I no longer have a baby. She is now a toddler. Along with her growing independence comes new challenges for me as a parent. She is both more independent and aware of the world and those are fabulous and interesting things to observe, but these developments also bring worries. I worry about her being entertained, her learning, her being engaged during the time we spend together, and about her awareness of being a girl.
So let me back up a bit and tell you about how I have approached gender thus far. I always choose clothing and toys that are gender neutral where possible. She has dresses and such but I try to pick the orange or green dress rather than the bubble gum pink one with bows and hearts all over it. When we get hand-me-downs I limit the amount of pink I’ll accept… and yes I have been given WHOLE BAGS of an entirely pink and purple wardrobe! I will “re-home” any toys that are unnecessarily pink (like a shape sorter?!) We haven’t gotten to princesses but I intend on limiting that exposure as much as I can and also explaining the realities of that role (long hours, always being watched, no privacy, well-educated, often multi-lingual, etc.) If she’s going to love being a princess then she can be just like one~ speaking many languages! I also make sure she has a range of toys (dolls which include a boy doll, trucks, etc.) Overall I am trying to just be even about it all. I don’t want to ban her from anything because that would be forcing her to be something I want… I just want to give her the chance to see her options and choose what she really wants to be.
With all this in mind I head to the internet. In my searches for engaging educational activities I found the last element in my list, that of gender, coming to the fore-front. What I expose her to now, even at this age, does matter and it makes a difference in all areas. I found great lists of toddler activities, but my searches lead me on to some even more interesting points on raising children and girls specifically. One element I noticed right away is that toddler activities are almost always gender neutral, and they are somewhat science based (exploring materials and how they interact). As children get older what we choose to expose them to becomes more gender specific… and yes I do think it’s the parents and not the children who really make those choices.
I was reminded of a TED talk that I watched several years ago on dangers activities for kids. So I found that clip again and re-watched it and you should too. My first thought when I watched this years ago was that he was correct~ all kids should do these activities! I still believe that, and even more so if you are a girl. I also think it is important that both parents are involved in this exploration because we have a tendency to have Dad show the kids how to use tools and throw things, while Mom shows them cooking and crafting. Children learn by all examples, and that includes the not so hidden lesson that Dad does X and Mom does Y. A girl who sees that only men fix electronics may eventually decide that she’s out-of-place and give up on that activity. Those 5 dangerous things every child should do are also things every mother and father should do with their child.
Much of what I’ve talked about is echoed in this Forbes article on how we as a society are chipping away at our girls’ futures. There’s too much pink, too much politeness, and too much princess in our society!
All of this delving into the psyche of organized activities got me thinking about our normal daily routine and what impact other aspects of my parenting are having on her. One thing that I’ve always tried to do is to let her be a bit risky. Girls are “thrown around” less as children. They’re cuddled and hugged but not rough-housed as much as boys and I’ve tried to keep tumbling in the mix for her. If she wants to stand on top of a box or climb something I try to let her test that limit for herself. I don’t want her to crack her head open but I do want her to learn that not every fall hurts, or hurts very much. And part of this process is for me too. She can do more every day and my expectation of what she is capable of often fall behind her development. Just last month she learned to put her own coat on by watching the older children at her daycare~ it wasn’t until she screamed and wrestled the coat from my hands that I realized she didn’t need my help.
I don’t spend all my waking hours thinking about how to raise a radicalized female, but I do try to keep in mind the little ways I can help her to feel empowered. Unlike her, my childhood was a less invasively connected one… she is going to be far more bombarded by negative female stereotypes than I was (or at least that is my feeling) and so I do want to give her every chance to feel empowered and retain her high self-esteem. This world will not walk all over my girl if I have anything to do with it.
Take a look at Gever Tully’s books.
I find this article a bit over the top; overly high expectations of the kids and the amount of time they spend not being kids excessive but it still has some fabulous points.