I share my experience having my second boy, whether or not I faced gender disappointment, and the gender bias comments I would consistently receive from others.
My husband and I made a choice in both pregnancies that we weren’t going to find out the sex of our babies until they were born. In my first pregnancy, when people asked me what I was having and I said I wasn’t finding out, the response was largely amaze. Wow, I don’t know how you can NOT find out. The curiosity would kill me! Next, I would get a bunch of wives tale-related guesses. Oh, you look so good, you’re having a boy. Your bump is so high, you’re having a girl. I tried to be friendly and let everyone say what they wanted.
Before I even tried to conceive, I had always pictured myself being a mom of boys. But when I got pregnant with my first son, I was for some reason convinced I was having a girl. I don’t know why, as I don’t think a girl would have even been my preference, but I think I had a dream E was a girl, and after that, it never entered my mind that that baby was a boy. In fact, I didn’t even have a boy’s name chosen, I constantly referred to it as she and I continuously imagined that moment in labour when my hubby would call out “it’s a girl!”
When I pushed E out and my husband said it was a boy, I was shocked, and it took a good three nights for me to reshape my expectations. I can honestly say I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, despite THINKING it was a girl, the idea made me nervous (I was a teen girl once too- eeek). But it was still a bit of a shock to my clearly convinced system. Regardless, people for the most part were supportive about the end result. Especially since my family is Jewish and it’s a big mitzvah for your first to be a boy.
Then I got pregnant with baby number two and the gender bias started to show. Immediately, comments about our baby’s unknown sex from strangers and family went from being based on wives’ tales, to a clear obsession with me having the “perfect” 2 parent, 1 dog, 1 boy, 1 girl nuclear family. Oh, I hope it’s a girl! became a comment I would hear literally every day. It wasn’t just annoying, it actually really made me mad.
For one, in this pregnancy, I myself had a strong feeling I was having a boy (my original instinct of being a boy mom was loud and fierce by round two). Left to my own true thoughts, I also was totally content in that potential reality because I have enjoyed parenting a boy SO much. My son is hilarious, energetic like his mama, dangerously intelligent and unbelievably affectionate towards me, his family, Poppy (our dog), his teddies, and everything else that he sees. I might not get as wide a selection of cute clothes to dress him in, but as far as I’m concerned, there is NOTHING more I could want in a child. I also have admittedly a lot of anxiety around parenting a girl. I myself have suffered so many stereotypical “female” problems – disordered eating, body image issues, performance anxiety, online bullying victim, infertility – I would often feel paralyzed in fear worrying about passing those traits on. Yes, I’m sure I would rock it, and my experiences would provide a basis of empathy for parenting a child with any or all of these issues. But man, just imagining my child having to go through any of these things cripples me in sadness. Side note: yes, of course, I realize my son(s) can struggle with any of these challenges as well, but most of these are statistically more likely “female” issues.
But I have to say that the obvious gender bias against my unborn son made going in blind an emotional challenge.
First, I felt defensive and like I had to protect my baby from the cruel world before he had even taken his first breath.
Second, I felt I would be letting everyone else down if I was not the “perfect” mother to a “perfect” square family, and eventually bare a girl.
Third, I started to actually believe that I would be missing out on an important experience if I didn’t get one of each. Humans don’t like FOMO, we like to experience all of life’s joys. Ask my husband about my ice cream ordering tendencies. I really like to sample. And when it comes to a big part of my life (my kids), I was being lead to believe that I would be missing out on an important life experience if I wasn’t able to sign my kid up for dance class, buy a tiara, or paint a nursery pink.
As a result, I am embarrassed to say I spent an entire 9 months spending an inordinate amount of time in a tug of war with my own thoughts. On one side of the ring I had my own inherent love of being a boy mom, my anxiety over parenting a daughter in a digital era, and my desire to give my son a same sex sibling like I had (I have a sister whom I’m close with). On the other side of the ring was this nagging worry I would be missing out on some kind of unique and special experience I apparently could never have with a son. I wouldn’t go wedding dress shopping. I wouldn’t have a mani-pedi partner. I wouldn’t watch my own child give birth.
All of this anxiety was not self-born. It was brought on largely by people’s seemingly harmless comments: I hope you get a girl. It really robbed me of an enjoyable pregnancy and sex surprise in labour.
WTF is up with North America’s Obsession with Girls
North America seems to be the only culture throughout history to celebrate having girls over boys. Like I said, in Judaism, having a son is a huge mitzvah, especially a firstborn where a ceremony called a pidyon haben is performed to celebrate. China is notorious for their gender bias against baby girls and as a result, they tend to have a high sex ratio of birth (male babies to female babies). I also read that in India, the clear preference for baby boys has results in about 63 million women statistically “missing” women.
Today, 21 countries have skewed sex ratios that favour baby boys. That is totally f-ed up and REALLY not okay. Baby boys are not more worthy of life than baby girls, period. This is often tied to the fact that traditionally in a lot of the cultures where the sex ratio is skewed, grown men are to look after their elderly parents, whereas daughters get married off and look after their in-laws (yikes, no thank you).
But here in North America, where young families often do not face these cultural pressures to the same extent, it seems like the tables are turned. In our commercialized society, we can think about more fun frivolous things – like hair bows, dolls, pink dresses, prom and wedding days. As a result, women are expected to value having a precious “mini me” daughter over a busy rough and tumble boy.
What does sex have to do with it anyway?
When I started writing this post, I started to think about how inherently gendered everyone’s assumptions are about raising little boys and girls. While my experience with my eldest has suggested that in my case, so far, a lot of stereotypes are true, it’s also revealed that sex doesn’t guarantee anything. E loves tractors, trucks, cars, and legit anything that has wheels. I did not socialize him this way, I gave him all sorts of toys, but this is what he continuously gravitates towards. But E is also a very affectionate, cuddly kid, who loves to snuggle, “feed” and take care of his stuffed animals, his baby doll, his dog and his baby brother. While he has his energetic moments, he is more likely to be found snuggling something than running, jumping, throwing or exhibiting other “wild child” behaviours.
If I had a daughter, there would similarly be no guarantees she would want to be dressed up in bows and tutus. She may not want to go for spa days, be married, or have kids of her own. She might not even get along with me much. Sure, as I’ve witnessed, a lot of these stereotypes are true, but this is 2020 – sex doesn’t guarantee anything in life, so we need to stop assuming that we know what we’re in for when the ultrasound tech sees a little penis or not.
Also, my boys may be born male, but who knows how they will identify down the road?
So I believe I’ve used becoming a boy mom to challenge some of these deep-seeded gendered assumptions. Sex is not the only determinant (in fact, it’s a very small one) when it comes to a child’s personalities and tendencies so we need to just let that go.
Why I love being a boy mom
Ultimately, this post was not meant to poo poo the girl mom experience, or try to convince you that any one family structure permutation is better than any other. Ultimately, I am calling for an end to any gender disappointment comments from strangers to expectant or new moms – girl, boy, whatever! I’m sure moms of multiple girls face this same crap all the time, too (I just don’t have that unique experience).
But if you’re a boy mom, or about to become a boy mom, I wanted to share some reasons why you should not harbor any gender disappointment – this is going to be a wonderful experience. A quick warning and disclaimer that a lot of these are routed in gendered stereotypes and are grossly untrue for a lot of families and kids. But I am sharing these as a cheeky counter to a lot of the similarly stereotyped comments I often hear. Here are some reasons I love being a “boy mom”:
Boys love their mama. Even if you think your boy can’t relate to you the way you might relate to a daughter, boys always love their mamas fiercely. Like, even when their moms are crazy AF. I have been lucky enough to have a pretty close and calm relationship with my mother, but I know that was not the case for my mom who had a very strained, pressure-driven, resentful relationship with her mom. As a daughter in law to a Jewish mother, I can attest that adult men see their mothers as G-d, I don’t know many adult daughters who feel that way about either parent.
I get to shape a new cohort of respectful, good men. As a boy mom, I feel a tremendous amount of responsibility to raise good, honest, respectful, feminist men who will do the hard work of trying to change some of the inequalities in this world. I feel honoured that I was chosen for this task, not once, but twice in this life.
The new world might be a bit less scary for men. So this is an obviously gendered and heteronormative assumption I’m throwing in that is based on something another mom jokingly once told me – I hope no one gets offended. My best friend in high-school came from a family of 4 girls and 1 boy and I will never forget what her mom said to me when I was 16. She said “raising boys is so much easier than raising girls. With boys, you only have to worry about one dick. With girls you have to worry about a million.” Obviously, like I said, this is grounded in a (false) assumption that all of our boys will be heterosexual, or not victims of sexual harassment, and we know both of those things are not true. But speaking from the perspective of a heterosexual female, I can’t help but feel like the world is a scary place for women (myself included). Especially now in 2020 with technological advances that make cyber bullying, sexting and other predatory activities so accessible. While boys and men are certainly not immune to these scary realities, I think we can all agree that women are still more common victims. And as a parent, that scares the F out of me.
Boys don’t become teenage girls. Ha, okay so they become teenage boys which I’m sure come with their own set of challenges. But I don’t know if it’s because I was a teenager girl and I carry a lot of guilt over the anxiety I must have caused my parents, but teenage life (or preteen life since this crap seems to be starting super early now) seems particularly tumultuous for young women. Bullying, diets, body image, fat shaming, sexual pressure, gossip – it surely happens with young men too, but generally, I would argue it’s more prevalent and problematic for young girls (our eating disorder stats alone can tell us that).
You can better understand your partner (or other important men in your life). I think I have a pretty good understanding of my own psychology, and by extension, I can be more easily empathetic towards “female” problems. Having boys has and will give me an opportunity to challenge societal masculinity standards that suggests boys shouldn’t show emotion or cry. I believe we can help cultivate our boys’ innate sensitivity by encouraging them to express and experience their complex emotions just as their female counterparts do. I am naturally a very empathetic person, and I believe I was given two boys to pass these important traits on.
You’ll get lots of exercise. I am a pretty active person, so when I found out E was a boy, one of the first things I dreamt of was summer hikes, mom-son trips workouts and other physical activities. My hubby admittedly isn’t much of a workout buddy for me, so here’s hoping my two boys will want to use their alleged extra energy to sweat it out with their mama.
I’m going to look SO baller with two handsome men on either arm. It legit brings tears to my eyes thinking about my two boys grown up, looking dapper in suits on either side of me.
Having same-sex kiddos may mean close siblings. Throughout this pregnancy, as I wrestled with my uncomfortable thoughts, I realized that if I did have a baby of the opposite sex, it would most certainly be for others satisfaction, and that was not enough. It might also be partially for my satisfaction, so I could check that box and say, yep, got that too. But if I had a baby of the same sex (another boy), it would be for my son. I grew up with a same sex sibling, and while we are different as night and day, we are still close friends today. I know that’s a generalization and there are opposite sex siblings who are close and same sex who hate eachother, but this was a perk based on my own experience with my sis. I like that my boys will always have each other and will grow up always having one another to play with, relate to, and look out for one another. Oh, and I will save SO MUCH MONEY on clothes.
Is there a “perfect” family?
Of course not. Honestly, if I were to have a third to “try for a girl”, that girl then wouldn’t have a same sex sibling. Or I would have (*gasp*) another boy and risk everyone feeling even more sorry for my “misfortune”. Then do I have four, five, six kids, or dream of life back at one or none? Always trying to achieve the illusive “perfect” gender combination? No.
My heart tells me MY family is perfect just the same way that another mom with one child feels hers is perfect, while another with 6 girls and one boy is content with hers. I believe we are dealt what we are dealt for a reason, and that reason is going to be unique and purposeful for each of us.
Don’t take your gender bias out on my son
I’m writing this post now in anticipation that in a month or so I’ll start getting comments like, Are you going to try again for a girl? Please do not say that shit. Not to me, not to any parent. If I ever do have a third child the ONLY thing I will be trying for is a healthy baby, period (especially given what I have to go through to get pregnant). But man, when I get in a sassy mood I picture myself telling others off by telling them: No, I’m going to try for another boy! Because that is how much I love my boys. That is how proud I am of their bond, even just a few weeks in. That is how honoured I am that the universe chose me for the important job of raising good, honest, respectful men.
So please share this post with a fellow boy mom, or a mom of kids of the same sex (I’m sure you girl moms get this crap all the time too). Let’s be happy for parents that their bundle of joy has arrived healthy and happy and keep your own gender bias and gender disappointment to yourself!
Updated on September 11th, 2020
Abbey Sharp is a Registered Dietitian (RD), regulated by the Ontario College of Dietitians. She is a mom, YouTuber, Blogger, award winning cookbook author, media coach specializing in food and nutrition influencers, and a frequent contributor to national publications like Healthline and on national broadcast TV shows.