6 Ways Having A Boy First Did Not Prepare Me For Raising The Girl I Had Next
Even though I really and truly didn't have a gender preference when I was pregnant with my daughter, I cried happy tears when my midwife told me it was a girl. I knew this was going to be my last baby, and I was really pleased to know I would have the experience of parenting a son (my first child) and a daughter. In the ensuing 17 months since her birth, however, I've come to an important realization: Aside from cosmetic differences, parenting a son and a daughter, so far, has been pretty much exactly the same. They're not a boy and a girl. They're just... themselves. Their genders are more or less inconsequential at this point. (Now I just need to make everyone else understand that.)
Studies have shown that, even when we don't mean to, we interact with boy babies and girl babies differently, right down to the way we hold them. As they get older, these differences become more indoctrinated and pronounced. I've been a girl/woman for quite some time now, and so I have been well acquainted with the sexist, gendered crap that pervades our culture and world. But somehow, naively, I suppose, I didn't really grasp that this was something I would have to put up with when it came to my daughter. I didn't realize, having had a son, that I would have to start standing up for my daughter (against expectation and stereotypes) from the time she was an infant.
As it turns out, that was the least of what having a son didn't prepare me for when it comes to parenting my daughter.
So. Much. Pink.
It came as no surprise that I would see a lot of pink as I bought clothes and assorted baby items for my daughter. What I hadn't truly expected is that it would be so damn hard to find anything but pink. Sometimes you can luck out and get turquoise or purple or yellow, but in general it's all pink all the time, and not even in especially lovely shades. I'd love to dress my daughter in red, but unless it's the holiday season, it's really hard to find much in red for a little kid. (Conversely, it's basically impossible to find anything pink for my son, whose favorite color is pink. As such, his shoes and winter coat were purchased in the "Girls" section.)
On top of being pink, a disproportionate amount of items marketed to girls are unbelievably... floofy. So these items aren't just pink, they're often super busy and ruffle-y. Can't a girl get a charming red frock without 10,000,000 bows on it, please?
Fortunately, as more retailers do away with "girls" and "boys" sections (whyyyyy did we ever start doing that in the first place?), this probably gets marginally easier. (Although pro tip: What makes this problem almost go away is simply paying no attention to which side of the gender binary an item was intended to fall, and just put your kid in what you like, and then later, in what they like. Bam. Easy.)
"She's So PRETTY!"
Babies and children have their appearances remarked upon a lot, regardless of gender. (Makes sense, especially of very small babies: there's not much they do other than kinda sit there and look cute.) But having both a boy and girl, I will attest here and now that despite the overwhelming attractiveness of both my children (biased but true, ask anyone), my daughter's appearance is commented upon daily whereas my son's is not. Everything is described as pretty. "Who has such pretty hair! Who has a pretty dress? Who has a pretty bow? Who has pretty eyes? Is that your pretty nose? Baby, are you preeeeeeeeeeeetty?"
And, listen, I'm not humblebragging here. As you have seen, I will straight-up brag that my kid is stunning. I'm not opposed to bragging on my kids; I don't need to hide it in a layer of faux complaining. But here's the thing: You know whose smarts and insightfulness gains more attention? My son's, both now and back when he was her age, too, even though I think both of them are of equal intelligence. (And, obviously, I fancy them both super-geniuses.) I wasn't quite prepared to worry about people unconsciously dictating the importance or pretty so early on.
People Acting As Though She's Made Of Porcelain
My daughter is in 90th percentile for weight and off-the-charts for height. I call her my mini Brienne of Tarth. In addition to being big, she is also a damn tank. She'll face plant on the regular and, unless you draw attention to her, she will be completely unfazed. She can handle herself when her 4-year-old brother gets overly enthusiastic in his rough housing or hugging by shoving him and shouting, "Easy!" She has also been known to bring him down by tackling his knees — she is no dainty little weakling. And yet people seem to worry much more about what she can do than my son. I'm not saying there weren't Nervous Nellies who clutched their pearls any time my son started tumbling about, but whereas they tended to reserve their concern for after he had done something they perceived as dangerous or while he was doing something dangerous, they are preemptively concerned for my daughter, which I worry will make her more reserved than she naturally is, and stifle her sense of curiosity or adventure.
People Telling Me How Much We'll Hate Each Other When She's A Teenager
OK, I get it: the teen years are hard on a lot of mothers and daughters... but have you ever stopped to think that maybe, sometimes, when you go on about what a nightmare it's going to be starting from before she's even born, you're setting up an expectation that it will be? And maybe if/when things get tough, this expectation encourages both teens and parents view this bump in the road as something inevitable that must be endured rather than something they can work on immediately to improve? Aren't you possibly just planted a gross little seed that doesn't need to be there, and perpetuating the idea of women as being catty and in constant competition?
Granted, I am coming at this as someone who had a really good relationship with her mother when she was a teen (and the feeling is mutual: My mom says my teen years were some of her favorite as a parent), but I seriously think the mother/daughter teen sagas have at least as much to do with the idea that adult-bodied women must be turned against one another as it does with the teen years naturally being tough on everyone.
People Constantly Telling My Son He Has To Protect Her
I think it's massively creepy and weird to tell a 4 year old that he needs to protect his little sister, on a bunch of levels. First, he's four: He can't always put his socks on without help, let alone defend a toddler. Second, it's indoctrinating him in condescending paternalism that indicates that he is stronger and more capable than a girl. Third, no child should have that much responsibility placed on them. Obviously the people telling him this don't actually believe he is responsible for keeping his sister safe, but he doesn't know that. I just feel like that's a lot of psychological weight to put on a small child.
"Oh you and your feminist nitpicking!" you might tsk at me. "Can't we say anything without you poo-pooing it?" To this I say, "Just say it in a not creepy way." How about like this...
"Being a brother/sister is special, and you two should always try to help each other."
See! Same basic sentiment with none of the sexism. HUZZAH!
OK, so they're not all based entirely on gender roles and sexism. Sometimes the differences are practical. I can honestly say I was not prepared for this physical aspect of having a baby girl. Without getting into too much detail here: changing a baby boy is pretty straight-forward. Yes, you have to be a little more careful about getting peed on, but the business of changing a baby girl's diaper is... more intricate and labor intensive than changing a baby boy's diaper. So many crevices. (OK, we're done here. You can walk away now. I'm sorry for taking it to a poo place, but it's true.)
Images: whosjo_mama/Instagram; Giphy(6)