Family / Family-building / Parenting

What Will Boys Be?

In all my fantasies of having a child, I always imagined having a girl. A feisty, spunky, worm-loving, mud-puddle-hopping, pink-disdaining, peace-loving, punk-rock kind of girl, but still, a girl. As Galloping Cats noted in a comment oh so many moons ago… “i think it’s easier to work on bending gender stereotypes for girls than for boys. i mean, it’s one thing to dress a girl in blue and give her trucks to play with… it’s another thing to dress a boy in pink and give him dolls to play with, when you don’t even believe in girly girlyness for girls!”

While we trying to conceive, the glimpses of family life that made my heart turn alternately to sweet pudding (that’s what I want!) and then to sour milk (why everyone but us?) were always girls. A friend’s daughter boasting about her karate prowess. A little girl and her dad playing catch. My niece climbing up on my lab to read a story. It didn’t seem to matter that I have friends with loving, nurturing sons, that I am friends with loving, nurturing men – who almost as eager to be honorary uncles as we are to be moms – even that my dad is one of the gentlest, warmest people I know. I still wanted a girl.

I figured I would deal with whatever nature gave us, but nature gave us an adoption situation where we had to specify boy or girl. And of course Pili and I didn’t agree. All of a sudden, we found ourselves rolling in stereotypes; the kind of stereotypes we progressive-liberal-lesbian types are supposed to be above (ha!). Boys are more fun; more active; less complicated – Girls are more nurturing, less violent, more verbal…

I was nervous about how I’d react to the kind of physicality that I’ve observed in many of the male children of my friends and in the children I’ve taught. Every tree branch becomes a sword. Bloody noses and bruises are the norm rather than the exception. It seems out of control to me, and it makes me nervous. Some of this discomfort I trace to the fact that I don’t have siblings [niece and nephew are the children of my first cousins] and didn’t grow up with lots of roughhousing, competition, and casual violence. Pili on the other hand, grew up surrounded by male cousins and is much more comfortable with that energy.

It was only once we decided to name GB after my grandfather that boyness began to seem less intimidating to me. Grandpa was a wonderful artist and a terrible curmudgeon, who only seemed to get used to the idea of saying “I love you” a few years before he died, but never failed to squeeze my hand and slip a rolled up bill into it before we left his house. Thank you, I would say diligently, and he would wink and say “Thank you? For what you are thanking me?” as my mother rolled her eyes and hustled me into my jacket.

When the agency coordinator called and said I have a referral for you, even though I knew it would be for a boy, part of me still hoped that she would announce that it was a girl. Or twins. Boy/girl twins. And then she told me GB’s name, given to him by his firstmom, and my heart did this funny little skippy thing. His birth-name contained names from both my family and Pili’s. And all of a sudden, he seemed like my child. My son.

But that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped worrying (who me? never). Earlier this week, Pili and I were taking a walk with a good friend of ours. She was describing her daughter’s friendship with the little boy who lives across the street and I commented on how glad I was to hear that here was a little boy – unlike my nephew, which is another story into itself and is probably another big part of where my worries come from – who wasn’t into violent games. Oh no, she said, he’s teaching her to play good guys/bad guys and to shoot things. And so I worry.

One of the best things I’ve read this week comes from Shelley of But Wait There’s More, who writes:

D doesn’t have any toys whose main purpose is violence. He doesn’t own any guns. He knows that we hope that he remains a kind-hearted and good-spirited boy, and he’s known boys who seem mean-spirited. He understands that we are concerned about how he plays with toys, and that if they seem to be bringing out the worst in him, they might go away. And he spends virtually no time in retail space.

But we are conscious of the fact that he’s a boy with two moms who is going to be spending significant amounts of time over the next however many years living in Boyland. And we want him to feel like a native, not a foreigner. So he has a Starscream Transformer.

What will it take for me to become comfortable in Boyland?

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  1. Hey! You quoted me! Hee. It’s always nice to know when something you’ve said hits home.

    I always envisioned having a girl, too, but I swear to you that once GB arrives you won’t even be able to picture the alternative. I’m not even the tiniest bit interested in girls anymore, and I hope if I’m lucky enough to have a second someday, that it’s another boy. (But I’m sure I’d be happy with a girl, too!)

    One thing (among many) that I like about having a boy is the chance to raise one who is normal and respectful towards women. I get to contribute to the solution!

  2. I second what Cat said about raising respectful men. It’s a challenge I look forward to – and at the same time, like you, I struggle with what it means to raise a boy when I had all these visions of raising a muddy, bruised-knee, outspoken girl. I don’t have any answers, but I’m looking forward to swapping tips with you when GB comes home!

  3. We have a wonderful 4-year-old boy, and I agree with what you are saying about trying to raise a sensitive non-stereotypical boy. But I also have to say that sometimes I think my partner and I are too uptight about his behavior in our attempt to teach him to be “gentle and nice”. He is not into any commercial things (other than Thomas) and hasn’t started doing the gun thing yet, but he is very very impulsive and energetic, a couple of qualities that I think have caught my partner and I off guard. We love having a boy, but also think we have to make some adjustments in our expectations. Art-Sweet, I can’t wait until you get to bring your little guy home!

  4. I so desperately wanted a girl. We both did, but it was more intense for me. When Charlie was born, I loved him instantly, but I was still very disappointed that he wasn’t a girl. It took me weeks to get over it, and to tell the truth I’m still not sure I am. And it’s to the point that now I never want a girl, because I never want to compare her to Charlie or love her more than Charlie or even think of what “might have been” if Charlie had been the desired sex.
    But he’s a boy, and he’s a wonderful little boy. He’s sweet and loving and smart and funny. He helps me all the time, he’s nice to babies and animals, he’s totally into car seats. And he’s very girly for a little boy, which has worried me at times. He loves pink and dolls and glitter and brooms and cooking. He’s not that interested in trucks, but he does love his blocks. But he’s him, and I wouldn’t trade him for anything.
    It might take time for you to adjust to having a boy. And it might come completely naturally. But by the time he is with you for a few weeks, even a few days, you will be thrilled that you didn’t get what you originally wanted.

  5. Great post and something I’ve been meaning to talk about for awhile now. The goal over here is to raise a feminist boy – but as you say, it is much easier to bend those stereotypes for girls (a friend of mine who is due in 2 weeks also mentioned how most gender neutral names are just boys names you would give a girl – not too many boys are named Elizabeth, you know?)

    And something else I was wondering…how does race factor into your thoughts on raising your little boy? Over at our house, we are constantly foregrounding the implications of race on Dré’s life, and the way our society treats young men of colour, specifically black men. I’m trying not to worry too much (ha! I worry every day about endless things!) but I know that raising a boy child of colour comes with a different set of strategies than raising a white boy. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

  6. Beautiful post, A-S! You touched on a lot of my own fears and concerns when I think about the possibility of having a boy.

    Kristin and I have recently met some new friends. They have a 5 year old boy, and watching this boy is starting to help me become more comfortable with the thought of having a boy myself. If you’re interested, my friend recently wrote a column about her son for one of Salt Lake’s queer newspapers. The pdf is located here and her column is on page 14 of the pdf document.

    http://qsaltlake.com/issues/qsl_07-01-16.pdf

  7. Hey, you quoted me, too! [blushes]

    Thanks for the shout out.

    I was sad about having a boy for about two weeks after we found out. Never again. Just went to a women’s basketball game and saw a bunch of pre-adolescent girls and thought, “Whew, dodged THAT one!”

    I’m sure I would have loved and cherished whoever G-d saw fit to send us.

    I love having a forum for having these conversations, because the whole parenting gig does seem like such a learning process!

    Trista, I’m checking that article out tonight; thank you.

    And Kwynne, I particularly appreciate your raising the question of how issues of race and racism fit into our thinking… I feel another post coming on…

    And I’d recommend cloudscome’s as a possible bookmark on the topic… don’t think she’s queer, but she’s thoughtfully raising a transracially adopted black boy and blogging beautifully about it.

    There is one boat. We are all in it. Glad to be here with you all.

  8. Ooops goofed up the link, sorry about that, wish we had a “preview” option…

    cloudscome’s A Wrung Sponge is at http://awrungsponge.blogspot.com

    Which should be a link here if I do it right!

  9. Every time we walk past the girls clothing section of, oh, pretty much any store, I have a moment of *whew*.

    Of course, Noah might grow up wanting to wear pink glittery camo pants that barely graze his hipbones. But at least while I’m still doing the shopping, it won’t be the in my face option.

    (I do judge the pink glittery camo pant. You are free to dress yourself and your children in them if you want, but me? I find the message troubling on so many levels, taste being the least of them.)

  10. Hey – talk with Cheryl. When I was first pregnant with Katie she really wanted a boy. All of her past experiences with small children were with boys. But, she is deeply and head over heels in love with Katie. And since you know my girls, Katie wants nothing to do with karate, running, kicking and all those other rough housing things. She wants ballet, pink and dresses along with babies and dolls. It warms the cockles of my heart to see Cheryl on the floor playing baby with Katie! Some day Cheryl will learn how to do a mean ponytail, I just know it. When they are your’s you know what to do with them that, I promise you. And again since you know my girls, you know there couldn’t be 2 more different girls in the world. It amazes me that they come from the same family!

  11. This was a great post, Art-Sweet! And I agree with everyone above who noted that it is great to raise boys who will respect women and be more sensitive than average. And we are totally NOT looking forward to the ‘mean girls’ stage that Hallie will inevitably enter into when she’s a teenager. I know that we’re pretty intent on giving her all the love in the world because of how she came into it right now, but I do wonder if we’ll feel the same way when she’s 14 and in that hormonal teenage stage. Not to mention that both of us are not at all sure how to handle styling her hair (when she gets some, which looks like it might still be pretty far off in the future…)

  12. You speak my fears! Exactly!

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