Friday, January 30, 2015

On parenting girls

I've always wanted a little girl. Probably because I am a girl and was once a little one at that. But after nearly five years of raising messy, noisy, yet sincere little boys, I'm starting to panic a little. Part of it is the sheer terror that comes when I realize that someday she will be fifteen and I will probably hide from her when her ex-best friend decides to steal her boyfriend or her favorite pair of jeans didn't get washed and the world is over. But I have a lot of time before those days, right? I think right now I'm more terrified of the things that will be projected onto this precious little creature, whom everyone assumes will be sugar, spice, and everything nice. Will people coo at her in high-pitched voices or treat her more gently than they did my boys when they were babies? Will her closet look like someone took a bottle of pepto bismol to the dresses and skirts and bows that line the shelves? Will she become obsessed with princesses? Barbie dolls? Beauty pageants?

Maybe it's because I was a bit of a tomboy growing up, or because I'm now a bit of feminist, but these prospects terrify me. And yes, I know I sound like the cliche modern hipster screaming "gender neutral!" and "girl power!" over the pleasant hum of my own satisfaction, but I'll be damned if my kid ever says that Legos are for boys. So how do I avoid what seems to be an inevitable fate? How do I nicely tell people not to buy her little toy vacuums and Disney princess-themed attire?

No, seriously. How?

This isn't some lead-in to my solution for little girls everywhere (and their parents) to avoid the stereotypes that keep them thinking they have to be soft and sweet and gentle. I'd rather prefer my daughter to be hell on wheels. I know. Famous last words. But I don't have the answers except to say that we'd like to instill in our daughter the sense that she is just as strong and fierce as her brothers without erasing the femininity that naturally exists in most girls. I'd like her to grow up believing that there are no "girl toys" and "boy toys." That the damsel-in-distress act in far too many princess stories is both silly and dangerous. That she doesn't have to like the color pink. That her interests, her skills, her future should in no way be determined by her sex.

And when she becomes a teenager, I hope she doesn't fall victim to the cliquish nature of many young women. I hope everyone is her friend. I hope she doesn't gossip, or take duck-face selfies, or worry too much about what other people think. I hope she enjoys reading and sharing ideas with her peers and playing an instrument and being goofy without being vapid.

I can't help but feel like parenting a girl will be much more challenging than parenting a boy, not because girls are so much different than boys, but because the attitudes we have about girls are so different than the ones we have about boys. And while we've come a long way since the 1950's, we still have a long way to go. Maybe my kids will be part of the first generation to embrace true gender-neutrality. And maybe, as a way to get the ball rolling, I'll dress my boys in something pink tomorrow. You know, for good measure.