When my husband and I were pregnant with our second baby and found out we were having a baby girl we were over the moon. It meant we have one of each sex – a ‘pigeon pair’, as people say.
I never really stopped to think about whether having a girl would be different to having a boy. All I knew was that every baby is different, and I was hoping for a cruisy one considering I was already dealing with a very active 17 month old boy.
It wasn’t until our baby girl actually came along that I started to realise that we might approach her differently to our baby boy. I thought my husband would be a bit softer with her. She would become ‘Daddy’s little girl’.
That turned out to be true. However, he’s not the only one that’s different with her.
I’ve noticed that I also have a different and softer way of approaching her. Yes, of course we both have a huge soft spot for our son as well. But with her, there are some key differences. It’s not just in our language and manner – we also actually don’t have the willpower for the tough love that we might dish out to our son.
We’re in the middle of trying to get our daughter to go to sleep better at bedtime. During the day, she self settles very easily, but come 7pm it’s a different story (something I’m sure any mum has experienced - good old ‘witching hour’ hey!). The same happened with our son when he was her age. With him, we started ‘controlled crying’ and were more likely to let him grumble or cry for a little bit (as long as it didn’t escalate) and then settle. And it worked. He got over that hump and was a great sleeper.
Now, we’ve recently tried this with her. Repeatedly. The result? One of us caves A LOT earlier than we did with him. She ends up hanging on the couch or in the rocking chair with us until she falls asleep. It’s almost like with him we were a bit more prepared to approach his crying with a bit of “toughen up”.
And I guess that says something about the culture in which we live. In Australia we are big fans of teaching our boys to be ‘manly’. And manly tends to mean tough. My husband is, however, determined to teach our son that being a man also means showing emotion and we do talk to him about this from time to time.
When it comes to our girl, when we're speaking to her the language is different and our voices are softer. She’s our “little princess” whereas our son is our “buddy”. We use words like “pretty” and “beautiful” a lot more with her, whereas with him there was (and still is) a lot of “clever” and “smart”. Now that I’ve noticed this, it’s something we’re determined to change.
We’re, naturally, a lot more protective of her. When I think about what they’ll be like as teenagers, I know that our son will be able to handle himself. He’s already too smart for his own good. Her little personality is still developing, but it’s already clear that she’ll be the quietest and smallest one in the family. And those traits, along with being the baby girl, mean she’ll be fiercely protected.
I guess this raises the whole debate over what people are calling the gender-neutral parenting trend. Most of us were raised to believe things like blue is for boys and pink is for girls, and boys play with trucks while girls play with dolls. But some parents are taking the opposite approach to parenting by encourage their children to play with both "boy" and "girl" toys, keep clothing and room décor neutral, and avoiding stereotypes like Mum always doing the dishes.
I don't think we'll make a conscious effort to go that far. But realising these differences has been a good step in tweaking the way we parent each of them. Parenthood really is such a work in progress and not a day goes by where I don't learn something.
If you have more than one child, what differences have you noticed in how you parent each of them?