A month or two ago, I was talking with a friend who, like me, was also expecting the birth of his first son. (In his case, his first child.) He asked me if I thought that there would be any difference in raising a son and raising a daughter. I said no, I didn’t think so, and he laughed and remarked that another friend of ours, who himself has a daughter, said the exact opposite, that it would be totally different. And so I’ve been thinking about this, especially now that Oliver is tangible, I can hold him, kiss him *, change his diapers **, and so on. I’ve been trying to figure out if I was right or not, is there a difference between raising a daughter and raising a son? And if so, what is that difference?
As I think about it, I think I was both right and wrong, depending on how one nuances the question. I’ll start with my defense, why I told my friend that I didn’t think there would be a difference between raising a girl and raising a boy. In my mind, I was answering this question along the lines of want or desire. More specifically, if asked if I was more excited about having a boy than having a girl, as if now that we were having a boy it would be my turn to bat so to speak, then my answer was an emphatic “no!” I love having a little girl. I was excited when we found out we were pregnant with Avonlea, and I would have been excited had Donnette told me over the phone way back in June *** that we were having another one. I love being a dad to a little girl, I love our relationship, I love that everything to her is pink and bows and that we spend our evenings painting fingernails instead of blowing things up. I love being a dad to a little girl.
In fact, if it comes down to desire, I’ll confess to wanting another girl more than a little boy. If nothing else than from a purely pragmatic stance – everything we had before Oliver was pink! **** But more than that, I like having a little girl and would have been more than content to have had more. Donnette probably doesn’t want me to share this, but she really wanted girls, was thrilled we were having a girl the first time, and probably would have also been content to just keep on having girls. I say she wouldn’t want me to share that because she fears it casts her in a negative light, as if it makes her somehow discontent with God’s providence, but I disagree for several reasons. 1. Most of all, I think Donnette wanted girls because of the relationship she has with her mother and sister. The three of them really are best friends, her mother is with us now and her sister will be here tomorrow night, and I think that Donnette just wanted more of that. I fail to see how having a wonderful relationship with one’s mom, and wanting to reproduce that into the next generation is in any way a character fault. 2. Once again, pragmatically speaking, we were pretty well equipped to clothe a gaggle of little girls, and now we have to drag two different sets of baby clothes to France. 3. All this aside, if you see Donnette hold Oliver for one second then you know how much she loves him, what a great mother she already is and will be to him, and what kind of relationship she will have with him in the future. ***** In short, we would have been content with a whole lot of girls.
This has been on my mind more than a little lately, especially with the recent elections having come and gone. I heard often this election season that people with my political viewpoint ****** were out to wage a war against women. Time and time again I listened to how conservatives hated women, how we sought to return things back to the stone age/dark ages/ pre-1970’s – basically, sometime that isn’t the oh so progressive age in which we currently find ourselves. Given that no one at our secret meetings had given me my pick axe and torch, I was a little befuddled over what sort of war we were waging, until I quickly came to my senses and realized that this war was over abortion, and only over abortion, and that clearly, to oppose abortion was to hate women and to want to take away their rights. As recently as yesterday, I listened to Andrew Sullivan tell Terry Gross that the right to choose an abortion was the ultimate way to ensure a woman’s enfranchisement in America. The message, over and over again, is that to oppose abortion is to seek to disenfranchise women, to wage war against women, to HATE women.
There’s all sorts of hypocrisy that goes into this sort of message, and it takes all I’ve got to not spend another 1,000 words asking who really treats women better, Mitt Romney or Bill Clinton, but that isn’t the purpose of this blog, and I’m sure after such a long election season everyone’s tired of hearing about it anyways. But it’s been on my mind for a couple of different reasons lately. The first is because of a good friend of mine, whose political leanings are far more to the right than I will ever be. He may be to the right of Ron Paul on a couple of issues, which is to say, he is most certainly a conservative. And he has two girls, and he loves his girls. I remember calling him shortly after his first daughter was born, and asking him how it felt to be a dad to a little girl, and he said it was the best thing in the world, he couldn’t ask for more. His daughters are both older than mine, and it was partly by his example that made me so excited to get to be a dad to my own little girl. He’s just one example, but I can think of countless others, guys who are conservative, and are certainly opposed to abortion, and yet love their daughters, love them with their whole hearts, love them enough to keep having more of them, and wouldn’t trade one of them for all the sons in the world. It just rings to hollow, to hear about how conservative men hate women over and over again, given that the most conservative men I know love their wives and daughters better than anyone else I know.
But more to the point, I’ve been thinking about a recent visit by a missionary family to India that visited our church recently. This is, after all, a blog about missions, mostly about France but occasionally, about other places as well. Anyways, our church supports this couple, and so they were in our church to talk about their work in India. The husband is a pastor, about my age, and for his portion of the presentation he talked about the work they’re doing to plant churches in India, to train pastors in India, etc. But when his wife got up to speak, she talked about what it’s like to raise three daughters ******* in India.
Before I go any further, there’s a few things you need to know about India. Hang with me here, because I really am going to try a lot of thoughts together by the end of this paragraph. In India, as in many other places around the world, women/ girls are not valued in the same way that men are. I don’t understand the in’s and out’s of Hinduism, but apparently, one needs a son to cross the Ganges into the afterlife, and so to not have a son is a serious problem in India. Because of overpopulation and poverty, most Indians can only afford to have one, or at the most, two children. If one of these is a boy, then no problem. But, if one or both of these children are girls, well, it’s not so good. If a girl is born in India, especially if she already has a sister, there is a good chance that little girl is not going to live to see her first birthday. Oftentimes, she’ll just be put out on the street, or dumped in the trash, or thrown in the river, etc. The family needs a boy, they can’t afford another girl, and her life just isn’t that valuable. This used to be the most common ways to dispose of girls in India, but now, thanks to ultrasounds and abortions, little girls are often disposed of long before they are even born. It’s gotten so bad that in many parts of India, there simply won’t be any girls for all the boys to marry. ******** Back to these missionaries, as I listened to this woman/ wife/ mother talk about raising girls in India, I was struck by the profound simplicity of the gospel and the way it goes forward. Because for all the good that will come from planting churches in India, I would wager that the deepest impact of the gospel will be felt by those who see these Americans love their girls in the same way that is usually only reserved for boys in India. Something the wife said really struck me, she said that we don’t need a boy to carry us across the Ganges, all we need is found in Christ and because of Christ we can truly say that all are one in Christ Jesus, slave and free, Jew and Greek, and most importantly, male and female.
Is there a difference between boys and girls? Not in Christ’s eyes. At the cross, my little girl has the same standing as my little boy, no more no less. I feel like this is reflected in our prayers. Ever since we found out we were pregnant, we have prayed that Avonlea would come to know Jesus in a real and personal way. We’ve prayed that she would grow up strong and healthy, prayed that she would be smart and inquisitive, would love to learn and read. We’ve prayed she would love math. We’ve prayed that she would be gentle and humble and kind, that she would do justly by others and that she would love mercy. We’ve prayed that she would call out to God when she needed him and that there would never be a day in her life when she did not know his love. What changes with having a boy? As much as I can tell, just the pronouns. Is there a difference in raising a boy and a girl? Not in the deepest sense of the word.
Which isn’t to say that there isn’t a difference, a difference I felt as soon as I held my son for the first time. For two plus years, I’ve been the primary caretaker of our daughter. I get her up in the morning, I feed her, I get her dressed, I read to her, make her lunch, put her down for her nap, etc. To use Donnette’s words, I’m her person. And yet she is a girl, and likes to do things like her mom. She paints her toenails, pushes her dolls around in their stroller, she doesn’t like to get her hands dirty. She is simply not a little boy. ********* And Oliver is, even though right now he more resembles a very cute houseplant, he is a little boy, and will likely behave like a little boy. He may not follow every male stereotype, I don’t follow every male stereotype, but he’s still a boy and will likely act like a boy. And I’m guessing, in much the same way that Avonlea wants to be like her mommy, that Oliver will want to be like his daddy, which means that I need to be very careful as to what sort of man I become. ********** Even if this baby had been a girl, she likely wouldn’t have been exactly the same as her older sister, and Donnette and I would have needed to be aware and accommodating to those differences. But I think that, overall, the approach is the same for all our children, to point them to Jesus and the grand mysteries of the gospel in all that we say and do, trusting in God’s grace to make us good parents and to cover us when we’re not. Ultimately, I stand by my original position, with maybe one or two nuances.
Thank you all for your prayers.
**Even more often
***I was out-of-town on a mission trip when we found out we were going to have Oliver and not…it’s a good thing he wasn’t a girl, as we still don’t have another name picked out.
****I was talking to a friend just the other night who already has a couple of girls and is now expecting his third child. I asked him if he wanted a boy or a girl and he said that while his prayer has always just been for good health, at this point it would be far easier to just stick with double X’s.
*****Given our personality types, it’s very possible that Oliver, and not Avonlea, will share more of Donnette’s interests and affinities. You just never know how these sorts of things will work themselves out.
******Of all the ways I would want to have myself classified, my political views rank somewhere near the bottom. While I count myself a conservative, I am less and less inclined to call myself a capital “R” Republican, and would shutter at the thought of being forced to vote purely along that party line.
*******Soon to be four.
********I originally heard about this problem on NPR, and found it both humorous and sad at the same time that they couldn’t recognize the hypocrisy in supporting abortion here as a woman’s right, even while it is used around the world to exterminate entire populations of women. And lest anyone think I’m exaggerating in any way, here’s a link to the story http://m.npr.org/story/135417647
*********Recently, I bought her an action figure, because Donnette said I could, to see what she would do with it. She played with it for about 30 seconds, then put it in her toy chest and hasn’t touched it since.
**********Even now though, I want to say that the differences are minimal. Oliver will look to me to see what sort of man he should be, but Avonlea will look to me to see what she should expect from a man. Either way, my character is quite important.