What’s Gender-Neutral Parenting?


Clear (and literal) demarcation of boy and girl toys. A centrefold of a pamphlet from a children’s apparel company that I’ve received recently in the post box. It reads, “The tough prince fights off enemies and dragons to set the beautiful princess free. Who wins? Fantasy does!”


When I became pregnant, I was asked quite often if I would prefer a boy or a girl and I would always say that I’d like to have a boy. I thought boys have it easier when puberty hits: no menstruations, no fear of teen pregnancies. And when he comes of age, he would not have to enter a professional world where he would earn less than his peers who’d have similar education and work experience or worry too much about breaks in his career when he decides to start a family. I thought women generally have it harder than men.

Then came the news that we were expecting identical twin girls.

My imaginary manual to parenting back then read a little something like this: 1. Raise a girl and prepare her well for a patriarchal world. Got that? 2. Now, raise two of them at the same time. Got that? 3. Now, make sure you don’t treat them as though they were the same person but you have to treat them equally. Got that?

Those were huge, daunting tasks that lay ahead of us but luckily unlike myself, my husband is a let’s-cross-the-bridge-when-we-get-there kind of person and he assured me that we will deal with it just fine when the time comes. True enough it was perhaps too early to ruminate on such serious questions. How could questions of gender ever really be applied to newborns? Moreover, we were totally wiped out trying to keep our two helpless little prematurely-born babies alive.

But when those helpless little things started walking and talking, I thought about those daunting questions again. We had avoided the colour pink whenever we could because pink meant girly in our times and I didn’t like girly. Yellow, green, red, blue. Everything else but pink. But what if my offsprings, now little ladies, tell me they really want to wear pink tutus and be princesses? Should I tell them that an interest in insects and dinosaurs would be preferable? Surely, as parents we know what’s best for them?

In gender-neutral parenting, the answer would be a sound “no” because by denying our girls pink dresses and limiting them to what I deem is the opposite of girly, would be replacing one set of artificial constructs with another.


What is gender-neutral parenting all about?

The central tenet of gender-neutral parenting is about exposing children to an array of gender types and allowing them to decide what they are comfortable with without any judgement. The sex that they are born into should not dictate how they are “allowed” or “not allowed” to behave. In fact, by refusing them pink tutus even though they may want them, I would be feeding into one of the myths of gender-neutral parenting –  that it is anti-feminine.

In everyday feminism [1], Paige Lucas-Stannard, author of “Gender-Neutral Parenting: Raising Kids with the Freedom to be Themselves” (2013), makes it clear that gender-neutral parenting is not about:

  1. androgyny because it is not about forcing any preconceived notions of gender on a child,
  2. making your child gay because being gay is not something parents can “train” their children to be,
  3. being anti-feminine or anti-masculine because opening them to a wide range of gender types and having an open dialogue about gendered hierarchies and binaries is “so much more powerful than a room full of gender-neutral toys that raise no questions”,
  4. being something only for trans children because no one can know, when a child is born, if s/he is trans, non-binary or non-gender conforming. Besides, gender-neutral parenting can benefit cisgender children since it offers them a whole spectrum of expression that is not hyper-masculine or hyper-feminine,
  5. a social experiment because traditional gendered upbringing is just as much an indoctrination and a political statement as gendered-neutral parenting.


So how does this all translate?

I have never felt the need to confront the gender issue so bluntly until I’ve had children. It all started when I was looking at a picture book with my girls when they were around two years old. As with most picture books, there were simple pictures of objects that were matched with words. So there was a picture of a house and I had to explain to the girls that the word “house” goes with that picture. Then there was a picture of a girl and another of a boy and corresponding words “boy” and “girl” that the reader has to match.

With hesitation, I told my children that the word “boy” should be matched with the picture of a figure with short hair wearing a shirt and a pair of trousers whilst the word “girl” should be matched with the figure with two pony tails sporting a dress. And then I added, “But girls can have short hair and wear trousers too.” They were two years old and I didn’t think they understood what I was trying to say. It was something I said more out of guilt for betraying women all around the world. I was confronted with having to pair visuals to text. It was a picture book. My kids were two. And I was driven to simplify the complicated.

On hindsight, having a gender discussion with two wide-eyed two-year-olds must have looked a little comical. Tilly and Frida are almost four now and it seems like a better age to drop in little comments to break their own gender stereotypes. For example, when Tilly said in a conclusive tone, “John* in my kindergarten can run fast because he’s a boy”, I answered, “John can run fast because he’s two years older than you are and is very tall. Girls can run fast too and if you eat your broccoli right now, you’ll grow tall and strong and run very fast as well.”

There probably isn’t any hard and fast rule to raising our children gender-neutral but more of a conscious effort, when interacting with children, to compensate for the existing inequalities and bias. I say “effort” because as long as there is bias, there has to be the challenge to break that bias.

There is for example, a clear inequality in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields for girls. In 2016, the percentage of females in STEM careers in Germany was a measly 15% [2]. So if the status quo is that of a struggle to attract women to these fields, we should be compensating by providing our daughters with the necessary minds (and mindsets) from an early age.


We all want our children to lead happy and fulfilling lives and bringing them up to be gender-neutral conscious is part of it. I love how staff from a Swedish kindergarten advocating gender-neutral policies explain it. In front of parents, they drew a circle. Half of it was filled with girl stereotypes and the other half with boy stereotypes. Then they asked their audience, “Do you want your child to have half a life or a whole life?”[3]


*Name has been changed.



Kanelbullar (Swedish Cinnamon Rolls)


This had come about because my husband had a sudden desire to bake. It involved some cinnamon and cardamom, the warm and cosy spices. The kind of spices that remind you that another year is about to come to an end. With the recent lowered temperatures, he is, I suspect, prepping himself for the winter. Armed with an apron (because baking can get messy sometimes), he set about making these rather huge discs of cinnamon-y goodness. This recipe yields cinnamon rolls that are not too sweet. So if you’re looking for some pastry pleasure without too much guilt, this might just be for you.



Yields about 14 rolls

Yeast dough

  • Yeast, one cube (42 g)
  • Milk (lukewarm), 350 ml
  • Sugar, 75 g
  • Flour, 600 g
  • Butter (softened), 100 g
  • Salt (a pinch)
  • Cinnamon, to taste


  • Cardamom (grounded) 1/2 teaspoon
  • Sugar, 50 g
  • Cinnamon, 3 teaspoons
  • Vanilla sugar, 20 g
  • Butter (softened), 125 g


  • Egg, one


To prepare the yeast dough, break the cube of yeast into rough chunks into the lukewarm milk and stir. Add a pinch of sugar into the milk and yeast mix and stir until the yeast dissolves. The sugar is there to help proof the yeast mix. Cover the bowl with a dish towel and let it rest for ten minutes. You should see tiny bubbles after it has rested.


Into a big mixing bowl, add the rest of the ingredients for the yeast dough. Then pour in the yeast/milk-mix and knead into a smooth dough. Cover the dough and leave it in a warm place to proof for at least 30 minutes. It is ready when the size of the dough has doubled or even tripled!


Next, mix all the dry ingredients for the filling together. Then add the softened butter and stir until you get a paste.

On a floured surface, knead the dough again briefly and roll it out with a rolling pin into a rectangular shape. The rolled-out dough is about 1.5 centimetres thick. You can roll the dough out thinner and cut the rolled-out dough into half length-wise to make more dainty-looking Kanelbullar if you prefer. After that, spread all that lovely cinnamon paste onto the dough.


With a knife, cut two centimetre strips off the dough and roll each strip so that it resembles a snail.


Put all the rolls onto a lined baking tray. Cover with a dish towel and proof for 30 minutes in a warm place. When they are done proofing, brush the eggwash sparingly over the top of the rolls.

Finally, place the rolls into a preheated oven at 180 degrees celcius, top and bottom heat, for 15 – 20 minutes. Et voila! You now have little rolls of warmth and cosiness to savour and keep you company during the upcoming winter. They taste scrumptiously best when they are fresh from the oven!


Because my husband prefers the rolls not too sweet, he has left out the sugary toppings. If you want to indulge in some sugary pleasure, sprinkle some decorating sugar after you have brushed on the eggwash.



An Autumnal Interlude



Pardon the intermission that I’ve taken from blogging. The autumn has come and is now almost gone but we had been filling it with some wonderful activities. Allow me to illustrate a handful of those with some photographs. It is a summary of sorts of our autumnal days this year.


Mosel Wine Country

As the summer bade farewell and made way for the low autumnal sun, we made our journey to the Mosel for a week of sightseeing. True to its reputation as one of Germany’s finest wine countries, we were greeted with stretches of vineyards along the banks of the Mosel. We had booked a holiday house in Cochem and from there, we drove along the river, visiting its neighouring villages.

We were looking for a winery that produced a Riesling that I had tasted a while ago and fell in love with. It was situated in the tiny village of Bremm, home to Europe’s steepest vineyard, the Bremmer Calmont. We are no wine experts but felt it meaningful to visit the place where the Riesling I’d enjoyed came from. Doing that draws a more intimate connection between my consumption of the wine and the land from which it comes. Reading about the winery’s history and meeting its owners whose father met a tragic ending harvesting grapes just a few years ago made me appreciate the wine even more. Being there walking amidst the vineyards with my family also adds to my story about the wine, rendering its consumption more pleasurable because let’s face it: it’s not really about the wine, it’s about everything else connected to it.



Apples Galore!

In keeping to the theme of bounties of the earth, we had also visited an orchard close to home to harvest some apples after returning from the Mosel. Having had experience in picking strawberries and blueberries over the summer, Tilly and Frida were excited to be picking apples this time round. We had picked, I kid you not, 24kg worth of apples of the Rubinette, Golden Delicious and Jonagold varieties! We have, by now, finished all of them. Most were eaten fresh and some were used to make an apple-pumpkin marmalade flavoured with cinnamon.




Forest Walks

Late into autumn, we decided to drive a little out of the city to take a nice, long walk in the forest close to where my husband grew up as a child. It had rained the hours before and the skies were grey but it was a peaceful retreat from the stresses of urban life. Occupied mostly by pine, birch, beech and spruce trees, the forest was relatively neat compared to the dense tropical forests that I know of. The forest floor, carpeted with moss and decked with fallen autumn leaves, had a sound-damping effect. It was quiet save the chirping of birds. Apart from moss and leaves, there were wild mushrooms, fungus, fallen logs, tree branches and twigs, and an abundance of spruce cones. It was an adventure for the girls as they stopped every once in a while to gather more cones to add to their collection at home!




Kitchen Staple: Garlic



Because we cook almost daily in our household and because any visitor can smell this once they step through our front door, I would like to draw attention to the faithful garlic. It is our kitchen staple and we rarely allow ourselves to run out of it.

Some may look at the garlic with a little disgust because it tends to have a pungent smell and may find it too strong an element to add to a dish but the wonderful thing about the garlic is that you can control its pungence and taste depending on how you prepare or cook it. The longer it is cooked, the milder it gets. If you love garlic, use it fresh: smash and mince it with a knife and use it in a salad dressing or mix it with butter and use it as a bread spread. For a smoky and less pungent variant, roast a garlic whole before mincing it. If you want just a tiny smack of the taste of garlic, you can pickle it in vinegar or preserve it in oil.

In Southeast Asia, the garlic is very often used in many condiments. One of the more popular condiments is that of the garlic-chilli paste. It is, to me, a quintessential taste of home. I make it myself and have it stocked in my fridge so that I can use it as a dip for seafood and fish or mix a little of it into my fried rice whenever I want a taste of “home”. It is my quick fix. You see, I very often have terrible cravings for the spicy foods of Southeast Asia that I unfortunately can’t get much of over here. My version of the garlic-chilli paste is more or less a blend of chilli padi (bird’s eye chilli), garlic, shallot and ginger with some salt and sugar topped with some oil. A squeeze of lime to the red, hot paste just before serving brings it to another level of deliciouness.

I love how the garlic also presents itself in so many dishes across cultures. We cook both Asian-and Italian-inspired (aka pasta) dishes and both cuisines seem to welcome the garlic very often into their already interesting repertoire of spice, herb and fresh produce. The garlic is truly a cross-cultural produce! A quick glance at its wikipedia entry shows its culinary uses across several cultures – from East and Southeast Asia to Northern Africa and Southern Europe, the garlic is cooked and eaten in so many different ways.

When I make simple meat and seafood marinates with garlic in them for friends who don’t eat much garlic, they would almost always say that the food tastes great and ask what I had put in there. Depending on how you prepare the dish, the taste of garlic does not always need to come across so strongly or be instantly recognisible to the taste bud for it to elevate the flavour of the dish.

Oh, the faithful garlic. You are the silent ingredient that renders an otherwise plain dish spectacular! We almost never run out of garlic in our hosusehold. It is one of our kitchen staples. What about you? Do you use garlic or the other parts of the bulbous plant (e.g. its flower, leaves or stalk) in your cooking? How is garlic used in your culture?


How to be a Child (Again)



Having children, I’ve realised, requires plenty of learning. That is probably an understatement. As a parent, I find myself constantly having to develop renewed understanding not only of my children and my husband, but also of myself. I find myself having to acquire new skills to navigate my relationship with my children. One of these skills that I have had to learn is how to be a child again.


Experience it like it is for the first time

The most beautiful thing about being a child is how they get to experience so many firsts: the first outing to the beach, the first time on a carousel, the first time riding a bicycle, the first time building a sandcastle, or the first touch of snow. Whilst I’ve done most of these things before, I find these experiences amazing once I can imagine it through the eyes of my children.

I am reminded in this instant of a pretty effectual Emirates Airlines advertising slogan from a while ago: “When was the last time you did something for the first time?” With toddlers and young children, parents can probably say, “Well, just last week!” This is one of my many loves of having my daughters. Having them encourages me to get out of that adult-parenting head and into allowing myself to feel and participate in the joys of doing something for the first time.

Experiencing moments and events as if they were to be my firsts, reminds me of the tiny rush one gets just before embarking on something new. The little unknown slightly repels you with apprehension but draws you back more than enough for you to leap off that diving board into the deep pool.

I try to see my time with my daughters this way: Reliving something together with them is very different from experiencing it alone. What my daughters experience as a first, will always be a first that I experience with them. I find this way of perceiving parenthood helpful in breaking the sometimes unavoidable monotony of family life.


Move like no one is watching and learn to speak gibberish

It’s a relief that being a parent does not always mean having to be a prim and proper adult. In fact, the best thing about being a parent to toddlers and young children is having the excuse to act in a silly manner (and of course having access to playgrounds and buying toys denied to us as children).

A while ago, Tilly and Frida spontaneously broke out in silly walks as if they had learnt a lesson or two from Monty Python. I laughed so much along with them and thought why grownups don’t do that enough. I’ve tried a few times to dance myself silly along with them (with drawn curtains of course; there’s a learning curve to being silly) and am surprised at how free and fun it made me feel. My daughters don’t even care about awkward moves. The sillier the better! Tongues out, eyes crossed, do the monkey. To them, all of this is normal fun and just ways of physically expressing what they feel in that instance. And they love it when I join in.

Another way I join in the silliness is to follow my daughters’ lead in making up bogus and nonsensical words. Sometimes Tilly makes up imaginary names and words for the abstract structures she builds with her lego bricks. I would ask,

“What have you built there?”

“A blargbloobloogarb”, she would answer with a cheeky grin, aware that it was a word she made up.

I ask her what it means but she would just shrug and say, “I don’t know”.

I go along with it because I love the way she invents words and tests out sounds. It not only fills the gaps in her language development but also encourages creativity.  She might be the next Roald Dahl for all I know and have her own version of gobblefunk. So I play along and try to think of made up words although I have a little difficulty doing that with my hinged mind. Most of the time, I attempt to repeat what she has said and it pleases her to see that her invented words have been accepted.


I have realised that learning to be a child again and seeing things through my daughters’ eyes draws on and renews so many qualities that I would have kept dustied in the backroom of my personality trait. Being a three-year-old child seems to be about being brave and wide-eyed about experiencing the unknown. It seems to be about being unrestrained and unabashed about self-expression. And it also seems to be about having fun with imagination.

This, of course, isn’t an exhaustive list on how to be a child again. It is my version at this moment in time and will most probably change as my family and I grow and change together. What is your version? Would this experience of child-likeness end when my daughters outgrow these traits that I find so precious?



Climbing trees and picking blueberries



Apologies for the short hiatus. It’s the summer holidays and the girls have been busy spending time with us and what not 😉 Apart from a lot of time spent on the playground, a few trips to the library and swimming pool, they have also discovered the joys of tree-climbing and continued with their summer berry harvest with blueberries this time round!

There is a giant tree with massive low trunks that stares right back at us as we enter the park close to our home. I asked Tilly and Frida if they wanted to give it a go at climbing it and they almost quite immediately scrambled up the tree and had a tough time leaving it when it was time to go.



The blueberry season had begun about a month ago and we’ve since been blueberry-picking twice. Aren’t blueberries just scrumptious? After picking some blueberries and having their stomachs filled with even more, the girls had great fun running around the fields playing hide-and-seek amongst the bushes!





Strawberry Fields Forever



Strawberry season has begun! Last weekend, we found a strawberry farm in the country 30 minutes away that was open to the public. It was not only a first for the girls but for me as well. (I grew up in the tropics and in a huge city where seasonal produce is mostly imported.) The strawberry fields looked more nondescript than I’d imagined. I’d imagined a glorious field of reds but all that strawberry goodness was actually hidden under the low bushes just above the ground.


Off to the strawberry fields!


Tilly and Frida had been looking forward to the strawberries for two weeks now and they were pretty much estatic to see the little rubies in the field. After telling them to pick only the red ones, Frida went ahead and filled her little bucket like an expert strawberry picker. Tilly, on the other hand, spent most of her time eating one strawberry after another. Most of her harvest ended up in her belly rather than her bucket!


Little strawberry farmers


We’d managed to pick about 4.5 kg of strawberries altogether. After putting half of it aside in the freezer, we ate some of the rest fresh but there’re still so many strawberries in our refridgerator. I might make some of it into marmalade and allow myself to be inspired by this spaghetti with strawberry-tomato sauce recipe with the rest of our harvest. I prefer fresh strawberries but with such an abundance, I might have to get creative with the ways we consume them. How do you like your strawberries? Fresh, preserved or cooked? Do you have any great strawberry recipes to share?