The Inspiration for ‘Be Yourself’: unconditional love + fear+ advocacy = ‘Be Yourself’
When my husband and I moved into our first home, prior to having children, we referred to our guest bedroom as the ‘theme suite’. The Disney character mural that darned the walls of our future child’s nursery was to remain unchanged no matter who our baby was going to be. We didn’t find out the gender of our children when I was pregnant. It didn’t matter to me.
When you’re pregnant you have a million hopes and dreams for your baby. My hope for my unborn child was that the baby was going to be happy - always feeling surrounded by love, healthy and grow into a productive member of our community. When our first child was born and my husband declared, “It’s a boy” I found myself flooded with new hopes and dreams for his future. To be honest one of my first thoughts was “phew” I’m so glad I won’t have to deal with all the social ‘girl drama’ which comes from raising a daughter and I am so glad that I won’t have to stress over his fashion (as I am not the most fashion savvy person). When I gave birth to my second child and my husband announced, “It’s a boy” I was thrilled once again. I was relieved that I now had boxes full of hand-me-down clothing and toys and felt like I had it all figured out. I was oblivious about all of the stereotypes that I was using when dreaming of a future for myself as a mom and my children.
At the age of 4 my oldest son began to express his discontent with who he was primarily because of the ‘boy fashion’ I had selected for him to wear. This began our dialogue. This began our gender journey. This is when I truly started listening and making changes regarding style choices and toy varieties I purchased for him. My goal for my child has never altered - to raise a HAPPY, healthy and productive member of society.
Later that year when my precious baby (who wasn’t a baby anymore) entered Kindergarten I was scared. I have and will always love my children for who they are not for who I expected them to be. However I was so worried that the larger world was not as accepting. I was so fearful of having my baby leave the safety of the bubble we had created and letting him explore the ‘real’ world of school - without ME. Who would protect his uniqueness from the kids who would bully him? Who would be there to support him and make him feel safe / secure and unconditionally loved for who he is – no matter his gender expression? Would the teachers know how to support him? Would he make friends?
What’s a scared mom to do? How could I protect my child when I wasn’t there? I decided it was my job to educate the adults who would be there. Children are born with unconditional acceptance for others. It is the adults in their lives that shape their belief systems. It was therefore the adult role models that would be in my son’s life that I needed to connect with. I began to speak at my son’s school to educate the teachers about what it means to be a gender creative child and how to support him in his classroom and throughout the school. It surprised me that the normal and daily language we used in our home regarding ‘style’ and ‘toys of interest’ were new semantics for categorizing “boy stuff / girl stuff” to the groups of people that I began to connect with.
I have also been surprised that my youngest son (who is 2 ½ years younger than his brother) growing up in our ‘gender diverse / non-conforming’ home still thinks very strongly in the binary (girl / boy divide). This made me think even more… if I am raising a child who has a hard time wrapping his head around the ideas of gender being on a spectrum, that anyone can wear what makes them feel happy and confident and that you are able to like any toy no matter the color etc. how are kids from other gender stereotypical families going to learn this information?
Stereotypes are rampant in our society – from the day you are born you are assigned blue or pink and your soother and rattle reflects these colors based on your body parts. Fast food restaurants offer you the girl / boy toy rather than a ‘hot wheels car’ or ‘my little pony’ toy. Stores are divided based on a binary and even hair style choices are categorized in the binary such as the ‘man bun’ – why can’t it just be a bun (no matter if it is a man or woman displaying this hairdo)?
I feel honored that I have been given the privilege of raising my drama magnet son. His amazing fashion sense is remarkable. I love how I can ask him his opinion about my wardrobe choice and I can truly trust his judgment. Sometimes I think I’d be a hot mess without his style guidance. I am swimming in the array of stereotypes I originally thought I was escaping from being a mom of boys. Honestly I couldn’t image a life where these are not part of my daily routine – think of all the exciting drama-filled moments in life I’d be missing out on. If only I had more hand me down clothes…
I feel that it is my job as a parent and advocate for my child to share this message of acceptance for all. I want a larger audience to learn the language we use to express acceptance and bring this language into all elementary school classrooms – not just the class my children attend. The book, “Be Yourself’ grew out my desire to make the community we live in a safer, more accepting and respectful place for my son and this next generation of gender creative kids.