First of all, I want to state that my opinion of being “weird” is absolutely a compliment and I mean it in the highest regard.
It has become increasingly disheartening to me that society puts so much pressure on what it means to be “normal,” and even implements an unspoken set of rules that define exactly what is and what is not socially acceptable. What is most disappointing of all, is that this process of molding our children into normalized humans starts from birth. When friends and family hear that you’re giving birth to a baby girl, naturally they go out and buy you all the things you’ll need for that baby– except that it only comes in one specific color– pink; the stroller with the detachable carseat, the onesies with the matching socks and knit caps, the nursery decor with painted wooden letters that say things like Princess, the sudden overabundance of neon colored tutus – pink everything.
Because of this way of thinking, our children learn early on that there is a clear divide between which activities and interests and even which colors are meant for girls and which are for boys. Though it can be challenging at times, especially with no control over outside influences, I frequently find myself having conversations with my kids encouraging them to be exactly who they are. Whatever that may be. And often have to remind them that everything is for boys and girls.
Sure, there are boundaries that shouldn’t ever be crossed. For example, being nude in public, hitting others to solve your problems, being disrespectful or using swear words. It goes without saying that there absolutely are social norms that everyone should adhere to. Still, I see no harm whatsoever in letting my kids dress themselves, no matter how funky the patterns are together, and choose the kinds of toys they like, whether they’re meant for a specific gender or not.
It’s called individualism, it’s called being unique, and it builds confidence in a way that simply telling your children to have a sense of self worth could never achieve. Giving positive feedback when uniqueness is expressed and not even batting an eye when you tell your child to go put on his pajamas and instead he comes bursting out of his bedroom wearing a banana costume, a superhero cape, and a safari vest are the moments I live for. Nothing pleases me more than my kids feeling safe and confident enough to express their “weirdness” in an open and welcoming environment. Because how friggin’ cool is my kid? Did you see the banana picture? I couldn’t make that up if I tried!
I will say, for the sake of complete honesty, that even though I did do the whole gender neutral thing from the time that both my kids were born, they definitely ended up being total stereotypes. Gwendolyn is the most girly of girls– she wears dresses and a full range of accessories daily, does arts and crafts on the reg, and has an extensive make-up and purse collection. And then I have my dino loving, minecraft playing, outer space admiring, mud puddle jumping, digging in the dirt with stick, boy.
But Gwen and Rohan are the stereotypes that they’ve become because those things are their actual preferences and not what I influenced them to be or made them into.
My kids are 11 months apart, they’re best friends [for real] and they do everything together. In our house it’s not unusual for my son to have collected more Shopkins than my daughter, or for Gwen to love Pokemon and Star Wars every bit as Rohan does. Yeah, they have their own interests, but they like a lot of the same stuff and play together constantly. I could never imagine interrupting a deeply imaginative game of giving Barbie Elsa the best birthday party of her life and saying, “Son, dolls are for girls, stop playing with your sister immediately.”
But no matter how much I enforce the “do your thang” policy at home, there are still those very defined and very judgmental outside influences telling my kids differently.
It broke my heart when my son was recently teased at school for having his nails painted pink with gold stripes [which looked baller, by the way]. It was a lazy Sunday, all the chores were done, My Neighbor Totoro was on, and Gwen, who loves playing nail salon and was painting Ryan’s nails lovely alternating shades of shimmery blue and green. Naturally, my little dude plopped himself down at the table and picked out some rad colors and asked me to do his nails.
Of course, the other kids were making fun of him for having pink fingernails because painted fingernails is a thing that only girls have.
Ugh. I tried explaining to Rohan that he’s a kind of cool that other kids just can’t understand. I told him that the kids that teased him are the kids that don’t have the courage to be different, that they’re too afraid to be themselves, and that he was by far one of the coolest kids I knew. Of course I’m biased because he’s mine, but Rohan is one of the coolest kids I know.
He’s creative and imaginative. He listens to Daft Punk and Passion Pit. He break dances in the kitchen and makes up songs about random things and hates riding in the car and wears a pirate hat at breakfast sometimes and builds amazing lego creations that completely blow my mind–and up until this point– this point of asking to have his nail polish removed, Rohan gave zero shits about what anybody else thought of him. He had always been un-apolgetically, exactly who he is.
I worry that the pressure to be “normal” will only get worse for him. That he’ll start to lose the “weird” part himself. I worry because it isn’t a maybe it will get worse, maybe it won’t type scenario. It is an absolute.
A few months ago, he invented a new kind of outfit that he called the Cardi-suit. He took my Cardigan and put his legs through the sleeves because they were chilly, he buttoned it up half way and stuck his head through the opening. Whala.
He invented this in the backseat of my car while running errands and wore it during our entire shopping trip through Target. [note: the photo shown is of him at home– he was fully clothed in a teeshirt and shorts underneath the Cardi-suit while in Target.] Admittedly, the design could use some work. The puckering in the front area is a little unflattering. But that is who this kid is, he has a problem and he makes a choice to find a creative solution, then he owns that choice like, “What, this is my Cardi-suit!” No shame is his game.
And while I recognize that he’s probably not going to be wearing his Cardi-suit through Target when he’s sixteen years old, my hope for him, with everything inside of me, is that he doesn’t lose his confidence along the way. I hope that as he gets older that he’s able to keep his wonderfully free-spirited sense of not caring if other people like what he likes, or understands his choices– he likes it and that’s all that matters.
I only wish I could be that free. And I do try. I regularly go places without makeup, am a frequent user of dry shampoo because I hate washing my hair, and I wear leggings most days because then I don’t have to change into comfy clothes when I get back home. But as much as I feign this attitude of not caring, I can totally feel the judgment of the other moms from a mile away.
It could very well be that they’re not actually judging me at all, and that it’s more of my own understanding of what society thinks I should look like as a mom. I suppose that I am conditioned to care. And as much as I don’t want to be, I am a product of my environment.
But what if – and just go with me for a second here – what if the environment for our kids was a different one than we knew? What if weird was the new normal and we raised our little humans to be confident in themselves and accepting of others?
I’m sure there are parents out there that are reading this, shaking their heads with disapproval, and mumbling “this lady is crazy,” under their breath. That’s ok. We all get to decide which values and morals are most important to us in raising our children.
But for me, I will embrace and encourage all the weird. I will always allow my kiddos to be absolutely whoever they want to be. And I will never put emphasis on teaching my son to be a boy or my daughter to be a girl. Because what does that even mean really?
How ’bout we just teach our kids to be really good humans –