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What I Wish I’d Said When My Kid Asked Me What All Genders Meant

I recently took my daughter to the restroom at a local restaurant. As you might expect, in a health food restaurant in a progressive city, the restroom was labeled not men, not women, not family, or even just restroom. It said “all genders.”


It didn’t occur to me to think about my daughter’s reaction to that term, given the Class One Potty Emergency at hand. But my daughter did not miss the sign.

Once she was settled on the toilet, she asked, “What does all genders mean?”

“Well, it means, men, women, and…anyone who doesn’t identify as a man or a woman.”

“But what else is there?” she asked.

“Like, someone who just wants to identify as a person.”

“But why can’t they just be a man or a woman.”

“Like I said. They just want to be a person.”

Though I know I will appreciate her persistence someday, on this particular day, it was a challenge. I tried a different tack.

“Do you know what ‘binary’ means?”

“No.”

It was worth a shot. “It means that something is either one thing or another thing. You know what ‘non’ means, right?”

“Not.”

We were getting somewhere. “Okay, so there’s something besides man or woman. It’s called ‘nonbinary,’ which means not one thing or the other thing.”

My daughter looked at me with her head cocked to one side, then washed her hands and skipped back to the table, where she resumed coloring on the kids menu.

“How the hell do you explain nonbinary gender to a kid?” I whispered to my husband.

Not surprisingly, given the fact that my husband, myself, and our two daughters are cisgender, the topic of gender had never come up until we saw the “all genders” sign. According to Trans Student Education Resource’s website, the word cisgender, from the Latin “cis,” meaning “on the same side,” is an adjective that describes someone who identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth.

The book “Who Are You: The Kids Guide to Gender Identity”, by Brook Pessin-Whedbee, explains, “For some people, the grown-ups guessed right about their body and their gender. This is called cisgender – when someone’s identity matches their sex assigned at birth.”

My husband and I have certainly talked with our kids about bodies, private parts, and where babies come from. But those were conversations about sexuality, not gender. So, I was caught off guard by the “all genders” sign and unsure of how to begin to explain it.

Says Talcott Broadhead, author of “Meet Polkadot”, the brightly illustrated story of a nonbinary, transgender child, when you talk about nonbinary gender, talking about the gender binary is a good starting point. Broadhead explains that the gender binary refers to “who you should be, think, look, feel, and act like” as a girl or as a boy.

The problem with the traditional gender binary is that people don’t always fit neatly into a prescribed notion of what it feels like to be a boy or a girl. Pessin-Whedbee explains that the sex you’re assigned at birth, whether it’s male or female, may not match your gender. While your sex is based on your body parts, gender is an expression of who you are – including what you feel, what you like, how you dress, and “who you know yourself to be.”

How you dress is an example of gender expression as is the way you express yourself through your clothing or hairstyle (e.g appearing masculine or feminine). Gender identity, on the other hand, refers to one’s internal sense of being male, female, neither of these, both of these, or another gender or genders.

In “Pink is a Girl Color…and Other Silly Things People Say”, author Stacy Drageset dispels some common myths for young readers. For example, ballet is not just for girls and anyone can play basketball. Drageset explains that, rather than choosing clothes based on whether they are “boy clothes” or “girl clothes,” it is more important to dress according to what you like and feel comfortable in.

As Pessin-Whedbee writes, “There are lots of ways to be a boy. There are lots of ways to be a girl. There are lots of ways to be a kid.” She lists a number of other ways in which people may choose to identify themselves, including:

  • trans
  • genderqueer
  • nonbinary
  • gender fluid
  • transgender
  • gender neutral
  • agender
  • neutrois
  • bigender
  • third gender
  • two-spirit

While Pessin-Whedbee refers to the gender spectrum as an alternative to the gender binary, Broadhead’s book does not. In a conversation, Broadhead – who uses the pronoun “they” – explained that the notion of a gender spectrum implies that male and female occupy distinct ends of a scale, whereas they feel gender is, in fact, too fluid and unique a concept to fit a linear model. They prefer the concept of gender diversity, which includes a gender universe, in which “we are each our own star.”

The Genderbread Person 2.0 graphic is an excellent resource, showing the variations on different aspects of gender that make gender so personal. Whether they take the approach of a gender spectrum or a gender universe, experts agree that you are the only one who gets to say who or what you are (with the caveat that the term two-spirit is specific to certain indigenous cultures).

I spoke to Heather Thompson, the deputy director of Elephant Circle. A self-identified genderqueer person, postpartum doula, and an advocate for “queer, trans, and non-binary folks” in the Denver birth community, Thompson recommends using everyday encounters to open conversations with children about gender.

For example, when my five-year-old asks me why our cashier has an earring “even though he’s a boy,” I can take the opportunity to explain that you don’t actually know what a person is when you meet them.

A mother herself, Thompson acknowledges that kids often understand a lot more than we give them credit for: “In my experience, they get the middle [of the gender spectrum], they just didn’t know we could talk about it.”

Certainly, books like the ones mentioned above can also be great conversation starters as well. For parents reluctant to open a dialogue about gender for fear of not having all the answers, or feeling that they should have opened the conversation earlier, Broadhead has advice:

It’s never too late to tell a child something along the lines of, “I’m sorry, I wasn’t actually sharing everything I know about gender. You and I know a lot about our own gender and it makes sense to us and it’s who we are, but what I haven’t explained to you is that there are actually a lot more genders.”

If your kids have questions you can’t answer, they recommend looking at websites like the Trans Youth Equality Foundation or asking someone who would know. What Broadhead doesn’t recommend is cornering the one trans parent at your child’s school in the pick-up line and interrogating her. “That’s obviously inappropriate.”

And, of course, dining in a restaurant with an “all genders” sign works quite well, too. While bathrooms have nothing to do with gender, I am grateful for the public restroom that started a conversation about gender in our family.

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There's so much noise.

All. The. Time.

It feels like it's 24 hours, 7 days a week.

There's whining, crying, chatting, banging, tapping, scratching, singing, buzzing, yelling, snoring, crunching, schlopping, chewing, slurping, stomping, clapping, singing, laughing.

There's sound machines with crashing waves coming at me around every corner. There's a baby (doll) crying, and then my real baby crying. There's toys going off even when no one is playing with them.

There's requests, questions, demands, negotiations, plans, adventures, stories, performances—at all times.

There's ringing phones, alarms going off, voicemails, television theme songs (Daniel Tiger, I'm looking at you), Moana and Sing soundtracks playing. There's random loud videos playing when you're scrolling through Facebook and think you have your phone on silent.

I even hear things when there's nothing to be heard. Like the baby crying when I'm in the shower and she's sleeping. Like a bang from someone falling when everyone is fine. Like Imagine Dragon's 'Thunder' when it's not even on but it's stuck in my head because my daughter has requested to play it over and over and over.

At times, it makes me feel like I am going crazy. Like my brain doesn't work because I can't think clearly because the noise is all-encompassing.

This noise, paired with the never-ending, running-forever list of things to do in my head is one of the areas of motherhood that is hard for me. Really, really hard. It triggers my anxiety more than anything else does.

Sometimes, I just want to sit in silence. Alone. Not listening to anything or anyone.

Sometimes, I just want to hear myself think.

Sometimes, I just want the whining to stop.

Sometimes, I just want the brain fog to go away and never come back.

But what I've realized is that this is part of motherhood. Of my journey. Because, I have three children and it's never going to be quiet.

I need to get used to the noise, embrace the noise and know when I need to step back and take a break from the noise.

And I am used to the noise on some level.

I function fairly well on a daily basis getting work done and to-do lists checked off and taking care of my (loud, but wonderful) children. When all of the noise is overwhelming me, I've gotten into the habit of taking deep breaths and focusing on my task at hand.

It's not perfect, but it's something.

And I can definitely embrace the noise—especially the lovely noises of childhood.

Because when I think about it—is there anything better than hearing my 4-year-old belt out 'Thunder'?

Is there anything better than hearing my 2-year-old giggle uncontrollably?

Is there anything better than hearing the coos of my 3-month-old?

Is there anything better than hearing one of my daughters say "I love you, Mama"? Or "See you later, alligator"?

Is there anything better than hearing cheers from my kids to celebrate their siblings' accomplishment? ("Lucy went potty! Yay!")

Is there anything better than hearing your preschooler say "sh-sh-shhhhh" over and over to soothe her newborn sister like she sees her parents doing?

No, nothing is better. Not even silence.

But there will be days when it feels like it's too much. And I just want to say—

It's okay.

It's okay to want to sit in silence.

It's okay to look forward to the quiet that nighttime offers.

It's okay to admit to ourselves that sometimes the noise is too much.

And it's normal.

Our brains can only handle so much at one time. So, be gentle on yourself, mama. I know I'm trying.

I am learning to recognize when I need to step back and take a break from the noise.

I stay up late sometimes to enjoy the quiet—to listen to my thoughts.

I wake up early sometimes—to meditate and look inward.

I plan "me time" outside of the house—to spend time with myself and decide on choosing noise or not.

I hop in the shower when my husband gets home—to hand over the noise for a while and enjoy only the sound of rushing water.

There are moments of motherhood that challenge me—mind, body and soul. The constant noise is one of them. But these challenges will never beat me. I love being my children's mother too much.

So on the days when the noise is taking over, know that you're not alone. And know that peace and quiet is potentially just a shower away.


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This past year, I was diagnosed with depression. I was fighting what I believed to be a stubborn case of PPD. I thought things would get better as my baby grew, when I wasn't postpartum anymore. I was in denial, not receiving any kind of help, and definitely not getting any better.

Finally, I sought out help from a doctor and was diagnosed with clinical depression and am now receiving treatment. Part of this treatment involved visiting with a therapist for the first time in my life in hopes of combating the powerful force of negativity that has insidiously planted itself inside my mind.

I learned something significant in that meeting: that my thoughts were caused by something that was physically going wrong inside of my brain. Deep down, I believed I had been allowing the darkness—that it, too, was my fault. I found hope in that meeting, the hope of rewiring my brain.

I now know there are steps I can take to change how I think, to find the true me again. That is why I am going to take better care of myself this year. In fact, that's the only resolution I care to make.

My therapist advised me to do an exercise that's proven difficult for me. I literally have positive affirmations about myself taped to my bathroom mirror. My sarcastic side really fights this. I envision that I'm wearing a colorful collared shirt or sweater combination (a la Stuart Smalley) as I repeat these mantras to myself. The truth is they're a powerful counterbalance to the way I normally think about who I am.

Most people struggle with this at one time or another. I think we could all benefit from practicing a little self-love.

So for this year, I resolve not to make any resolutions about losing weight. I am at a healthy weight, and although I would love to re-lose the 10 pounds I lost when I began depression medication, I will instead resolve to replace the negative thoughts I have about my body with healthy ones.

My critical observations regarding my body began very early for me, as they do for most women. It may take some time, but I'm going to work on appreciating my body for what it can do, instead of worrying about how it appears to others.

I resolve to be the best mom I can be. And that is only possible when I work on taking better care of myself. For many years, I've devoted myself completely to my children, believing it was best for them. But you can't pull water from an empty well, and this past year my well went dry.

I resolve to take more breaks, indulge in some mental health days, and spend more quality time with my family.

Society is hard on mothers, so I'm going to pull a Taylor Swift, and "shake it off." I will ignore the negative commentators who feel compelled to troll my writings. I will look to the positive instead of dwelling on the negative.

I will support and seek to uplift other mothers. We should be each other's biggest fans, not harshest critics. I will stand up for those who are belittled, judged, or misunderstood.

I resolve to let go of past mistakes and less than perfect parenting moments. I will seek to learn from the past instead of dwelling on it. I will work on treating myself with more kindness, moving forward in hopes that my three boys will learn from my example and speak kindly toward themselves.

I will continue my treatment—even the daily affirmations—and be patient with my progress.

So here's to a new year and a new way of thinking, to not giving up, and to practicing kindness that begins from within.

One of the best—or worst—parts of the holiday season is taking our littles to get their pictures with Santa. Some kids relish in those few minutes of telling Santa Claus exactly what they want under their tree, while others are terrified and hate every second of it. Either way, it usually makes for some adorable photos to look back on over the years.

We asked #TeamMotherly to share their best Santa pics. With nearly 700 responses, it was hard to pare down our favorites. Here are some that we adored.

1. Pure happiness

—Aimee R.

2. A magical look

—Jen L.

3. Everyone is a bit unsure...

—Holly H.

4. The cutest elves

—Julia V.

5. A sweet encounter

—Rosanne S.

6. A little bit of drama

—Besty P.

7. Santa cuddles each year, please

—Chelsey S.

8. Mama said she cried after she took a good look at him 😂

—Chantille B.

9. Third time isn't always the charm

—Gina M.

10. Playing in the snow

—Liz T.

11. SO much excitement

—Ieena S.

12. Nope

—Melissa H.

13. She definitely made the 'nice' list

—Janesa N.

14. Mama, no!

—Jenny S.

15. One mama's heart grew by three sizes this year

—Melanie R.

16. Two loved this, two hated it

—Rose E.

17. This baby was happier than Santa

—Angelica A.

18. A precious encounter

—Stacy B.

19. "I'm only here for the cookie." 🍪

—Laura R.

20. Two Santas are better than one

—Menakshi S.

The temperatures are dropping and that can only mean one thing. Whether we like it or not, winter's cold chilly months are upon us. As a born-and-raised Alaskan, and mama of three, I've got a lot of cold weather experience under my belt, and staying inside half the year just isn't an option for us. As my husband likes to say, "There's no bad weather, just bad gear."

Here are some of my favorite picks to keep your family toasty warm this winter.


1. Bear bunting

This sherpa bear bunting wins winter wear MVP for being a comfy snowsuit for your littlest babe, or base-layer under another snowsuit for the chilliest of winter outings. Bonus: your baby bear will never look cuter!

Sherpa Hooded Bunting, Carter's, $15.20

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2. Patagonia Capilene base-layers

Speaking of base-layers, for any prolonged winter activity outside in the cold, it's best to layer up to create air pockets of warmth. These moisture wicking base-layers are a family favorite.

Baby Capilene Bottoms, Back Country, $29.00

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3. Arctix Kids limitless overall bib

These adjustable snow pants keep kids warm and the bib style keeps snow from going down the back of their pants. Bonus: the price is excellent for the quality and they can grow with your child. The Velcro strap also makes bathroom breaks for kids so much easier.

Arctix Kids Limitless Overall Bib, Amazon, $14.99-$49.99

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4. Hooded frost-free long jacket

Keep your little one warm and stylish in this long puffer jacket. Great for everyday outings.

Hooded Frost-Free Long Jacket, Old Navy, $35.00

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5. Patagonia reversible jacket

This jacket is windproof, waterproof and the built-in hood means one less piece of gear to worry about (or one more layer for your little one's head). It's a best buy if you live with cold winter temperatures for many months of the year and still love to get outside to play. It also stays in great condition for hand-me-downs to your next kid.

Reversible Down Sweater Hoodie, Nordstrom, $119.00

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6. Under Armour Decatur water repellent jacket

Made of waterproof fabric and lined with great insulation, kids will no doubt stay warm—and dry—in this. It features plenty of pockets, too, so mama doesn't always have to hold onto their items. We love that the UGrow system allows sleeves to grow a couple inches.

UA Decatur Water Repellent Jacket, Nordstrom, $155.00

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7. Stonz mittens

Ever tried to keep gloves on a 1-year-old? It's a tough task, but these gloves make it a breeze with a wide opening and two adjustable toggles for a snug fit they can't pull off! Warm and waterproof, and come in sizes from infant to big kids.

Stonz Mittz, Amazon, $39.99

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8. Sorel toot pack boot

Keep their little toes warm with these cozy boots from Sorel. With insulated uppers and waterproof bottoms their feet are sure to stay warm. They're well constructed and hold up over time, making them a great hand-me-down option for your family.

Sorel Kids' Yoot Boot, Amazon, $48.73-$175.63

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9. Stonz baby boots

These Stonz stay-on-baby booties do just as their name says and stay on their feet. No more searching for one boot in the grocery store parking lot!

Stonz Three Season Stay-On Baby Booties, Amazon, $29.99-$50.29

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Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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