Adele letting her son dress as Disney princess Anna is a triumph for us believers in gender-neutral parenting

There are lots of ways to parent gender-neutrally - and they don't have to be dramatic

Siobhan Freegard
Friday 19 February 2016 17:39 GMT
Adele performs during The 2012 BRIT Awards
Adele performs during The 2012 BRIT Awards (Jon Furniss)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Think of the word ‘neutral’ and it conjures up images of ‘dull, bland, boring and sitting on the fence’. But gender-neutral parenting is just the opposite of this. Rather than restricting choice and closing down opportunity, it aims to give every child the ability and the tools to be whatever - and whoever - they want to be.

The movement, which aims to bring up children without traditional male and female stereotypes, is very popular in Scandinavia and is now gaining ground fast in the UK, particularly among young ‘millennial’ mums aged under 30.

Pictures released this week of singer Adele pictured with her young son Angelo dressed in a Disney princess costume show just how quickly attitudes are changing.

Gender-neutral parenting is simply being mindful about not imposing gender stereotypes on children.

It can be as simple as ensuring girls play with traditional boys toys like diggers or trains, while boys are encouraged to play with dolls and push-along prams.

Many parents also like to dress their children in a gender-neutral way, picking out clothes that aren’t obviously for boys or girls but are unisex. Others like gender-neutral furniture and home decorations, so would shun pink and blue walls for a yellow nursery, for instance.

Importantly, one of the biggest things parents can do is be conscious of the language they use. Phrases like 'man up' or 'don't cry like a girl' can be damaging to children as it sets up expectations on the way they're supposed to behave.

Younger parents simply don’t have the fixed gender ideas followed by some older generations. And this week a new survey by reveals how two in five young mums now claim to parent gender neutrally, compared to just a quarter of older mums.

But why is this important? And what does it mean for society at large?

For me, it means every child will have their eyes opened to all the opportunities available to them. There’s no denying highly traditional parenting can be restrictive. From blue for a boy and pink for a girl, through to ‘naughty boys’ and ‘good girls’, right up to school subject choices and career paths, traditional roles signal how society expects the genders to behave.

At best this presents a very rigid format for children to follow. But at worst it shuts out children from a life path where they could flourish, and even crushes their spirit when forced to go against who they are.

Gender neutral parenting can help remove boundaries and barriers that traditionally have restricted kids from behaving in a certain way, and in some cases stopped them achieving their full potential. By opening every opportunity up to all children, the world expands and kids no longer have artificial limits imposed on what they can achieve.

But to make it truly effective, it needs to come out of the left field and be embraced as a mainstream way to parent. There are signs that this is happening. Top stores including Hamley’s and Marks & Spencer have already stopped labelling toys as ‘boys’ or ‘girls’, and three in five mums back retailers removing all gender labelling on items including clothes, books, kids’ furniture and toys.

And on a personal level, it’s easy to make small changes which will benefit your family. If your daughter wants to play rugby or build Meccano, wholeheartedly encourage it. You may be nurturing our next great sports star or engineering talent.

And if your son prefers a tutu and painted nails - so what? Let him follow his heart and see what he can achieve.

Let’s leave behind blue for a boy and pink for a girl. Instead, children should have a multi-coloured world of multiple opportunities if we are to build a brighter future for us all.

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