Parent, observe thyself
So what can parents do to free their children from the emotional straitjacket of gender? Pollack and Madison say that exposing babies to both “boy and girl toys” offers opportunities for different kinds of expression and play. (Just don’t be dismayed if little Chrissy still wants to wear only pink.)
But parents should also concentrate on their own behavior and language, with the goal of expanding both sexes’ emotional repertoires. This doesn’t mean that a baby girl’s parents should cuddle or talk to her less. However, you might want to use fewer diminutives (linguists say they reinforce stereotypical expectations), express pride in other things besides her gorgeousness (good practice for adolescence) and encourage independence (don’t rescue her from frustration prematurely).
Parents of boys should offer unlimited physical expressions of love and caring, according to Pollack, as well as assurances that it is OK to cry and express vulnerability. Avoid language that makes boys feel pushed toward independence too soon or that evokes shame, an emotion that boys are particularly sensitive to.
As for me, I’m not giving up. Granted, my children appear to have come into the world with hard-wired differences. Still, I hope that doing things like kissing and cuddling my son more, and complimenting my daughter more on her accomplishments and less on her beauty, will give each child the courage, permission and emotional vocabulary needed to live a full life — one in which no opportunity will be lost just because it may defy a gender stereotype.