In the variety of things that parenting involves, I understand my daughter’s world a hell of a lot more than my son’s, because I feel like I’ve lived it. I was a girl, I am a daughter. I realise this shouldn’t make me complacent and her experiences will not be mine. But on a basic level I have an understanding of what it is to be a girl, albeit a girl growing up in the Eighties and not in the social media and selfie-filled world we live in now.
The first thing my two-year-old said to me this morning was that he was a ‘Bigger Boy’. I’d gone into his room to wake him up (usually unheard of and never at times I prefer, such as the weekend). I had his clothes ready and his sister was already dressed for school. In all honesty, I was bracing myself for a hard negotiation to get him into his clothes. Dressing isn’t his favourite thing. Following instructions is also something he could do without. So, imagine my surprise when he jumped out of his bed, smile on face and said, “I’ll do it, I’m a Bigger Boy.” The first thing that came into my head was obviously Pinocchio wishing to be a Real Boy. The second was that it was awesome that my son is entering territory where he wants to try things for himself and his ‘Bigger Boy’ status is very important to him.
My son on the other hand is new territory. Not completely uncharted, but definitely new. At the moment, he is a typical toddler by all intents and purposes. He does toddler things. He runs around, he throws his plastic cutlery on the floor, he seems to have permanently sticky hands, he laughs a lot, he cries a lot, and he finds un-silly things very silly. So far, his upbringing has been pretty much the same as his sister. But I know that as he grows, there will be things that are different for him, because he is a boy. There will be hormones raging in him that are different to his sister. He may be more physical, he may be more inclined towards rougher play, he may tackle some things such as toilet training a bit later than his sister, and he may excel at different things in school. I may find myself relying on my husband to help with ‘boy’ things that I have no clue how to handle. Recently I’ve started to notice his toys of choice leaning towards superheroes and ninja things. This isn’t to say he doesn’t share interests with his sister or that his interests are all stereo-typically gender-based. On the contrary, he has a deep affection for Frozen, The Wizard of Oz, and, when faced with a construction fancy-dress outfit and a Princess dress, he will be in that dress quicker than you can do a twirl.
But, I am well aware that my children will experience differences as they grow into adults that are there because of their gender. Inequality being the main one. For our part, my husband and I will teach them as much as we can about the importance of being equal but I realise this is an uphill struggle. And I think it is one that can only be won by men and women working together, and by teaching our boys before they become men, that being a man is about taking an active part in the world alongside women as their equals. Being a man now is very different to what it was when I was a child. It’s ok now for a man to show emotion. Back then, it was headline news if a footballer cried. It’s ok now for a man to talk about his feelings and seek support. It’s ok now for a man to share domestic and childcare responsibilities. All of these are wonderful pieces of progress but we’re not there yet. They’re not embedded into our acceptance. There are still too many bubbles of inequality that need bursting and there is still much challenging of perceptions to be done. Just this week, research has been released highlighting the importance of having fathers who are confident and emotionally involved in parenting, and how this has a significant effect on children, even more so than children seeing their fathers take part in household chores. So, all the more reason for us to support our boys as they grow up. And I hope that when my children are grown, there is equality all around them.