Old Rules versus New Rules of Gender: Parent Do Overs

By: Colleen K. Vesely, Ph.D.

It was picture day at my 2.5-year-old daughter’s preschool. Like most mothers, I picked out what I thought was cute – a pink and purple flowered shirt. I sneaked pig tails into her hair. Yes, sneaked because I liked them and she didn’t. I had figured out that if I could distract her enough while doing her hair, with stories or jokes, she generally didn’t think about what I was doing with her hair. Pigtails and flowers were my choices, and to be honest I still love pigtails on kiddos—I think they are absolutely adorable! But these were things that I thought were cute. My daughter, Katja, did not.

I had my own terrible memories of my mother making me wear a navy blue and brown corduroy Snoopy outfit for kindergarten pictures when I was 4 years old. On that picture day with Katja, I did the same thing with my 2.5-year-old as I had experienced so many decades earlier. Katja did not want to wear a flowered shirt and she did not like the pigtails. A few weeks later when the photos arrived, my daughter’s face showed exactly how she felt about the pink, purple, and pigtails—not happy!

Now, almost 6 years later, every time I look at this photo I of course see the cuteness of my child—like eat-you-up-with-a-spoon adorable. But I also cringe because of my parenting in that moment. It seems I cared more about how she looked and that she followed the old rules of gender…rather than letting my sweet child authentically express who she is.

What really makes me cringe is that I knew better—I knew about the new rules of gender. I have a doctorate in family science and have studied human development as well as gender identity, development, and expression more than the average person. I teach about these ideas in my courses as a professor working with aspiring professionals. I am committed to parents, teachers, and caregivers affirming and supporting children’s gender identities and expression. But, like all of us, I am human and imperfect. I keep this photo hanging on our fridge, not only because Katja is eat-you-up-with-a-spoon adorable—even with her “Mona Lisa” expression in this photo, but also as a reminder of what happens to our children’s spirits if we don’t let them express their gender in the way they choose. The old rules of gender dictate how girls and boys ought to identify and express in very narrow feminine and masculine ways. The new rules of gender allow for thinking about gender in many ways and for expressions of gender to cut across femininity and masculinity in all kinds of important unique ways. Had Katja picked her own clothes that day she likely would have worn her brother’s swim shirt and swim shorts. And maybe even his sunglasses!

As I think back, from the time she could talk Katja’s gender expression or the way she shows gender to the outside world in terms of her appearance, the way she moves and uses her body, as well as the activities she enjoys were always quite gender fluid. Despite my mishap with Katja’s two-year-old class picture, I work to follow her lead regarding her expression of gender. Her brother’s bathing suit was the first thing I really recall Katja wanting to wear quite regularly. As we would receive hand-me-downs from older female cousins, Katja would never want any of the clothes with a lot of pink or frills in her drawer. In her sweet way, she would set these aside for a younger female neighbor who she knew loved pink and dresses. She continued to select clothing for herself that most would see as gender neutral or as “boy clothes.” When she was three, Katja had a male preschool teacher, Mr. Matt, who she thought was absolutely amazing. Katja would often emulate him by wearing a baseball cap backwards and donning her brother’s hand-me-downs, specifically his longer shorts. This is all gender expression. At the same time, Katja still called herself as a girl, which was an indication of her gender identity. Of course, when kids are this young their identity can often appear fluid as they are understanding society’s social constructions of gender—as a binary—no matter how flawed and harmful to many these binary constructions are.

Just before Katja turned five she asked to get her hair cut like her older brother’s hair. I said “yes” enthusiastically and out loud immediately—but, I also delayed the visit to the hairdresser for about a month, as I needed time to get my head around knowing short hair would mean no possibility of sneaking pigtails! Living the new rules of gender can sometimes be really challenging. We are hardwired in the old rules. We have such a desire to categorize humans based on ideas that already exist in our brains. Katja was so excited the day she got her hair cut, and her only regret was that the hairdresser didn’t cut it shorter. I missed her curls, but I wouldn’t trade the joy and confidence on her face as she strode out of the hairdresser for all of the pigtails in the world! As a side note, we just made a trip to the hairdresser yesterday and Katja chose to get the sides cut much shorter, keeping a mohawk on top.

This memory of picture day, the day I did not support Katja to live in her body as she chooses (an important rule in our house) and when I ignored the new rules of gender, is quite literally in my face every day (the preschool pic of Katja in pigtails on our fridge.) It reminds me that even when we know better, we don’t always do better…especially in the face of such strong social conditioning. But whenI glance at her first-grade school picture also on the fridge, I notice my smiling child sporting the most fabulous red mohawk, and I realize that in every parenting moment that we get wrong, there is always a chance to get it right. I live for these second chances—these “do-overs.”

Colleen K. Vesely

Colleen K. Vesely, Ph.D. is an associate professor of early childhood education and human development and family science in the College of Education and Human Development at George Mason University. She considers motherhood to be the most humbling experience of her life as she raises three amazing humans, Luka (age 11), Katja (age 8), and Isak (age 4).

Enjoy Watching Navigate Screen Time: The New Normal FB Live Event

Enjoy Ruth Freeman LCSW, Amy Alamar Ed D, Autumn Cloud-Ingram LMSW and Aaron Weintraub MS as they discuss navigating screen time during this new normal.

Now more than ever, screen time is a fact of life for parents and children. We will discuss the use and over-use of technology used for schoolwork, socializing, and leisure. We’ll talk about the opportunities and challenges it presents to families during the new normal. Learn practical strategies parents and children can use to truly embrace this new digital frontier without fear and within reason. You will learn strategies to:• Teach your children digital citizenship• Develop an open conversation for the unpredictable• Help your child develop a strong moral filter• Support your child’s social life online and off.

Audience: parents of children 2-18

Parenting LGBTQ+ Youth: Let’s Talk Roundtable 6/22 8pm

If you are the parent of a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning (LGBTQ) child, you probably have a lot of questions. Your support is key to your child’s well-being, but you may have to go through your own process to get there. Start with, “I’m here for you and love you,” even if you don’t understand and aren’t ok at the moment. Plan to get your own support so that you can process your deepest emotions and concerns, while helping your child to deal with their own. Join Peace At Home guest experts Barbara Esgalhado, PhD and Poshi Walker, MSW with founder Ruth Freeman, LCSW to gain some ideas about helping your child thrive, while exploring your own path to understanding and genuine acceptance.

<iframe src="https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?height=314&href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FPeaceAtHomeParenting%2Fvideos%2F314365997010325%2F&show_text=false&width=560&t=3450" width="560" height="314" style="border:none;overflow:hidden" scrolling="no" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="true" allow="autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; picture-in-picture; web-share" allowFullScreen="true"></iframe>

Self Care: Put on Your Oxygen Mask First Facebook Live Event at 8pm May 25

Your focus for the past year has been on keeping your kids safe, engaged in school and making miracles to help them feel socially connected. Self-care? Out the window. With summer on the horizon maybe you are feeling a glimmer of hope. Let’s build on that. We will talk about the impact of your own self-care on your kids, your body and your mental health. We hope you will share your solutions and be ready to hear some new ideas from our Peace At Home specialists. You can do this! Dana Ashby,MA, MEd
Autumn Cloud-Ingram, LMSW
Stephanie Rondeau, MS, LAT, ATC, CSCS, CHC

View on our Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/PeaceAtHomeParenting/videos/521777182317869/

In Celebration of BMHW

At Peace At Home Parenting Solutions, we are grateful for the current attention to maternal mortality rates in the US. We are committed to supporting diverse parents, including the most vulnerable, to reach the goal of healthy births and infant development. through our Peace At Home Parenting Healthy Birth program.

“Managing Meltdowns” – Facebook Live Round Table Tuesday March 23 at 8:15pm EST

View Event on Our Facebook Page >

Participate Tuesday, March 23rd at 8:15 pm in a free, live round table event, “Managing Meltdowns” for parents of children ages birth-8. Join presenters Ruth Freeman LCSW, JoAnn Robinson PhD, and Cora Megan MA to:

  • Learn why emotional meltdowns occur in young children
  • Learn how caregivers can manage their own distress during meltdowns
  • Learn positive approaches to help children calm down
  • Learn ways to talk with your child about strong feelings after they occur, and
  • Learn about positive routines to help prevent emotional meltdowns

FREE Live Facebook Event: Positive Discipline, Peaceful Home (2-12 years old)

Positive Discipline, Peaceful Home (2-12 years old)- FREE Live Facebook Event

Please join Ruth Freeman, LCSW, Cora Megan, MA and Aaron Weintraub, MS for this LIVE FACEBOOK EVENT on Tuesday, January 26, 2021 at 8pm EST

At 8 PM, Tuesday, January 26 WATCH LIVE We suggest that you watch the following recorded classes to prepare for our upcoming live Facebook event. Choose the best Positive Discipline Recording for the age(s) of your children.
  • Be Your Child’s Calm Center, and
  • Positive Discipline for Peace at Home, or
  • Positive Discipline for Toddlers and Preschoolers
  • Ask questions on the spot, tell us about your challenges and hear from other parents
  • Discover myths that may keep you repeating ineffective discipline techniques (actually increasing misbehavior)
  • Learn strategies that increase and sustain child compliance (evidence-based, and attainable)

Gain simple, practical tools to raise cooperative, confident and connected children!

Facebook LIVE: Depression and Anxiety in Children and Teens 7pm 12/30

Predictable days stabilize the lives of children and teens, but planning those days has been made more difficult for parents since the onset of the pandemic. Uncertainty, social isolation and parent distress all have on impact on the mental health of kids and teens. Join Peace At Home Parenting founder Ruth E. Freeman, LCSW and teachers Aaron Weintraub, MS and Denise Parent, LMFT and other concerned parents like yourself for a focused conversation to help you recognize symptoms and find solutions to address your child’s emotional needs as well as your own.

Rewatch the FB Live Event – Meltdowns, Tantrums: Kids Simply Struggling to Behave

Watch our Facebook Live event when we talked about meltdowns, tantrums, and kids simply struggling to behave.

JoAnn Robinson, PhD, Peace At Home early childhood expert, parent and grandmother and Ruth Freeman, LCSW and Peace At Home Founder had a informational discussion on Emotional Meltdowns and Behavior Struggles in Young Children.