One of my favorite pictures of my boys ever …
Last week at lacrosse practice with Jackson I was chatting with a gentleman who I hadn’t met before. His son is on the younger team, we were making small talk before practice started. As those conversations do, it wound its way to how many children we each had. And as has happened countless times in the last 18 years – I heard the same response to telling a stranger I have three boys.
“Cross your fingers and pray to God thank you that you don’t have any girls.
Boys are so much easier.”
This time, I stopped him as he crossed his own fingers and tipped his head back with closed eyes to implore me to thank my lucky stars that God did not give me a daughter. “Yes, I know. Girls are so much harder. I’m sure the 18 bones my middle son has broken was a piece of cake to handle compared to the life you live.” I couldn’t believe it came out of my mouth, actually. I often think it, the off handed comment he made is so, well, off handed, stock, basic and common that I usually handle it with much more grace. Having had a challenging day of parenting that day had put me in a feisty mood, I suppose. Stop freaking telling me this is easy.
Would you tell the teacher down the hallway “Be so happy you don’t teach 6th grade. It’s sooooo much harder than teaching 1st.”? Would you tell your coworker, “Be happy you don’t work on the left side of the hallway, the right side is so much easier!”. I have the same job title as you do, parent. Do not assume that my load is any lighter – or heavier – than yours is.
I have listened to insensitive comments like this for 18 years – since I found out I was pregnant I have been told I was a lucky one, I escaped the torture of raising a daughter, I dodged a bullet, I really have it easy. Seriously – people have said these things. Out loud. To me. In front of people. In front of their own daughters. In front of their daughters! Can you imagine what their precious little minds think when they hear the words come out of their daddy’s (or momma’s) mouth “Just thank God you don’t have any daughters.” It breaks my heart. I can hear some of you reading thinking right now, “Well, she doesn’t know what it’s like to have a daughter. She doesn’t know how much harder it is.” Just listen for a minute …
You are right. I don’t have a daughter (thus the title of my blog ;)). But I was a young daughter, I am an adult daughter. I was raised with both a sister and two brothers. We were all difficult in our own ways and at our own times. We pushed different limits and caused different dramas.
What I do have are three boys that I am trying to raise in a world that assumes that they will raise themselves after they become teenagers. In a world that assumes that they are easy, and that their counterparts are difficult, challenging. I am trying to raise them in a world where the truth is – they are more likely to die by suicide than girls. They are more likely to be in fatal car crashes than girls. They are more likely, by high school, to drink more frequently and more heavily and have more drinking problems than girls do. They are more likely to smoke marijuana and more likely to drop out of school. Throw in social media temptations, girls and enough testosterone to drown a cow and yep, you’re right. They’re easy.
I have had people tell me that at least I don’t have to worry about protecting my sons. That at least they can take care of themselves. Seriously? Do they hear themselves talking out loud and wonder not only what that says about our sons (are they really done needing parenting in their teenage years?) and what does that say about our daughters?! I’m not making this up, folks. People say these things. Repeatedly. Over and over. On a regular basis. To my face.
Stepping away from gender lines for a moment – the fact of the matter is that despite those statistics – and they are real – it’s not the sex that makes the child difficult. It’s not the sex that makes the child challenging. It’s their spirit. It’s their will. It’s their life circumstances and how they’ve been parented. Boy or girl, son or daughter. They all carry with them unique challenges. If you think raising a boy is easy – you aren’t paying enough attention.
Every family carries with it its own dynamic. It’s own culture. I get what people are trying to say – that raising a daughter through the pre-teen/middle school years is hard. It’s really hard. And it absolutely is. The drama and the friendship issues and the self confidence issues and the worries about sex and boys – it’s all hard. But guess what – our boys go through very similar problems. Aiden spent an entire year last year being left out of his friend group on a regular basis. He had a boy chew up his food and spit it in his lunch bag repeatedly. He was called fat and slow. His little heart hurt. He just didn’t talk about it easily. I had to be creative to get him to tell me what was going on. I had to hear the words beneath the answer of “How was school today?” He wasn’t being bullied – he was working through 6th grade. What I am saying is that there is no way for any of us to know how hard being a parent in their family is. What I am saying is that what is the purpose of even discussing whose harder to raise? That doesn’t help any of us. And it certainly doesn’t help our kids.
When my boys were young I kept a running list in my head of all the comments that people made about my little tribe. Like the lady at the grocery store who said, “Oh you poor soul. Not a pink one in the bunch.” (Granted the boys were doing flips on the railings of the register line and Aiden was climbing out of the grocery cart trying to stand on the hand rail all while I tried to check out). Or the lady at the park when the boys were little who sat holding her daughter as her two boys ran around the play ground with mine who said, “My daughter is my dream. She’s my dream. She’s all I ever wanted.” The look on my face gave away my disdain as she quickly added, “Oh the boys are my dream, too. She’s just really my dream.” No kidding exact words. I’ve never forgotten it. Or the waitress who said – on Mother’s Day no less – “I am so glad I don’t have any boys. I have three girls. Boys are so loud, messy and dirty. I just think they are kind of gross.” She said this in front of my boys. Cooper was old enough to ask, “Momma, why doesn’t she like boys?” To which I answered. “Because she’s stupid. That’s why.” Or my favorite, “Well you have three – why not try for four and see if you can get the brass ring.” Just stop.
I’ve let my list go – for the most part. I try not to focus on the outside comments coming in. And as the boys have gotten older and the challenges turned from physical work to the mental variety I haven’t had as much space to worry about those comments. Except, the one where they tell me it’s easy. It’s not easy. And it’s no harder than raising your daughters, either. I hate that when I ruminate on those comments that my mind goes to a different list I have stored away – on all the reasons that raising boys is harder! That’s not true – or good – either. As much as I hate to admit it – those words bruise me. They hurt my heart. On days when I allow it, they make me feel small and less important as a parent. I know that’s on me – and I’m working on that (one might think 18 years would be long enough). It’s up to me to decide how to react to what people say – but this one’s tough for me.
Words are powerful. They hurt, they teach, they empathize, they love, they irritate, they support. I have two women in my life that between them have four healthy sons. And three stillborn daughters. I see their faces flash in my mind every time I hear it – because I know well meaning strangers say the same words to them. We never know the boat someone else is in. I know I have said things that were meant to be funny – meant to bring a smile – that wounded someone in a way I could never understand or know. I know I will continue to hear how easy my boys are to raise until they have families of their own – and probably after. I am hoping to come up with a response that honors both my feelings and their lighthearted intention – I’m still working on it.