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This is part one of a series prompted by a conversation with a friend who runs my favorite meetup group, a group that is specifically for mothers who only have sons. Many of our friends who have a child of each gender or only girls just don't understand how mothering boys is a completely different animal from other types of families, the different issues based on perception, actual physical and emotional differences and approaches, or wny we need/want a group for others like us.

In 1983 I was in the second grade.  All my little friends and I  wanted were Cabbage Patch Kid dolls.  They were the first and ultimate "gotta have it" toy that stores couldn't keep in the shelves.  In October of that year, my mother tells me, she put her name on lists in every store that would conceivably sell these dolls so that on Christmas morning, I'd wake up to my own little vegetable-born baby.  I remember believing that Santa would bring me one of these dolls and praying to God that he didn't bring me a boy doll. 

The boy dolls didn't have much of a wardrobe and their hair was either short loops of yarn or bald.  I guess you can't get yarn to attach to plastic as a spiffy fade or a cute little preppy cut.  I thought a boy doll would look weird in my cute little pink plastic umbrella stroller and matching pink high chair.  I really, really wanted a girl with straight brown hair, just like mine.  I wanted her to have brown eyes and cute little sneakers. 

On Christmas morning, I got my wish, along with a second little girl that had short, curly, golden hair.  If I think really hard I could probably remember their names.

Things certainly changed though.

As the idea of having my own children entered my head in my twenties, I never wanted to have a little mini-me daughter.  When I thought about being a mother, it was always to an adorable little blond boy who was the spitting image of his dad.  I imagined myself having three sons who were raised to be wonderful gentlemen, athletes and free thinkers.  They'd challenge me at Scrabble and then go throw a football around the yard. 

I was thinking about what changed my thinking from one camp to the other so completely and the answer was simple: my own teenage years.

I was a good student.  I had self-esteem issues like all young women.  I had good friends, big hair, a reasonable wardrobe.  But I was boy crazy,  I know that now.  All I really wanted was cute boyfriend who drove a nice car (nice being a relative term at 16).  I had a few good ones.  I liked to go out.  If not with a boy, then with my best friend, Maria.  We spent many evenings being carted back and forth to the movie theater or high school events or whatever.  I won't even start in on all the trouble we got into during our vacations in Spain.  I'm sure my parents spent many evenings wondering if I actually was at the place I said I'd be and if they'd be grandparents before they were 45.  I fought with them, I disobeyed.  I did still get excellent grades and got into several top-level colleges.  So it was a difficult position for them, I'm sure.  On one hand, I'm sure they felt I was a "bad" girl, in need of discipline, but I also did the things I was supposed to do, like get good grades and hold down a job.  I rarely broke curfew, but I wasn't always exactly honest with where I'd been.

I really didn't want that kind of parenting experience for myself and I found the whole idea to be frightening, but love always seems to throw a wrench in the works. 

I had a female step-child who came into my life when she was four years old.  Instant parenthood.

If I attack my issues with mothering a girl chronologically, the first thing I can say is that I delightfully got to skip the whole diaper portion of my stepdaughter's life.  The whole notion of changing a little girl's diapers scared the hell out of me.  There's just too many areas in need of excellent cleaning, where missing something could lead to nasty infections.  It is just so daunting even though I have the same equipment. 

My stepdaughter still had some accidents and was learning to care for herself when I met and moved in with her and occasionally she'd have a rash that needed parental attention to fix.  The panic those situations would raise was intense.  Her father felt funny about helping because the divorce wounds were too raw and he didn't want to do anything that might sound sketchy to his ex and I felt funny about touching her because I was essentially a stranger and it just felt wrong.  (For the curious, in the end we put the medicated ointment on her own fingers and her dad held her wrist and directed where it needed to go.) 

As she grew, our issues became more about personality and communication, as I think it is for most parents of girls.  One end of the spectrum is that girls are strong-willed and contentious.  They know how to use words to cut to the heart and really hurt others.  The other side of girls are weak-willed, crowd-followers who do what their friends do.   My step daughter, like most girls, I'm sure, fell into the middle--sometimes bossy, sometimes passive.   Sitting here years later, oh my goodness, she was a lot like me.

Then there's the whole idea of systematic female bullying which has been highlighted by the media in the past few years.  Mean GIrls.  Queen Bees and Wannabees.  The poor girl who killed herself over a fake boy on Myspace.  My own recent experiences with a mothers' group.  The stereotype of most women I carry in my head is catty and backstabbing.  They feel like most things are a competition.   The edit themselves to fit their situation. 

I never dreamed about being a mother to a girl like that.  I don't have the foggiest clue about how to mother a person like that and I fear that's how a daughter of mine would turn out.  The little voice in the back of my head says: she'd be too much like me.

Biology and Emotion: Why Mothering Boys is Different, Part 2

It's a Girls' World, We Just Live Here: Why Mothering Boys is Different, Part 3




( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 18th, 2008 02:49 pm (UTC)
This is fascinating.

I agree that girls and boys are different. Kitty has, at age 5.5, escaped the princess and glitter and doll phases, whew. But she's never had a sword fight, and she "nurtures" the bugs she finds. She's a girl.

I worry about the cliqueishness and bullying of girls, too. It's even one reason I chose a K-8 instead of a K-5 + middle school.
May. 18th, 2008 03:57 pm (UTC)
I foresee this as a multi-part essay because there several other "issues" I want to write about in regards to why it's different to be a mother of only boys, as opposed to all-girls or mixed genders.

Once I hit the post button I was worried that you might be upset so I'm glad to see you're finding my reasoning out process fascinating.
May. 18th, 2008 04:06 pm (UTC)
Oh, heck, why would I be upset? I agree with you: boys ARE different from girls, hard-wired that way as WELL as differently socialized. (I see this in daycare especially, when I watch the mixed sexes together, and observing what happened when Kitty when from a roughly 50-50 class to one where she was the only girl for a while.) And then when you add in raising a child of your own sex versus a different sex? DIFFERENT. There are "mothers of boys" playgroups in my city, too, especially for single moms. I think it's a good thing.
(Screened comment)
May. 19th, 2008 02:31 pm (UTC)
I think you explained it well: the Mean Girls phenomenon. :(
May. 18th, 2008 07:32 pm (UTC)
You bring up points that make me glad I don't have a girl. Boys, men, seem to fight - but nothing like a girl can. They get it out of their systems and then have a beer (juice box) together. I just don't think I could handle it. Plus, I'd hate to raise a girl w/ my self esteem issues. Boys can have those issues too. But, with a girl, I couldn't teach her about things a girl needs to know - like make up. ;p

My Cabbage Patch doll's name was Stephanie. I believe I changed her name, officially. My sister had Hazel *and* Mabel. Bitch. We had to promise my mother that we would clean our rooms. Yeah, that happened.
May. 19th, 2008 01:45 am (UTC)
Girl-on-girl bullying and intimidation can be very calculated and cruel drawn out over a very long period of time. It's scary. I fear for my stepdaughters-- Steve's daughter is finishing up seventh grade and heading into those murky waters of high school. Lexi is only four but she's like Rachel in that she's sweet and a pleaser. I don't want to see either of them have to deal with that stuff.

I think my brunette was Josie Cornelia.
May. 19th, 2008 03:24 pm (UTC)
This is a good read. I worry a lot about how things will be for K when she is in high school. The effects it had on me are still there, unfortunately, and I dread that it might be the same for her.
May. 20th, 2008 03:08 pm (UTC)
And I wonder/worry, what do you do about it? It's going to be the same everywhere so changing schools isn't an option unless it's a really bad situation.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )