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Stop Warning Me About My First Son

Photograph by Mary Sauer

"Oh, just you wait. You have no idea what you're getting into."

What I am getting into is the birth of my first son after two girls. And that warning is the same warning I have heard from countless strangers, mom friends and family members who have a certain idea about the difference between boys and girls.

Typically, while I nod and smile as they describe the chaos of raising young boys, I am nervously watching my 2-year-old daughter scale our furniture or clutching her wrist as she desperately makes an attempt to take off into a busy parking lot. I think that is what you call ironic.

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Sure, most people mean well with their predictions about my newborn son, but I find it annoying. Quite frankly, I don’t even believe there is any truth to the belief that boys are wilder than girls.

If they are wild and emotionally closed off, it is because they are fitting into a mold they are being crammed into.

For starters, I can’t help but assume this idea that boys are so much more active than girls is a part of a larger problem. Our societal expectations of how boys act versus how girls act are so deeply held that we continue to use it as predictors of boys' behavior—even before they are born. It isn’t just about hyperactivity, either. How often do we give our boys a free pass to misbehave, roughhouse or even struggle in school only to expect them to be less emotional, tough or to shed fewer tears when they skin a knee at the park?

It isn’t really surprising that so many believe boys have a limited capacity for feeling emotions or have made a habit of encouraging them to suppress the emotions they do feel. From an early age, it seems so many boys are pressured to pursue a linear path of masculinity. Cars and sports and bikes cover even the tiniest onesies. And of course, no one is really surprised when they holler and scream and climb furniture. Boys will be boys, after all.

But not my boy. I am simply not OK with that narrative. I am not comfortable with giving my child some kind of free pass for bad behavior. In fact, I believe that if any trend does exist in boys of being aggressive or hyperactive, it is a matter of nurture, not nature. If they are wild and emotionally closed off, it is because they are fitting into a mold they are being crammed into. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy, or a label placed on children by parents, educators or the community at large, that is internalized by children. Children's identities are shaped by others' expectations and limitations, which can fulfill gender stereotypes, as well as beliefs about race and class.

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That is why I wish people would stop warning me about my first boy. As parents, we don’t make a habit of forcing a specific stereotype on our daughters and we don’t plan to start doing that with our son. If he is wild, so be it, but it won’t be because of his gender, it will probably be because he has laid back parents and two sisters showing him the ropes.

Most mornings, I am pulled away from housework or cooking to referee my daughters’ daredevil antics or to plead with them, one more time, to please use their inside voices. I think their energy and adventure is fun, just so long as I can manage to keep them alive. But when I am warned about my future as a boy mom, I can’t help but roll my eyes. I'm looking forward to seeing who he is and I simply wish strangers would stop trying to decide for him.

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