There is an alarming rise in the number of women who only want girls and who think boys are noisy, smelly creatures who cause chaos. But mother of four boys Ursula Hirschkorn wouldn’t have it any other way…
‘Boys are gross; they attack their siblings with sticks, are obsessed with toilets, casually murder local wildlife and turn into disgusting teenage boys and then boring, selfish men.’ This is a quote from an article published in a national newspaper entitled: ‘It’s taboo to admit it, but I wish my unborn baby wasn’t a beastly boy!’
You could dismiss this sentiment as typical tabloid fodder designed to garner controversy and boost sales and web traffic, if only it weren’t such an accurate reflection of how so many mothers secretly feel.
This article was published just weeks after an Irish mother of two young sons killed herself when she discovered she was expecting twin boys, so desperate was her longing for a girl. Clearly, this was an extreme case, and no doubt other factors were involved, but the overwhelming desire for a baby girl is depressingly common among women.
Melissa Hood, director of The Parent Practice, which runs regular Bringing Out The Best In Boys workshops, is familiar with this phenomenon. ‘Women prefer to have daughters because they can identify more readily with them, feel they’ll have common interests and want to dress them up as little girls,’ she says. ‘Little girls are thought of as very sweet and biddable. They tend to be quieter and will sit and play, whereas boys like to run around and make a mess.’
An acronym has been coined for those lucky mothers of all-female broods: SMOGs (smug mothers of girls), charmed mums who won the fertility lottery and will never have to trouble themselves with wild, boisterous, noisy creatures called boys.
I am in no way anti-girl, but I do feel that this outspoken promotion of the female is deeply sexist and does nothing to bolster the self-esteem of male children. Historically, girls may have had a rough deal, but it is now boys who are suffering. When it comes to education boys regularly underachieve compared to girls, men are also more prone to depression, are more likely to commit suicide and more at risk from violence.
The problem is that while the feminist movement quite rightly sought to address the inequality in society, the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction. ‘The drive for equal opportunities… encouraged people to see children rather than boys and girls,’ says Lucinda Neall, education expert and author of About Our Boys: A Practical Guide To Bringing Out The Best In Boys. ‘This had the unintended consequence, particularly in schools, of children being subconsciously divided into easy children – compliant, tidy, neat, like to write and draw, polite, want to please (typically more female traits) – and difficult children – energetic, loud, find it hard to sit and listen, untidy, prefer talking to writing, want to know the point of things (typically more male traits).’
Things that were once prized in boys are now despised, which is why boys get such a bad press nowadays. Dr Michael Thompson, author of Speaking Of Boys: Answers To The Most-asked Questions About Raising Sons, concurs. ‘Because of the legacy of the Women’s Movement, it is often more difficult to celebrate what is “boy”, because it seems to be anti-girl,’ he says.
The answer is to learn how to celebrate what it is to be a boy, to show mothers the joy of having sons, even though it’s not always easy. As the mother of four young sons, so far I have found that bringing up boys is rewarding, fun, enjoyable and filled with affection, although it’s always good to have some tips on how to get the best for and from your sons.
‘If boys are left to grow up wild then they will be, so boys need parents to coach them,’ says Ian Grant, author of Growing Great Boys: 100s Of Practical Strategies For Bringing Out The Best In Your Son. ‘They need to know you’re in charge, and that there are rules that will be enforced fairly.’
Burning off excess energy is also a key to keeping boys happy. I have a friend who says boys are like dogs and need to be walked twice a day come rain or shine, and I think she’s onto something! Grant suggests that even the least sporty boy should play a team sport to learn the values of listening to the coach, winning and losing gracefully, how to be a team player and how to play by the rules.
‘Boys’ energy needs to be recognised, welcomed and channelled rather than being seen as something to be disapproved of or suppressed, so plan this into your schedule, lifestyle and household,’ says Neall. In my case I took up running and encouraged my boys to join me. Now the eldest has joined my running club and they all love racing Mummy in the park. They have even pledged to run the London Marathon with me when they are old enough after watching me complete it last year. Who says mothers can’t share common interests with their sons?
But boys don’t only enjoy stereotypically male activities. ‘Boys can be very caring [and you should] bring out their caring side by allowing them to help with cooking and housework,’ says Neall. Again, she is spot on as all four of my sons love to cook and even to wield the Hoover and load the washing machine. You don’t have to have a daughter to have a cosy, domestic life.
It is up to all mothers of boys to become cheerleaders for our sons. We need to show everyone that while boys might be noisy, messy and, yes, obsessed with sticks and toilet activities, they are also loving, affectionate, funny, loyal, helpful and every bit as desirable as a baby girl.