By Liana Jacob
MEET THE MUM who lets her TWO-YEAR-OLD son wear DRESSES and GROW HIS HAIR LONG so that he can ‘be who he is’ despite receiving criticism from online trolls who call her parenting ‘DISGUSTING’.
Stay-at-home mum, Shannon Walsh (23) who lives in West Sussex, UK, along with her husband, Jon (28), have agreed to give their son, Logan (2), the freedom to be whoever he wishes to be and to dress the way he wants to without the pressures of society’s preconceived gender norms.
When he was a toddler, he picked out a dress from a shop and ever since then, Shannon has continued to buy him dresses to wear whenever he chooses them. She wants to quash the misconception that a person’s choice of clothing, hairstyle, toys or colours should not be limited to a specific gender.
Logan’s interests vary from playing with cars, getting muddy and pretending he’s a fireman to wearing colourful bobbles and playing with dolls, which he pretends to breastfeed. The first outfit he chose for himself was a My Little Pony dress with a tutu.
Shannon, who follows a child-led attachment parenting approach, has made it her mission to give her son the freedom to choose to live the way he wants to without enforcing gender stereotypes. She also strongly believes in the benefits of breastfeeding until natural term weaning, so she will continue to breastfeed Logan until he no longer wants to.
She is also a breastfeeding advocate for new mums and for the mums who breastfeed their child at an older age. She has no maximum age or end goal when it comes to breastfeeding her son and being seven months pregnant, she plans to tandem breastfeed her two children.
While she has received backlash over her somewhat unconventional parenting philosophy, she wants to raise her son to be open-minded and non-judgemental whilst also allowing him to feel confident and happy in his own skin. She has received comments from strangers that letting her son own dolls makes him a ‘wussy’, that his pigtails and bright coloured clothes made him look like a ‘gypsy’ and he has even been mistaken for a girl by strangers.
“Gender neutral parenting is a philosophy of parenting where we, as parents, don’t impose society’s preconceived gender norms onto our child,” Shannon said.
“In its simplest form; we just let our son be who he is, without telling him ‘this is for girls’, ‘that is for boys’. So, for example, many people think dresses are only for girls, however, our son chose a dress in a charity shop and I bought it for him – he loves wearing dresses.
“He’s also chosen clothes stereotypically associated with boys. We don’t assign genders to the clothes he wears – they’re just clothes. The same goes for toys, roleplay, hair, décor etc.
“It’s not really something we think about – we just let him make his own choices with no persuasion from us or society.
“Logan’s never been told by me or Jon that something is specifically for boys, because in our minds, nothing is only for one gender. We don’t create these imaginary boxes that everything must fit into.
“I think it’s important because it allows them to be themselves one-hundred per cent. It gives them the opportunity to explore the world without feeling embarrassed by what they like.
“They don’t have to hide or pretend not to be interested in something that’s ‘not meant for this gender’ like so many children do. We’ll do it exactly the same with our second baby, and any others that follow.
“It means children don’t grow up feeling that they can’t be interested in certain things, they can be authentic without conforming to stereotypes that people have made up for them.
“I feel it gives Logan more creative freedom; it allows him to have a huge range of interests and hobbies that some children wouldn’t necessarily experience if they’re being raised to think pink dollies are only for girls and big diggers are only for boys.
“It gives him confidence to do what he wants to do. I believe it’ll help him grow up to be more open-minded, confident and supportive of other people.
“Most of our family and friends have been supportive, however there have been the odd one here or there who make unnecessary comments.
“One in particular that has always stuck in my mind is someone saying that Logan being a boy and having a doll made him ‘a wussy’.
“When someone saw him with pigtails and bright coloured clothes on, they made a comment that he ‘looks like a gypsy’, which baffled me.
“It’s never really shocked me that he has been mistaken for a girl. I’ve grown up surrounded by the same stereotypes as everyone else, so I knew to expect this.”
Shannon believes that the method of gender-neutral parenting will give Logan the creative freedom to live the way he wants with an open mind and will also encourage him to grow up to be a non-judgemental person.
“He’s only two and a half and has just started nursery for three hours a morning twice a week. Most of the children there are about the same age and so far, I’ve not seen or heard any real response at all,” she said.
“Which goes to show that it’s as we get older and have society and older people forcing their stereotypes on us that we start to believe them.
“These children that are Logan’s age don’t care whether you’re a boy or a girl, they don’t care if you’re wearing a skirt or trousers, or if you like cars or princesses.
“Online, I have had one woman messaging me telling me I am a disgusting parent for trying to force my son to be a girl because he had his hair in a ponytail and wasn’t wearing typical ‘boy colours’, i.e. he was wearing pink and yellow.
“Most of the time, when I receive silly comments like these, I will either just delete the comment/message and move on, or if I feel like a comment needs a response, it tends to be a question as to why they feel the way they do?
“Why do you think a sheet of fabric sewn a certain way is only for girls, or why they feel like hair, which is natural on everyone’s head, is meant to be cut short to be considered okay for a boy.
“I challenge their beliefs and will prompt them to do some research – people my age don’t tend to know that only about fifty years ago, pink was the colour for boys and was considered masculine, while blue was considered more delicate and feminine.
“Also, that dresses were originally worn by both boys and girls, especially in childhood because it made nappy changes and potty training easier.
“You had easier access to nappies, they were able to sit on the toilet without the additional pressure of pulling down trousers and everything.
“Logan calls himself a boy; he knows he has a penis, he knows what he likes and dislikes, he knows that it is okay to want his face painted like a unicorn because why should it be only girls who can enjoy mystical creatures, pink or glitter.
“He also knows, sadly, that some people are small minded, but he doesn’t care. When people mistake him for a girl because he is wearing something pink, or because he has a ponytail with a really cute bobble in, he doesn’t care.
“He might do when he’s older, but I am hoping that the way I am raising Logan to be confident in himself, that he will continue to not care and know that Logan is Logan, and Logan is loved beyond measure.
“Thankfully, those who have said nasty comments to me about the way I raise him are not heard by Logan himself, and when he has been present, he was far too young to know what was said at all.
“I want to make people aware that gender neutral parenting isn’t an extreme method of parenting at all, it’s very simple and it’s something that just makes sense.
“Let your child be happy, regardless of their hobbies and interests. It’s about being less judgmental and teaching your child to do the same.”