The mommy soap box part 1: Stepping up

Pardon me while I take a moment and step UP on my mommy soap box. This will be long, and opinionated, and wordy. Brace yourselves. Sometime within the last few weeks I was out with Keelin when a lady-stranger approached the stroller, stopped and bent down to take a look at my sleeping bean. The following conversation ensued:

Stranger: Is this your baby? Me: Yes ma'am. {said while proudly smiling} Stranger: Seriously? Me: Um... yes. That's my baby. {No I'm lying for fun} Stranger: Wow. Boy? Me: No, she's a girl. Stranger: Oh Then she walked away, leaving me feeling overly protective and kind of annoyed.

While our conversation was quite short, it successfully stirred up many emotions. First of all, why was she so surprised that it was my baby? Perhaps I look young... so I'll let it slide. Second of all, what a random way to end the conversation! Just say "Oh" and walk away? Strange. And lastly, was it really that hard to guess the sex of my child? I don't think so.

Now, don't get me wrong... I realize that when it comes to infants, sometimes it's tough to tell whether or not you're looking at a boy or a girl. However, on that particular day Keelin was not only dressed head to toe in pink, but there was a pink elephant hanging from her car seat handle and the blanket over her was purple and white. I don't know about you but that kind of screams 'girly' to me. So while I wasn't offended that this stranger first guessed boy, I was actually pretty surprised that despite ALL THE PINK she still got it wrong. You know what I mean?

A few days after this interaction the wheels in my noggin started turning and it really got me thinking. Dangerous, I know. I started thinking more about how silly it was that the woman guessed boy when the tiny person she was staring at was swimming in pink. Let's face it, she had a 50/50 chance of guessing right, and unless I had intentionally dresses a little boy in little girl's clothes or had decked Keelin out in the famously gender-neutral YELLOW, she really had to be paying ZERO attention to get it wrong. Am I right?

Then those thoughts got me thinking about this whole GENDER NEUTRAL way of raising children, at which point my wheels kicked into hyper-sensitive-overdrive. Before I continue, allow me to take one foot off the soap box and remind readers that this is simply my own opinion and I have no intention of hurting anyone's feelings with the side I take on certain issues. I apologize in advance if anyone is offended by what I have to say but I welcome any and all comments, be they intended to back me up or smack me in the face! Foot back on box, and continuing on...let's talk about Gender Neutral Parenting {GNP}.

When I say GNP I'm not talking about parents who choose gender-neutral names {Sean, Alex, Taylor, etc.}, support their little girl in her desire to be a football player, or cheer on their son at his first dance recital. That's all good and grand and great and I totally support your decisions. While I secretly hope Keelin will grow up loving dance, playing house, and getting WAY TOO EXCITED about picking out her senior prom dress, if she decides she'd rather wear steal-toed boots, be a race car driver, boycott dresses and make-up, or work in a motorcycle repair shop I will support her 100%. When I say GNP I'm thinking of the parents that raise their children with the intention of completely removing any and all gender stereotypes by letting the child decide what gender they want to be. Sound a little nuts? I thought so too, but this level of GNP is really out there!

For example, some of you may remember that Toronto couple that was all over the news last spring because they refuse to tell anyone {with the exception of a FEW family members} what gender their child is? I distinctly recall being totally shocked and confused at the whole idea behind their parenting decisions, and quite frankly I still am today! They claim their choice of A-sexual parenting is an attempt to "let Storm discover for him/herself what s(he) wants to be..." {yes, the child's name is Storm, brother or sister to Kio and Jazz who's sexes are also a mystery}. I'm sorry, but when Storm meets a new friend on the playground who innocently asks him/her, "are you a girl?", what on EARTH is he/she going to say? Are his/her parents seriously going to wait until Storm realizes that the person sitting next to him/her in Ms. Whatsherface's class has different stuff between the legs? What about when Family Life classes kick in {at which point there's NO questioning that girls and boys are DIFFERENT for a reason} or the "how are babies made" question arrises?  How about the SHOCK he/she will get after walking in on mommy and daddy, who have very different parts-is-parts, changing clothes or attempting to make another non-gendered child? Oh lord my blood pressure is rising the more I think about it all. Deep breaths Sara, deep breaths.

Here's the deal folks, it's one thing to encourage your child to be whoever they want to be and therefore become their own person, not a cookie cutter copy of mom and dad. That's just dandy and something I can totally stand behind. But no matter what you do or don't do to influence your child, and no matter how great an impact society has on them, at the end of the day a girl is a girl and a boy is a boy. You can't spin that any other way. Of course if he or she decides years down the road that they just can't take another day as the gender God created them to be, they are completely capable of nipping, tucking, and downing the hormone pills so they can be on their merry way. But until that time, there's a little something called ANATOMY that makes it pretty clear what TYPE of person you are.

It's true that society continuously tells us how it thinks girls and boys SHOULD look and behave, but the beauty of having cognitive thought and the freedom to choose means we can decide whether or not we want to fit into the molds that have been created for us. But at the end of the day, no matter what mold you decide to place yourself in, either you are MALE or FEMALE and that's the way the cookie crumbles {Bruce Almighty anyone?}.

And furthermore, a 5-year old, who is still wondering if there is a monster living under his or her bed, should not be DECIDING if they want to be a girl or a boy. At an age where the biggest concern in life should be which sugar-coated cereal they want for breakfast each morning, something as intense and complex as a sexual identity is far beyond what parents should expect them to handle. They are EITHER a girl... or a boy!

As a parents, it's our responsibility to provide the right amount of support so that our children are not stifled or restricted based on what "people say". We can encourage individuality and creativity in our children so that they grow up to be EXACTLY who they want to be! But it is also our responsibility, AS PARENTS, not to totally screw with our kid's brains in telling them they can DECIDE if they are one sex or another. Sorry Charlie, but it just doesn't work that way. This is the world we live in and it can be hard enough making it to the end of each day in one piece without having to deal with the little girl on the jungle-gym that doesn't KNOW she is a little girl.

Whether you are gay, straight, religious, spiritual, atheist, introverted, extroverted, creative, boring, OCD, or a total slob, there are some things that will ALWAYS play a part in defining who you are as a human being. It's not a BAD THING unless you let it be.

BLEH! Thanks for letting me take over the soap box. It's amazing where a simple interaction with a stranger can take you.

Until next time...

Please don't hesitate to share your own thoughts on the subject. I'd love to learn where others stand on the ideas of Gender Neutral Parenting.