Equal Parenting 101

The Basics

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Feminism rests on a foundation of respect and equality for all humans, starting with the self. 

 

As parents, we have more impact than anyone else on kids' self-identity and their worldview during the formative years. In a nutshell, if we can teach them to accept and advocate for themselves and to admire and embrace differences in others, we'll be on our way to raising a more confident generation who insists on social justice. 

 

Below are the basics but you can find more in-depth discussion and analyses throughout this website and beyond. And it's NEVER TOO LATE to start!

Model equality in your partnership

One of the best ways to ensure you raise a feminist kid is to keep the power dynamics of the partnership equal. That doesn't mean you each have to cook the exact same number of meals each week or both have a full time job outside the house. It means, with all there is to do as a parent, ensuring one parent doesn't feel overloaded an under-appreciated. And that neither partner feels like they have to rigidly adhere to conventional gender roles.

Don't promote toys or activities as gender-specific

An important goal as feminist parents is to help our kids look inward and pursue what makes them happy, not make choices based on what society tells them is "normal".  

 

Most kids will go back and forth between the toy kitchen and the toy cars. But if your son is hooked on baby dolls and all your daughter wants to do is play cops and robbers, let them. Boys need opportunities to learn to be nurturing as much as girls do, and girls need to run around and feel empowered as much as boys.

Allow kids choices regarding the activities they participate in. The younger they are, the more likely it is they'll be open to trying less "gender-typical" things, whether it's dance, hockey, or martial arts. But if your daughter lands on ballet and your son on football, great. Either way, gender should never be a limitation.

Praise your prince for being more than strong and your princess for being more than pretty

Okay so prince and princess aren't my favorite words but it's more about the images they conjure than anything else, as in, the strong, brave, stoic prince and "his" beautiful, fearful princess. We need princesses to know they can be clever, interesting, tenacious, funny, anything other than just pretty. And princes need to hear they're valued for being kind, thoughtful, artistic and sensitive. In other words, Strong and pretty are just single characteristics among many wonderful characteristics that make up wonderful and complex human beings.

Assign chores equally

Divide duties or make a chore chart where every kid is responsible for every chore at some point. Too often girl and boy duties get divided by indoor and outdoor. Garbage and recycling is not strictly for sons to take out, and setting and clearing the table is not strictly for daughters. Both sons and daughters will feel empowered (and have great skills to take away with them to college) if they learn how to change a tire and do their laundry.  

  

Teach healthy entitlement

In a culture that consistently teaches girls submissiveness and silences women, we want to help our daughters to speak up for that they deserve. Rather than smiling and pretending they're okay, they should be able to ask to be heard if they're interrupted or repeatedly overlooked, to be treated better by a friend or significant other, or for a raise at their job. You can model this at home with your partner and intervene if brother tends to speak over sister.

Let kids make decisions about their own bodies

We can teach kids that they have a choice about their bodies from the day they're born. Before they even have language, let them know what you're going to do. Tell them: "I'm going to pick you up now sweetie" or "I'm going to put you in a nice warm bath." As they get older, you can ask them (e.g., "Are you ready for me to wipe your bottom now?").

 

All kids need to know they have a right to what happens to their own bodies. If they don't feel like hugging Grandma, ask if they'd be more comfortable giving a high five or a fist-bump. But accept if they're just not in the mood to be touched right then. Allowing them to decide what they wear and how they want their hair cut are other easy ways to teach bodily autonomy.

Be body positive

Research repeatedly shows that a mother who frets about her weight or criticizes her appearance is more likely to have a daughter who says she dislikes her own body. Try to celebrate your body and notice all the amazing things it can DO.  And embrace other peoples shapes and sizes. Girls learn quickly that how their bodies are evaluated by others matters more than how they feel in their own bodies, which really is just sad. 

Teach kids To embrace diversity

While this website focuses mainly on gender equality, feminist parents understand intersectionality: the complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, or intersect, especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups

The more we teach our children to love, and not fear, those who are different than them, the more they will embrace their own differences. You can start really young by actively seeking out books that depict diversity and strong female role models. 

 

If they learn to call out racial inequality, anti-semitism, discrimination against LBGTQ folks, the more they won't stand for it in their own lives. Oh, and the world will be a more peaceful and happy place.

Talk explicitly about sexism (and other isms)

Pervasive sexism can be so subtle that girls don’t realize why they feel less important, credible, and capable than their brothers and male classmates. Instead, they use their loss of voice, space, and dignity that comes with being discriminated against, as proof of their inadequacy, making sexist tropes appear accurate. If parents and teachers take opportunities to point out sexist treatment (e.g., girls don't play football) and objectification (e.g., catcalls or ads with near-naked women selling beer), girls will start to identify for themselves the barrage of demeaning messages they receive about their gender and realize there is something wrong with the culture, not with them personally. Check out this article for more or go to our sexism and sexual harassment page.

As mentioned above, the more marginalized identities we have, the more unequal the treatment. Women in general make only $0.81 for every dollar a man makes. But Black, African American and Latinx women make even less: $0.75 for every dollar a White man makes. 

Communicate openly about sex and pleasure

Once kids have started asking about how babies are made, you'll be surprised how often sex-related topics and questions arise. The earlier you start talking about sex in age-appropriate ways, the less shameful and embarrassing it will be and the more your kids will be open to discussing it when they need to most, as teenagers.

This doesn't mean squeezing it into conversations whenever possible. It just means not avoiding it and treating it like you would their wonder about the stars and galaxies. It's an important part of life and hopefully one day, a fulfilling part of your children's lives.

Affirming kids' sexuality often begins really young. It starts with using anatomically correct terms for body parts (like calling a vulva a vulva), affirming the curiosity, pride and pleasure they show in their genitalia, and never shaming them for masturbation. Self-pleasure is important for them to know what feels good when they are ready to be with someone else.

 

While tweens need to hear about the risks of partnered sex, they also need to hear most partnered sex isn't for reproduction but for recreation and connection. The dating rules you set for daughters and sons should be the same, and their morality ought to be based on values like kindness and honesty and not on sexual activity and virginity. 

The hope is that your kids grow up feeling like they can talk to you about sexual health, sexual preference, sexual activity, and sexual identity. If they're comfortable talking openly with us, they're more likely to make safe, healthy and authentic choices for themselves. 

WHAT PEOPLE SAY

Max, Dad

Data Scientist

I learned a lot scrolling through your site. I'm most impressed by the idea of making sex and sexuality just a normal part of life  as kids grow up...becasue, well, it is.

Christina, mother of 2  Professor and Clinical Psychologist

I found myself near tears several times, reacting to the sheer direct-hit for so many of the things I struggle with as a parent and as a woman. For better or worse, I'm not easily impressed but this is vitally important stuff addressed in a really useful way.

Dana, age 23

I'm not a parent but man I wish my parents had this site when I was growing up. Or if it existed when I was a teenager I could have learned so much about all the destructive messages I was internalizing. It would have saved me a lot of pain

Rachael,  mother of 4 Family Law Attorney

I found the Feminist Parent when I was looking for help with teen sexuality for my older two. It's so helpful  for that but it's also giving me a lot of ideas for sharing info on gender (in)equality with my youngest two. Thanks! 

Feminist Parenting