Bn the moment we left the hospital 34 hours after the birth of my son Jules on July 14, two nurses had commented on the strength of his suction, four friends had written us a version of “Finally, you have your boy!” And even my obstetrician wife had commented favorably on the size of his penis. (If you have to know, it had to do with the forceps he used during his circumcision in the hospital.)
I had already had two daughters, but having a son immediately launched me into new parenting territory. On the phone between breastfeeding sessions, I told a friend how balanced I felt about the early postpartum days with the girls, which I remember as a hormonal roller coaster of crying happily at Goodnight Moon. , screaming furiously at my husband for forgetting diapers, and how I could crush my baby with my huge new breast – all within an hour.
“When you carry a boy, there are higher levels of testosterone in your body,” she said. This explanation struck me as so clearly wrong that I researched it and quickly confirmed it as an unscientific and misogynistic dreck. My friend is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate from Harvard. If such a dubious theory had escaped its usually rock-solid bullshit detector, how much did it slip past the less thoughtful of us?
Surely that was just the beginning of what Jules would hear as a man in our society, the same kind of comments that probably helped make his father insanely overconfident – as so confident that he once decided to handle the grill during a barbecue outside of service hours during Michelin Star Chefs. It can be an attractive, albeit confusing, personality trait. And while I am grateful that the only thing my son is internalizing right now is breast milk, it will only be a matter of time before he begins to understand the high stature of his gender.
When I broached the subject with friends who had older daughters and younger boys, I heard variations on a theme: even at an age when a baby’s gender is about as noticeable as his little finger, and even at an age where #metoo and similar movements have put misogyny in the spotlight, everyone had shown a very real preference for their sons.
“My stepdad” likes “only the photos in our shared family feed that feature our boy,” one told me. “The language we use – he is the heir, he has the surname – those images of masculinity when they’re so small, it’s really scary.
“We also got a big penis comment on day one,” emailed another, who noted the large number of people who have complimented her husband for finally “getting her son.”
But I also found a silver lining in our older girl / younger boy triad.
One night before bedtime, Charlotte, my two-year-old daughter, stopped to ‘punch’ her little brother – her version of burping, which involves a shallow kick somewhere near her back, the more often his ear – before asking that we “build a castle for baby Jules”.
As I watched my daughters’ multi-colored Magna-Tile structure rise higher and higher around their brother, I wondered if this was the key to raising a good son: having him literally surrounded by castles. built by his two sisters, strong, wiser, and older – though he occasionally received a tile in his face.
And when I spoke to Dr. Susan M McHale – professor of human development and family studies at Penn State University, who studies sibling dynamics – she made it so much. Girls, she told me, tend to be more relationship-oriented.
“As the girls behave better, their younger siblings are going to see this as a role model and want to copy,” she said. Conversely, some studies have shown that brother-in-law dyads lead to an increase in risky behaviors in the younger one, perhaps because the older one serves as a gateway for spending time with older peers and behaviors. delinquents. McHale strongly believes that sibling relationships are unique and extremely important, although they are often the least studied. “The amount of literature is much smaller on siblings, even though it’s the most enduring relationship in people’s lives,” she said.
How things play out largely depends, she warned, on parents: whether they favor one child over another, or whether they have higher or lower expectations. Learning to praise each child’s strengths goes a long way towards equity. But when I told McHale that I had hope that Jules was, by chance alone, in a privileged position to end up with a well-adjusted view of gender roles, she offered a very unscientific example.
“My own brother had three sisters, and he’s a fabulous husband and father,” she said. “Her sisters take all the credit. “
So much for hope.