We will all agree that raising children is the most difficult and demanding task we will ever have ahead of us. The responsibility of shaping a person is huge.
Our ability to do it will influence greatly his future: what will their personality be like? What will their values be? Will they be happy?
Those questions about raising children cannot actually be answered, or at least, not completely. For good or for bad, they don’t depend entirely on our actions and our decisions, however great is the influence of those. Our children won’t only be shaped by us, they will be so by their friends and acquaintances, by their experiences, successes and failures –that won’t always depend solely on them… And, of course, by society.
Our role, society’s role
Living in society is a must – we are social beings, after all. However, that means we are shaped by what the majority of people think and do, and majority doesn’t always mean right. Once, and not so long ago, the fact that women didn’t have the right to vote was legal and understood as reasonable, and right – and we will agree today that it wasn’t reasonable nor right. We’ve come so far, but there are still so many issues that condition how we behave, how we feel and how we are, that should be changed – and gender stereotypes are one of them.
It is incredibly difficult to question the ideas that society has taught us as reasonable and right. We are social beings for good and for bad, and challenging the things, however subtle, that have been always there is no easy task. Stereotypes are used by almost all of us, even when we don’t mean them – many of them have just become a routine! For instance, we will be more likely to say a little girl how pretty her dress is, than to a little boy. It’s hard to see the problem there when we are just trying to make conversation, or to make the child feel good. We want to talk to her about what we think she’s going to be interested in. But it is a routine, a social, gender-stereotyped one. Why would she be interested only in how she looks?
But if unhealthy routines can be overcome, so can be stereotypes when raising children.
The dangers of stereotypes when raising children
Pink is for girls. Blue is for boys. Well, but those are just colours, it’s not a big deal.
Maybe not. And what about these? Boys don’t cry. Good girls don’t swear. If you think those sentences in the context of raising children and shaping personalities, you will easily see how those two statements are indeed a big deal. Let’s take a closer look at each two of them:
- Boys don’t cry: Well, first of all, anybody could easily see that this first statement… is simply not true. Boys do cry. Crying is not a feminine attribute, it’s just a human one. People cry when they feel sad. It’s normal, and any psychologist would tell you that it’s healthier doing so than pushing it all back. So your son should cry as much as he needs to, and at whatever age. Telling such thing to your son will only teach him to repress his own feelings.
- Good girls don’t swear: And neither do good boys! Kid swearing is indeed a problem, but one that shouldn’t be more or less serious depending on the gender of our kid. While swearing isn’t nice or polite, nor in children or adults, telling our girl not to swear just because she’s a girl could condition the way she will express her opinions and feelings later on. And once we’re adults, there is not a masculine or a feminine way of expressing them: that depends on our personality, and not on our gender.
These two examples are part of the most extended stereotypes, but not the only ones. When talking about raising children, and looking for tips on how to do it right, we can even find that eye-to-eye contact when communicating can make things difficult with boys, or that girls tend to look for approval. There are studies that say that boys are more likely to be natural leaders, whereas girls are naturally less likely to take risks. Statistically, that may be true – but is it right to say that it is natural, or biologically determined? Or is it something socially constructed? This is when it’s important to remember society’s part in raising children, ours too: not everything depends on us.
Should we make gender differences when raising children?
The most important thing to understand when raising children is that each child has his or her own personality – we have to set boundaries, but we do have to respect it. If our daughter likes to play with dolls, that is fine. If she likes to play with trucks, that is fine as well. Same thing with a boy. But toys are just the top of the iceberg.
But should we make differences in how affectionate we are with them (some studies show that people are more likely to cuddle girls than boys)? On how we encourage them to face the obstacles in life? Raising children is something that depends on each parent, but in order to overcome the gender stereotypes our little one will face, we should adapt our encouragements and our boundaries to their personalities – not to their gender.
When raising children, let’s teach the girls to take risks, to express their opinions. Let’s teach the boys to sing, to dance, to express their feelings. Let’s teach the boys to take risks and express their opinions. And let’s teach the girls to sing, to dance, to express their feelings. Let’s focus on one thing or the other depending on how shy they are, or how outgoing they are. Or not, and let’s teach them all at once!
Raising children is hard, and it’s OK to look for tips for raising girls and tips for raising boys. But before following them, it’s good to question them, and see if they adapt to our girl or our boy. Sometimes, gender-specific tips will work, and sometimes not – even the ones we are proposing here at CaptainMums. We’ve said many times that every baby is different, and once they grow, every child is different, to, whether it’s a boy or a girl.
We have proposed a few tips on raising children, for boys and for girls, trying to challenge the stereotypes society throws on us. But we’d like to suggest to try both, or to pick the ones that adjust better to your little one’s personality, regardless of them being a boy or a girl.