Gender Expectations

A friend recently forwarded me an interesting essay titled, "Why I Didn't Want a Girl." In it, the writer, pregnant at the time she wrote it, expresses her trepidation upon learning her third child was a girl. She's the mother of two sons.

The essay's content doesn't really gel with the title, which was CNN.com's title for the essay. The piece originally appeared in BabyTalk magazine with the title, "Boy Crazy." The author writes not so much about her desire for another boy, but more about her fears about being the mom to a daughter. Of not knowing how to style girl hair. Of loathing all things princess. Of being more in-tune with all things boy than typical girl interests.

Oh, how I could relate to this essay.

I've written here before about my concerns with raising a boy. When I learned the genders of the twins, I was freaking out a bit over my ability to parent my son, given the makeup of both my immediate and extended families. I know girls, or at least I thought I did. There's a whole lot of estrogen in my family tree (I was essentially raised by a single mother. I have one sister, two half-sisters, mostly female cousins, lots of aunts, and a significant lack of males in mi familiga). Before I had Isabella, I would tell my friends that I better have all girls, since I had no idea what to do with a boy. I thought I knew girl toys and girl interests and girl psyches.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I didn't really "know girls" either. Like the writer of this essay, I don't do "pink princesses." I can barely style my own hair, much less my daughter's, and the only reason I consider myself even minimally stylish is because I've been watching What Not To Wear since the beginning of time. (Does anyone remember Wayne and his waist-length gray mane?) Oh, and my sister happens to be a diehard fashionista and helps me out when I'm desperate. If not for TLC and Karrie, I'd still be wearing the acid-washed jeans and oversized flannels from my grunge phase in the early 90s. If my daughters begin teetering around the house in princess dress-up heels and demanding that I paint their fingernails, I might request a transfer out-of-state.

Fortunately for me, I have a daughter who isn't into princesses either. Her cousins are and despite their encouragement, Isabella lacks the interest. She enjoys pounding nails on her toolbench as much as she does baking cookies (both real and imaginary). She seems not to care what I do with her hair (as long as I don't pull it during my feeble attempts to style it), and she's much happier in a pair of jeans than she is in a dress.

As for Luci and Nicholas, only time will tell.

Like this essay's author, I think a lot of parenting each gender is "loving what you have and having what you love." I grew up surrounded by women. My first child was a girl. I thought I knew girls and had real fears about raising a son. In many ways, I still do.

But I've also learned that parenting different genders is also about taking children out of their expectation boxes. Not all girls wear fairy wings 24-7 and have memorized the words to every Disney princess movie ever made. Not all boys like trucks and digging in the dirt. Sure, there's something to be said for innate differences between boys and girls and their predilections for certain play objects. However, my concerns over being a mom to Nicholas because he's a boy or Isabella and Luci because they're girls should be based more on the frightening pressures and expectations they'll face once they enter school, and less on their childhood interests and favorite pastimes.

I may be unable to relate to my children's toys and hobbies. I might be clueless as to how to play Matchbox cars with Nicholas or how to properly apply pretend makeup with Luci. But if they turn out to enjoy these things, then that's okay. If I'm somehow able to raise them to be independent, confident, sensitive, and empathetic kids despite the institutional forces acting against them, I'll consider myself a success.

9 Responses to “Gender Expectations”

  1. # Anonymous Ness @ Drovers Run

    The way I see it, the *less* I have in common with my kids, the more likely they are to go with Dad to the golf course on a saturday morning (when his knee is fully recovered from surgery - oh gold WHEN WILL THAT BE) and leave me free to go to the salon (out of desperation naturally) or the spa. Or to hide out at home with a book, under the duvet - or better yet, catch up ON SOME FREAKING SLEEP!!!! (Been awake since 11h30pm with oldest boy who has bronchitis).  

  2. # Blogger Momma K

    I know I'm always telling you about the trucks and dirt and rough play. There is another side to my boys though. Tucker prefers Dora over Diego. They both LOVE Tinkerbell (much to Ron's horror!) My boys love to cook with me and we sometimes watch Food TV together. Ron's least favorite--they are always walking around in my shoes, especially the ones with heals.  

  3. # Blogger Mom24

    I think the greatest gift we can give our children is to just accept them for whoever they are. Twenty five years ago when Jason was born, we bought him a doll, unheard of at the time. Now, I don't even notice when Jacob wants to buy Pet Shops or Julianna loves remote control cars. You are so right, it just depends on who they are, and whoever they are is fine with me.

    Still, I remain very surprised, and very happy, with how gentle and loving my boys are. Somehow I expected it from my girls, but I love that my oldest still calls his mom almost every day, and that my 8 year old loves to snuggle in my lap.

    You are truly blessed to have both girls and a boy.  

  4. # Blogger Sugar and Ice

    I actually read this article in BabyTalk while sitting in the waiting room at my high risk doc's office. Hold on...is that possible...was that really that long ago?? Anyway, I read it, and I remember thinking how weird it was. I don't know if it's because I've worked with kids of all ages, but I've never thought twice about the ease of having a boy or girl. I think I'm one of those girls that are somewhere in the middle. I don't consider myself a true girly girl, but I'm no where near a tomboy. I like to get dressed up...but I wear jeans or shorts most days. LG is like me...she asks to wear a "beautiful dress" every single day (something I've never really been into), but she's one of heck of a soccer player and loves to run outside in her bare feet. Who knows what these twins of mine will be like.  

  5. # Blogger Simply-Mel

    Like Sugar and Ice I have never even considered the gender differences. My first two girls are like chalk and cheese. The first is a tomboy girl and the second is an utter diva/fashionista girly girl. I raised them exactly the same - its just in them. My boy is all boy loving music and tools but not cars. He likes taking things apart and faffing.

    I guess I grew up in a balanced gender family with a mom and sister + the dad and 2 brothers. Its all normal and just IS.

    I know my man was concerned as to how to raise a boy, oddly, because he has never had a brother and his dad was a distant, irrelevant observer.

    Interesting post as always Kirsty. I see your brain is engaging on a semi-regular basis again...clearly a sign that the dust is clearing over there, huh? xx  

  6. # Blogger Pregnantly Plump

    I was a little worried when we first found out Little Elvis was a boy. I was an only child and am admittedly a girly-girl.
    My truck noises aren't nearly as good as his Daddy's, but he tolerates my attempts during the days.
    My big concern with having two boys now isn't this time, but when they're older and better able to hurt themselves. My husband tells me stories of the unbelievably stupid things he did from age 6 up and I am petrified of my sons doing something equally crazy, and getting hurt.
    It never entered my mind that it would be cool to put a bike on top of an old barn and try to fly with it. But my husband did. And while he lived to tell me about it, I would prefer my sons never hear that story, or come up with any ideas like that on their own.  

  7. # Blogger Shannon

    Lore is a good mix... she loves playing hard core with boy type toys... but while wearing a dress up outfit and painted nails... she will play with earth worms but any kind of a fly bug freaks her out... she thinks they are all bees lol... I don't know what to do with a girly girl... but I try lol... this next one should be interesting lol...  

  8. # Blogger Jesser

    I had a big reaction when we found out a boy was in store. We have so few in the family and while I love my friends' little boys, they wear me out. They are so physical and rambunctious and different from Tabby (though she is physical in her own way). I think I really insulted my hubby with my reaction though I didn't mean to and now of course I am just excited to see what he grows up like. I am not much of a girly girl anyhow and I have joked that Tabby will have to go visit G'ma and auntie gaga to find out how to wear makeup. :P  

  9. # Blogger Damselfly

    What kind of freaks me out about the idea of this baby maybe being a girl is how girls seem to grow up so fast. Society pushes this at a young age, with kindergarteners dressing like pop stars (girl moms tell me it can even be hard to find modest clothing for their daughters) and tweens already expecting to be glam. And then there are the peer pressure and the Mean Girls and all that social bullying that is so subtle and yet perverse.

    I am actually kind of hoping for another boy, but you're right, of course -- a mama loves what she has and has what she loves.  

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