I've refrained from writing a post about what it is like being a mom to boys, but I suppose with our fourth boy on the way, it is long overdue. I love being the mother to my children and I love my children with all my heart. Right now, I view them as my children. Yes, I call them "boys" when I am addressing them or talking about them, "Boys, we need to take turns," "Boys, you did a great job following instructions at the doctor's office," "Boys, it is time to go!" "I was out today with our boys..." But I do not-- ever-- use it to corner them into a gender role. "Son, you need to toughen up," "Son, you need to stop crying like a girl," or, my absolute least favorite expression ever, "Boys will be boys."
Why does it bother me so much hearing "boys will be boys?" Because, in my experience, people do not use that expression in regards to positive behavior demonstrated by my children. When one of our toddlers steals a toy from the other toddler and he lashes out in anger, ending up with both toddlers hanging on to either end of a toy and screaming, I hear, "Oh, boys will be boys!"
When I am out shopping at Target and our children throw a fit wanting to go down the Matchbox car aisle, screaming over some toy they recently saw advertised on television, I hear, "Boys will be boys!" chuckled by some stranger walking by.
When one of our children dressed head to toe in a pirate outfit picks up a stick that he then labels a sword and begins hitting his brother with it, I hear, "Boys will be boys!"
It makes me mad. We have had many playdates where little girls wrestled for a toy with one of our boys. I've seen many little girls throwing fits in the toy department at Target. Our boys have been hit, kicked, and bitten on many playdates with little girls (and before any one says biting is only done by girls, our oldest was attacked by a male preschooler dubbed a "biter" at our drop-in childcare and we've had many biting incidents between all of our boys).
I'm not in denial that little boys and little girls develop differently-- mentally or physically. I'm not saying they don't have different interests. Our little boys all have baby dolls and babies that they take care of but these baby dolls often become equipped with super powers or become weapons to hit each other with. One of our toddlers has a baby dinosaur that has always remained a baby-- he gets very upset if you are rough with his baby dinosaur-- but if you pet it, he will make it bite you and roar a fierce roar. Even that baby has a wild streak. Maybe little girls play this way. I don't know, having never raised little girls, but I remember being a little girl and remember all the games we used to play with our baby dolls. Some games were wild and crazy, some were sweet and maternal. I feel our boys play similarly. I hear them in there feeding and napping baby dolls. I hear their baby dolls fighting super villains. It all depends on the game they are playing.
There are things that frustrate me when shopping at big box stores being a mom of boys. It is really hard to find a gender neutral doll stroller or baby doll carrier. All our boys have asked for one at one point or another and I can't bring myself to buy the hot pink doll strollers. Why do all the doll strollers have to scream "THIS IS FOR A GIRL"? Our oldest is old enough to know that these types of toys were marketed for girls. Play kitchens are another thing that are hard to get gender neutral. There are a lot of pink play kitchens out there (play kitchens at Toys'R'Us). You can find several online, but, in stores, the gender neutral kitchens tend to cost more than the pink ones every store carries. (We ended up buying the Fisher Price Servin' Surprises Kitchen and Table and have loved it.) Funny since being a chef is such a male dominated profession... Our boys love Doc McStuffins. Have you looked at her retail products (Doc McStuffins at the Disney Store)? I get she's targeted towards little girls pursuing their dreams and not being restrained in another male dominated field, but it is a lot easier, again, to buy pink doctor's kits than gender neutral or boy doctor's kits (doctor's kits at Toys'R'Us). I wish I could buy these things more easily and so it would be less of a statement. No one questions our Fisher Price kitchen, but they feel I'm making radical parenting decisions when they see our toddler carrying around his "Disney book," a Disney princess notepad he insists on bringing everywhere and "reading."
Even more offensive to me are the "funny" t-shirts geared towards little boys. I saw a blue onesie at a Party City that said, "Hide your daughters" or "Lock up your daughters." Really? That's appropriate for an infant? We even own several well-meaning boys' shirts, "Tough like Dad" or the Osh Kosh graphic t-shirts. Not saying those shirts are bad, but they further promote the gender stereotype that because you are a boy you are automatically this rough and tumble dirt magnet.
I don't believe in the extreme, like keeping a child's gender hidden (read about the Canadian couple who did just that). I've also heard of families that believe in allowing their children to choose any clothes and toys they like. For instance, taking their son shopping and allowing him to wander the girls' and boys' department picking out things he likes, regardless of the gender it is marketed for. Our boys threw a huge fit when we bought them blue boat shoes instead of the pink sequined boat shoes. While I am not going to buy our two-year old sons pink sequined boat shoes based on their whim, I also don't believe gender shaming is the correct way to explain my reasoning, such as, "You are a boy. You don't wear pink GIRL shoes!" We simply told them we had picked out which shoes we were buying. And, no, we haven't bought our boys Barbie dolls or anything along those lines, though we have bought them boy Manhattan Toy Baby Stella Dolls.
We have had many playdates with many boys and girls. I have heard from many mothers of girls, "Your boys are so well-behaved! We have playdates with other boys and they spend the whole time running and hitting." I'm not saying our boys don't run and hit and the mothers of girls aren't saying their girls don't ever run and hit, but-- I've seen it too-- many mothers of boys don't discourage this behavior. Why is it acceptable for your children to play tag or sword fight in someone else's home? Why is it acceptable for your children to wrestle in someone else's living room? We've had little girls sprint into our house and start jumping on our couch for their mothers to come in and tell them they needed to get down. We've had little boys sprint into our house and start jumping on our couch for their mothers to shrug and say, "Boys will be boys!" My couch doesn't distinguish between a little girl or a little boy jumping across it wearing shoes. It bothers me, from the stand point of a grown woman living in this male dominated world, that even from the beginning we as women are allowing our boys a pass on good behavior due to their gender. "Don't worry about being polite in someone else's home. You are a boy and can behave how you feel in the moment."
It makes me cringe when people tell me, "You are lucky you are only going to have boys. You won't have to go through [x, y, and z of female behavior]." Good Lord, if my parents ever told me those words while I was growing up, who would I be today? Would I feel that I have the freedom to make choices that suit our family? Would I have the confidence to put my career goals on hold for the time being to support my husband at this point in his career? Would I have the patience to spend these years working in our home, homeschooling our boys and raising them to be young men after God's heart? Would I be able to hold my own at dinner parties when I hear educated women pursuing their careers brush me off when they find out I'm a stay-at-home mother? Would I know in my heart the importance of continuing my education as a I balance family life and my own dreams? Would I continue to write day after day, read as often as I do, discuss my own hopes and dreams with my children*, their daddy's hopes and dreams, and encourage them to discuss and pursue their own hopes and dreams? Would I believe-- really and truly-- that one person can make a difference in this world? I don't know. Thankfully my parents never said those things to me and my sisters. They never made us feel lesser as females. They never made us feel like we couldn't or shouldn't or will never. They never made us feel there is one path we must walk down. They encouraged our individuality. We all rebelled in our own ways and they stuck by us throughout and encouraged us to learn from our mistakes, to discuss what we learned, to embrace ourselves for who we are as individuals-- not for gender stereotypes.
(*Note: I discuss my hopes and dreams with my husband and he with me. We feel it is also important for our children to see their parents pursuing their goals and supporting each other in that.)
And, yes, I believe men grow up and generally interact differently with their parents than women do, especially in regards to the mother/daughter relationship. Every day as I parent my children I understand more and more what it was like for my mother raising the four of us. Every day I am more and more thankful for her love, sacrifice, patience, and the lessons and morals she instilled in us. I find myself often looking back to my own childhood for guidance when faced with a difficult parenting dilemma. I'm quick to tell my children I'm sorry. I'm quick to hug them when they have made a mistake and I listen when they explain to me what they did wrong and the lessons they feel they learned from that mistake. I make the time to listen to them. I am joyful in my relationship with them. Some days are never ending and emotionally/physically exhausting, but I put in the hard work with my eye on the end goal: the example given to me from my own parents. I see the people my parents raised and want to walk down that road, sometimes taking the lessons I learned from them and applying them in a way that works better for our own family situation. And I do mourn that I will never have the relationship that I have with my own mother (read "Four boys"), but I know that one day my sons will have spouses or partners that will become family to us, just as my husband and my brother-in-law have become family to us. (I could have that mother/daughter relationship with my daughter-in-law!)
We want our boys to have the confidence to become the men that God desires them to be. We want our boys to have the self-assurance to take the hard road, the less traveled road, the road that is right for them. We want our boys to know that their parents support them 100%, no matter what, that wherever life takes them we are at home with arms wide open. We want our boys to grow up with dreams, reachable and unreachable, and a list of goals they are constantly adding to. We want them to be passionate about life and sure of what they believe in. We want them to grow up with a strong support system at home, from their parents and from their siblings. We want them to feel God's presence in their lives. We want them to know that their parents are not perfect, but constantly humbling themselves before God to be the parents he wants us to be to each of our children, striving for what is best for our children-- not the easiest or the most popular, and showing them love every day in all things. Right now our boys are young. Our oldest is 5 and a half years old. Our twin toddlers are going to be 3 in a few short weeks. Our fourth is due early this summer. I know our focus on parenting is much different than a parent of even middle-schoolers; I'm sure our priorities will shift as they grow, becoming adolescent boys. Our focus right now is about our letting our children be children. We want to give them the space and time to be bored and explore their creativity. We want to nurture creative play and pretend play. We want them to be active. We want to cheer for them (read "Marthas and Marys"). We want them to learn manners and how to function in society.
I love Rage Against the Minivan's recent post, "I don't want to #banbossy. But I will #affirmassertive." To her post I say yes, yes, yes! As a woman, I feel it is important for our boys to grow up learning to respect all people for who they are as individuals and not treating someone differently based on their gender, just as we don't treat anyone differently based on their race. I hear a lot of words thrown around at infants, toddlers, and preschoolers based solely on their gender (by women, no less!), "We were late because Miss Priss couldn't find the perfect pair of shoes and threw a diva fit. The female hormones start early! You are lucky to have all boys." "Girls and boys are so different; you don't even know. He was such a good baby. You are lucky to have all boys because she's been demanding since she was a newborn." "She is such a little momma, always wanting to play with the new baby, but he doesn't even notice the baby. He's too busy being all boy." I know these mommas don't mean anything hurtful by these comments, but our boys have ears (and their boys have ears). To the moms with two children, a girl and a boy, I would like to say that all three of our boys have different personalities and have been easier/harder than each other at various points (teething, nap schedule, bathtime, feeding, etc), and all of them are the same gender. Our boys are sensitive and assertive in various areas; they all have different strengths and weaknesses. One will cry when he feels embarrassed or shy. One will cry (and cry and cry and cry) if he sees a bruise or a single drop of blood anywhere on his body. One throws a fit if his hands or clothes are dirty. One can play outside for hours. One can cuddle with you for hours. One wants to hold your hand if he feels scared. One wants to hold his brother's hand if he feels scared. One will change his clothes 3 or 4 times a day, putting on a new outfit for each activity he is doing. One will wear the same outfit day after day unless we make him change. One loves rainboots and wears them with everything. One loves all shoes and tries raiding my closet, his dad's closet, and both his brothers' closets for shoes. One hates bathing. One loves bathing. One only wants to take showers. They are different. They are different people with different tastes. They may all like something. They may all dislike something. But it is not just because they are boys. And we would really like for our boys to have interactions with other children who are treated as individuals as well, not hear how their little friend is bossy because she is a girl or that it is okay to throw sand in someone's face because he is a boy.
So if you have a friend who is pregnant with her second boy or fourth boy, tell her, "Congratulations!" (and maybe read this blog post by Scary Mommy, "Things Not to Say to a Mom Expecting Another Boy"). When you have a playdate with a mom of all boys, don't say "Boys will be boys" or "He is all boy, isn't he?" Tell her, "It is fun getting our kids together!" Don't talk down your little girls to our little boys or excuse our boys' behavior with their gender. If you have a house rule that you have playdates follow, you can gently tell the mom, "Would you mind asking them not to sword fight in here? They could take that in the backyard or playroom though!"
Maybe I'm overzealous on this subject. I don't want our twins defined by their birth either (read "Identical brothers") and I love when all moms support each other, whether it is a mom of one or a mom of multiples (read "We are moms"). As the mother to these boys-- these three, almost four, people-- that God has given my husband and I, I am confident we are doing what is best for us, which, really is what parenting is all about.