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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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Dear Jeff Bezos and all who have anything to do with Amazon Prime Day,

I just want to start by saying—I know you are trying to be helpful. I love you all for that. I honestly do. But, you are kind of making me feel a lot of pressure today. Like, in a good way, but also, in an anxious way.

Let me explain…

On any given day, as a mother to three children, I have a certain level of anxiety. While it's not constant, I do have my anxious moments. Why? Because there are various versions of the following: Me asking my two older daughters to get their shoes on what feels like 500 times as I am changing my 9-month-old's very, very, very messy diaper while I am trying to figure out what I can throw on to wear in about five seconds while I am repeating brush your teeth, brush your teeth in my head so I, in fact, don't forget to brush my teeth.

Not even to mention the mental load that weighs on my mind every single day. Remember to flip the laundry, fill out the school forms, cancel that appointment, reschedule this appointment, order more diapers, figure out what we're having for dinner, squeeze in a shower, lock the basement door so the baby can't get down the stairs, find better eczema cream for my middle daughter, get more sunscreen...the list goes on and on and on.

But then you Amazon Prime Day me and I'm having a lot of feelings about that.

Because you're reminding me of things I need to order, to think about, to be on top of more.

The little potty that's on sale reminds me that I need to step up my potty training game for my 2-year-old. That super cute dollhouse reminds me that I need to think about my daughter's first birthday in two months (WHAT!). That face mask reminds me that I need to remember to wash my face before bed because I forget waaaay more than I remember which is terrible.

But then I realize, these deals are going to save my mental load by fixing my life. Right?

Like, I never knew I needed an Instant Pot until you told me it was only $58. Now I am scouring Pinterest for meals I want to prep in my own. THIS POT IS THE TICKET TO GETTING MY LIFE IN ORDER.

Do we need more plates and cups for the kids? I mean really they only probably need about two plates and two cups each but YES. Yes I do need more cute kids kitchenware. THESE PLATES ARE THE TICKET TO BEING A GOOD MOM.

What would I do if I had five Echo Dots? I don't know, but let's find out because they're only $29! THESE DOTS ARE THE TICKET TO EFFICIENCY.

If I order a Vitamix at 30% off, I know I'll lose the baby weight. Think of all the smoothies I'll mix up! I mean, I just lost a pound even thinking about the smoothies that thing can whip up. THIS VITAMIX IS THE TICKET TO A SEXY BOD.

Buying this trendy, floral dress will step up my mom style significantly. THIS DRESS IS THE TICKET TO KEEPING MY COOL.

Okay, then after I add all the fixers to my cart, I realize… I have 99 things, but necessity ain't one.

I mean, I have everything from waterproof band-aids to bras to dresses for myself and my kids to an alarm clock and books. I basically feel like Oprah—You get an Audible subscription! You get an Audible subscription!—but instead of these products magically being paid for by Queen O herself, the money is coming from my bank account, which is a lot less fun of a game, TBH.

And if I am being honest, I don't need much help with my order-things-from-Amazon-and-pretend-it's-being-paid-for-with-Monopoly-money game as I am quite often coming home to an Amazon package wondering what it could be, opening it with the enthusiasm of a kid on Christmas morning—even though I am the exact person who ordered whatever is inside of that Amazon box.

But today, on Amazon Prime Day, you tempt me with all the deals. And yes, my anxiety, blood pressure and adrenaline rise. And yes, my bank account might temporarily decrease—BUT if we are being fair, with the savings I'm getting on things I would buy anyway, I am basically making our account increase overall. Right?

And while these things aren't going to make me skinnier, or cooler, or more put together—I'm okay with that. I am doing a pretty good job on my own. But some of them will actually help my life in a few different ways at a reasonable price, and I am grateful for that—for real.

Now, Bezos, please end this 404 error nonsense and let me purchase all the things!

Thank you for all the savings and excitement,

Mamas everywhere

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Usually when celebrities post swimsuit photos on Instagram they don't exactly look like your average beach-going mom, but former Bachelorette (and mom of two) Ali Fedotowsky posted a series of bikini photos on Monday that are both beautiful and relatable.

"This might be my most vulnerable post on Instagram ever," she wrote in the caption for the photos which show a postpartum belly that looks like a real postpartum belly.

"At the end of the day, I know it's important to be open and honest about my postpartum body in hopes that it helps even one person out there who is struggling with their own body image," Fedotowsky (who just gave birth to her second child in May) wrote.

In the first photo of the series she's wearing a sarong around her stomach, but in the second and third photos Fedotowsky reveals the kind of stomach many mamas sport: It's not perfectly taut, she's not showing off any abs, but it is definity beautiful.

"If you swipe to see the second photo in this post, you see that my body has changed. My skin around my stomach is very loose and stretched out, I'm 15lbs heavier than I used to be, and my cup size has grown quite significantly," Fedotowsky writes.

The photos are a sponsored post for Lilly and Lime Swimwear (a line made for women with larger busts) but that doesn't mean it wasn't brave. In fact, the fact that it's an ad makes it even more amazing because research shows that when advertising only shows us bodies that don't look like our own, women become "generally more dissatisfied with their body and appearance".

Ali Fedotowsky

On her blog Fedotowsky notes that a lot of comments on her previous Instagram posts have been followers remarking how slim she looks, or how much they wish they looked like she does postpartum. By dropping that sarong and showing her tummy Fedotowsky is showing other mothers that there is nothing wrong with their own.

"While I appreciate the positive comments, you guys are always so good to me, I keep trying to explain that I'm just good at picking out clothes that flatter my body and hide my tummy," she wrote on her blog.

"I bounced back pretty quickly after I gave birth to Molly. But things are different this time and I'm OK with that. I'm learning to love my body and embrace how it's changed. I hope I get back to my pre-pregnancy shape one day, but that may never happen. And if it doesn't, that's OK."

Ali Fedotowsky

It is okay, because our bodies are more than our swimsuit selfies. They the vessels that carry us through life and carry our children and provide a safe, warm place for those children feel love.

Loose skin is a beautiful thing.


Thanks for keeping it real, Ali.

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Amazon shoppers were anxiously awaiting the countdown to Amazon Prime Day, but when the clock struck one, er three, the website went down.

On Monday afternoon shoppers were trying to get their hands on the much-hyped Prime Day deals but instead of low prices, many users just saw 404 errors, continuously refreshing pages, or had issues keeping or adding items to their shopping carts.

CNBC reports shares of Amazon were down during the shopping glitch, and many shoppers took to Twitter and Instagram to discuss how all they could see on Amazon were the dogs who decorate the site's 404 pages.

As cute as the dogs are, shoppers are getting tired of seeing them, so hopefully Amazon gets things back up and running soon. Analysts had projected Amazon would rake in $3 billion dollars this Prime Day. Time will tell how much of that was lost during the great dog picture debacle of 2018.

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"Say you're sorry!"

"Go apologize and mean it."

"You don't sound like you're sorry to me."

"She won't want to be your friend anymore if you don't apologize right now."

Sound familiar? This is a hot topic for many parents. We want our kids to have good manners, to truly feel and show compassion for another, to want to apologize from a heartfelt and authentic place—yet when we tell them to say they're sorry, what are we really communicating?

I think:

  • I need you to apologize so I can feel better about what just happened...
  • This is how we fix problems...
  • I need you to do what I say ...
  • You need me to tell you how to feel and behave...
  • I'm in control...(bigger and stronger wins)
  • Integrity is secondary to apologies—what you do doesn't have to be aligned with how you feel or think... just do it anyway.

Whew. Maybe not the message we really want to give.

Yes, manners are important and apologies are necessary. But, encouraging the growth of this from within—a genuine desire to (re)connect and show compassion, being in our integrity—is essential for healthy relationships.

Think about it. How might you feel if, after being hurt deeply by a friend they brushed you off with a cursory, "I'm sorry" or after a tearful yelling match with your teen that left you feeling raw, your spouse said, "How could you lose it like that?! You need to go apologize to him!"

I'd venture to say you might feel more hurt, maybe misunderstood and alone, or even mad.

Often, situations our children are in that we catch ourselves telling them to apologize are defined by just the same kinds of feelings. Hurt whether they are the one doing the hurting or being hurt; frustrated and mad that their favorite toy was grabbed, a cool idea rejected, some other injustice experienced; misunderstood because their feelings and thoughts weren't respected, because the adult missed all that led up to the conflict, because they weren't listened to; alone because they are misunderstood, not listened to, hurt on the inside, feeling rejected; MAD because they really didn't like what their buddy did and their feelings overflowed.

Having your child say "I'm sorry" is going to do very little for a child to grow an understanding of how they feel, why they feel, what they can do with all these feelings—all precursors to compassion.

The words I'm sorry" are more often about our need, not our child's. So what can you do to grow the genuine, integrity based, heartfelt ability to apologize?

1. Role model, always

Be genuine with your own apologies. Voice compassion for your child, others, and their situation.

2. Name and affirm feelings of all parties involved.

Just think, if your spouse, following the tearful yelling match with your teen, had said, "Honey that was really tough. Let me hold you for a minute while you pull yourself together," how might you now feel? How might that change the next step you took? I bet you'd feel connected, understood, cared for, and in a better position to now re-connect with your son and apologize for losing it. And it would have come from a genuine place within you.

3. Give choices or ideas.

"What can you do to help him feel better?"

"When you are ready to let her know you feel sorry, she'll appreciate it."

"Can you use your words or would you like to show her you feel sorry?"

Words, smiles, pats, sharing a toy, playing next to—these are all authentic ways kids can show they are sorry.

4. Notice what your child chooses or does on their own to express their apology and their feelings and name it.

"Thank you for offering your special stuffed guy to your friend. You wanted to help him feel better. What a nice thing to do to let him know you felt sorry."

And now you are helping your child learn a bit more about what healthy, caring relationships look like. Genuine apologies are on their way. It takes time to grow a child who can tap into their inner selves and respond with compassion and honesty in a difficult situation. Time, patience, and gentle guidance... trust this. "I'm sorry" will follow... and be truly meant.

Relationship building all around.

Originally published on Denali Parent Coaching.

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