Washington Post: Parents trying to raise their kids in 'relatively gender-neutral ways' discover nature taking over

The Washington Post published an interesting story today about a family living in Raleigh, North Carolina. Brian Campbell and Bonnie Melton married in 2008 and now have three kids, two girls and a boy named Eliot who is now 8-years-old. Brian Campbell grew up with a father who expected him to play sports and pursue a high-earning career like engineering. Brian did play football but eventually told his father he wanted to study art instead of engineering. At the time, his father was furious about that, but now that Brian is a successful animator at a video game company that family drama appears to be resolved. Still, both Brian and Bonnie wanted to approach parenting a little differently than their parents’ generation had, making an concerted effort to let their kids grow up without feeling a lot of cultural pressure related to gender. And yet, despite their efforts, it seems to them that nature took over:

At a time when more kids and teens are raising questions about the meaning of gender, Bonnie and Brian made a point of bringing up their children — Eliot and his sisters Toni, now 10, and Lena, 7 — in relatively gender-neutral ways. “It irked me when people said you can’t play with that because it’s a boy toy, or you can’t play with that because it’s a girl toy,” Bonnie says. They didn’t dress the girls in fancy pink baby clothes, for instance.

But no matter what Bonnie and Brian did, what happened looked a lot to them like nature taking over. The first time the family went to the local children’s museum, the parents laughed as 3-year-old Toni discovered princess dresses for the first time. She pulled them on with astonishment, as if to say, “Can you believe this?” Eliot, not yet able to talk, toddled away from her and right over to the train table.

“It’s funny,” Brian says. “I feel like I read stuff and listen to interviews with people that are like ‘Disney executives are driving little girls to want princess dresses!’ And I’m like, ‘Nope, little girls love this, and Disney’s making money off it.’ ” He laughs. “They just gravitated toward those things. They like what they like.”

Bonnie, Eliot’s mom, supports gun control, but she doesn’t let that societal pressure control her kids either. So Eliot, who likes toy guns, is allowed to play with them whenever he wants. Brian is a leader in a YMCA group similar to the Boy Scouts. There again, he sees evidence that boys are just prone to certain behavior:

At the spring outing, Brian and the other dads were setting up camp. The boys in Eliot’s group picked up sticks and started sword fighting. As other groups showed up, the boys ran to the woods, formed two sides, and started a giant game of war.

For Brian, it’s like watching a kitten stalking something. It’s just natural boy behavior. “I think some people see that as an unnatural behavior in boys, that it’s somehow dangerous, especially with school shootings,” he said.

I really don’t see a problem with any of this. You can certainly make an argument that most kids of a certain gender will gravitate toward certain norms while recognizing that not every kid will do so or will do so at the same time as every other kid. As a parent, the best approach is to provide enough space for the kid to grow without freaking out if they take one strange turn at age six.

Of course, there is a certain breed of progressive who considers all gender norms to be harmful and the work of society. There are even some parents on the fringe who are raising their children to choose their own gender when they get older. But this family, which started out trying to give their kids space to be whoever they wanted to be, have found their kids fit a lot of the gender stereotypes of both boys and girls. It’s nice to see someone willing to risk the wrath of the ideologues to say so.

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