Children are like little sponges. From the moment they are born (and probably before in the womb too!) they are listening to us, absorbing our signs, our body language, our cues. They take in far more than we realise I think and it is from us (and the world around us) that they learn who they are and who everyone else is.
The debate over clothes and toys for children has been on fire lately. I've always been an advocate of the gender neutral. I would have bought the same toys and many of the same clothes had my children been girls instead of boys. I bought toys that I knew they would enjoy. A variety. Cars and buggies, a play kitchen and bikes, dolls and trains. Children like to emulate the world around them, to explore. Their Daddy pushes them in a buggy, why shouldn't they push a doll in a buggy. Or a car in the buggy. Whatever. Their toys, their play! I've always dressed my boys in all colours. I often shop for them in the "girls" section of stores as well as the "boys" section. Why not?
I like to think that by letting my boys wear all styles of clothing (they have dresses, skirts and wigs in their dressing up bag which they can and have worn out of the house if they wish) and play with all toys. I try my best to teach them that colours have no gender. That hair length has nothing to do with the sex of a person. That girls and boys are equally strong. That they can be a ballet dancer and girls can be a brain surgeon. The trouble is that I feel I'm fighting a loosing battle at times.
The amount of times I've seen online or heard from a Mum "Oh, I've to buy a new pram/paint the nursery/buy new clothes for the new baby because I had a girl last time and this time I'm having a boy". Why? Yes, society does have a bee in it's bonnet about what's "for girls" and what's "for boys" but if we don't try to see past that and fight against it, that won't change!! How wasteful in a world already creating more waste than our world can cope with to buy almost everything new in a prescribed colour just because you're expecting a different sex of child.
When Ethan started at preschool I started to notice a few changes in him. He had a pair of pink converese at the time and would wear them there. One day he came home and told me he'd been asked by one of the children why he was "wearing girl's shoes?". Luckily it didn't put him off wearing them but it made me sad to think he was being exposed to that kind of thinking. And this was from a 3 year old.. and this is the point I'm trying to make. This 3 year old has received the message from somewhere that only girls wear pink. Where from? I could be wrong, but it's most likely a message received from family members, parents, older siblings, grandparents.
It's this I want us to think about. You can have your own opinions. Please do!! You can have your own likes and dislikes. But please, please think about how you speak to your children. The things you say can have a huge effect. Even if you're not addressing them directly. Imagine you bump into a friend outside the school gates. You both have your youngest children with you. You and your friend start chatting and one of you says to the other "Oh, I've got to go all the way into the city later, I went to buy some new wellies for Sarah in town but they only had blue and green pairs. I need to get her a pair in a girls colour so it's a drive into the city for us today!". Now, perhaps Sarah likes pink or purple (which according to today's world are "girls colours") and that's fine, but what isn't fine is when colours are labeled as "girls" or "boys". It's such a small thing. But at the same time it isn't. Whilst parents chat and say these things, children listen. And learn.
Yesterday I was at a playground with Felix. He'd just come down the slide and was pleased as punch by how fast he'd come down and came to tell me. "Good boy! I said "Well done!" There was another child in the playground at the same time and the child suddenly piped up "You mean girl! Good girl". "No I don't" I said "He's a boy!". "Not a boy" said the child "Long hair means a girl so you mean good girl". "Nope" I said "Boys and girls can both have long hair! Long hair doesn't mean a girl!". The child ran off and carried on playing.. but it really struck me. This child can't have been more than 3. Now, I know we all as humans love to define everyone, to "understand" the world around us and that's fine, but somewhere along the line this child has learnt that only girls have long hair. Something that might have blown his mind if I'd pointed it out is that I have a grade 3 cut on mine!! Haha..
All I can really say is that it is so important to teach our children compassion, understanding, equality. Children are naturally curious and do point things out from time to time (I remember one embarrassing occasion when Ethan very loudly pointed about a person's severe acne). They don't do these things with the aim to be nasty but somewhere along the line they realise that what they say has power. A 3 year old pointing out pink shoes or long hair is just making an observation,, but they know that what they've noticed is "wrong" according to what they've learned before and a little further down the line they realise that their words have power and they can use them to hurt and control. Let's try to make this a world that embraces everyone, whatever their gender, sexual orientation, colour and size. As I said to Ethan on the way home from school yesterday (when he'd told me someone had said to him "Ethan, why do you have such big horrible brown eyes?") "we are all a little weird, all a little different. Everyone has things about themselves they aren't completely happy with. But we are who we are and we must celebrate our differences!".