Pagan Parenting

What Parents Can Learn From Angelina Jolie

I stumbled across this article recently and I must admit that I was very encouraged by the comments Angelina Jolie made about her daughter Shiloh’s choice of clothing.

Apparently Shiloh prefers to dress “like a boy” and that has media critics blasting a 4 year old and calling her a transsexual.  While it is beyond shameful to take jabs at a child in such a manner no matter who her parents are I think that Jolie handled the situation with honesty and integrity:

“Children should be allowed to express themselves in whatever way they wish without anybody judging them because it is an important part of their growth. Society always has something to learn when it comes to the way we judge each other, label each other. We have far to go.”

As parents we too often let our child’s behaviour reflect back our own insecurities.     If Jolie was insecure she may have seen Shiloh’s behaviour as reflecting badly on her parenting skills or on her own sexuality.  Instead she makes the choice to see that it is not about her but about self expression and the magic of childhood.

As pagan parents we tend to encourage “dress up” and mystical play.  Children are naturally drawn to worlds of fantasy and if they say “I’m a dragon” or “I’m the fairy of spring,” wouldn’t we encourage that and be delighted?  I have a sneaking suspicion though, that when it comes to our child crossing gender boundaries many of us may start to get a little uncomfortable.  What will the neighbours think?  He will be judged by other children, so for his own good I’ll make him dress masculine.  All girls want to wear pretty dresses and play tea party, what’s wrong with my child?  Our own embarrassment starts to take over our actions and we let society’s silly rules of sugar and spice or puppy dog’s tails influence our parenting.  Instead of unconditional love and space to explore themselves children learn to tow the line, not ruffle feathers and suppress their inner creativity.   That doesn’t sound like a very pagan way of growing up to me.

I realize that it is not as simple as the last paragraph makes it out to be.  There are people out there who are so afraid of gender bending that they become violent.  Our first instinct is to protect our child from harm, so our perception of how others may judge them is an important tool that we need to keep our kid safe.   If you have concerns that your child may be judged or harmed that is something that you need to work through with them.  When they are young you can perhaps encourage them to dress in their special outfits only at home or in a predetermined safe place.  As they grow older you may find that it was a phase that they leave behind them or you may encounter a more serious need within them.  If you do encounter this need I encourage being open minded.  This is your child; they are still whole and wonderful.  There are resources out there for parents to use for support if your child is transgender or confused about their sex.

Within our traditions there are many interpretations of masculine and feminine energies.  Some choose to see the traits in a more black and white sense because it makes them feel safe and ordered.  In my world view though there is a lot of grey area.  We all have male and female traits, energies and tendencies.  When we are children those traits are much less rigid because we have less conditioning.  I do not encourage my son to be masculine or feminine those tendencies are just there for him to act on as he comes across them.

Angelina Jolie is taking the same approach with her daughter Shiloh.  She doesn’t want to judge her daughter and so she is being open to Shiloh’s desires and guiding her towards finding her true self.

Please search out help if you or someone you love is dealing with gender difficulties.  Silence, shame and secrets are not the way to help your child or your family process these complex issues.

The pagan community seems to me to be a perfect example of an arena for openness regarding sexuality and gender.  Being open minded and non-judgemental goes way beyond religion in this day and age and as a burgeoning community we are poised to lead the way towards a healthy relationship with our sexual identities.

TransActive: Supporting children & youth of all genders

Transgender Family Resources

Gender: Gender Roles and Stereotypes