Sunday, November 15, 2015

Zero Things I've Learned from Raising One Three-Year-Old Child with a Penis

It seems every few weeks an article titled something like "11 Things Only Parents of Boys Understand" pops up in my Facebook feed. These articles are often written by otherwise progressive people who for some reason don't see the problem with attributing their children's actions to their genitalia.

And, inevitably, I read these articles (why?!) only to find that I can relate to, at most, one or two items on the list. Yes, Jack loves Star Wars (mostly because I taught him to). But no, he doesn't give better hugs than girls (and why is that a competition, anyway?) or constantly want to wrestle. He loves to sit still and read one book after another--even chapter books--and he's only three. He loves to draw, sometimes for half an hour or more without stopping. Maybe he's the exception. Or maybe the world is full of exceptions and we should stop trying to make rules.

Raising one child (or even two or three) of one sex does not give anyone any special knowledge about all children of that sex. Jack is one special, wonderful little person, but he is an individual, and I have learned nothing from raising him that I can apply to all boys. If I based all my knowledge of boys on Jack, I would think they were all picky eaters who like to sing songs full of nonsense words and sleep on the wrong end of the bed. 

I think people feel compelled to write these articles for a couple of reasons (assuming they are not really into maintaining traditional gender roles for the sake of humanity). First, they are a little surprised when their children fit so well into the stereotypes they were once reluctant to accept. Second, when the parents are women who really wanted a girl or men who really wanted a boy, they feel the need to convince themselves that having the opposite of what they wanted is actually great--or even better than what they originally dreamed of.

I understand these urges. I'll admit, when I imagined having a baby, I always imagined having a girl. I felt like I understood girls better than boys. And why not? I used to be a little girl. But what I found was that Jack ended up being so much like me in temperament and personality that I had little trouble understanding him. It didn't matter that he was a boy.

Being in school has introduced Jack to the idea that he belongs to a certain gender called "boy," and he is very enthusiastic about identifying with this group. It's an instinct we all have--we gravitate toward the people that we understand to be most like us. It always surprises me, though, how many adults have not learned to move past this basic instinct. They automatically put Jack into a category because he has a penis, even though he doesn't fit into that category very well. I can't stop them from doing it. The best I can do is keep teaching Jack that he can love dancing and reading and art and Star Wars and soccer and dinosaurs and those things don't belong to either gender. They belong to everyone.

Coming up: Will I finish Strong Mothers, Strong Sons before it sucks the life force out of me? Will I manage to post more than one thing next week? Find out next time on Oh, The Iron Man.

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