Theybies: Some parents raising their babies gender-neutral

PHOENIX (FOX 10) -- It's a new way to parent.

Some parents are not raising their babies as a boy or a girl. Instead, their children are referred to as "theybies", or "babies" without a gender assignment.

The purpose to most who practice this way of thinking is to prevent outside influences from inflicting gender-based stereotypes onto their child.

Bonnie Love is a mom of two. Madelyn is seven and Isabella is six. They are close in age but a lifetime apart, at least in how Love chose to raise them.

"I raised them differently," said Love. "Well, similar, but a little different in the sense of the gender neutrality. I had a lot of pink, a lot of purple. A lot of the gifts that were given to Madelyn's baby shower, everything was your pink, pink, pink, girl, girl, girl dolls. Something about that didn't sit well with me. With Isabella, though, I did give her the trucks. I did give her the Spiderman costume. I gave her both and just let her choose."

During her second pregnancy, Love didn't even learn the gender of the baby.

"So, our family had a really hard time with that because it's not normal, and people wanted to know whether or not to buy the pink or the blue, and I also didn't want that."

Love simply wanted her child to have the choice.

"I think that you're born a specific way, and whether you -- however you identify is on your own."

Raising children gender-neutral, outside of traditional gender norms, is a way of parenting that has become increasingly popular in the U.S., allowing boys and girls to play with the same toys and wear the same clothes.

"So for them, unless you tell them that's a boy part and that's a girl part, they won't themselves necessarily know," said Dr. Anna Shier, a double board-certified physician in psychiatry and child and adolescent psychiatry who has worked with families raising what many refer to as "theybies".

Dr. Shier says parents assign the kids pronouns like they, them, or their, rather than he, she, him, or her, based on their anatomy.

"We don't want our children pigeon-holed. We don't want our children to not be able to be as successful as they potentially could be. So, you know, kids learn the very most in this world from toys that they play with, so if girls don't get to play with blocks or toys that would teach them spacial understanding or mathematical concepts, then they're missing out on that really important aspect of learning, because they are pushed really more towards dolls, learning how to nurture through that sort of toy," said Dr. Shier.

Dr. Shier says by the age of three is typically when children identify, on their own, what gender fits them.

"That's just when kids start to have an understanding of what their own innate interests are, and that probably does have something to do with the differences in our brain, but it's hard to say that once we do have," said Dr. Shier. "If we have more gender-neutral families, we may find that that age of three to four is pushed back a little bit later, because they are given more time to really develop without societal influence."

"We've got a good mix of -- we've got dolls. We've got cars. We've got trucks, and I kind of let her pick what she wants. I'm not really pushing anything on her," said Delany Rotta. She is not raising her daughter Waylon, however, gender-neutral.

"I'm not trying to offend anyone either. We just -- my husband and I personally believed if we had a girl, we're going to dress her and raise her as a girl, and I hope that the world sees her as a girl."

Rotta, however, does believe in letting her two-year-old be who she is. She points out that Waylon gravitates towards high heels, necklaces and sunglasses.

Dr. Shier says any way you look, when the child chooses, they win.

"In terms of what the study showed when they had kids playing with toys they associated with their gender, they were able to recall more about it," said Dr. Shier. "They recalled things that the toys can do. They recalled things they might want the toy to do, and those things that were considered outside of their gender, they couldn't really recall as much. They didn't really learn as much from their exposure."

As for the negative consequences, some studies show that many gender-nonconforming children face bullying. A 2012 survey from the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network found that 20% to 25% of elementary school students reported seeing gender-nonconforming classmates being bullied or called names.

Love, however, says Isabella is thriving.

"She definitely wants to be a princess and wants to marry a prince, and she wants to be a mom, if you ask her what she wants to be when she grows up. She wants to be a mom," said Love, who describes her youngest daughter as creative, a little girl who loves makes believe, who has grown to love pink and purple and most of all things girly, but someone who appreciates superheroes and being kind.

Love believes it was all Isabella's choice.

"I believe that we are born very loving creatures, and I think what we are thought are boundaries and negativity, all of those things are things are thought and learned," said Love.

The same group that published information about gender-neutral children being bullied also says 56% of "Generation Zers", or the generation born between the mid-1990s and the early 2000s, report knowing someone who uses gender-neutral pronouns.