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Everyone knows that there are glaring differences between girls’ clothes and boys’ clothes. It’s no secret. Stores keep them in different sections, after all! As a feminist and a queer person, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about gender inequalities for both adults and children.


When I finally became a parent myself, I was determined to give my own child more freedom and more options. I would not dictate what he was “allowed” to wear based on what was between his legs. I prepared myself to offer him boy clothing, girl clothing, as well as more neutral clothing, and let him decide what was best for him over time.

I also prepared myself to deal with the inevitable push-back my family would receive in our gender stratified society.

Yet, just like with basically everything else about parenting, thinking about it beforehand couldn’t possibly prepare me for some of this stuff. As my son and I have entered the world of kid clothes together, I’m continually surprised by how heavily gendered it all is, and the weird ways that manifests.

The clothes fit differently, even in the same size

This was the first thing I noticed that really threw me for a loop. When my kid was a newborn wearing hand-me-downs from a variety of friends and family members, the clothing was heavily gendered, but it was the same stuff underneath. In other words, while each brand offered the usual pinks and blues, a six-month onesie was a six-month onesie.

Sure, one had an airplane on it and the other had a kitten wearing a leopard print dress (who comes up with this stuff?), and the girls’ option might also feature weird ruffles around the sleeves, but that was it. I could say “my kid is wearing twelve-month clothes right now,” and that would remain true, whether we were talking about girls’ clothes or boys’ clothes.

But at some point, that stopped being the case. Once you reach a certain size in many brands (I’ve noticed this particularly with Carter’s and Old Navy, but there are others), clothing intended for boys and the same clothing intended for girls are wildly different sizes.

These days, my child wears a 2T in Old Navy boys’, but if you want to get anything from the girls’ section (he loves sparkles, so sometimes we do), you’re better off choosing a 3T.

Now I know what you’re about to say: little boys are often a bit bigger than little girls. That would make total sense to me, if it weren’t for the fact that the size charts don’t reflect it. I’ve checked them. According the data feeding U.S. size charts, 2T should mean the same thing regardless of which gender we’re talking about, both in pounds and height. The clothing companies disagree.

This means, of course, that if you’re buying clothes according to the chart and according to your child’s gender, your little girls will constantly be in clothing that’s just a little bit too snug.

The garments are often cut differently

In addition to these sizing issues, the shape of clothing for male and female toddlers are completely different even though, at this age, boys and girls are shaped more or less the same. This one has an easy explanation: They’re cut that way to mimic the clothing of male and female adults.

For me, that doesn’t make it any less troubling. Men and women are independent individuals, they have the ability to search for the clothing they want, and their clothing options are at least to some degree based on sexual expectations. A four-year-old doesn’t need to be dressed in what society views as sexy for a 22-year-old.

Why is it that a long sleeve t-shirt from the boys’ section is square and boxy with loose sleeves that allow for plenty of movement, and the same item from the girls’ section has tight sleeves, a plunging neckline, and might even be cinched at the waist?

The necklines in and of themselves pose a huge problem, especially in the wintertime. No toddler needs a shirt cut so low that you can nearly see their nipples, and all that exposed skin gets cold.

The unexpected symbolism of gendered clothing

Princesses are for girls and superheroes are for boys. You knew that already, and if you’re a progressive parent, you’ve probably thought about how ridiculous it is more than once. But the reality is that those big, glaring, differences are just the tip of the iceberg.

Pink and blue might be the easiest things to rail against, but they’re far from the only things that serve as gender markers for our children. Smaller, more insidious, differences are everywhere. And I wonder if some of them might be, well, worse.

A few months back, we received a bunch of handed down clothing all at the same time. Most of it was from boys, so there was a lot of gray and dark blue, but there was also one box of cast offs from a three-year-old girl. One afternoon, while my wife was at work, the kid and I put all the new/old clothes in a heap and sorted through them. He reached into the giant pile of fabric and pulled out a pair of gray tights covered in multi-color hearts. He was instantly in love with them. In fact, he wanted to wear them every day.

This got me thinking about symbolism and gender in a brand new way. We know that our culture expects women and femmes to do the vast majority of emotional labor. What I realized on that day is that clothing intended for little girls is often covered with symbolism promoting that very labor.

Clothing for little boys? Not so much. A heart is an organ we all have, and all children have emotions and need to learn to deal with them. Yet, a heart is a gendered symbol. Little boys get trucks and superheroes and trains and dinosaurs, and all sorts of fun stuff on their clothes…but you’ll be hard pressed to find a boy’s shirt with a heart on it.

Little boys are being told, from a very young age, that feelings don’t matter, or at least shouldn’t matter to them. They’re learning that feelings are for girls alone.

Even the edging on garments are heavily gender coded

Remember earlier when we were talking about onesies? I said the boys’ onesies and girls’ onesies were the same, right? Well, that’s only partly right. I had expected to see onesies for girls with kittens and pink flowers, and onesies for boys with frogs riding motorcycles. I was more or less ready for that, but I wasn’t ready for decorative edges.

The edging for a piece of clothing intended for a boy was plain, but for a girl, it never ever was. Starting in newborn sizes, a multi pack of onesies labeled “girl” featured teeny-tiny bows made of teeny-tiny ribbons with scalloped edging around the neck and sleeves. Baby pants for boys were simple and utilitarian. Girls’ pants featured ruffles or lace around the ankles.

In larger sizes, the trend continues. Girls get ruffles and lace, tiny decorative details constantly differentiating them from their male peers. And while I have nothing against a cute pair of jeans with lacy trim (I’d wear it!), I do wonder about the prevalence of such details. To have nearly all of your clothing – or absolutely none of it – adorned with decorative edging for as long as you can remember is a very particular experience.

The quality of the fabric often differs

I’m going to be honest. Other parents warned me about this one, and I just did not believe them. I’ll repeat, friends of mine who were already parents told me about a marked quality difference between girls’ clothes and boys’ clothes. I thought they were full of crap.

Why? They were mostly the parents of male children, male children who loved “girly” things, and yet they kept putting those children in masculine attire. The pressure to force children to gender conform is enormous, and so when I heard “the boys’ stuff is just higher quality,” I unfairly assumed that some of those parents were grasping at straws.

But let me tell you something. The boys’ stuff is higher quality. The fabrics are thicker, sturdier, and longer wearing. The clothing is less flimsy. It’s also just plain warmer. Shopping for my son on the cusp of winter last year inspired my mother-in-law to say “don’t little girls get cold?”

I’m sure they must! And when they do, their parents have the option of handing them a thin, useless cardigan, or braving the boys’ section for an actual sweater.

Treating children in markedly different ways according to gender lines definitely affects them later down the line. The question is how much, and in which ways. What does it mean for our children if the clothes we put on their bodies – long before they’re able to articulate their own wishes in that department – are so drastically and utterly gendered?

I don’t have all the answers, but the questions continue to unsettle me.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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I had big plans to be a "good mom" this summer. There were going to be chore charts, reading goals, daily letter writing practice, and cursive classes. There would be no screen time until the beds were made, and planned activities for each day of the week.

Today was the first day of summer vacation and our scheduled beach day. But here's what we did instead: Lounged in our pj's until 11 am, baked the girl's pick, chocolate chip cookie brownies, started an art project we never finished, then moved to the pool.

It's so easy to be pressured by things we see on social. Ways to challenge our kids and enrich their summer. But let's be real—we're all tired. Tired of chores, tired of schedules and places to be, tired of pressure, and tired of unrealistic expectations.

So instead of a schedule, we're doing nothing this summer. Literally NOTHING.

No camps. No classes, and no curriculums.

Instead, we're going to see where each day takes us. I've dubbed this the "Summer of Me," so workouts and clean eating are a priority for me. And also giving our girls the freedom to pick what they want to do.

We may go to a local pool and check out the swimming programs. And we join the local YMCA. But whatever we do—it will be low key.

It will include family time, too much TV, a few trips, lots of sunshine, some new roller skates, water balloons, plenty of boredom, rest, relaxation, and reading. (Because mama likes to read!)

So if you haven't figured out what you're doing this summer, you're not alone. And guess what? It's OKAY! Your kids will be fine and so will you.

Originally posted on Kristen Hewitt's blog. Check out her post on 30 ways to have fun doing almost nothing this summer.

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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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When we consider all the skills our kids will need to succeed in the future, what comes to mind? Perhaps creativity, tech skills, or an excellent understanding of math might be at the top of many parents' lists. Social-emotional skills, like empathy, compassion, or the ability to understand another person's viewpoint may not be the ones you thought of right away, but deep down you know they matter.

We've all had those co-workers who didn't know how to listen to our ideas or friends who couldn't compromise with others. We know that in the work world and in our personal life, emotional skills are key to developing and maintaining healthy relationships.

If you are the parent of a toddler, you know that young children are inherently self-centered. It's not some faulty aspect of their character or a misstep of parenting skills. Young children simply do not have the brain maturity to consider another person's perspective or needs just yet—their brain physically is not ready to handle that kind of mental work.

However, child development research shows us that we can do a few things along the developmental path to help foster social-emotional skills in our kids. With a little help from us, our kids' brains can develop with meaningful connections that tune them into the feelings of others.

Here's how:

1. Treat others how you want your kids to treat others.

How we talk to our kids becomes their internal dialogue. We know from research that this goes for emotional skills as well. A recent study showed that when parents talk to their kids more about how other people might be feeling, the kids had better perspective-taking abilities—the ability to see a situation from another person's point of view.

This, of course, is the basis of many emotional skills, especially empathy. Just by talking about another person's feelings, kids begin to develop those crucial brain connections that help them develop empathy.

It's worth pointing out that very young children under ages 3-4 do not have the brain maturity to really understand another person's perspective. They lack a crucial skill that psychologists call Theory of Mind, meaning they can't understand the mind of another person.

However, our urgings and thoughtful phrasing to point out how another person might be feeling can only help them down this developmental path. Then, once their little brain matures, they will be in the habit of hearing and understanding the feelings of others.

2. Model positive emotional behavior in daily life.

It's probably not surprising to learn that how we react to our kids' feelings influences their emotional development. When your child gets upset, do you get angry or ruffled by their big emotions? We are all human, of course, so sometimes our kids' emotions are the exact triggers that fuel our big feelings, too. However, if we can remain the calm in the emotional storm for our kids, their development will benefit. Through modeling emotional regulation, over time our kids will learn how to self-regulate as well.

One study, in fact, showed that toddlers whose parents exhibited anger or over-reacted to tantrums were likely to have more tantrums and negative emotionality by the end of the study. However, the opposite dynamic can happen, too. Parents who model firm, but calm emotional regulation help their kids learn these skills as well.

3. Don’t be afraid to show your emotions.

Many times, we feel that one of our main jobs as a parent is to protect our children from the big, often overwhelming emotions of adults. For instance, we try not to break down crying or become red-faced with anger in front of our kids. It just feels too big for them to handle and perhaps not developmentally appropriate.

As they mature, however, older kids are able to handle a bit more discussion and expression of honest emotions. Have you noticed that kids usually pick up on the fact that you are upset even if you try to hide it? Kids are naturally curious and, many times, very sensitive to the emotional tenor at home. If they are developmentally ready, this can be a good time to have more discussions about emotions and how to handle them.

For example, my 9-year-old is playing a lot of baseball this summer and always wants me to pitch to him so he can practice batting. Now, I am not a very skilled player so my pitches often go off course or are too weak. He had gotten in the habit of correcting my pitching or (more likely) complaining about it every time we played.

After repeated experiences with this, I was not only annoyed but it also sort of hurt my feelings—so I finally told him how I felt. Guess what? His behavior at practice time changed dramatically! The mere fact of him realizing that his mom has feelings too really made him think about his words more carefully.

These types of interaction can become part of your "emotion coaching." It may sound silly but it can make a big impact for kids, especially as they grow older and are more able to really understand the emotional lesson. On some level, it's nice that our kids think we are superheroes, but it's also crucial that they understand that we are still human, with real feelings.

The magic of helping our kids develop empathy doesn't happen in well-planned lessons or elaborate activities. The real magic happens in the small, simple interactions and discussions we have with our kids each day.

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Sometimes it can feel like you never get a minute to even finish a thought—let alone a to-do list. When your day is packed with caretaking, your own needs get pushed back. So when you finally get to lie down at the end of the day, all those thoughts are waiting for you. While we haven't figured out the secret to keeping you from over-analyzing every.single.thing. (sorry, mama!), we do believe you must carve out time for you. Because that rest is just as important—and you've certainly earned it.

XO,

#TeamMotherly

PS: We spoke to Jessica Alba and she gave us the lowdown on why she stopped breastfeeding, and Nordstrom is having their anniversary sale until August 5th. Here's everything we want!

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