Q: I’ve got twins–a boy and a girl–and I find myself treating them differently. I know I shouldn’t. How can I keep myself from falling into stereotype traps and instead parent my children equally?
A: Well, it’s not going to be easy; old habits are hard to break. But here are few steps that ought to get you started:
- Don’t over-coddle your girls. When they cry from frustration let them know they’re capable of more and push them a little harder.
- Cuddle your boys more. It can’t hurt and it might even make them smarter.
- Take turns sharing household tasks with your wife–driving, lawn mowing, meal preparation, household repairs. In their early years, your kids are going to get most of their ideas about gender roles from watching you. Sharing domestic responsibilities will make it less likely that your child will assume that there are “boy” jobs and “girl” jobs.
- Outside the home, expose your children to adults working in non-traditional occupations. You might want to start with a female pediatrician. And at school, look for classes that have some male teachers.
- Expose your kids to a full range of toys before they have a chance to learn what they’re “supposed” to play with. But don’t beat yourself up if things don’t always go the way you want. Sometimes boys make guns out of toast and girls make babies out of towels.
- Respect your child’s wishes. If your child requests a gender-specific toy, you might want to gently challenge the choice, but snatching Barbies away from your daughter and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin figures away from your son will make them want those toys even more.
- Watch out for the media. No matter what you do, your child is going to get hit with hundreds of sex stereotyped messages–and it’ll happen right in your own living room. Watching television with your children and explaining what they’re seeing can minimize some of the negative messages they’re likely to get.