Practicing Gender-Neutral Parenting

Educating children about pronouns, letting them choose the one that they most identify with, allowing freedom to explore different clothing and toys — here’s why one local mom says it’s beneficial. Plus, insight and advice from an expert with U of M Health.

When Xandria Moceri was pregnant with her child, Dean who is now 7, she — like many other parents — threw a gender-reveal party. If you ask this Birmingham mom of one today, she’ll tell you she regrets that decision.

“I wish I didn’t do a gender reveal,” she says. “I wish I didn’t focus on gender, especially when I was pregnant. I think things would have been a little bit different (and) given not only me different opportunities, but my son different opportunities to express himself more if I didn’t label him at birth as a gender.”

Instead, she wishes she would have let people know this is her child, they use they/them pronouns and when they are ready, they can choose which pronouns they best identify with.

Today, Moceri practices gender-neutral parenting, which gives her son the freedom to explore who he is, express himself without being boxed in to gender stereotypes and choose the pronouns that best describe the child. In Dean’s case, his pronouns are he/him.

When it comes to how a child identifies, there are a lot of assumptions about gender from birth that could be problematic for a child, says Sara Wiener, MSW, a clinical social worker within Pediatric Endocrinology, Child & Adolescent Gender Services at University of Michigan Health.

“Gender is how a person identifies. A person might identify as a girl, a boy, a man, a woman or some other gender identity. We assume a gender identity based on a person’s sex, so we are assuming that because a child was assigned female at birth, that that child identifies as a girl and wants to be called a girl and be seen in kind of a stereotypically kind of girly way,” Wiener says. “Sometimes that all aligns and the child who was assigned female at birth does identify as a girl and feels very comfortable looking feminine but sometimes that’s not the case. A benefit of not putting gender stereotypes on a child is that the child doesn’t have to struggle if the gender stereotypes don’t fit.”

Beginning at birth, parents can choose not to reveal the baby’s gender and refer to the child as they/them or simply baby. If your child is already a toddler or preschooler, there are some other ways to practice gender-neutral parenting starting now. Read on for insight and advice on making a conscious effort to break free from the binary.

Exploration and expression

Since Dean was 5 years old, Moceri has been giving him the chance to explore fashion, to see what he likes and what he’s interested in wearing. It’s a great exercise for other parents, she says. Let your child roam through their favorite clothing store to pick out what they want to wear.

During back-to-school shopping, Dean selected a blue dress to wear on his first day of school. He wasstarting school in a new district and Moceri admits she was concerned what people might say.

“I was nervous about what children would say, what teachers might say,” she says, “because I didn’t want him put down in any way, but at the same time I know he is very comfortable with himself and although I was nervous, I knew that he was OK.”

And she was right. He had a great first day, but something even greater happened to Moceri. She emailed the teacher to let her know about his pronouns and that Dean is gender-fluid with fashion. That same day, the principal called Moceri and told her that he and the staff would be 100% supportive of her child being gender neutral, and if Dean were to decide to transition within a few years, they would be willing to help with changing pronouns on transcripts.

“It was a very powerful conversation and very touching,” she says. “I will admit I cried after because of how much support we were given.”

Support isn’t always there, she notes. Moceri still has struggles with family when it comes to how she’s raising her son, but it’s a decision she’s comfortable with — and Dean is thriving.

Don’t be afraid to let your child be who they are, Moceri says. If you’re flipping the script on your parenting, remember it takes practice.

“It takes practice to change mindsets especially because gender is something that is all around us. It’s something that influences our world very strongly,” she says. However, she’s has had more positive experiences come out of this than negative — and any negative experiences impacted her more than Dean. Just remember, kids are exploring the world and getting to know themselves, so parents don’t need to be afraid of what others might think of that journey.

“What is most important is that you are doing the best that you can as a parent for your child and giving them the best opportunities in life.”

Keeping it neutral

 Wiener has spent more than a decade working in transgender health and providing mental health services to transgender and non-binary people. She knows the struggles that many face when it comes to their gender identity. Many young people who do not feel like the binary of boy or girl works for them.

“Those kids struggle a lot because the binary is so strong and reinforced by adults and schools and structures in a young person’s life. So, I think to be as inclusive as possible, raising young people in a not highly gendered way is very helpful really for everyone,” she says.

Parents of younger kids can start by providing children with a wide variety of toys, including play kitchens, dolls and dress-up clothes for boys, for example. Give them options to explore their interests. Different clothing options should be provided, as well. Don’t stick to pink for girls and blue for boys.

Teach children about different pronouns, read books about the LGBTQ+ community and visit the Pride festival, Wiener suggests. Open your child’s eyes to different people.

“Expose young people to the concept that gender is a spectrum and that people experience their gender at all points along a gender spectrum. All identities are legitimate and normal,” Wiener says.

If you need help understanding different pronouns or are just looking for support on your parenting journey, Wiener suggests visiting genderspectrum.org and PFLAG, in addition to Michigan-based Stands with Trans.

Always follow your child’s lead when it comes to their gender identity, Wiener adds

“We are doing this until we hear from the young person how they identify, what they want for themselves and the whole point of this is to give the young person space to determine this for themselves without the stereotypes being hoisted upon them,” Wiener says.

Continue to follow their lead and keep in mind what a kid says to you at 14 or 15 about their gender might change later on in life. This is normal, she notes, and not a sign of a problem.

“We have to remember to stay flexible in our thinking about people and how they identify,” Wiener says. “We can never really lock it in. Let’s remain flexible and support people over time.”


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