Often without realizing it, you're modeling specific gender roles to your child. From who takes out the trash, cooks dinner and mows the lawn to who earns income or provides most of the childcare, your kids are internalizing which behaviors are socially normal for men and women. Flinders University states that a child's peers and the media reinforce these cultural expectations -- but you, as a parent, have the strongest and earliest influence on your child.
Encouraging Your Child to Be Him or Herself
Though it's near impossible to completely avoid projecting gender on your child, there are things you can do to encourage your child to blossom to her full potential. Purdue University suggests you don't discipline your child for acting out behavior that isn't traditional to her gender. For example, you shouldn't scold your daughter for being assertive -- and you shouldn't scold your son for being shy and passive. Don't project gendered expectations on your children, either. If you push your son to pursue basketball while his passion is art, he won't only miss the opportunity to find true happiness, but he'll also have the misguided notion that men aren't "supposed" to make art. Avoid assigning stereotypical chores and household duties, as well.
What Should You Say?
As a parent, what you do and say about gender has a momentous impact on your child's beliefs. Don't make generalizations about what men or women should do -- if your child asks why dad works and mom stays home, you can say, "sometimes daddies work, and sometimes mommies work. In our family, daddy works because..." If your child is old enough, open up a conversation about gender roles. Explain what a stereotype is, and ask your child to identify what he thinks are "male" and "female" traits. Then, discuss how men and women are limited by these stereotypes -- for example, how a boy who likes to wear the color pink may get bullied at school.
What Should You Do?
You don't have to eradicate your own beliefs about gender to raise a stable child. Rather than overly focusing on what a little boy or girl should be, think in terms of what makes for a strong human. Do you want your children to be both ambitious and empathetic, strong and gentle? Along with your co-parent, do your best to model all of these attitudes to your child. KidsHealth.org also recommends not sheltering your child from seeing you make mistakes, because your child can learn healthy coping mechanisms from watching you.
Single Parents and Gender Roles
It's important in a single-parent home for a child to have other adult role models, especially if the single parent is of the opposite sex of the child. According to KidsHealth.org, kids need same-sex role models to help develop their own identities. Other relatives, teachers, coaches and older friends are all potential role models for your child. However, according to Purdue University, in some cases a child of a single parent may have a more balanced view of gender roles because she sees her parent do a variety of tasks.