- I’m a mom of four girls, including twins.
- Growing up, I had six younger sisters, so I’ve always been around a lot of girls.
- Parents make gendered choices for their children before they can for themselves.
We were finally leaving the neonatal intensive care unit with my newly discharged twin daughters. They had been in a distant hospital for 11 agonizing weeks after their premature birth. We had even worried at some points that the smaller twin would not make it home at all. And yet here we were, finally going home with our babies.
I chatted with the nurse who helped me bring them to the car, and she asked about my other children. I said I had two other daughters. She responded with a cackling laugh, expressed pity for my husband, warned about a house full of divas, and asked whether we would try again to “give dad a boy.”
I do not remember what I said, other than an involuntary scoff at the thought of having another baby when I hadn’t even brought the last two home yet. Her comments were a shock, given the timing, but not a surprise.
People have misconceptions about what it’s like raising one sex or the other
I had six younger sisters growing up. I heard people express their pity for my dad and singular brother many times. Never mind that my dad, like my husband, could not have been happier to have so many daughters.
And I’d already heard these comments about my own daughters even when there were only two of them. People have all sorts of ideas about what it’s like to raise little girls.
I have no doubt that parents of boys hear corresponding comments. But given the historic preference of male children – and the sometimes grim fates of unwanted female children – around the world, as well as the ways women continue to struggle for equality with men, negative comments about raising daughters ring almost threateningly.
I believe it’s to compensate for these unwelcome comments about the sexes of their children that compel parents on social media to delineate themselves into popular hashtags. If you’re a #GirlDad, you’re a man who knows how to braid hair. If you’re a #BoyMom, your house is strewn with trucks and dirt in a way that a #GirlMom could possibly understand.
Parents gender their children before they can
Not being a #BoyMom myself, I can not say which ways my girls are truly different from boys, if they are. But I think we should ask ourselves how many of these supposed differences are because of natural inclinations, and how many are gendered choices that we make before our children have the language to express themselves. We, from the beginning, so often choose the toys they play with, the colors they wear, and the length of their hair.
My girls collect rocks and look at bugs under magnifying glasses while dressed in princess costumes. They have dirty little hands and feet that turn the bathwater brown. At an emergency dentist appointment, after the 4-year-old knocked the 2-year-old’s teeth loose while roughhousing on the couch, I wondered who got the idea that girls were calmer.
Our children are all so different, so uniquely themselves, regardless of sex. Yet the experience of parenting – the mess, the exhaustion, the joy, the worries, the fun, the love we give and receive from them – is something we all have in common, no matter which set of genitals our children are born with. We’re really not so different, and neither are our kids.