Gender-Creative Parenting Lets Kids Be Kids

5 min read
Mylene2401 / Pixabay

Source: Mylene2401 / Pixabay

There are a growing number of efforts to de-gender the experiences of infants and toddlers through clothing choices, activity options, and toys. For some parents, gender-creative, gender-neutral, or gender-open parenting is their chosen childrearing practice. There are a variety of degrees of gender-creative parenting that parents may choose or even move between.

Gender Conceal

One form of gender-neutral parenting involves the total concealment of a baby’s sex assigned at birth from extended family, friends, and others. This practice is designed to keep other people from placing gender-based stereotypes and expectations on a child.

Parents may ask their labor and delivery team not to make the standard “It’s a girl, boy” announcement and request that gendered pronouns or words be avoided. This can be challenging for medical personnel unfamiliar with these requests, and parents may try to correct and remind them of their preferred pronouns/words for their baby.

Another form of gender-neutral parenting focuses on children being encouraged to freely engage in whatever activities they prefer, regardless of any gender-based stereotypes the activity might hold. This practice allows children to express their interests and skills freely

without being reined in by gender stereotypes. For example, boys can play dress-up in traditionally female-gendered costumes, such as princess or fairy costumes.

From the Gender Creative Get-Go

Parents committed to a gender-creative upbringing make decisions about baby-related purchases before their child arrives. They also tend to share their plan with friends and families early on so that they will refrain from asking gender-related questions before the birth.

Parents may even offer “education sessions” or “guides to a gender-open lifestyle” to family and friends so that they can understand the parents’ beliefs and practices.

Parents can practice gender-creative parenting with their infants and toddlers by ensuring that their clothing is gender-neutral—meaning few dresses for a female child and a range of “not blue” clothing for a male. Toys are another way to support gender-neutral parenting. By letting all children play with both trucks and dolls, children can explore their world and make their own choices about what they enjoy most.

In cases where parents do not want others to learn of their child’s gender, they may choose a gender-neutral name and use the pronouns they/them/theirs when referring to their child with others. This choice can be more challenging depending on the need for childcare where gender-open parenting is not understood or by extended family who do not support the parents’ decision.

Everyone Has an Opinion, Even When It’s None of Their Business

When parents practice gender-neutral parenting, it almost always raises questions from others—friends, strangers, teachers, and other caregivers. Parents usually highlight the benefits of the practice and how it’s important that children feel free to make choices about what they prefer based on their interests, not external expectations or stereotypes.

Parents can share the importance of allowing children to experience various activities and opportunities to grow their skill sets based on natural proclivities rather than what other people “think” they should do or be.

Parents can also talk about how the freedom to be themselves can allow children to reach their full potential and to explore and embrace their whole identities not fettered by societal limitations.

Highlights of Gender-Creative Parenting

Kids who are encouraged to explore the world freely are often more curious about the world, have more varied interests that allow them to try out different things, can respect others who are different from the mainstream and are often more confident as they develop due to their parents’ support of them along the way.

Parents are not encouraging a child to identify as a particular gender. They allow the child to choose the identity that best fits how they see themselves.

While gender identity is usually a developmental milestone that occurs around 4, Rahilly (2022) noted that gender-creative parenting may shift this milestone to a later age as gender-open households do not enforce the gender stereotypes that our culture and many families embrace.

Some of the Low Points

The downside is that extended family members and others may judge the parents’ decisions and judge a child harshly if their behaviors or interests go against traditional stereotypes. Bullying by other children, or even adults, is also a risk.

If children have taken on a more gender-neutral or non-binary identity, they may have trouble when their friends are getting involved in traditionally gender-specific activities. Helping prepare a child emotionally and behaviorally to deal with bullying or rejection is essential.

This can be done through educating the child about others’ limitations, recognizing when trouble is brewing, and finding a way to defuse it, walk away from it, or get help dealing with it.


The purpose of gender-creative parenting is to eliminate the oppression that gender stereotypes enforce. Unfortunately, while gender-creative parenting isn’t brand new, few research studies have been conducted on the practice that reflects a long-term perspective.

However, Rahilly (2022) conducted a study with parents of kids between the ages of 2 and 9 and described the experiences of parents of children as old as 9 who had been raised in gender-open homes predominantly from birth.

Some grandparents also participated in the study. Parents did not regret their parenting choices, and their children were described as thriving. Suppose the role of a parent is to provide children with support, encouragement, and access to the environment and materials that provide the activities children need to master developmental tasks. In that case, parents who choose to raise their kids in gender-creative settings are meeting these expectations.

Gender-open parenting is not for everyone, but ensuring your child has the opportunity to choose the toys, activities, and clothing that they feel suit them best may play an important role in helping confront gender oppression as well as allow them to explore their interests and develop their unique skills.

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