It seems like every week or so, a different Mommy blogger writes an article about how she was initially unhappy when she discovered the sex of her baby. Not always, but usually, she’s upset because the baby isn’t a girl. The article goes like this: the writer expresses her disappointment, her love of pink, and then her eventual acceptance and adoration of her son. What never seems to get explored is why so many of us care what we’re having, and why so many of us want girls.
Before you think I’m criticizing or judging these women, I’m not; I’m one of them. When I found out my first child was going to be a boy, I was disappointed. When I found out my second child was going to be a boy, I was upset. I cried. For longer than I will admit.
I wanted a girl for some of the same reasons many of the women in the other articles do. Let’s get the nonsense out of the way first.
In part, it’s about the clothes. The clothes! I love flowers and hearts and birds and stars; and put together, ARGH, the cute is overwhelming! Plus, you’ve got all the accessories– from shoes to barrettes to jewelry to tutus–little girls are just fun to shop for and dress. Add in the nail polish and the hair braiding, and you’ve got a mini-me dress-up doll. Of course, this is all dependent on the child. Some girls hate pink and dresses and being girly. Some boys (like mine) like wearing nail polish. But in the fantasy of child-rearing, these are the materialistic things we envision.
If I had a girl, I would have encouraged her to be interested in the sciences (I know the importance of STEM!) and other typically “boy” things (dinosaurs and trucks and super heroes know no gender!), but I wanted to do “girl” things with her. I wanted to play dress-up and watch princess movies and buy into the American Girl Doll juggernaut. I wanted a calm child to sit and do art and crafts projects with so I could teach her to sew and crochet and cross-stitch like my mom taught me. I didn’t want to play sports or have boys run and wrestle through my house.
It’s embarrassing, those first two reasons. I should know that boy doesn’t equal sports or girl doesn’t equal princess, because I am a proud feminist. In fact, in stark contrast to the shallow, pinkified, Disneyfied reasons, I wanted a girl because I wanted to raise a strong woman, a feminist. My grandmother was a feminist. My mother is a feminist. I am a feminist. I always thought that I would have a girl so we could rally together against the patriarchy. It’s hard to rally against The Man when you are a (white) man. I know feminism (like dinosaurs and super heroes) knows no gender. My husband is a feminist. My boys will be too.
I especially wanted a girl for my second child because I thought having two boys meant they were more likely to be compared to each other, and that a girl wouldn’t be in direct competition with my older son. Plus, my husband is extremely attached to my older son (and vice versa), so I worried he might not have the same special spark with the baby. At least if the baby was a girl, I thought, it would be a whole different relationship.
Additionally, there are a bunch of stupid sayings about having a daughter instead of having a son–like a daughter is yours for life while a son is yours until he takes a wife–that actually apply to my life. I talk to my mother-in-law far more than my husband does. In fact, she’s one of three people I talk to regularly on the phone—my sister and my mom being the other two. My sister and I are very close. We love each other’s children like they were our own. We love each other (and get irritated at each other) like no other friendship I’ve ever had. And, we’re both extremely close to our mom. If I haven’t talked to my mom one day, it’s because I’ve talked to her three times the day before. I pretty much tell her everything. In fact, if I don’t tell her something, it seems less real. True confession: I even told her when I lost my virginity. My husband doesn’t consider himself not close to his brothers, but other than the occasional email, he only talks to them the one or two times a year he sees them. I want my children to be close, both to each other and to me. Of course having two boys doesn’t preclude that, but having a sister or a daughter seems to forge a different kind of family togetherness.
Yes, I know I am VERY lucky to have two beautiful, healthy children (who I love and wouldn’t trade for anything), but when I initially thought about having children, I pictured myself having girls. Two girls, 2 ½ years apart. It is not lost on me that my sister and I are 2 girls, 2 ½ years apart.
And therein (finally) lies the true reason, I, and many other women, want girls: we want to recreate our own childhoods.
If the cliché is true that we become our mothers and marry our fathers, we, in a sense, replace ourselves by having children. Whether we had a happy family life we want to relive, or a less than stellar childhood we wish we could change, having a child, especially one of the same sex, is a natural way for us to experience childhood again.
Over the past four years, my husband and I have radically redefined our concept of fun. Instead of going to bars or clubs, we go to children’s classes, museums, concerts, parks, and zoos. While there, I get to live vicariously through my son. His joy at ogling a dinosaur skeleton, feeding a goat, or eating a cupcake becomes my joy. Watching him experience life is a way for me to experience life again. I can see the magic in a petting a dog or blowing bubbles. And, I’m coming to realize that magic is from being with my kids–precisely because they are who they are.
I love my boys. I try to appreciate who they are and not dwell on who they aren’t. It may seem silly, but I try to remember that one of the most important things they aren’t is me. I can’t replicate my childhood, nor can I replicate the relationship I have with my sibling and my own mother. My sons will be their own unique, wonderful people with their own relationships, both to each other and to me. And that would be the case whether they were boys or girls.
Illustrating this piece is a picture of my son at two. The caption I added to it on Facebook read, “I knew I was saving my junk jewelry for my kid; I just didn’t know I was saving it for my son.” And, in a way, I think that kind of sums up parenting in general. We make plans and assumptions about who our children will be and they surprise us every step of the way.