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Every Parent has a Gender Story

Parents: Understanding Our Own Gender Story

“You’re becoming irrelevant and don’t even know it.”

The words hurt, but even as the statement came out of his teenage son’s mouth, he knew there was some truth to it. It wasn’t the first time he saw an eye roll, or heard his kids mutter something after he made a comment related to gender. As parents, we are trying to help our kids navigate a world that barely resembles the one we grew up in, and that can be especially challenging when it comes to gender.

Hopefully there is some comfort knowing that you’re not alone if you find changing language and perceptions of gender to be a bit confusing. We’re here to help.

Data shows that Gen Z youth see gender in significantly different ways than previous generations. Far from a fad, these changes are emblematic of a global reimagining of gender. While millennials may be the first generation with a majority who see gender as a spectrum rather than a binary, their understandings of gender seem quaint in comparison with youth today.

Gender has always been more complex than we’ve acknowledged it to be (for more on what gender is, please check out Understanding Gender here). For children to understand their own gender, engage in healthy relationships, identify and place media and social messages in context, and have agency in determining aspects of their gender now and in the future, we as parents need to help them navigate the gendered messages they receive every day.

And for us to effectively support our kids, we need to understand our own gender story. It is the lens we parent from and has a significant, lifetime impact on our children. To encourage a world where interests, styles, emotions and careers are not limited by gender but instead available to all, we need to bridge the generational divide regarding gender. Those of us who were raised with a more limited view of gender can take this opportunity to explore gender with new eyes. Here are a few questions that may help in your exploration:

  • Growing up, did you think of yourself as a boy, a girl, both, neither or in some other way? How did you come to that recognition? When?
  •  What messages did you receive from those around you about gender? Did those messages make sense to you?
  • What’s your first memory of gender defining or impacting your life?
  • How were kids who did not fit into expectations about gender treated by others (teachers, family, faith community, etc.)? By you?
  •  How have your race, ethnicity, faith, socioeconomic class, community/sense of place influenced your gender?
  • How would you describe your gender today?
  • How has your understanding of gender influenced how you parent your child(ren)?

Once you have a deeper sense of your gender, and the influences that helped shape it, you can identify any restricting messages you received as a child that you may be unconsciously passing on to your children. Then ask yourself what messages about gender you want to relay to your children. Sharing personal insights about your own gender story is a great way to spark conversation and let them know that you’re interested in learning how they see and experience gender as well.

Today’s expanding understandings of gender are an opportunity for all of us to see the ways we may have constricted ourselves to fit gender expectations. This is a chance to reclaim those lost parts of ourselves and to help those we care about to step more fully into their whole, authentic selves as well.