Over the years, more and more parents are opting to raise kids in more gender-inclusive ways. The gender-inclusive parenting style has become popular due to how it allows kids to freely choose their likes and dislikes without relating it to stereotypes or assuming a gender role or identity.
All parenting styles will have their pros and cons. Knowing the pros and cons and how gender-inclusive parenting can affect your child’s development is important when deciding if it’s the right parenting style for your family.
What is gender-inclusive parenting?
Gender-inclusive, sometimes known as gender-creative parenting, or gender-neutral parenting, is following your child’s lead when it comes to their interests and not enforcing stereotypes with toys, clothes, hair, etc. Gender-inclusive parenting can also mean you’re allowing your child to be creative and don’t assume pronouns such as “she” or “he” but may refer to children with the neutral pronoun “they”.
This parenting style is a recognition of the spectrum of gender identities and expressions that exists among human beings, even from an early age. While developmentally kids will understand the differences between males and females/boys and girls as early as age 2 and start to identify their own identity as early as age 3 to 4 years old. Gender-inclusive parenting is an acknowledgment that sex assigned at birth doesn’t necessarily correlate with gender identity. This parenting style also reflects the understanding that gender isn’t binary, and there is more that exists to identity than simply just “male” and “female”, including categories such as non-binary, gender fluid, bigender, agender, and more.
Exploring the parenting styles across the gender spectrum can provide more clarity about questions or concerns you have relating to sex and gender, the social constructs of binary stereotypes, including to more granular topics like gender dysphoria or what gender-affirming care means.
Why gender-inclusive parenting is becoming more popular
According to writer Arwyn Daemyir, who is using this inclusive approach to parenting, gender-inclusive parenting started back in the 1980s and was mostly adopted in LGBTQ+ communities. However, over the last decade, the parenting style has become more popular as the visibility of LGBTQ+ communities increase, with more LGBTQ+ families sharing their stories, celebrities sharing their parenting style and a growing knowledge of how stereotypes and biases can affect children.
- LGBTQ+ families sharing their stories: One contributor to gender-inclusive parenting becoming more popular is LGBTQ+ families sharing their experiences and stories about raising their kids as gender expansive or using non-binary parenting or gender-creative parenting styles. These stories are making people feel less alone in their parenting decision and encouraging other parents to try a different parenting style.
The visibility of LGBTQ+ families and ways to parent outside of the binary has allowed more parents insight into parenting their children in more inclusive ways. It also makes kids who are gender expansive feel more included and less alone.
- Celebrities sharing their parenting style: Celebrities like Angelina Jolie and Adele sharing that they are raising their children as gender neutral has helped introduce people to this style of parenting. When parents have examples of what raising children in a gender-inclusive way looks like, it is more realistic to envision adopting this parenting style in your family.
- Growing awareness of stereotypes and biases: With the growing knowledge about how stereotypes and biases can affect child development, parents are opting to give their children a different experience than what they had growing up. Gender expression is incredibly varied and expansive, even among children who do not identify as transgender.
Allowing kids assigned female at birth to explore their masculinity, and kids assigned male at birth to explore their femininity, will positively impact all kids’ development and sense of self, and create more authentic identities and expressions that feel “home” to your child.
Does gender-inclusive parenting impact child development?
Between the ages of 2-5, children will start learning and picking up the differences between genders and their roles in society. You can expect to get questions about gender roles, and stereotypes from your child as they are getting exposed and trying to learn the difference. Questions like, “Are girls stronger than boys?” or “If he is a boy, why does he have long hair?”.
During this developmental stage, kids are observing the world around them and reading “gender scripts” or what society is teaching them about what it means to be a boy or a girl or something in between. They are also trying out the things that they like best (clothing, toys, movies or shows, etc.) and learning if this is accepted or not in their family, at their school, and with their friends.
Around this time is also when children will start labeling themselves with one gender or the other. How you approach parenting during this stage will affect how they perceive gender and gender stereotypes later on in life.
Children that were raised in an inclusive environment will typically grow up to be more open and accepting of themselves and their peers who may have identities outside the binary. They will be more gender inclusive in their language, and actions and more likely to be accepting of their peers who are transgender or gender diverse.
How gender-inclusive parenting works
With so many different parenting styles out there, it can get confusing. The key differentiator between gender-inclusive parenting and gendered parenting, or the traditional method of parenting, is allowing kids to explore and discover their identity. Gendered parenting typically enforces the binary norm and its roles in society.
One great thing about inclusive parenting is that it can exist on a spectrum. You can conceal the sex assigned at birth during pregnancy (avoiding things such as “gender reveal parties”) and continue doing so after birth to avoid gender roles and stereotypes being placed on your child. Or the more common approach is to support your child’s freedom of expression by not limiting them to certain hairstyles, activities, clothes, toys, etc. Below are a few tips on how to approach gender-inclusive parenting.
- Be neutral: Being neutral is not enforcing gender norms on your child and limiting them to only be able to do things that are typical for their sex assigned at birth. This may involve avoiding pronouns such as “she” or “he” and using “they” to refer to your child. Or when asked, “Are they a boy or a girl?”, an example response can be that they were assigned female at birth, but you are waiting for them to let you know their gender identity.
- Let them lead: Allow your child to explore their interests, whether that be dressing up in princess dresses or playing football. Teach kids that toys and clothes are for everyone. Offer them selections from both the “girls” and “boys” sections of the clothing store and let them choose what feels best. Or if you offer traditionally gendered clothing, and a child expresses an interest in exploring something different, allow them to try it out.
Prioritize kids being kids and having fun exploring their interests. Painting fingernails, trying out sports, and engaging in pretend play are all fun things for all children, regardless of their sex assigned at birth.
- Be flexible: Being flexible is a huge part of allowing your child to explore. Allowing your child to do something that may be more “boyish” one day and something more “girly” the next is a good way to dismantle gender norms. Also, helping them navigate comments that they may get from others helps reinforce that gender creativity is a value in your family, even if other kids and families don’t share that value.
For example, “In our family, it’s okay for boys to wear dresses. Maybe your friend made that comment because, in his family, it’s not okay for boys to wear dresses. How can I support you with your friend or in your classroom?”
- Teach healthy coping skills: There is a common saying that boys don’t cry. However, in gender-inclusive parenting, it is important to teach your child that it is ok for them to express and talk about their emotions.
We want both boys and girls to experience and be able to describe a full range of emotions and feel that their expression of those emotions is valid and accepted. This type of parenting encourages the development of empathy in children, which will benefit them long into their future friendships and other relationships as they grow.
When should you start gender-inclusive parenting?
Gender-inclusive parenting can be started anytime and it’s never too late to start. Most people will start raising their gender-neutral baby while it’s still in the womb. This can be done while the gender is unknown and then carried through intentionally as the baby grows. This is also frequently done when decorating nurseries with colors that aren’t usually associated with the assigned gender at birth or buying clothes or toys for your baby that reflect multiple expressions.
If gender-inclusive parenting is started later in a child’s life, this is fine as well. This involves opening up gender role categories for kids and allowing them to explore their expression, which can be done at any age including pre-school, elementary school, or teenage years. As a child grows, they will internalize more and more messages about how boys and girls “should” act based on the binary and stereotypes, so helping them express gender creativity may be more challenging.
Pros and cons of gender-inclusive parenting
Parenting isn’t easy and deciding how you parent can be a tricky choice. Knowing the pros and cons of gender-inclusive parenting can help you decide if it’s the right parenting style for your family. This style is great for supporting your child to discover who they are and increasing confidence, but it can also bring them challenges such as resistance and questions from others.
Pros of gender-inclusive parenting
This approach has become newer in the last few decades, and not much has been written about this style of parenting. However, we do know that this parenting style has a lot of benefits.
- Increased creativity: Because children are given the freedom of choice when it comes to how they want to look and the activities they choose to participate in, this in return increases the creativity that these kids will have. They will understand that clothes, toys, mannerisms, and expressions are open to anyone and everyone, including themselves, allowing them to truly express what is inside them.
- Increased confidence: Being able to explore and truly find their identity will make them confident in who they are regardless of the child’s gender. This type of confidence will translate to other aspects of the child’s life as they learn, grow and develop their relationships with others. There is nothing more affirming than being able to live as your most authentic self, and this is true at any age.
- Increased self-esteem: If children are supported through their exploration of who they are at a young age, they will grow up to have a higher level of self-esteem and love for who they are.
- Ability to explore all interests freely: When there are no roles and stereotypes that kids should follow and are limited to, they can explore all things that interest them freely.
- Continuous learning about bias: Raising a child as gender expansive can encourage them to continuously learn about bias, stereotypes (such as gender stereotypes and non-binary stereotypes) and be open-minded. This will lead them to be more accepting of different kinds of people and diverse views. They will also learn early on about sexism and gender roles, as they are asked questions like, “Why do you think boys are stronger than girls?” or “What jobs do you think you can have when you grow up?”.
Cons of gender-inclusive parenting
Gender-inclusive parenting has a lot of pros, but it also comes with some cons. The biggest cons for the gender-inclusive parenting style is that it can be hard to implement outside of your family and you may receive criticism for it.
- You may meet resistance: Although gender-inclusive parenting is picking up in popularity, it still isn’t as common as traditional parenting. This can make it hard for other adults in your child’s life to accept and understand your style of parenting and know how to talk to your child. Particularly those of other generations, like grandparents who raised a child when these ideas were less known, may have a harder time adapting to new pronouns or new gender expression choices.
- Avoiding gender entirely can be difficult: Your child is bound to be exposed to gender and its stereotypes and roles as they get older. Avoiding gender in a society that still implements binary, the idea that there are only two genders, will be hard and can lead to feelings of frustration and that you may want to give up.
- Requires thoughtful and intentional practice: Because gendered parenting is the “norm” in society, it will require more work to implement inclusive parenting. It can be draining for parents that weren’t raised in a gender-neutral environment to constantly be checking their bias and questioning if what they’re doing is right. Not to mention, if your family and friends aren’t used to or aren’t implementing this approach themselves, they will need help learning about the parenting style and confronting any unconscious bias they may have.
Explaining gender-inclusive parenting to friends, family and neighbors
There are numerous parenting stereotypes out there, regardless of the parenting style you choose. At The Mother Baby Center, we understand how frustrating having to constantly explain your parenting choice to others can be. If you’re reading this blog and are considering implementing this parenting style, I’m sure you already know that having to explain yourself will be inevitable. Below are some common questions that you might get from people and possible responses that you can use.
- What is gender-inclusive parenting? “Gender-inclusive parenting is allowing my child to explore and express themself through things such as their interests, clothes and gender expression, regardless of their sex assigned at birth.”
- Aren’t you worried about how this will impact your child? “Every parenting style has its pros and cons. I believe that gender-inclusive parenting will help my child be more confident, have higher self-esteem and be more accepting of different people in their life.”
- What if your child wants to identify as a boy or girl? “Gender-inclusive parenting doesn’t mean my child can’t identify as a boy or girl. I just don’t want to limit my child to only those two gender categories, and I want them to understand that there are lots of ways to express feelings like a boy or a girl or something in between.”
- Aren’t you afraid your child will get bullied? “Bullying can happen regardless of parenting style and typically happens when kids think another kid is different from them. It is my job as the parent to provide my child with the necessary tools to handle this type of situation.”
We hope that these example responses help answer the many questions that you might get about your parenting style choice. At the end of the day, it is important to trust your instinct and know that you as the parent will know what is best for your child.
Gender-inclusive parenting as your baby grows
The great thing about gender-inclusive parenting is that it encourages flexibility. As your child grows, you might find that their interests and how they choose to express themself will change over time.
If your child decides to identify as one binary over the other, it doesn’t mean that you have to change your parenting style. Do the same as before and support your child in their exploration of who they want to be and what it means to express their gender identity. All ways to be a boy or a girl are valued, including ways that conform to the binary. We want all kids to be the most authentic version of who they are.
Share your parenting story with The Mother Baby Center
Gender-inclusive parenting is great for encouraging your child to explore and express themself freely without the limitations of gender binary and its societal norms. Like other parenting styles, gender-inclusive parenting will have its pros and cons. It is important to know the pros and cons and how it can affect your child before deciding if it’s the right parenting style for your family.
The Mother Baby Center recognizes that parenting styles are deeply personal and vary from one family to the next. Parenting can be hard and is definitely not a one-size-fits-all! Share your parenting stories or what you’ve learned about gender from your children. It’s a great way to help other parents that are deciding if gender-inclusive parenting is right for them.