Raising Genderless Children – The Ultimate Experiment in Nature vs Nurture

By on May 24, 2011

I know people are going absolutely crazy about the Toronto couple that refuse to assign gender stereotypes to their three children, but I gotta say – I think they’re doing some things very, very right.

Would I go the extreme route they are by not announcing the gender of their 4-month old child? No, I probably would not. While I wholeheartedly agree with the principle of not caving to certain gender norms while raising my kids (boys will be boys, girls will be princesses), I’m not sure if the expectation that they ‘choose’ their own gender is any less weighty or potentially damaging as giving in to gender stereotypes.

But it seems to me that these parents are not trying to raise their kids without gender, just simply trying to move away from raising them with gender stereotypes. I think it’s admirable, if not tough to maintain.

I am ok with a certain amount of gender ambiguity when raising our kids; as with most aspects of parenting and growing, things aren’t always black and white. These parents are allowing their children to make choices, something I’d like to be doing more of.

I applaud these parents for allowing their children to not only pick out their own clothes at the store, but to let them browse the boys’ and girls’ sections. I applaud them for allowing their children to choose whether or not they want their hair long or short, and I applaud them for their efforts to raise open-minded, accepting children, even if people don’t always return the sentiment.

So I wonder what exactly it is that people are so up in arms about regarding the Stocker-Witterick family. Is it that we are afraid that they are damaging their children, or are we simply afraid that they are damaging our ideas of ‘normal?’


  1. kittenpie says:

    As I said over on Embrace the Chaos:

    - I think giving them choice and the message that they don’t have to be defined by sex and traditional gender roles is great. I love it when kids grab from both sides and mix it up to be their own style. I bought my two kids the same PJs for this summer, and they play with the same toys, age/stage permitting. Totally back that message.

    - But at the same time, I think they are making it such a big deal that they in the end put a finer point on it than ever, and the kids will pick up on that and wonder what it is that is such a big deal. They are perceptive when we least want them to be, and I worry that their method might well backfire. Why not just give them the message and cues that they want to give them? Kids take those things from their parents for quite a while, particularly when they are at home with them, so I really think that would be all they need to do to instill that belief.
    kittenpie´s last [type] ..Wanted- One Copywriter

  2. Jessica says:

    I think it’s great to try and raise your kids without pushing stereotypes on them, but not telling people the gender of your child? Is that really necessary? I agree with kittenpie that making it into such a big deal may backfire on them. They may find that they have teenagers who are having a hard time fitting in, and go to extremes to feel more accepted.

    From the Star article: “In the pages of Jazz’s handmade journal, in pink and purple lettering, are the phrases: “Help girls do boy things. Help boys do girl things. Let your kid be whoever they are!”” Their kid is still classifying things as “girl things” and “boy things”… doesn’t that show that it isn’t really working anyway?

    I also want my girls to avoid the trap of being stereotyped by gender. I let them pick their toys, clothes and activities and am teaching them to stand up to people who would tell them they can’t, or should, do certain things because of their reproductive systems.

    On the whole though – these kids are their kids. If they are honestly doing what they think is best for their children, then go for it.
    Jessica´s last [type] ..Should I Have a Baby- or Get a Dog

  3. Craig says:

    I know a woman who named her kids Timeless, and Ocean, both boys. At first, I thought this was weird. But i got to know the kids, who were very smart, very well adjusted, and just all around good kids. I also thought about this from an identity perspective. Each of the names is gender neutral. Then I went a little further and thought about all the people who complain about gender issues and identity crises, most of whom do nothing really to contribute to those issues in a positive way. I would argue, if you want to take a step toward eliminating gender bias, start at the very beginning with your kids’ names. If I were hiring an employee and i saw a name like timeless or ocean, i wouldn’t immediately have a picture in my mind about what that person might look like, and therefore couldn’t hold a pre-conceived notion about whether they’d fit in my office as a guy or a girl. If anything, i’d want to talk to that person just to find out what it was like growing up with such an interesting name.

  4. EarnestGirl says:

    I love your last line.

    The children will be fine. Presumably they will be loved and allowed to thrive in all the ways children are and do. At the risk of sounding jaded, I think letting them explore notions of gender on their own is idealistic and quaint. Soon enough the Princesses and the Ninjas will show up and bite everyone in the ass.

  5. Lauren says:

    There are benefits, yes, but too much of a dramatic idea is just… a bad one.
    Lauren´s last [type] ..A home for Grace

  6. erika says:

    thanks for such a thoughtful piece. i was literally horrified by many, many of the comments on the original article in the star where, in addition to making some incredibly cruel assumptions and insults largely directed at the parents, the posters seemed to have missed the point. the kids weren’t being “denied” anything–the parents were simply denying others what many seem to think to be their “right” to judge storm by their own preconceived notions of how “boys” and “girls” are “supposed” to act. i have to admit, the response to the article took me by surprise–i wouldn’t have expected such venom. but then again people cling to gender stereotypes far more than we recognize or are prepared to admit, i think–perhaps indicative of how deeply it’s engraved.

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