Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: My husband and I are expecting our first child. We have chosen not to find out the sex, largely because we want to hold off the avalanche of pink or blue for an extra few months.
My mother-in-law, on the other hand, has pretty rigid views on gender roles — I have no idea how my husband turned out the way he did! — and we know she’ll be dramatically offended if we try to articulate this to her.
We can’t decide if we should just lie and say we aren’t finding out the sex because we want to be surprised, or if we should use this as an opportunity to try (once again) to explain how we think about gender. Is it worth trying to take a stand here?
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Trying Not to Insult
Not yet. Your child will be immune to such influence until s/he acquires the language to understand it, so luxuriate in that for a while.
You also lose leverage when you take it on pre-emptively. Instead, in a few years when Grandma makes a “Girls like pink” comment to your child, you can state matter-of-factly, “Boys like pink, too … did you know it used to be a boy color?” (http://bit.ly/1lueMJd). Then it’s not an attack, it’s conversation — around the right set of ears.
You can, yes, also count on your greater influence, and on the fact that your child will form opinions independently, as your husband apparently did himself.
But don’t lie about why you’re waiting to learn the baby’s sex. Say it to your mother-in-law without making it about your mother-in-law: “When people know, it becomes all about Boy or Girl. We’re just enjoying the idea of either right now.”
Re: Gender roles: Sometimes we bend over backward to present our children with the version of society we want them to see. But in reality, there are a lot of opinions out there, and we don’t have to agree with all of them. If Grandma has mildly offensive — but not damaging — viewpoints, what harm could it be to expose the children to that? Then, later, explain why Grandma might feel the way she does. Teach children they can’t control what other people think or feel, they can only control their reaction to it. Then give them space to form their own opinions.
I love this, thank you.
I do think such viewpoints can be damaging, since they work their way into a child’s self-image, so I maintain allegiance to the on-the-spot, “Actually, [blah blah blah fact-check]” when we have both the facts and the presence of mind to do so.
But this philosophy of acceptance is a beautiful way to handle diversity of experience and opinion in general.
Re: Gender: I think the key is to introduce your kid to lots of different kinds of people. Words are important, but what they see really sticks. When we visited my dad a couple of weeks ago, my 6-year-old explained to him that boys wear dresses, too, and that comes from taking her to Pride every year.
Yes to the varied experiences — and, tying this in with not shielding kids from “mildly offensive” opinions, I’d even specify nonjudgmental exposure to varied experiences. Thanks.
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