About 3 months ago I had the most perfect baby in the world. He is the first grandchild on both sides and is revelling in the attention he’s getting from his grandparents.
So far so good, right? Well. My partner is away for work for about 3 weeks and his mom is here to help with the baby. My partner and I have agreed that we will do our best to not indoctrinate our son in the ways of masculinity – that we’ll let him explore what gender means to him. My partner’s mother…is not quite on the same page.
Perfect Baby’s wardrobe is overwhelmingly masculine (mostly because both grandmas are always showing up with armloads of little onesies with cars and dinosaurs on them, and I am in no financial position to refuse them), but I am still getting snide little remarks that I’m “dressing him like a girl” because of ONE PAIR of little pink pants. HULK MAMA SMASH. Doesn’t matter if everything else he owns is blue or green, the pink pants contaminate the lot.
(I should add that Grandma In Law is a genuinely nice person and is being a great help while I’m on my own with the baby. My mom is a lot bitchier, but we have stronger boundaries, so it’s less of a problem.)
Right now it’s just clothes, of course, but this is going to get serious pretty soon. When he’s two and he falls down I don’t want him to feel ashamed for crying. When he’s seven and his hair has grown into beautiful chestnut ringlets, I don’t want him to cut it off because it makes him look like a girl. And when IN A MILLION YEARS AFTER I’M DEAD he starts having pantsfeelings, if those pantsfeelings happen to be for another boy, I don’t want him to be afraid or ashamed or guilty.
So basically I’ve committed to raising a little mangina, as the MRAs would say. Any tips on how I can get the inlaws to STFU with the gender policing?
Trying to raise a reasonably feminist son here
Congratulations on becoming a mom!
There are no magic words to make this stuff completely conflict-free, but I do have a few suggestions both for how to handle Grandmas and to increase your peace of mind.
Kids are sponges and take in information from all over the place. You. Grandmas. Baby’s First iPad. Other kids. School. While they do look for consistency among all the messages they receive and ask questions like “Why do you say that we should do x when Grandma says we should do y?“, they are perfectly capable of hearing “Well, Grandma and I don’t agree on everything, just like you and I won’t always agree on anything. I’m your mom, so right now I get to make the rules, but you get to have your own opinion and as you get older you’ll get to make up your own mind about a lot more things.” Asking those questions is part of how kids develop critical thinking skills and their own worldview, which is what you want, right? You didn’t grow up to agree with everything your mom (or grandparents) said was true. For example, my Grampa said a lot of racist stuff in front of me over the years. Hearing that stuff did not magically make me racist. I could see the racist stuff for what it was and know that we loved each other.
I think keeping this in mind (the kids will be all right) will help you navigate this stuff now. You don’t have to get it perfect. And you don’t have to totally convince the grandparents of the rightness of what you’re doing. Your passionate arguments for your reasons why pink pants are sometimes important are going to be largely lost on them and just exhaust you.
In response to the snide remarks, I would invoke the “Yeah, but I’m his mom” privilege.
For example: “Thanks for your advice. I’m sure you got a lot of conflicting advice and tried a lot of things out when you were raising your kids, and they turned out great! So I know that you’ll understand and respect when I want to do things my own way.”
If you want to be really sneaky about it, ask Grandma(s) to tell you what kind of wack-but-well-intended parenting advice they received from others first.
Maybe also try: “I realize you disagree with certain things I do, and it must be hard to bite your tongue sometimes, but I really need you to stop with the snide remarks. We both have our reasons for how we feel. I’m his mom, and I get to win this argument.”
“Mom, did you dress me in blue outfits sometimes when I was a baby? Did it turn me gay or into a boy? No? Right. Because THAT’S NOT ACTUALLY HOW THAT WORKS.”
Better yet, “Mom, what are you worried will happen? Can we talk about that for real, instead of you sniping at me?”
If she doesn’t take you up on that sincere offer, don’t dig too deeply into the reasons for what you’re doing. Stick with “You had the chance to do whatever you wanted when you raised your kids, this is my chance and this is important to me. As long as we all love each other he’ll be fine, right?” Because he will.
P.S. While we’re talking about gender roles and clothing, let me just say that EVERYONE DRIVES CARS and EVERYONE LIKES DINOSAURS, so rock those free cute onesies from Grandma without the “OMG, I AM DRESSING HIM IN PATRIARCHY” guilt, ok? Dinosaurs are for everyone. (Thanks, Twitter!)