Those of you who are regular visitors to my blog, my YouTube channel, my Instagram, and my Facebook probably know that I am quite open about a lot of things in my life & in my son’s life (he is 2 years old). I frequently post pictures of him nursing, of our daily routine (and shenanigans) and voice my opinion when I see fit. For those of who are not yet “regular visitors” to my various platforms, well, now you know: I am very open and opinionated, in a very gentle and not-all-up-in-your-face kind of way.
Recently, I posted a picture on Instagram of my son holding his baby doll. (Yes, my son has a baby doll.) Do you know that this was one of the most well-liked pictures of all my various platforms and posts? Yup. It was. I had so many people reach out to me after posting this saying, “thank you” and “I really appreciate you posting this picture.” I was quite taken aback. Before posting, I had assumed that this picture would be a “hit” but I didn’t realize how large of a “hit” it would be until it was done.
Here’s the thing, for me, when it comes to gender norms: I grew up in a very small town in the south. Very small. It has since grown but, man, when I was little, it was mostly fields and back country roads and running in to someone you knew everywhere you went – that kind of small town. Being in the “Bible Belt” and in a small town at that, gender norms were not something that was even slightly approached – at all. Girls were expected to be quiet and reserved and to play with baby dolls and Barbies, and boys were expected to be loud and rambunctious and play with Army men and guns. That was it. There were no exceptions to this whatsoever.
In my particular situation, being raised by my amazing mom and dad, my brother and I were allowed to stray from these norms. Some of our most treasured memories are those of me playing flashlight tag with my brother and the “neighborhood boys” and of my brother playing Barbies and baby dolls with me. We never blinked an eye at this (again, because of the people my parents were and still are). Unfortunately for most of my friends, this was not the case. You were to act like what you were: boy or girl. No in between.
Fast forward to almost three years ago when I found out I was pregnant with my son, Harrison: the closer I got to delivering this sweet, precious, baby boy, the closer I got to realizing that I wanted to be nothing like the people in the small town in which I grew up. Now, they were “sweet as pie” and would do anything to help a neighbor out…they weren’t bad people, per-say. They simply had very close-minded views of the world and let these views infiltrate the way they raised their children; this is what I knew I wanted to avoid, at all costs.
I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I wanted to raise my son to be a good person – not just a good man, but a good person. I knew that I wanted to raise him without the confines of a small-town-way-of-life-state-of-mind: one wherein he could be who he wanted to be, whoever that was, and one where he knew that he would be loved immensely, no matter what.
Before I even knew he would be a boy, I knew that I wanted to buy mostly-gender-neutral clothes for him/her, because I wanted to be able to appreciate the baby I had, without him or her being lost in an overwhelmingly-boy-or-girl outfit. My husband and I purchased almost everything in gender-neutral colors (lots of grays, mint greens, yellows, orange, etc.). Once Harrison was born, I immediately started researching all the latest gender-neutral toys on the market (can you tell how determined I was to prevent any type of stereotypical nonsense in his life?) and found a lot of good ones.
Both my husband and I knew that we wanted Harrison to be able to enjoy the things we enjoyed, while simultaneously becoming his own person with his own interests. I personally enjoy a lot of creative things such as acting, singing, painting, dancing, etc. and my husband enjoys creative things in the realm of music and comics. Because of how we chose to raise him, neither of us have ever batted an eye when I perform acting or singing for Harrison, and encourage him to join in, or when my husband plays the most 80s-goth-and-new-wave or 90s-grunge-and-indie you could imagine and motivates Harrison to dance along.
We would never prevent Harrison from doing or engaging in something he loved – of course, so long as this thing did not hurt him. We bought the baby doll for him when he was about a year and half old, and he has loved it ever since. While he doesn’t necessarily play with it every day, when he does play with it he is all in: he pretends to diaper and change his baby, he feeds his baby and comforts him when he is “crying,” he strolls his baby to the “grocery store” and to the “park” and is just such an amazing little daddy to him. It is incredible to witness.
I say all of this not to say that Harrison cannot be a boy; Harrison is, what people from my home town would call, “all boy.” He loves to run and play outdoors and get super dirty. He loves to play with sports balls of any kind and pretend he is the next Michael Jordan or Babe Ruth. He loves “fixing” things with his “tools” and goodness – playing with his train more than any child I’ve ever seen. He is so energetic that most days I feel like I have run two marathons and sometimes my patience runs thin because of his two-year-old ways. He is truly “all boy“. But he is not just that. My husband and I view Harrison as “all child” because that is exactly what he is: a child. He is full of life and passion and compassion and energy and wonder and so many other amazing things I wish I could just bottle up and take daily! He is who he is.
We have had family members give us “the eye” when they see Harrison playing with his baby doll or seeing that he received a stroller as a bonus Christmas present. We have had neighbors give us a certain “look” when Harrison is dressed in bright yellow pants with a neon green helmet that has pink pigs on it – because I guess it just isn’t “boy” enough. I have had countless people (friends and family members alike) ask when I was going to stop nursing Harrison, and although I know this is not a gender-norm topic, I think it needs to be addressed within a gender-norm blog because here is the thing: he is my child and he is loved and he is appreciated for who he is and will be appreciated for who he becomes and that is all that should EVER matter.
So, here’s what I say to you, mama (or dada, or uncle, or aunt, or whoever you are reading this because you have a child in your life whom you wish to not place in a gender-specific box): let your child be who he/she is. Let them play with what they want to play with. Introduce them to things that boys or girls wouldn’t typically play with (if you’re from a small town like I am) and see what they do or how they react. Let them run wild and free and let them be who they are and be little while they still are. And you know what else mama? If you are still nursing your two year old, keep nursing them. Do it as long as you see fit. Don’t let others’ judgment play any part in your decision as to when you want to wean your child or when you think they are ready.
We can still love our family members, friends, our fellow neighbors and even strangers we pass by in the grocery store, even if they are passing judgment or trying to tell us how to raise our children. We can still love them. In my experience, those who are passing judgment (which, in this day and time is just beyond ridiculous) are the ones who need our love the most. We can make this world a better place, moms and dads. We can. I firmly believe it. I didn’t ever give two moments of my time to thinking about gender-norms before I became pregnant, but I have given it a lot of thought since then. And you know what? I truly feel that squashing these norms (and the ones regarding extended breastfeeding and other ridiculously-taboo topics like this) is a big step in the right direction to making the world a better place in which our children will grow and someday live.
As always, thank you for reading, and take care. 🙂