Why my daycare apologized for referring to the boys as ‘boys’
I am the mother of an almost 3-year old son. Or at least that’s what I think he is. I call him a he. He has a penis. On my ultra-sound, the tech told me it was a boy. There may come a day when he tells me he wants to be a she or a they or reaffirm his he status, or go back and forth as young children often do and adolescents and adults less often do. And I will happily continue to love him/her/they when that comes up, but for now we are going with he and he hasn’t told me otherwise.
So a few weeks ago, my son in all his two-and-three-quarters attitude, was upset with me for interfering with his mess-making and told me to “Go to sleep, boys!”. His way of saying “Get lost!”. I can only assume he repeated it from daycare. He goes to a small, family-run home daycare where the 4 children that attend all happen to be boys. I thought it was pretty funny and later told his daycare teacher about it. She apologized and mentioned it was probably one of the other teachers and she would ask her to correct her language. They use the term ‘children’ to refer to the kids, or some other affectionate terms like ‘you silly monkeys!’. But definitely not boys.
Why? Well, she doesn’t want to assume the children’s gender. I’ve learned that schools in our district are going this route as well. It’s “children” not “boys and girls”. Seems a lot of effort for a group of toddlers who I figured, probably don’t know the difference. However, it’s a lot of baggage to project an entire gender on such a small child and all the stuff that goes with that, especially if they feel otherwise.
My son knows he is a boy, or at least that’s what he says he is, based on what he thinks that means. Penis? Check. Ok, you are a boy. What else makes a boy? According to him, it’s having a penis, not wearing dresses, and not having a menstrual cup (he has taken a slightly unsettling interest in mine after seeing it in the bathroom). The rest, he has not yet said is boy stuff, but he has strong, STRONG, preferences for cars, trucks, airplanes, garbage trucks, pickup trucks, tractors, trains, helicopters, cherry pickers, street sweepers, front-loading bulldozers, combine harvesters, hay bailers and any other kind of motor vehicle has can imagine. Yes, he knows all the names. I gave him a baby doll 2 Christmases ago, which has gone largely ignored, much to my disappointment. He hates My Little Ponies, even though I try and push it on him because of the friendship message. The treatment of the child as a boy or a girl starts from even before they are born, that it’s impossible for him to not have strong feelings about it one way or the other. I like to think I try to present gender-neutral norms or a mix of traditional boy and girl norms, but I’m not perfect and he likes what he likes.
In the event that a boy feels like a girl or girl feels like a boy, a change in language goes a long way. But with boys and girls who feel like the boys and girls they’ve been called since birth, it can go a long way, too.
Here’s what I’m imagining to happen when a classroom is divided by girl and boy labels:
“Boys, settle down!”
Message: Boys are disruptive and rowdy.
“Girls, can you please help put away the art supplies?”
Message: girls are helpful, especially with arts and crafts
So then let’s assume you, amazing parent, are reading this because you want to do things differently for your own children. However, given your own bias of gender roles that probably started from before birth and every day since then through no fault of your own… can you promise that when you are referring to a group of boys you are only going to ever refer to gender-neutral activities? Or that the teachers can, every single time? No? Me neither. Saying ‘children’ instead is easier.
More about Christie:
Christie is a marketing professional who lives in Toronto and is a mother to one son born in 2014.
She joined Boys Will Be Boys in 2017 when she spotted the very first blog post and knew this was something that fit her parenting values. Coming from a very large family of many strong women, she found she lacked both personal knowledge and online resources of guiding principals for boys. She was determined to raise a self-assured son with a strong social conscience, emotional intelligence and someone that knows that whomever he is in life, his mom has got his back.
A semi-crunchy-granola mom, Christie embraces cloth diapers and homemade laundry detergent. When not working or raising her son, she can be found running, trying to introduce friends to her favourite podcasts or snuggling with her dog, Batman.