As I think a lot of parents do in the digital world, I constantly think about turning all the funny things that happen with my kids, the disasters, the strokes of parenting brilliance, the clever things, into a blog. Especially because I think that the way that my wife and I parent is pretty awesome. And based on some of the feedback we’ve gotten from other parents and prospective parents, I also feel like we have a lot of really good ideas to share with people. But writing a blog is a lot of work. You have to constantly update. You have to be clever. You have to come up with all sorts of resources and useful links and references. So I never do it.
Instead, to keep things more simple, I decided to launch an entire website. Because that seemed like a much better idea…. So welcome to GenderJabber. This is a place where I am trying to bring together my worlds as a very intentional parent, someone who works for inclusion and equity in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), and a queer activist.
The focus right now is on kids under five or so. Because that is where my experience currently lies and also because it is such an important age where kids are trying to make sense of the world and categories. They are taking in all the information around them about what people and families look like and do. They are developing an understanding of concepts like gender, race, and sexual orientation. I think that a lot of parents and caregivers think that young kids are too young to understand these concepts and so are waiting to talk about them until kids are older, until they ask. I would argue that they totally understand (in an age-appropriate way) and there is lots of psychological research to back this idea up. Also, most of the concepts in here about language apply to grown-ups and kids alike. While the focus here is on gender, the concepts of inclusion and breaking down rigid categories apply to so many things, such as race and sexual orientation and ability.
When I get really excited about something, I often go on and on and get ahead of myself. Perhaps it's time to introduce myself a little bit more fully. I am an engineering professor at a teeny engineering college that feels a lot like a liberal arts school. A school that is so awesome that I can conceive of doing this as part of my work. My wife and I just celebrated our 18th anniversary together. All of the ideas here were generated in collaboration with her as we navigate the world of parenthood together. We have three kids. Twins who just turned 4 in October. And another little who will be two in December. Let's call them Bean, Monkey, and Bear. I identify as queer, which, for me, encompasses both my sexual orientation and my gender identity.
Having twins who are very much a boy and a girl is an amazing study in gender. We raise our kids in a very gender-inclusive and gender neutral environment. Our boy, Monkey, has always looked great in pink and still like to wear skirts and dresses with big skirts. Also, he likes to build with blocks, wrestle, wield sticks, and generally be physically rambunctious. Our girl, Bean, also looks great in pink and likes to run around, but also tends very much to nurturing her baby, other people, and all the typical “girl” things. For parents who are very aware of the limits that socialization around traditional gender roles can place on women, we were pretty upset at first.
One of my big parenting philosophies is practice. It takes practice figuring out how to talk to kids about big topics in age-appropriate ways. This is why I believe in starting early. So you get to practice before they understand. Before we had kids, we practiced our parent names (Amma and Mama) out loud with our pets so we would be comfortable. We talk to our kids about pretty much everything, in an age appropriate way. I don’t think this necessarily means shielding them from the hard things, from big concepts, so much as talking to them in language they can understand.