Tag Archives: autonomy

What is Gender Neutral Parenting?

gnp

Image courtesy of sixninepixels at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

My son chooses his clothing and shoes, as do his sisters. Years ago we went to the shoe store and he chose Dora the Explorer shoes that were brown and pink with some sparkles. The shoes came from the “girl” section, but children’s shoes are for all children so I purchased them. A week after the Dora shoe purchase, I was at a store looking at mattresses when a salesman told my, then, three year old son that he should stop wearing Dora shoes because they have some pink and he will be made fun of once he is in school. I responded by saying, “Oh we homeschool so that is not an issue. Our group has parents who teach children to be kind and respectful instead of bullying others because they do not go along with social norms.” I got a weird look, but the man needed information. That was the kindest and quickest way to give the information and move on with the conversation.

Not long ago, a friend told a story about a son and father she observed while shopping. She said the little boy wanted a water bottle that had flowers on it. The father said no and told the boy it was because the water bottle was for girls only. My friend was upset because she feels men tend to be repressed due to situations like this one. I have to agree. Gender roles are a societal constraint, not an innate necessity.

Gender neutral parenting is parenting that focuses on the child as an individual rather than on societal norms. If a child wants to wear a pink tutu, that is fine. If a child prefers to wear pants and build forts, then that is okay, too. It does not matter if the child is a boy or girl, the individual is honored. To deny children the opportunity to be themselves is to deny basic human rights. Are we really saying to our children that their brains will be harmed by playing with toys that are for children? What a ridiculous concept.

Part of gender neutral parenting is realizing that genitals do not determine clothing, toy, and activity choices. Another part of gender neutral parenting is being aware of, and explaining to our children, that society tries to label us from birth and we may be pressured to choose an activity or clothing option because we feel we must. Opening up this dialog helps both children and adults to think critically about why we make the choices we make. Gender neutral parents encourage their children to ignore societal limits regarding who they are and give children permission to be individuals who are true to themselves.

I have not discussed gender versus sex or the fact that both are on a continuum, but you may want to research these topics further. Several helpful and informative links are below. These topics are extremely important with regard to autonomy and peaceful parenting.

Gender Neutral Parenting on Facebook

Let Toys Be Toys

5 Myths About Gender Neutral Parenting

I Will Hug You Whether You Like It Or Not

heart-broken

Many years ago I was at lunch with my coworkers and overheard a teacher discussing her parenting practices and how she shows love. It was very eye opening. She said that her child recoiled when she tried to hug or kiss him. She chalked it up to his preteen, almost teen, status. She went on to explain how she grabs and hugs him anyway. She said this is how she shows love and he needed to accept that fact. She said she would not stop even if he said no or disliked it. (Yes, she also spanked her children so there may be other factors at play here, but I am not going to discuss that in this post.)

Since that day I wondered how her son is doing. Does he respect other people’s autonomy? Does he force himself on others or did he feel so unhappy about her choices that he vowed not to do that to another human? Maybe he pushes the issue out of his mind and doesn’t deal with it at all. I have no idea.

I will say this, autonomy, ownership of self and the fact that others can say no to you, is taught by example. If we force our children to receive hugs and kisses, they will be more likely to think it is normal to force their bodies onto others. Also, the child may think it is okay to be forced into an intimate act by another. Even kind and gentle activities like hugs and kisses can turn into battery if it is done against another person’s will. (Yes, technically this can end up being an issue of rape in extreme circumstances which is why the topic is so important.)

How, then, do we show love and care for a child who does not want to be touched? How do we fulfill their need for love as well as our need to be loved? First, we have to step away from our feelings of hurt. It is not personal if a child does not want to be touched. Some people are very sensitive to touch and light or deep pressure can be a trigger. Second, find another ritual. Maybe you can do an air high five, a wink, use a word or phrase, etc. Love can be shown in ways that are mutually agreed upon instead of forced in ways not agreed upon.

This post is not meant to shame anyone. The point is that we should all take a moment to stop and think about our choices. Are we modeling the respect of autonomy? Are we thinking of others in addition to thinking of ourselves? Let us make a conscious choice to think through our actions before we take them.

 

The Duggar Family and Autonomy

Peace, Love, Human Rights

Peace, Love, Human Rights

Recently there was a petition on Change.org that demanded the TLC show titled 19 Kids and Counting be taken off air due to concerns over the treatment of the LGBTQ community. Many people signed the petition, while others rallied around the Duggar family in a show of support. After a few small blow ups on my personal social media pages, I decided it was time to explain exactly why I am concerned about the Duggar family being in the public eye. I cannot say whether they should or should not be on television, but I can tell you that autonomy is the big issue with this family.

Blanket Training

Blanket training is when you train, not teach, a child to stay on one place (for example on a blanket) without straying from that place. When they do stray, the parent does something unpleasant such as make a loud noise, hit, or scare them into compliance. (Yes, this can make the world or even the caregiver seem scary which may cause psychological issues later in life.) Michelle Duggar has written about blanket training before. Even if she doesn’t hit, though there are some forums out there where she supposedly wrote about using a ruler to hit the baby, she still coerces. Coercion means you punish or manipulate another into doing what you want them to do. Little ones need to be with us. They need to be worn, carried, spoken with, etc. Sure, they can sit beside us, but to demand they not move unless we say they can move tells them they do not own their bodies and they do not own their choices. This directly speaks to the human right of bodily autonomy. We could also discuss the issues of shaming and punishing children, but I will leave you to read the resources at the bottom of this post and make your own determinations regarding these topics.

Circumcision

Yes, the Duggars ignore the New Testament and cut their children’s genitals. Well, I take that back, they only cut the boys’ genitals. Now, I realize that not every Christian knows that male genital cutting is forbidden in many New Testament verses, but the Duggar family was notified many times and ignored the information given. (Yes, many of my friend are human rights activists who sent information repeatedly.) This is another violation of the human right of bodily autonomy. The boys do not own their bodies, not even their sexual organs, but the parents do.

Parents’ Choice

When parents are the supreme leaders in the home, it may be difficult for children to grow and develop their inner compass. It is important for children to grow and learn about their inner voice. They NEED to develop their decision making skills without fear, coercion, and punishment. If they focus on what other think or will do to them, then the children may make flawed decisions rather than responsible, informed decisions. Denying the right to develop and use the inner compass denies autonomy.

Parents are Rewarded or Punished by God

Many say that it is okay for the parents to have final decision making power over even adult children because the parents are held to a high standard by God. If rewards and consequences are always in play, you will make decisions based on these potential things rather than on the merits of the issue at hand. Rational thought may become over powered by what the parent thinks God wants. Keep in mind that the Bible, and other religious texts, is not the original version and has been changed due to man, linguistics, and translations. This means that the parents, while often well meaning, may make flawed choices on behalf of the children they control thus causing more harm than good. This idea of parents being held accountable to God for every little detail denies both the parents sand the children the human right to autonomy.

Power Over the Marriages of Others

The same sex marriage debate is a concern because people are being denied their equal rights under the 14th Amendment. When the Duggar family speaks or acts against this human right, to marry the person you love, it becomes an issue of autonomy. I am sure you can Google search any same sex marriage blog and get more details. The truth is that no one should have power over who someone marries, especially someone outside the family, if the marriage is consensual and not coerced. The truth is that who someone marries only affects that couple, not other marriages. Many marriages are legal contracts only, not religious contracts. You can have both, but not every couple does. In the USA, marriage is considered a legal contract, so being upset that others marrying same sex partners will hurt your marriage makes me wonder if perhaps your marriage isn’t strong. Also, as I stated before, the Bible, and other religious texts, is not the original version and has been changed due to man, linguistics, and translations. This also indicates that the idea of same sex partnerships and marriages being bad is a flawed idea. Denying autonomy of choice to others is a human rights violation.

I am not here to bash this family. I will say that I wish they would listen to those activists who send kind, gentle messages. I wish they would read and reread the New Testament, study linguistics, and study Biblical history so they can put into context the words of the Bible. I cannot say whether the show should be canceled or not. I do know that the world needs less refusal to honor human rights, such as autonomy, and more willingness to let those who harm none be left alone to live their lives. I want peaceful future, not one filled with confusion, hate, or denial of rights.

Resources

The Attachment Parenting Book: A Commonsense Guide to Understanding and Nurturing Your Baby By William Sears and Martha Sears

Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting (Little Hearts Handbooks)
By L.R. Knost

Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason
by Alfie Kohn

Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes by Alfie Kohn

Punishment and Reward by Miki Kashtan, Ph.D. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/acquired-spontaneity/201210/punishment-and-reward

Why Physical Punishment Does not Work by Paul C. Holinger, M.D. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/great-kids-great-parents/201404/why-physical-punishment-does-not-work