8 Moms Share About Trying to Raise Boys and Girls Equally

8 Moms Share About Trying to Raise Boys and Girls Equally

Real moms discuss the challenges of treating their sons and daughters the same.

By: Leah Maxwell

I’m inspired by the adage “When we know better, we do better,” but sometimes that’s easier said than done. Sometimes the strength of our good intentions isn’t enough to overcome other factors, like gender stereotypes that are so deeply ingrained it can be easy to forget they’re there. Have you ever watched calmly as your boy climbed to the top of the jungle gym and dangled upside down by his ankles but then lurched when your girl tried to do the same? And did you then feel bad because you never thought you’d make that mistake with your kids?

Gender equality continues to improve with every generation, but the practice of treating girls and boys differently based on nothing other than their sex is still such a big part of our culture that, try as we might, we’re not always able to parent our kids with the fairness they deserve. Even those of us who experienced negative gender stereotyping when we grew up struggle to raise our own kids according to our progressive ideals.

I asked some friends to talk about their experiences -- either as parents or as kids themselves -- and I’ve shared some of their responses below. For the most part, the women I talked to try their best to be equal with boys and girls when it comes to things like their assigned chores, what toys they play with, and what sports or activities they sign up for. This generation of parents seems to be more open than ever to boys doing “girl things” like taking dance lessons and playing with dolls and girls doing “boy things” like joining baseball teams and going to science camp, but it’s easier to slip up with the less concrete, more subtle, everyday situations.

1. Regan says she and her husband try really hard to treat their kids the same, but they’re not always equally good at it. “[My son] jumps off high things and [my husband] doesn’t flinch,” she says. “[My daughter] goes to do it and he runs to grab her.”

2. Jen admits she worries less about her boy on the playground too because if he falls and gets hurt, people are more likely to think scars are cool on boys but not on girls.

3. Rachel is a mother of four boys and one girl and says she does her best to expect things from her kids according to their abilities, not gender: “The boys have done housework chores from the time they’ve been old enough [and my] girl is never told she can’t do something her brothers are doing just because she’s a girl.” The one exception, she says, is “I don’t think I’ll EVER feel comfortable letting her go a few blocks away to the park by herself because she’s a girl and not very sturdy looking.”

A few moms had similar restrictions for their daughters based on the fear that their girls are more at risk in some situations.

4. Clio says that as a mom of two girls, she makes a point to encourage roughhousing, climbing, exploring, and getting dirty, in addition to dressing up, twirling, and wearing jewelry, but she also says, “I [am] conscious of the fact that as girls they may be underestimated, overlooked, and dismissed. Not to mention be far more likely to come to physical harm. So I will have to prepare them for how to deal with certain situations that their male counterparts would not be as likely to encounter.”

It’s these real fears and dangers that can make gender equality such a tough concept to navigate as parents. Just because we think boys and girls (and men and women) should have equality in all things doesn’t mean they actually do, so we have to decide for our own families how to raise our children in that imperfect world.

A lot of moms find themselves not just bucking the stereotypes of society at large but the stereotypes they saw in their own homes as kids.


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5. Ashley, a mom of two boys, was told growing up that the oldest girl in a family (which she was) was counted on to be the most helpful around the house. “I thought that was silly (and due to gender expectations),” she says, “so I’ve worked hard to try to prove that idea wrong. I totally think boys can be helpful and nurturing too!”

Several moms recalled unfair curfews, education standards, guidelines of acceptable behavior, and restrictions on friends and clothing, all of it based on their sex rather than their ages or personalities.

More from P&G everyday: My Secret to Raising a Confident Daughter

6. Lisa remembers getting less allowance than her brother: “My parents did a LOT of ‘because he’s a boy/you’re a girl.’ When [my brother] was in college, he got $50 a week spending money. I got about $30. The difference? ‘He’s a boy and goes on dates. Your dates pay for you.’ Which, UM. NO.”

7. Kate says her expectations for her daughter and son, ages 7 and 4, are quite different, but she says she tries hard to make sure her reasons are based on the differences in their ages, personalities, and abilities. “I expect much more from [my daughter],” she says. “[But] I think that since we are stricter/harder on her, I fear it’s seen as gender based. Or I fear she will feel that way. I work hard to avoid it, but I think I’m failing.”

But Kate’s not failing, because she’s mindful of what’s at stake and constantly reevaluating the situation. Her sentiment gets to the heart of matter for me: that parents should be conscious of the fact that unequal treatment of our boys and girls is sending them messages about who they are and how they fit into the world. If we don’t want our girls thinking they’re weak or codependent or held to standards of impossible perfection, we shouldn’t parent them like that; if we don’t want our sons to think they can get away with bad behavior or that they can’t be sensitive and vulnerable, we should raise them to know differently.

8. Kelly says it’s sometimes hard to know whether she’s being fair. She treats her kids unequally but says, “I think it’s a combo of older/younger and their personalities [being] so different. Add boy/girl in the mix and I have no idea what I’m doing half the time, just trusting my gut.”

And, really, sometimes trusting your gut is the best thing you can do as a parent. Yes, it’s hard work to figure this stuff out, but it’s hard work worth doing for the benefit of our kids and generations to come.

Are there ways you parent your kids differently based on their sex? Is it something you’re OK with or do you try to be fair? Are there some circumstances that call for treating boys differently than girls?

Leah Maxwell is a book editor, freelance writer, cereal addict, wife, and mom to two young boys. She has been blogging at A Girl and a Boy since 2003.

Image ©iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages

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