Now that my baby bump has reached the obvious point where people stop looking at it out of the corner of their eye and wonder whether or not they should risk asking when the baby is due, I'm finding it to be a great conversation starter. But inevitably, the second question is always the same – do you know what you're having?
To this question, I always sigh and say unfortunately not. I'm not really sure how this happened because I'm the person who reads the last page of a book first, can expertly lift tape to sneak a peek at Christmas presents and religiously reads spoilers for my favorite television shows. I'm not big on surprise. But, it seemed more important to my husband to not know than it did for me to know in the first weeks of my pregnancy, so I gave it to him. And then I proceeded to whine about it for the last seven months.
I don't disagree that it's one of the few surprises in nature that always results in a something great. I'm genuinely happy with a girl or a boy, but I'm impatient and ready to shop. Do I get to buy sweet little pink ruffles and flowery dresses, or do I go for the dump truck sleepers and cute little baby Carhartts? Am I going to be watching The Little Mermaid or Peter Pan for the next 5 years?
My instant image of what a girl meant versus what a boy meant got me thinking about the great gender debate. Does the gender of a baby really affect how we raise our children?
While I like to think that I wouldn't subscribe to gender stereotypes and instead work at raising a well-rounded child who dresses and plays however they want, I can already see myself type-casting for a boy or girl. I can picture dressing a little girl up as a princess, reading her fairy tales and someday passing on the heirloom Barbie house that is sitting in my basement. A boy on the other hand pulls up images of playing with dump trucks in the sand, splashing through mud puddles and wrestling with his dad. And while I wouldn't tell my son no or discourage him if he wanted to play with a doll, I'm also not likely to be pushing it on him.
If you look around, you'll see this is a common trend. For example, a study was done a while back in which they took babies and regardless of their gender wrapped them in pink or blue blankets. The study found that people were more likely to coddle the babies they perceived to be girls; they responded to their cry more quickly, were more gentle in how they held them and spent more time cooing over them and complimenting them. The baby "boys" on the other hand were more likely to be bounced on a knee or left a little bit longer to cry it out, you know, because boys are supposed to be tough.
There have also been two cases out of Europe recently, one in Sweden and one in the U.K., where parents didn't even release the gender of their child. In both cases, the baby was given an androgynous name and raised without knowledge of their gender; they were allowed to dress however they wanted, play with whatever toys struck their fancy and interact with other children without any preconceived notion of how they were supposed to. And you know what? It angered a lot of people.
Why? Because people want to know how to respond to a child. It makes them uncomfortable to not know whether to make the story about a beautiful princess or a brave knight. They struggle to make a connection with someone who they don't have any preconceived notions about how to act around. People are set in their ways.
Now, I think this is an extreme case and isn't something that would benefit a child in any way. Not knowing their own gender just sets them up for a lifetime of confusion over their own identity. But, I think there is some learning from this. Namely, how can we raise a child without the pressure of their gender pressing down on them at every turn?
Some gender education is necessary- it is a large part of their identity and helps them to socially fit in. But there are little changes we can make in our behaviour as caregivers to help kids grow up to be well-rounded and more likely to have the confidence to be themselves.
When greeting a little girl, maybe we don't need to compliment them instantly on their appearance or pretty new accessory. Maybe we instead engage her in a conversation about a favourite book or activity and show her we value her thoughts. Instead of telling her a story about a princess all the time, why not throw in one about an explorer every once in a while? Girls can be explorers, too.
On the flipside, if a little boy falls down and cries, maybe we should be kissing his knee better and giving him a hug instead of telling him to be brave. While traditional male traits of being tough and brave are worthwhile, the ability to empathize is something to praise too. Or if he wants to play tea party, we should smile and thank him for his skills as a host instead of handing him a G.I. Joe toy. Boys don't always want to be superheroes.
I think all that it really comes down to is this: we all want our kids to be happy. So why not let them do what makes that happen?