Thursday, 1 December 2011

Snakes and snails and puppy dog tails.

Is this what little boys are made of? Not according to their mothers of course. If you ask most mothers, little boys, just like little girls, are made of sugar and spice and all things nice and maybe, even possibly, with a layer of sweet frosting slathered on top.

I have been wondering whether mothers favour their sons more than their daughters and whether this is ultimately the reason for certain behavioural patterns that continue well into adulthood. Like what exactly? Well… like men leaving wet towels and clothes on the floor, snivelling and moaning with a cold as if on death’s door, avoiding housework and cleaning at all costs (because their mothers always did it for them)… and as for the women folk, well most women could easily be categorised as SUPERWOMEN: they are domestic goddesses, baking delectable delights, cleaning and tidying and organising, all this whilst getting a PHD in nagging. Why? Because this is exactly what our mothers’ did.

The big difference between then and now is that most women these days aren’t content to simply bring up the kids, bake a brownie and polish the silver. Most of us are also career women and we strive to be the best and do the best we can. By contrast, there are also many men out there who have become domestic gods in their own right. Not my husband mind, although luckily I have landed a man who was not mollycoddled by his mother and can- thank heavens- cook delicious meals, change nappies and do the housework. That said, he still prone to leaving towels and clothes strewn across the floor and collapsing into to bed every time he is afflicted by a cold. Perhaps some things will never change…. (Especially if I continue to pick things up after him and nurture his oh so terrible man flu).

A good friend of mine once said ‘women are their own worst enemy.’ We were living in Argentina at the time, land of frequent machismo, where women are often idealised as angelic homemakers or terrible vixens. My friend was referring to a male friend of hers and his overbearing, indulgent mother. Apparently, it was the mother’s fault that her son had turned out to be a complete philanderer. No woman was ever going to be good enough for him (in the eyes of the mother). I didn’t think much of it at the time but ten years later, as the mother of both a daughter and a son, I find myself going back to that moment and wondering, with a sick sense of dread, whether I am making the same mistakes as a truckload of mothers before me. Will I favour my son more than my daughter?

Right now it is probably too early to tell, my son is still a baby after all and yes he does get a massive amount of cuddles and kisses but largely because he is tiny and learning to walk, the recurrent bumps and falls and woes need to be reassured somehow. My daughter gets kisses and cuddles too, however, despite feeling like I am doling out equal amounts of love between my children, I have become aware of hard I can be on her.

I know I am not the only mother behaving this way; this topic has come up in conversation with many friends in recent months. A mother of a girl aged eight and a boy aged five, knew without any doubt that she was harder on her daughter than her son. She said it good naturedly and without any sense of guilt (or maybe she had dealt with the guilt already and was sticking with her parenting because she didn’t know any other way).

A few mothers have described how their daughters (usually first born) were less affectionate and loving than their sons. ‘Just you wait’ they said ‘little boys are so loving!’ But is this only because so many daughters can sense their mother’s disgruntlement and judgement, even from an early age? This disparity of affection has not been my experience, my daughter has always been warm and loving, gifting hugs and kisses with an overwhelming generosity. If anything, I have been the less generous one, too impatient with work and tiredness to reciprocate her tender demonstrations of love. My daughter always picks me up on this lack of affection or sympathy. Quite often, when she hurts herself or bursts into tears, I will bark at her impatiently. Will I do this to my son when he is older? Or will I mutter ‘there, there’ and kiss it better?

When I became pregnant with my daughter (aged 23) my mother told me, in no less subtle terms, that my life was over. And not because she was angry at my unplanned pregnancy but because, I soon realised, this was what she must have felt like when I was born. It was a bitter pill to swallow. I now know that she did not mean that having me was a mistake or that she had not loved me (far from the truth- she was a doting and loving parent) but that her life as she had known it was over, and that her future would hold nothing but domesticity and drudgery. She never got to study or work or live a life that didn’t involve catering to the every need of her children and my very non-domesticated father. Luckily most modern women have moved on from this trap of domesticity. And if not, then quite often it is because they themselves have chosen the housewife role (usually after working for years and hating every minute of it). For some women the arrival of motherhood is a blessing in more ways than one. They have chosen to be at home and to enjoy it.

These days I am fortunate to be able to divide my time evenly between home and work. My children have a mother who is very present and not at all distracted. But I have digressed from my original question: do I treat them both equally? The answer, quite honestly, is that I don’t know. I am aware of my tendency to expect great things from my daughter: fabulous behaviour, good manners, academic brilliance etc … I like to think that I will want the same things from my son but what if I don’t? What if I excuse his laziness, laugh at his messiness and applaud his womanising, all in the name of love? I shudder just thinking about it.

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