“I don’t want to be a girl; I don’t want to be a boy; I just want to be human,” my four-year-old niece told my sister-in-law over Christmas. Mary Beth is an amazing mom, and she lets her daughter’s humanness shine through, no questions or comments. My niece is every bit a four year old: She loves imaginative play – sometimes she’s a princess, sometimes she’s a Lost Boy. She tramps through leaves on the winding trail behind her house, wearing a pink tutu-skirt and furry boots. I wouldn’t call her a tomboy, but she’s not a girly-girl, either. She encompasses the balanced humanness of a young child.
I’m not sure where I fall on the nature-vs-nurture spectrum. I know there are some boys who are rough-and-tumble, and others who are nurturing. Most boys I know are a combination of those two. I know there are some girls who quietly read for hours and others who are outside climbing trees. Most girls I know are a combination of those two. I know there are innate differences between boys and girls, but I also wonder how we, as parents, help create boxes of otherness in our children. When we encourage boys to be boys and we try to protect our girls, are we creating divisions that wouldn’t be there otherwise?
We were at a party last year and I was talking with a mom whose boys were running wild laps through the house, knocking things over, and screaming. Bea was quietly doing a puzzle with another little boy. The mom of the wild boys laughed and said, “You’re so lucky to have a girl! I can’t even imagine my boys sitting quietly for anything!” She laughed at how boys will be boys as I watched one of her sons smear a chocolate hand print onto the wall. I debated if I should point out that my daughter was playing quietly with another boy but decided to just smile and nod. Later, I wondered how much of that behavior is boys being boys and how much of it is parenting choices.
As Bea’s personality is starting to assert itself, I see wild moments of running through the house, roaring like a lion followed by quiet moments of having a tea party with her dolls. In this stage, Bea doesn’t know what girls do and what boys do; she just knows how to explore the world as a human. I hope, as I encourage and create boundaries that I allow her humanness to be at the forefront of her play and her exploration. Maybe she’ll end up being a flowery princessy girly-girl. Maybe she’ll end up being more of a scraped-knee tomboy. Maybe she’ll be some sort of mix of the two, and most likely she’ll be someone more amazing than I can even imagine.
What I want to learn from this stage of life, and what I hope I can remember as I grow as a parent, is that my daughter is first and foremost a human. And I hope my words, encouragement, and actions reflect that back to her.
Where do you fall on the nature vs. nurture spectrum? Veteran Parents: How did you encourage your children’s humanness?