WHEN WE FIRST RECEIVED the test results indicating our baby’s gender, I completely missed the paragraph amidst other routine test results. I was mostly concerned with learning whether or not I was going to have a healthy baby. I was an older mom with some anxieties around my pregnancy.
Truth be told, I was certain I was going to have a girl. I wanted so badly to bring a girl into the world to add to the empowering “the future is female” movement that had been happening before and during my pregnancy, that I had been participating in and advocating since graduating from a women’s college.
Two days later, I re-opened the letter from the lab and saw the capital letters B-O-Y. I screamed out in surprise! Ha! A boy! A boy? And then I cried.
For a few days I was a little sad that I wasn’t going to have a girl. I needed to quickly process and even mourn the loss of the daughter in my mind and make room in my heart for a son. There it was in print. I was going to have have a boy. A white boy – the face of ultimate privilege in America. I wasn’t sure I had it in me to raise one.
As soon as I was able to share that I was having a boy, all kinds of women in my life reached out to tell me what a joy it is to raise a boy. “There’s nothing like the sweetness a boy has for his mother,” one colleague assured me. There were all kinds of testimonies about the joys of raising boys.
It became clear to me about how clearly we divide babies into two genders, and the weight we put on families and those babies before they even come out of the womb. While I appreciated the anecdotal nostalgia my mamas of boys friends shared with me, I recognized the weight of the first question we ask a pregnant woman or new parent – boy or girl?
We shop for new babies based on gender. We even throw gender reveal parties to celebrate the odds of a boy or girl. Knowing the baby’s gender makes a lot of people feel comfortable. Perhaps because when you look at a brand new baby all you can see is the beautiful mystery of life. Unless that child is getting its diaper changed, it’s nearly impossibly to identify a baby as boy or girl. There’s something special about that. All a baby needs is love – to be fed, to be protected, and to sleep. I think we could all learn a lot from a baby’s basic needs.
It wasn’t raising a boy, per se, that was making me nervous. Perhaps my hormones were too drastically at play at the time, but, I had wanted a daughter so deeply – not because I was ever the kind of girl or woman who was so rigidly girly that I was stuck in a Barbie dream of wanting everything Pepto Bismol pink with princess dresses and tiaras to perpetuate that trite sense of girlness – but because the opposite was true. I was a Tom Boy. And I felt like I could handle that lane – of raising a girl, assuming that girl would be like me.
There’s a lot to sort through emotionally and mentally when you bring a baby into your home – especially before knowing what kind of baby you’re bringing into your home. But, the truth is that we are never going to fully know or understand who that baby is until that baby grows into the person he or she or they are meant to be. The pressure of getting it right with gender is a real thing.
I consider myself pretty progressive. I do my best to be open minded and to learn. I believe we all are here to share a human experience, to learn and to grow – and to love and accept. So, then why was I putting so much pressure on myself about not having a girl, or, more directly – about raising a boy?
It wasn’t just that I thought I was going to be good in the lane of raising a non-traditional girl by not pushing the girlie Disney princess crap but, rather, by protecting my daughter’s right to her own choices (who, let’s be honest, I hadn’t considered that she might have chosen the girlie Disney princess crap, which I’m sure I would have then felt compelled to save her from “it”, to help re-direct her away from harmful gender stereotyping, which, in itself could have been harmful if said daughter really liked and gravitated toward the overblown gender stereotypes).
I felt totally overwhelmed.
It didn’t help that I was pregnant in a climate that seemed at odds with white males. This was the Trump era. This was the time when the criminals behind most mass shootings were young white males. The country has been divided where one camp is heavily white. We are learning about our white privilege and hopefully doing the work to be more woke. But, let’s face it. There’s a large portion of the nation that just won’t…
All of the sudden I was feeling an alarming pressure with raising a white boy that I wasn’t necessarily feeling with raising a white girl.
I knew I was not going to be perfect at this. But I was and still consider myself to be self aware enough to be quiet, to listen and to learn, and to try to be better, to try to be more compassionate and to try to be more inclusive.
Fast forward three years.
I have a sweet little boy who strongly identifies as a boy.
My husband and I have no issues or preferences around gender. We have done our best to choose neutral surroundings to allow our child to not be influenced one way or another. We have followed a strict baby-led or child-led philosophy – from everything to allowing our child to gravitate to his own preferences, to make his own choices when its appropriate, but also in the timing of milestones, we decided to remove any pressure for our child to perform or conform to any kind of timeline that wasn’t comfortably his own.
We didn’t push weening, but continued it through my Covid vaccines and the booster shot to protect him as best we could. We didn’t push eating solids, but allowed for baby-led feeding. We didn’t push potty training, but waiting for him to take the lead. We introduced a potty in the bathroom and figured he would start when he was interested. And, that’s exactly what happened. On New Year’s Day this year, he asked us if he could get underwear because he didn’t want to wear his diaper anymore. So, we went to the store to pick up some underwear and a couple accidents later, he is well into his potty training and he’s doing great! There has been absolutely no pressure on him to do anything but be happy.
I’m not saying we’re great parents, we’re just doing our best not to set him up for unnecessary disappointment, frustration, confusion based on what is largely expected of children, socially. Another parent was aghast that we hadn’t started potty training him earlier and even suggested we would cause him harm by way of embarrassment. Nope. He’s fine. He stepped into it when he was ready – we just let him take the lead and then fully supported him along the way. Like every parent, we’re just doing our best, doing what feels right for our family, for our child.
Which is why I felt arrested when I was confronted by a non-binary person at the park. My son fell down and wasn’t badly hurt, but, like most toddlers, he was surprised by the fall, felt a little sore, but mostly upset from having fallen down in the first place. I like to console my child in these moments. I held him in my arms and quietly cooed. One of the things I said to him a few times, “you’re okay, my sweet boy. Everything is alright, my sweet boy.” I often call him my sweet boy. He is very sweet.
As we were sitting by the sand box, a voice came over me while I was still wiping away tears, “you know, there are other ways to console your child other than by reinforcing gender.”
At that moment, I hadn’t considered the lesson because I was busy consoling my child. I thanked the commenter, and quickly returned to caring for my child. I wondered, are we now parenting in an age where everyone has input?
I want to be clear, I am not opposed to learning lessons in life. But, this person made a snarky generalization about me without even knowing me or the context of who my child is. Just like I can’t possibly know who my three year old child will be in, say, twenty years, I do know that he strongly identifies with being a boy right now. So until he identifies otherwise, I am going to keep his little world safe and comfortable so that he can navigate it as calmly and happily as possible. I am trying to create a thriving environment to help him thrive based on his needs. As I mentioned, we follow a baby-led and child-led philosophy in our household.
My boy has long blonde curls, big blue eyes and he constantly gets identified as a girl by strangers. All. The. Time. I don’t freak out. He doesn’t freak out. It doesn’t connect with him in a way that one might think – because we don’t draw heavy boy/girl lines in our home. We just let him be. And it makes me proud because he also doesn’t associate being a girl as a bad thing. He just comfortably knows he’s a boy. He is comfortable in his skin. He is fiercely independent. He is beautifully sensitive and considerate. And, when I worried for so long about the responsibility of raising a white boy – I learned after meeting my son that my job was actually to raise a kind and considerate child. And we need more kind and considerate boys – not to lead the way, but to participate in a more kind and considerate world.
The commentary about my parenting stung.
First, this stranger felt compelled to correct me in front of my child at an inappropriate moment. My child needed consoling and I wasn’t interested in anything else in that moment. So, let’s just say there was poor boundaries.
The real stinger was that this person assumed that I parented by reinforcing gender – simply because I called my son my sweet boy. First, if that’s who I was as a parent, that’s nobody’s business. Really. I like to assume all parents are doing the best they can. It is often impossibly difficult work to raise a child. After three years of parenting, I truly hold no judgement. So, you didn’t breastfeed? Fine. Oh, you use screen time even though you swore you wouldn’t? Hey, it can be a very useful tool. You dress your son in blue and green and red and make him play t-ball even though he hates it? It’s not my place to judge. Perhaps you’ll let him pick his next activity?
My son is a sweet boy.
If the day comes when he says, “Mommy, I don’t feel like a boy.” I will follow his lead as I have always done.