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Sons vs Daughters. Are you happy?

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“Does every woman secretly crave a daughter?”  Well top marks for an attention-grabbing title for this recent opinion piece in one of our Sunday magazines.  My personal and very articulate response which may or may not have been uttered out loud was – “Ummmm, no, that would be a no”.  But as a mother to one son, I was not really the target market as the women about whom she was writing “had at least two boys but yearned for a daughter”.  You can’t seek gender-selection treatment in either Britain or Australia unless it’s for medical reasons so couples are apparently flocking to US fertility clinics to guarantee that female embryo.  The author cited a UK doctor working in one of America’s largest fertility clinics who admitted to treating 10 British IVF patients a month, all undergoing the procedure solely to select the sex of their baby with 80% opting for a girl.  Even if this were true for every State, I wouldn’t exactly call that “flocking” but with a stated increase of 20% per annum, it’s still a substantial number.

its a girl

So, this is obviously a ‘thing’ but the more I read of the article, the more and more dismayed I became at the proffered explanations.  First and foremost was the idea that girls are more likely to look after us in our old age so, as the parents of a sole male child, my husband and I are utterly screwed…left starving and incontinent because “it’s the girls who will eventually bring around a lasagne and book your medical appointments”.  And you know what – on the whole, this may be true. But as a reason for wanting a daughter, is quite repugnant. It also involves an assumption about the future that’s hopeful, at best. What if she moves overseas? Interstate? What if you become totally estranged? I know a woman who didn’t even find out her mother had died until three years after the fact. Some women actively dislike their mothers and just the other day at a BBQ, one of my friends commented she wouldn’t lose a moment’s sleep if she never saw her mother again. Another friend, whose mother’s mental illness is being successfully managed with medication admits her brother visits their mother more often than she does. And as a mother of both an adult girl and teenage boy, it’s her son who’s always re-assuring her with “Don’t worry Mum. I’ll look after you.”  No-one relishes the prospect of getting old – and less so old and sick – but engineering a daughter on the premise of a guaranteed carer?  While you’re at it, why not try for another in case you ever need a kidney?

doll blonde doll

Moving on, it’s suggested that baby dolls on department store shelves with long hair and pink dresses (reminding us of the dolls we played with as children) are such a potent “cultural influence” that they may be “hardwiring us to crave a soft little girl to nurture”.  Is this woman on crack? The only two dolls I can remember from my childhood were a baby boy dressed in some shade of blue and bald as a badger and a girl  with short brown hair and a multi-coloured dress.  Her language makes me think of the little girls of the 50s with poufy dresses and bows and ribbons in their long, wavy hair.  It may be just me but “soft little girl” is just redolent with other adjectives like “demure, quiet, weak, malleable”.  All the things you don’t want your daughter to be. And what if she doesn’t want to be nurtured? What if she’s Miss Independent from her first vehement “No!!” or wants to be a tom-boy or refuses to wear anything with zippers or buttons for a year which is what happened to one of the mums from my son’s pre-school?  And obviously society has more than a little in common with the author because I remember all the tutt-tutting and disapproval when Angelina Jolie’s and Brad Pitt’s daughter Shiloh only wanted to wear boy’s clothes and have her hair cut short.

shiloh pitt                   shiloh-400x470

And so we continue the downward spiral:  Girls are easier to reason with.  I laughed so hard I nearly choked on my muffin.  Meeting other new mothers for coffee, toddler boys destroy the Café whilst girls “crowd around a colouring book for a quiet half-hour”.  I know, right?  S-o-o-o inconvenient. Next time grab a take-away and let them all run riot in the nearest park so you don’t have to worry about your son up-ending “a shelf of neatly stacked bottled water”.  Mothers can relate to how girls play. I, surely, am not the only mother who would much rather have a Nerf battle than sit down for a tea-party with Barbie, Baby Boo-Boo  and Dorothy the Dinosaur.  My son was a “Star Wars” fan (legend) and our light sabre battles were EPIC!!  This gender distinction in play is so stifling.  I remember my son’s pre-school teacher telling me how much the boys loved the dress-up box, donning anything with a bit of bling.  My son was Ariel, the Little Mermaid for a good 6 months when he was 3 or 4 – even donning a mermaid tail although this vision of loveliness was never bestowed upon the general public! One of my friends has a young daughter obsessed with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; another a daughter who rotates her Spiderman costume and Batman cape and there must be thousands more “out there” like them.

teenage-mutant-ninja-turtles-winter-clothing

  Just when you thought this paean to gender divide couldn’t get any worse, we get a paragraph that plays into every sitcom depiction of males as simple-minded,  clueless, distracted boofheads: “There can be an unspoken understanding that develops between a mother and daughter that manifests in eye-rolling each time their brother leaps into the house with a half-dead frog or Dad leaves the milk out to warm again.”  Us vs them.  That’s precisely why I would want a girl  – so I could share my supercilious attitude to the men in my life.

And finally, the kicker.  Girls are useful in the kitchen. They want to help, as opposed to their brother who just wants to kick a football around.  Well who could blame him – I’d rather be doing that than being in the kitchen too. The author describes her son as “funny, adventurous, brave, kind and insightful” – wonderful characteristics by anyone’s reckoning. But what is she thankful for? “…for daughters when you’re a harried mother just trying to get through each week with everyone fed, watered and alive.” because they set the table and help prepare dinner without being nagged.

 

kid stirring      kid stirring       kid stirring

I’ve come to the conclusion that it must be a generational thing.  I did a quick survey of my friends who are all in their 40s or 50s. Those with all boys (one with four, another with five), never ‘craved’ a girl; another said it would have been ‘nice’ but didn’t really care; those of us with sole boys actually wanted boys and had we had more children, would have wanted another boy; another said she wouldn’t know what to do with a girl – a common reaction and one that puts paid to the idea we want girls because we “understand” them.  The general consensus was that girls are much harder to raise than boys and that the relationship between a mother and son is much less fraught and complicated but just as deep and satisfying.

Even though I am an only child and had a wonderful, loving relationship with my mother, I never saw myself having a daughter.  My son has yet to “turn”.  At almost-15, he is garrulous, funny, smart, kind, lazy and occasionally, argumentative.  I am still an acceptable companion in public so we go to shows, museums and movies together.  Somehow we managed to avoid the “terrible twos” and yes, he was an active toddler but I never felt “clueless, furious or upset”, as the author would have us believe of mothers of a “male toddler”.  As though the “terrible twos” are restricted to boys.  Tantrums, whining, stubbornness and general envelope-pushing are just as much the preserve of girls and I have several friends who can send videos as proof.

I don’t doubt that a great many women have a deep-seated desire for a daughter but as for every woman craving a daughter? Nah.  Our sons will do us just fine, thanks.

dan&sam    Sam in baseball uniform April 2001

 

 

 

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Back to the Future: Me, 1972

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Oh—-my—-God.  I’m in the process of a MASSIVE clean-out of BIBLICAL proportions and I came across one of my English books from 1972.  So…. I’m 14 years old – the same age as my son is now – and have written a poem.  It’s a corker.  You will understand why when you read it but in its innocence, it also sadly underlines how far the world has come in these 40 years or so when sexting and oral sex by kids as young as 13 is neither uncommon nor infrequent.  With your indulgence, I present:

Beware of boys with wandering hands,

give them a good slap.

Beware of a boy with a long, dirty tongue,

he’s just a great big sap.

Beware of boys who take a mile

when all you’ve offered is but a smile.

You can put them in their place –

slow and steady wins the race.

Sure, go out and have some fun.

If it’s with a boy, there’s no harm done.

The nice ones brighten up your day.

They make you happy, content and gay.

But even so – be on your guard

’cause if you fall, you’ll fall hard.

boy kissing girl

But you know what?  At its core, it’s bloody good advice.  Have a great weekend everyone.

 

Parenting is not One-Size-Fits-All

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Hilary Clinton used it in a book title and every time someone brings it up, everyone else (and by “everyone else” I’m talking almost exclusively about women because men would never be having this type of conversation) becomes misty-eyed, nods their head wistfully, gazes into the distance and agrees whole-heartedly about how wonderful and ideal and lovely that indeed would be…. Are you guessing wage equality? World peace? Thin thighs? No, no and no – nothing quite so uncomplicated – it is the adage that “It takes a village to raise a child”. Well what a splendid idea and if you lived with your tribe in the remote highlands of Papua New Guinea or the middle of the Amazon or built yourself a time machine and found yourself back in the 1950s, it would work like a charm. Why? Because you have the advantage of an ancient cultural mindset, that’s why. Everyone is doing the same thing, “on the same page”, with no inclination to think “outside the box” because everyone’s pretty bloody happy inside the box. There is no-one saying “Is that bone sterilised before you stick it through Junior’s nose?”, “You can’t take her spear-fishing today, the water’s too cold!”, “Put a GPS tracker on him before he cycles to the shops.”

Raising a child today is a completely different kettle of mash because now the village has to take into account so many parental ‘philosophies’, demands and variations you need an Excel Spreadsheet to keep track of them all, to say nothing of those parents who believe the village is comprised solely of village idiots who could never be entrusted with their offspring. We all do it – we all look at what other mothers or fathers are doing and form a passing judgement that they are crazy/ lazy/ too easy/ too strict/ food Nazis/ over-protective/ under-protective/ old-fashioned or common-sense-challenged but at the end of the day we’re all exhausted and just trying to raise a half-way decent human being. If ever there was a perfect example of “many paths up the mountain”, child-rearing is it.

                  I Home School                          it takes a village

The idea for this blog sprang from the fact that my girlfriend and I took our 14 year old sons to the musical, “Book of Mormon” whilst we were in New York on a school Drama trip last June. Although I didn’t scrutinise the audience too closely, I would say they were two of only a handful of teenagers there. For anyone unfamiliar with the show, it’s written by the creators of ‘South Park’ which tells you pretty much all you need to know. For anyone also unfamiliar with ‘South Park’, it’s an animated series which satirizes even the most taboo of subjects with surreal and sometimes very dark humour and language that would make your grandmother’s hair stand on end. “Book of Mormon”, set in Uganda, is the same, ranging over topics such as warlords, poverty, rape, genital mutilation and AIDS, set to fabulous music but with completely subversive and confronting lyrics – and language that would make your grandmother’s hair stand on end. We loved it and have been playing the soundtrack non-stop since we got back. One of my friends who loves the show equally told me she “was not game” to take her children – who are older than mine. Likewise the Canadian couple who sat next to me in the theatre and who have seen the show several times but have never taken their older children. I personally, don’t get it. The ‘bad’ language is only sporadic throughout the show and is nothing worse than they would have heard their first day on a High School playground. The issues come up frequently, sometimes daily, in today’s media so I’m not quite sure what these kids are being shielded from. But you know what – not my call.

I have raised my son to be extremely worldly and I can’t expect or blame other people for not doing the same. My husband loves to tell the story of my “birds and the bees” talk when our boy was about 9 or 10. Not content with the basics, we discussed sexually transmitted diseases, homosexuality (his godfather is gay) and unwanted pregnancies. He asked some incredibly thoughtful questions and came to the conclusion that “he was never having sex” and I SO look forward to reminding him of that when the time comes! (As if he’s going to tell me….) Part of my reasoning was that he goes to an all-boys school and I wanted to nip any misinformation or negative attitudes in the bud. I wanted to create an atmosphere in which no question was off-limits and which has led to some, let’s say ‘interesting’ conversations about issues like pornography and prostitution. Some boys wouldn’t give two hoots about any of this stuff and some parents would rather dig their own eyes out with a spoon than talk about sex in anything but the most basic terms and that’s why we have the phrase “each to his own”.

sex ed                      sex ed 2

Some expert in something was recently quoted as saying mothers have lost confidence in their ability to mother because of all the conflicting advice they get from books, blogs, magazines, friends, family and social media. This echoes the comment made by Benjamin Spock (Dr not Mr), the one-time baby and child care guru who said, ““Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.” Everyone and everything seems to have an opinion on how best to raise children. In my case, I didn’t read anything and did stuff that would make some people faint. When he was young, my son was allowed to have ice-cream for breakfast. As his beloved grandfather would say, in his heavy Italian accent, “Why not? It’s dairy.” Chocolate was freely available. My mum was a screamer and I inherited the gene. There were days it was a miracle he didn’t bleed from the ears but even as a toddler, he would just look at me until it was over and continue on with his life. When he was in Kindergarten, one of the mothers commented how upset her son would get when the teacher yelled and all I could do was laugh because for my son, it would have been water off a duck’s back – in fact he would have felt like he was home. Who knew my ranting and raving was perfect preparation for the future!?

He started accumulating an arsenal of weapons very early in the piece. We had plastic swords of varying lengths, knives, nunchucks (Mutant Ninja Turtles), cap guns, machine guns, light sabers and Nerf Guns up the wazoo. His friends LOVED coming for playdates! No-one ever said anything but I’m sure some tut-tutting and quiet disapproval was going on somewhere. Not that I cared but I was at least heartened by the Director of his Daycare Centre who told me that boys, irrespective of whether they were allowed toy weapons at home, would pick up anything and turn it into a gun – sticks, spades, basically anything they could hold and point! And if nothing else was available, fingers worked just as well.

lightsaber lego

He was playing MA15 games on his consoles and computer when he was 12 and would delight in telling me how many kills he had made. At the same time,  he was playing Pokémon and Mario Bros and whatever else happened to be the rage at the time. He has seen movies that some would consider wildly inappropriate for his age – and yet what do I have? A child who is unfailingly polite; who is empathetic, compassionate and kind; who loves animals; who is not overweight or cavity-ridden and has the most wonderfully droll sense of humour. He has been hugged, kissed and told he was loved every day of his life. He has never needed much discipline but he is very clear on what behaviour is expected of him. The way we raise our children can be influenced by so many factors: how we, ourselves, were raised; religion, group pressure, our partner’s attitudes, where we live. our careers and to a greater extent than we possibly imagined – our child’s nature.

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We all have the same delusion – that we think we know what we’ll be like as parents which is why I love this quote from the esteemed John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester (thank you again Google):

“Before I got married I had six theories about raising children; now, I have six children and no theories.”