7 perks of having a boy
A 19th century nursery rhyme may claim that boys are made of “snips and snails and puppy dog tails,” but ask any mom or dad of a boy and they’ll tell you: That hardly scratches the surface of what it means to be a little boy. (Also, what does that even mean?!) While many little boys like digging in the dirt and rough and tumble play — just like many little girls — parents are now hip to the fact that being a “boy parent” doesn’t always mean an endless stream of sports, video games and toilet humor. And more importantly, they now know that challenging these tired stigmas starts at home.
“Children typically have a sense of their gender identity by the time they reach the age of 4,” says Melissa Horowitz, L.M.S.W., of Liz Morrison Therapy in New York City. “However, parents can and should encourage open development of gender identity throughout childhood. It is important for parents to avoid treating their sons in stereotypical ways because doing so suppresses them from being their genuine and natural self.”
According to Horowitz, children develop their sense of self, others and the world through communication and other means of expression in their environment — and parents only have control of so much. For instance, you may not be able to constantly monitor your son’s media consumption (which, less face it, is rife with stereotypes of what it means to be a man), but you can reinforce positive messages at home.
“Parents are important adults who can change the language and encourage dialogue around gender so their kids can develop a healthier and well-rounded sense of self,” she says.
Having a baby boy? Congratulations! Boys are awesome! Here are seven perks, according to moms and experts, of having a son, along with some tips for raising a truly wonderful little dude.
1. You learn that boys do cry
Whether you grew up with sensitive male figures in your life or not, it’s impossible to completely avoid the stigma that boys are supposed to be stoic, strong and less “emotional” than girls. It’s just that, though: a stigma. Boys most certainly do have feelings, and it’s important for parents not only to acknowledge them, but to talk about them and encourage their sons to do the same.
“Parents can help their sons cultivate sensitivity by encouraging them to express their emotions and teaching them about the many complex feelings we experience as humans,” says Horowitz. “It’s also important parents speak openly with their kids about challenging societal gender-stereotyped emotions associated with femininity, including fear, anxiety, sadness and sensitivity, and emotions associated with masculinity, including strength, fearlessness and aggression.”
According to Horowitz, engaging in such a dialogue can help boys understand that they can experience a wide variety of emotions that are not gender-based.
Another way parents can help their sons be in tune with their feelings, as well as to those of others is to act in such a way themselves.
“A key way parents can encourage sensitivity in their sons is by modeling empathetic behavior,” says Horowitz. “For example, a son can observe his mother or father communicating to each other using appropriate language and speaking with respect.”
2. You learn that toys are toys
Trucks for boys and baby dolls for girls? Not so much. While advertisers still market certain toys to one gender or another, most parents know that in the world of kids, toys aren’t gender-specific.
“When my son hit 2 1/2, he became obsessed with playing with his older sister’s ‘baby stuff,’” says mom of two Rachel Friedman, of New York City. “He used to love putting the little dolls under blankets and giving them their ‘bottles.’ It was adorable! And when he eventually got a train set for his birthday, my daughter enjoyed it just as much as he did! I was sorry I hadn’t gotten one for her sooner.”
In addition to having your son play with toys that are traditionally geared towards girls, Horowitz recommends having “neutral” toys and activities in your home, regardless of your child’s sex.
“Whether you have a son or a daughter, be sure to have dolls, cars, blocks and books and puzzles that offer diversity and represent diverse gender roles, such as female police officers and male nurses,” she says. “Additionally, give boys a say in their appearances and activities — don’t force stereotypes on them. Let them choose their clothing and hairstyle, as well as the play groups and sports in which they participate.”
3. You get to help shape a well-rounded, sensitive, respectful man
Just as parents should foster strength and assertiveness in girls, they should help cultivate sensitivity and respect in their sons. By doing this, they’re laying the groundwork for someone who’s well-rounded, sensitive, respectful (to himself and others) and who knows it’s perfectly healthy to hug their best bud or tell their dad “I love you.”
“Show love and sensitivity to your son,” says Tovah Klein, Ph.D., director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development and author of “How Toddlers Thrive.” “Boys need to be hugged and cuddled as much as girls — even when they’re older! And they need to know that all feelings are OK. Children learn to be sensitive to the feelings of others when they are treated in a caring and sensitive way. One way to do this is by labeling your son’s feelings. Say, ‘You are sad that daddy left. He will be back soon, and it’s OK that you’re sad.’”
And when it comes to raising a person who’s respectful and who believes in equality, Horowitz advises modeling the behavior you want your son to have at home.
“When boys see women being valued, treated equally and with respect, they are more likely to also treat women in the same manner,” says Horowitz. “And if you want your son to pull his weight at home when he’s older — make sure everyone is pitching in at your home with men and women equally participating in all household chores.”
4. Your expectations and beliefs are challenged
No matter your values, there’s a pretty good chance you had some sort of expectation when you found out you were having a son (or daughter). Whether these expectations stemmed from deeply ingrained childhood beliefs or observation (“My nephew’s wild, so obviously all boys are maniacs!”), few things will challenge everything you thought you knew about kids quite like having one of your own.
“When parents recognize that their child's sex is only one small part of who they are, they’re countering the tired stigmas,” says Klein. “There is a great range of variability between all children and whether they are a girl or boy has little to do with how they behave or feel. You can treat boys with the same nurturance and care that you would with girls. You can give your son the message that all feelings are OK, everyone cries sometimes, and that if they cry, mommy or daddy will take care of them. Be thoughtful with your thinking. Ask yourself: ‘Do I really think boys are more wild/aggressive/etc.? What can I do to change my own thinking?'”
5. You can better understand your partner (or dad or brother or friend)
Having a boy may give you better insight into the males in your life and how they grew up, even if you’re raising your child differently.
“Sometimes when I see my sons crying or upset, I’ll feel this nagging pressure to tell them something along the lines of ‘get over it,’” says mom of two Michelle Stumbers, of Cranford, New Jersey. “Why should they, though? They’re upset! These occasional urges have made me realize, and be more empathetic to, the pressure men — including my husband — are under to be strong and constantly have it together.”
6. You have the opportunity to nurture a tight bond
Think boys are only besties with their dads and girls with their moms? Think again. Regardless of your child’s sex, you can enjoy a fun, fulfilling relationship and a strong, lifelong bond.
“Not gonna lie, I was a little disappointed when I found out I was having a boy again,” says mom of two Lindsay Cunningham, of White Plains, New York. “I had visions of being buddies with a little girl. Now, though, I don’t feel like I’m missing out anything. I’m just as close — if not more — with my boys as some of my friends are with their daughters. I have no doubt I have two lifelong buddies with my sons.”
7. Diapers are easier
Sometimes, having a boy doesn’t necessarily mean challenging gender stereotypes or fostering sensitivity or ensuring equality between men and women. Sometimes, it’s just about the poop.
“My favorite thing about having a baby boy? The diapers,” says mom of three Kayla Roozen, of Freehold, New Jersey. “Changing a baby boy’s diaper — particularly when it’s number two — is so much easier than changing a baby girl’s.”