How to Celebrate Mother’s and Father’s Day As a Non-Binary Parent

How to Celebrate Mother's Day (or other holidays) With Non-Binary Parents - Photo Illustration by Madelyn Goodnight

Verywell / Photo Illustration by Madelyn Goodnight / Getty Images

If there is anything that most people could agree upon, it’s that being a parent is a difficult and often thankless job. The United States government agreed so much with this sentiment, that they made Mother’s and Father’s Day federal holidays. Mother’s and Father’s Day are intended to show support for parents, classically celebrated by breakfast in bed, a greeting card, and other tokens of affection. However, for non-binary parents, it can be particularly exclusionary. 

Non-binary is an umbrella term for individuals who don’t identify as either male or female gender exclusively. According to a recent Williams Institute study, there are currently over 1.2 million Americans that identify as non-binary.

What Father's Day Was Like in My Household

In my household, as a non-binary father, Father’s Day was an ‘odd duck’ of a celebration. I am much more domestic-centric than my co-parent. I am against the standard messaging surrounding the culture of ‘fatherhood.’ As the sole cook and house-minder, there were numerous occasions when I was grocery shopping with my son and cashiers would look upon me with kindly sympathetic eyes and the cart full of baking products, with a comment along the lines of, "Gonna give mom a break?"

I found moments like these deeply offensive. Not only am I a classically trained chef, but those offhand remarks have a way of reinforcing traditional gender roles in impressionable children. Similarly, the "Oh, is dad babysitting the kid?" sentiment was infuriating. I was parenting, not babysitting. Spending time with and caring for my child was literally the job description.

We celebrated Father’s Day in a very stereotypical fashion, but admittedly, it was because I desired not to break even more with tradition. Things were complicated enough for my son when his dad was wearing a pink "My Little Pony" t-shirt.

At the root, there is still a dissonance in my brain with the words ‘dad’ or ‘father,’ but to be honest, I don’t know if a suitable replacement exists. My feelings of discontent may be purely a holdover towards the way that fatherhood is depicted in popular media and apparently scribbled in indelible ink upon the fabric of social consciousness.

Fellow non-binary parents, I encourage you to take an honest and unbiased appraisal of your feelings towards parenthood and the cage that surrounds the terms engendered by their respective holidays.

My son is now a fully grown adult, nearly 22 years of age. In retrospect, I was doing him no favor by play-acting and trying to stifle my resentments towards the event. Children are perceptive, much more than most give them credit. I realize now that my son very possibly could have misinterpreted the target of my less than positive feelings. In no way, shape, or form, was I resentful of my child, or in being his parent. Raising him was a singular joy in my life, and I look back and wish I had more time with him growing up, not less.

The Problem With Gendered Gifts

Like many holidays in the United States, Mother's and Father's Day have turned into another gift-central holiday that retailers capitalize on. While kids giving gifts to their parents as a small token of appreciation can be wonderful, a quick survey of Amazon and Etsy for Mother’s and Father’s Day gifts reveals several gendered trends.

First, gifts for the mother are often floral, full of pastels, and covered with calligraphy-like print. The top options are things like candles, picture frames, and cutting boards. Messages for mothers tend toward the sentimental. Gifts for fathers tend towards dark colors and bold all-caps typeface. The first options are pocket knives, tools, and wallets. Messages tend toward gross-out comedy.

The framing of gender stereotypes and reinforcement of traditional gender roles is clearly present. As parents, it's important that we work to broaden the lens beyond gender in the celebration of Mother’s and Father’s Day for all parents, not just gender-nonconforming parents. 

Remember, the process of gift giving for Mother’s/Father’s Days often includes the children, who may or may not actually be involved in the gift selection. It serves as a mnemonic that moms are feminine and get candles, pretty things, and cutting boards for their positions as homemaker while fathers are the warriors and fixers with a lack of connection to their emotions.

As a non-binary parent, I was a homemaker. I did the cooking and cleaning. Despite my child calling me Dad, I would love a nice cutting board for Father’s Day. My favorite shirts have floral prints. I also like knives, kitchen goods, and other stereotypical "feminine" gifts. Yet, I would be scandalized with a shirt with the message "World’s Best Farter! Sorry, Father." People, in general, are full of multitudes, and non-binary people are even harder to define. 

Celebrating Father's and Mother's Day as Non-Binary Parent

The way that we, as non-binary parents, teach our children to celebrate Mother’s/Father’s Day can have a lasting impact on their development. As such, the way that we engage our children, and partners when in front of children molds their implicit and explicit biases toward gender itself. The celebration of our non-binary parenthood doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it is also going to be juxtaposed within the context in both society and our partner's experiences. Here are some tips on how to frame some common elements of the holiday.

Choose Gifts That Don't Reinforce Gender Stereotypes

When making gift selections for or with your children to give to their parent, make sure that you reinforce what the parent has asked for, wants, and could use. The goal of these steps isn’t to say, "Mom likes to bake, but that reinforces female gender roles, so no rolling pin for them." It’s to say, "Mom really loves to bake! Let’s get them something they want!"

Additionally, avoid items that have mom or dad messaging. For example, instead of buying the rolling pin that says "My Mom Is the Best Baker," buy a good quality, serviceable rolling pin. It probably costs the same for a better product, without the holiday markup tax. If you think your parent is the best baker, tell them! Or write it on a card.

Choose an Activity That Celebrates the Individual Parent

The tradition of breakfast in bed exists for both holidays and while a lovely sentiment (at least in intent if not always execution), try instead to forge new traditions that are exclusive to the parent. Does Mom have a profound love of paintball? Celebrate their day by honoring them as an individual.

And, how about breaking the capitalist chains surrounding the holidays, to begin with? Crafting with kids is a great way to foster their creativity and provides a prime opportunity to have a conversation with them about gender and their celebrated parent. Reframe the day from being a general event for all mothers or fathers and focus instead on how this is their Mother’s or their Father’s Day.

Opt Not to Celebrate at All or Choose Your Own Day

It might also be that after an exhaustive exercise of decisional balance, you determine that celebrating Mother’s or Father’s Day doesn’t coalesce with your vision of how to best raise a child or reflect as an honor to yourself as a parent. That, too, should be respected. It might be something you determine worthy of the celebration itself, as such you might find a new holiday or tradition in Parent’s Day.

A Word From Verywell

Mother’s/Father’s Days are wonderful opportunities to show parents, non-binary and otherwise, that they are appreciated and valued. It can also be a chance to show parents they are recognized as nuanced individuals and help model for children how to see beyond gender and not be limited by stereotypes.

If there is cause to reevaluate the celebration itself, it’s helpful to remember that gender within society doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s possible that there is a beautiful expression of individuality that can be forged that is both affirming and inclusive using the framework of this holiday as a teaching opportunity. Communication and acceptance are invaluable ways to celebrate parents and foster the growth of children into caring and multifaceted beings.

2 Sources
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  1. Williams Institute. Nonbinary LGBTQ Adults in the United States.

  2. Huotilainen M, Rankanen M, Groth C, Seitamaa-Hakkarainen P, Mäkelä M. Why our brains love arts and crafts: Implications of creative practices on psychophysical well-beingAkademisk. 2018;11(2). doi:10.7577/formakademisk.1908