Parenting to Stereotype

Parenting to Stereotype: Yesterday I was chatting with a mom I recently met while we watched our kids on the playground. A little boy was going down the slide with one leg over the edge, at which point she asked him to be careful. Then she turned to me and said, “Boys! They are so wild!”  As if on cue Amelia and one of her buddies came running into our peripheral vision and tackled each other to the ground. I replied, “I think you mean, ‘Kids!’, because my daughter would go down the slide the same way and so would the other little girl she is wrestling with right now.”

The mom went on to tell me how different her boy and girl are from each other, that her daughter is so well behaved and her son is such a little dare devil. I asked if maybe it had more to do with individual personality vs gender, but she insisted it was gender. While she was speaking she literally had to stop herself to gasp as another little girl jumped from the platform of the play structure to an outlying bar so that she could dangle there ten feet above the ground. I looked around for my son and found him sitting underneath a different slide, quietly talking with another little boy.

I informed her that my experience as a parent has been the opposite as it is my girl who is the dare devil and my son is the *slightly* better behaved of the two. She again insisted she saw a huge difference in her boy and girl and that it was due to their gender. I just smiled and acquiesced with “Every kid is so different from the next, but you know your children and their personalities best.”   We said our goodbyes as it was time for us to go, and as her daughter walked over I noticed she was dressed head to toe in pink and her mother held out a princess backpack for her to wear for the walk home.

Maybe it is her daughter’s personality, and there is nothing inherently wrong with liking pink or princesses. But part of me wondered, is that her daughter being herself or her daughter meeting her parent(s) expectations for what it means to be a girl? Did her daughter have a choice other than pink or princess? When I saw her today after school I noticed that she was again wearing head to toe pink. I’m sure this mom is a great mom, I just found it unfortunate she was ignoring evidence right in front of her that not all kids fit the gender stereotypes she was literally insisting were true.

Let’s just let kids be kids, yes?

I know I’ve shared a similar story to this before, but a photo sent in by PPBB Community Member Penny Collins got me thinking about a book I read this past spring called “The Gender Trap: Parents and the Pitfalls of Raising Boys and Girls” by Emily Kane. I hope you check it out, it is eye-opening to how parents parent to stereotype.

Oh, it is laundry day at the Collins’ house, and these pants belong to Penny’s daughter.

These pants belong to a hard-playing little girl.


  1. Ann Margaret Mills says:

    My daughter was adamant that she have NO PINK for her daughter at the baby shower. That was a pretty tall order since, as you must have experienced, there is so MUCH pastel pink for newborn baby girls. Most folks honored her request. Those that didn’t, well, their presents were returned after my daughter sent out “thank you” cards for those outfits and never a picture was taken with my grand-daughter in them. Now that my grand-daughter is 2, you might be shocked at the number of pink clothes, toys, sippy cups and blankets that grace her world, but at HER instigation. My daughter did not want to limit her daughter’s choices, but is honoring them. That being said, she also has red scooters, blue sippy cups, and other brightly colored clothing, but there is definitely more pink than my daughter initially wanted in her baby’s world. I enjoy your posts. Thank you for your wit and wisdom.

    Ann Margaret Mills

  2. I have a question for Penny’s mom: how do you get those stains out of the knees?! I have tried and all of my children’s clothes come home from school looking like that (especially the pink ones – it’s as if pink means play harder)! I can get them to fade, but after a while we transfer them to the “play clothes” and have to get new, and hopefully more durable clothes.

  3. Love this post so much. I can’t begin to tell you how much it annoys me when people tell me how different it is raising boys to raising girls. I have one of each and they both display “girl” characteristics and “boy” characteristics. Meaning they are just kids who have many different sides to their personalities. Sometimes they like to play rough, other times they are happy to sit quietly and play with a toy. Sometimes they want to be social, other times they prefer small groups or playing on their own. Sometimes they want cuddles, other times they are fiercely independent. Sometimes they want to climb trees other times they want to organise a tea party for their soft toys. They both love fairies and superheroes

    It also bothers me when people refer to the quiet children as the well-behaved children. It’s a weird world we live in, where children are meant to be seen and not heard and a child who loves rough and tumble play (which is quite normal for young children) is being a “little devil”.

  4. When my son was little, I found myself often exclaiming “he’s such a boy!” and being surprised because I was not previously a strong believer in gender differences. After a bit, though, in talking to other parents with multiple kids (regardless of gender), I realized that my two are just different kids, not due to gender, possibly a bit due to birth order (but I’ve seen the opposite with friends). In other words, my friends had two very different kids, just like I do, and sometimes the girl is quieter, sometimes the boy is, sometimes they’re both girls or both boys and still one is quieter/rowdier. And some days they seem to switch! So, I’ve learned, as you say, to just let kids be kids!

  5. Thank you so much! It drives me nuts when parents talk about how different boys and girls are but I only have girls so if I say something they ignore me. What could I know? But, I notice if I have a car full of girls being noisy they are being “giggly” or “talkative” and a group of boys would be “rowdy” when they are doing the same things: talking, screaming, laughing and being LOUD! Why do we have to label the same behavior differently just because of the gender of the child doing it?! Thanks again!

  6. I have had the experience of feeling like my daughter must be invisible. She used to run around and get crazy with any of her friends – boys or girls. So many times, if she was the only girl among a group of boys, another mom (of a boy) would watch the antics, shake her head, and say, “Boys!”
    Sadly, she doesn’t play with boys as much any more. Her teacher often separates the class into boys and girls. (Not just when speaking — I myself and working diligently at saying “kids” or “children” rather than “boys and girls” when I am speaking to a group of young people — it’s a tough habit.) Team games like capture the flag are generally boys vs girls, impromptu contests (who can be the quietest, who can get ready first) are generally boys vs girls, there are even times for the boys to play on the swings and different times for the girls to play on the swings. This came into effect because, “the boys don’t play nicely on the swings.” Granted, in this particular group of children, the few most rambunctious kids happen to be boys. But rather than the rules being imposed based on your behaviour as an individual, whether or not you can play on the swings is decided by what’s between your legs. It drives me crazy, honestly.
    I know this post is about parenting to stereotypes and I have digressed. But it relates to parenting. I am certainly not the only parent in the school who sees this segregation. As far as I know, I am the only one who is challenging it . . . I believe, based on schoolyard chit chat, that many or most of the other parents are very comfortable with the idea that “boys will be boys” and that boys and girls should be treated differently. My daughter, jumping around in the leaves in her chucks and her pettiskirt is a “tomboy” because she likes dragons and bugs and doesn’t mind getting dirty. And that because I don’t have a son, I have no idea what boys are like. And it only bothers me because I’m a feminist.
    I am glad to have a resources & communities like PPBB to come back to for a sanity check. I think if we go with the flow, as parents, the stereotypes seem almost inescapable.

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