, for the history of mankind. I'm raising a girl who can be whatever and whoever she wants, but was born a girl, genetically, has a biological and chemical makeup of a female, and will be raised as such until she can decide at a mature age otherwise. A 4 year old crossdressing is just confusing for a child. how sad're forming, and controlling his experiences. It's not him choosing to be confused about gender at an age where he can't conceive what that even means, that's your choice placed on him.
March 6, 2019
Did you run a DNA test on your girl to know for sure she is a genetic female? If you haven't done so, please check Androgen insensitivity syndrome.
February 5, 2019
Thank God I am not the only one that feels/believes what you say. I also firmly believe that it is our responsibility to raise them as either boy or girl and see how they develop into adulthood. Then they can maturely make any decision they'd like!
January 22, 2019
Why? It seems this is more the parents identity crisis/latest fashion than anything else. There are too many "choices" these days, so much, that kids are very confused, drugs, mental illness, mass school shootings, alienation. The gender you are born with isn't a "choice." It's who you are, at the cellular level. If any kids at a later date, when they are MATURE ENOUGH to make a "decision" ON THEIR OWN, that they MAY be trans, it is THEIR DECISION. Why are these stupid millenial parents doing harm to their children because of their own issues? How sad. Life REALLY isn't that complicated. Really, it isn't. Be happy.
Mass shootings? Really? You can't be serious. You think mass shootings are caused by kids who are allowed to play with whatever toys they want or allowed to wear the clothes they like the most? Yeah, mass shootings definitely aren't caused by toxic masculinity!