Parenting around the world

Location: Canberra, Australia – Life in My Shoes with Dr Kyl Myers discussing gender creative parenting,  finding love and growing up Mormon.

Shoutout: We’re proudly partnering with Birkenstock to bring you Life In My Shoes: A series of interviews with parents from all around the world.

Family.

I’m an American gender-queer woman, use “they/them” and “she/her” pronouns, and I’ll be 35 in July. My partner, Brent, is Australian, and right now, we live in his hometown of Canberra, but our family home is back in the US in Salt Lake City. We have a five-year-old child called Zoomer, and when Zoomer was born we decided not to assign a gender or disclose Zoomer’s genitals to people who don’t need to know. Instead, we used “they/them” pronouns and tried to give Zoomer a childhood free of gender stereotypes.

I have a PhD in sociology and a background in gender studies, and so far have had two careers. Initially, I worked in family planning, then when Zoomer was born, I became a public advocate for gender-creative parenting. In 2016, not many people talked about this topic, so I did things like a TEDx talk, started a blog, and wrote a book called, Raising Them: Our Adventure in Gender Creative Parenting.

Love.

Brent and I met on Tinder when I was on holidays in Sydney. We fell totally in love, and he moved to the US three months after we met. We were married within six months of meeting and pregnant eight months after that. 

2020.

Last year was a big year. I resigned from my job, wrote my book and had it published, and Zoomer turned four. Around his fourth birthday, Zoomer declared a love of “he/him” pronouns, which was exciting. It was also the year of the Coronavirus pandemic.

COVID-19 made us reassess things. Obviously, the Australian government managed the pandemic much better than the US, and we had always wanted to try living in Australia. So, we put our home on Airbnb, enrolled Zoomer in kindergarten in Canberra and moved. We also experienced our first earthquake while still living in Salt Lake City, which was terrifying.

Mormonism.

I grew up within the Mormon religion in Utah, which is the mothership of Mormonism. Growing up there, everyone you know is a Mormon. And because this was pre-internet, it was a very sheltered life.

Growing up in the Mormon community had some wonderful perks. Because everybody had huge families, there were like a billion kids around to play with. I had a very play-based upbringing, and when you’re young, things in the Mormon church and community aren’t really divided by gender. It’s only around puberty where gender division goes into hyperdrive and girls are raised to become mothers, wives and homemakers. But of course, each family is different, and there are different branches of Mormonism. Because my parents didn’t grow up Mormon and converted to the church as adults, they weren’t too pushy and gave me quite a lot of freedom.

I started questioning religion relatively young. I’m not sure if it was because I had an older brother and it didn’t seem fair boys got all the power, but my tolerance for injustice has always been very low. I ended up leaving the church as a teenager and officially resigning in my early 20s. These days, no one in my family is still involved in the Mormon church, but most of them still live in St George, where I grew up, a four-hour drive from Salt Lake.

Education.

As a kid, I didn’t care about education at all. In high school, no one was cultivating the minds of girls. I wanted to see the world. So when I was 18, back in 2004 when the internet was coming alive and Facebook was happening, a friend got a job as a Nanny in New York. I joined the website she used, made an account, and matched with an English woman living in Germany. I had never left the Western United States, let alone the country. But within three months, I moved to Germany and the mental dominoes all started falling. I realised the world is bigger than Utah, other cultures besides Mormonism exist, and women can go to college and have careers. I was able to envision an adulthood for myself that had never felt possible before.

Parenthood.

I found out I was pregnant on my 29th birthday, and actually, I didn’t like being pregnant. I had a good pregnancy, but I felt so sleep deprived, unintelligent, and had so much anxiety. It was not a pleasant experience. It was also a time when I had to unpack many feelings around motherhood. I realised I identify more with being a parent than a Mum, and I feel like a parenting partner with Brent, instead of a Mum and Dad. I think that’s partly because I like to distance myself from motherhood stereotypes about motherhood completing you or mothers being naturally perfect at raising children.

I wanted to have a home birth, partly because my Mum birthed my two younger sisters at home, and I was there for my youngest sister’s birth. It was a cool experience. The other reason was because of our decision to do gender creative parenting, and hospitals can be very gendered institutions. I felt like I wanted privacy and anonymity. But Zoomer was breech, and despite trying so hard to get him in the correct position, I ended up having a scheduled C-section. The hospital experience turned out to be incredible and the staff supported our approach.

The US has a terrible family leave policy, so Brent only had one unpaid week at home with us, and he then worked from home the second week, but that was it. Because we have no family nearby, and I couldn’t drive or pick up anything heavy for weeks, our debut into the world of parenting was wild. Plus, I started a new job when Zoomer was 11 weeks old, but I couldn’t get childcare until five months after I started the job. It was five months of trying to make things work as a working parent in a relatively new marriage while also finishing my dissertation. I totally burnt out.

Burn out.

I think because I was raised Mormon, I became addicted to achievement and proving the system wrong. I didn’t consciously do things in spite of the system, but I think I found validation through accomplishment, and that’s a very slippery slope. 

Mormon women aren’t known for getting PhD’s, so I got one. And people in grad school don’t generally get pregnant while finishing their studies, but I did. Then, I became an advocate for this parenting philosophy, did the TEDx talk and created all these parenting resources. And when you’re a public advocate for something, it can be very hard. There was lots of online bullying, and while things have calmed down in the last couple of years, it still affects you, your mood and your relationships. Opening your phone to see hateful messages is hard.

On top of it all, I was terrified of falling into this Mum trap and not having anything else to anchor my identity. The first few years of Zoomer’s life are a blur. They were totally joyful but such a blur.

Gender creative parenting.

There were mixed reactions to our decision. I think my family weren’t too surprised because I talked to them for years about same-sex marriage, the gender pay gap, and gender stereotypes. But Brent’s family didn’t have as much preparation time, so it was initially a shock.

People had questions that could mostly be hashed out in a few phone conversations, and any discomfort was quick. My sister, for example, wanted to know if I thought she had made a mistake by assigning a gender to her daughter. But parenting is such a mixed bag. We’re all coming at it with our own experiences, values and philosophies. Gender creative parenting felt right for me, and I just wanted to be respected in the same way I respected other people’s parenting philosophies. And our families totally got on board. They trusted and respected our decision and supported us.

It was hard to surrender the normal card on behalf of a movement. When you do that, you are constantly the educator. So when people make small-talk with you and ask if you have kids, their next question is whether it’s a boy or girl. Then, you have to educate them and explain your parenting decision and how it works. That can get very tiring. It’s been totally worth it, but also incredibly draining.

Now Zoomer is five, we have some hindsight to work with, and it’s incredible to see Zoomer using inclusive language and understanding gender isn’t binary, and every family looks different. People are always commenting on how fun Zoomer is to be around, and honestly, it’s a relief because we did feel the pressure to make a good kid.

Household gender roles.

We work really hard to make sure Zoomer isn’t learning gendered roles from us. He is growing up knowing Mums and Dads work, and when he’s sick, either parent can care for him. Science shows us kids who live in households with an equitable division of labour grow up to reject stereotypes and be in more equitable relationships themselves.

Brent and I are constantly communicating and adapting our approaches as life changes. And that’s important to reduce the resentment and frustration many mums experience, and support dads who are often disempowered from parenting because mothers take over the role.

Even though I wasn’t working for the first 11 weeks, Brent would still get up to help with the baby. It also meant I stopped breastfeeding earlier than I thought I would because it was too exhausting pumping these tiny amounts of breast milk at work. So, we went to Costco, got formula and understood it was going to take a village.

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