“Yes they are all mine… No, we didn’t keep going to get a girl… Yes, a girl would have been lovely… No, I wouldn’t change them for the world….” I’m getting quite good at saying these things now. These exact. Same. Things. Over and over. Mostly to complete strangers when they first discover that I am a mum of FOUR little boys. And people often accompany their questions with a look on their face which is a mixture of sympathy and respect usually reserved, I would imagine, for those who have survived some sort of cancer… or bereavement… or natural disaster. In fact, “natural disaster” could be the perfect way to describe how some might view carelessly ending up with not only FOUR children, but four MALE children! And yes, if I’m completely honest, I never thought that if we had four (we did plan to have four by the way. I know you’re curious) that not a single one would be a girl. If I’m being even more honest with you, I would have loved one. Yet here we are. So I’m going to level with you.
In my head, being a mummy was supposed to be full of laughter and fulfilment and wholesome activities like reading and baking and craft projects and finger painting. And do you know what? It is. It really, really is – a lot of the time, even if not all of the time. Well, maybe not the painting so much. That’s what nursery is for. Anyway, the point I’m making is that I totally appreciate that being a mummy is full of so many things that I wanted it to be, for which I feel truly blessed. But… here comes the” but…” it is also bereft of some of the things I had secretly hoped for. Although, I’m not really sure how conscious I was that I was in fact hoping for them until it became apparent with the birth of boy number 4 that I wasn’t going to get them. I guess I just assumed that being a mummy would include at least a few dresses, a smattering of pink and a couple of pigtails somewhere along the way.
Losing my own mum at 19 left me yearning for that mother-daughter relationship I was now lacking. Reflecting back on it, part of the process of healing after her death was the thought that I might one day know what it felt like to sit in that relationship again. But then I had boys, four of them. Boys, who are happy to share story books, as long as they can do so standing on their heads or whilst pretending to sit in a rocket going into outer space. Boys, who might engage in some craft activity, as long as it doesn’t take longer than about 10 minutes and they can run around with whatever they have made pretending to shoot each other afterwards. Boys, who can’t do anything quietly or delicately – my old doll’s house which I hoped to pass on remains in my dad’s loft. And it’s not because they are boys. It’s just because they would have broken it when they were really small and by the time they have been old enough not to, they have decided that playing dolls was not for them. Although I have one more shot with boy number 4 who is only 3 at present so could potentially prove a fan yet when he is a little older.
Whether you believe it’s by chance or design, the inescapable fact remains that I am a mum to boys; four grubby, boisterous, wind obsessed boys. Truthfully? I mean, really, really truthfully? Sometimes, that’s disappointing. Not that I’m disappointed with what I have. I mean, how could I be? My children are amazing and perfect and wonderful and full of life-giving, life-nurturing soul food for my journey. But sometimes, sticking with the honesty thing, I’m disappointed with what I DON’T have. No party dresses and tights and brushing long hair in the now. No girly shopping trips, mother-of-the-bride moments or hand holding through having their own babies in the future. Then there is the pain staking truth to accept, that one day, I will probably not be the most important woman in their lives any more. (Yes I know there are other possible scenarios but these are not relevant when you’re having an emotional outpouring of imagined probabilities!)
Whilst I’m not what some might call a typical “girly girl” (whatever that might be… but that’s a subject for a different post) I nevertheless see myself as someone more at home with sparkles than dirt, more drawn to making fairy cakes than mud pies and more able to engage with play acting “going to the hairdressers” than “rescuing the mutated alien from the grips of the evil ocean monster who needs to be wielding various weapons of mass destruction whilst making appropriate sound effects”. Suffice to say, this “boy stuff” doesn’t always come easy to me! And yes, I appreciate the gender stereotypes don’t always apply. For all the boys who like sofa diving, there are others who appreciate the quiet puzzle making on the living room floor. And for all the boys who are obsessed with bogies and bottoms, there are others who are quite happy to blow their noses without mentioning the glistening goo on their sleeve. And for all the boys who are loud and bouncy and fidgety there are others who like nothing more than sitting still with a good book. It’s just that I have not given birth to any of them! So whether my experiences really would be that different with girls I couldn’t tell you. Maybe it’s the genes we have passed on and nothing to do with gender at all! But I can’t help wonder. And I do have to admit that I sometimes fantasise about would it be like to have a world with leotards and ribbons and pretty clothes… well ANY clothes really… what IS the thing with boys and the need to be naked the whole frigging time?!
When I pictured family life before having children, I think I probably pictured (quite possibly in an incredibly sexist, stereotypical manner) that any boys would spend their Saturday mornings down the football or rugby pitch with daddy and me and the girls (in cute matching dresses probably) would do “bonding” over shopping and cakes…. And possibly hair braiding… Although anyone who knows my inability to cultivate a decent hairstyle on myself might reasonably doubt my abilities to do something acceptable for anyone else, especially a little wriggly “anyone else”, which perfectly exemplifies the predicament. My pipe dreams of how it was going to be when I had children are just that. They are dreams. The reality of actually having children is often out of kilter with the dreams we held on to prior to the real thing, regardless of gender specifics. For the record, none of my boys play football or rugby on a Saturday morning. And on the few occasions a little girl in my care has presented me with a bobble to put back in her hair, I have failed miserably
The reality check in parenting which comes to us all, can take the form of many things. Apart from gender disappointment, other surprise companions on my journey have included post natal depression, the mind numbing boringness of being a stay at home mum, parenting with a chronic illness and the idolising of small portable screens to buy myself 5 minutes – oh alright, 45 minute – peace. For others it might be the health of their children. Or the fact staying at home isn’t a financial option. Or maybe despite initial circumstances you now find yourself parenting alone. Or perhaps the daughter you envisaged in a tutu is more at home in a boxing ring – or vice versa. Whatever it is that is different to how you imagined it would be, I want to offer these miniscule insights from what I have learnt over the past 11 years of mummy-ing my boys :
1. Firstly, it’s O.K. It’s totally normal to have these mixed feelings when trying to align what we hoped for with what the reality is. They are allowed. Nothing is off-limits when it comes to our emotions. They don’t make you a bad parent. It’s not a deal breaker for the good parent awards. You are still good enough.
2. You are allowed to grieve for the unrealised dream. In fact, you MUST grieve in order to stay emotionally healthy. Bring it all into the light. In my experience, feelings left in the darkness of our souls find a way to hurt us more; valid grief can turn to bitterness, anger, doubt and self-pity if it doesn’t find a healthy route. Find someone you feel safe with to let it all out. Talk it out. Cry it out. Laugh it out. Run it out. Do what you need to. Just get it out! One of the things I do is to write. (Below is a poem I wrote about some of my feelings regarding all this not-having-a-daughter stuff. I’m a novice poet. But I find it helps. It also means that if you are reading this, you are part of my therapy by the way. Just so you know.)
3. BUT, ask yourself the deep, hard questions which are born out of the grief (or anger, or disappointment). Dig a little as to why you might be feeling the way you are. For me, clearly the loss of my own mum has a lot to do with how I feel about the lack of a daughter in my life. And since realising my emotional responses tell of a desire for what that kind of relationship brings, I have found great healing in lots of other places – In the company of wonderful female friends, many of whom “mother” me in various ways when needed, sometimes despite of, and sometime because of, their age; in the cherished moments with big sis, like the time we spent discovering the world of body sculpting underwear which was a solely woman-to-woman deal!; In the soaking up of wisdom and spirit from female authors, campaigners, bloggers and poets to nourish my soul for the female journey; And in the buying of “girly” presents for charities giving to children at Christmas, to meet my need to purchase pink plastic tat once a year! So asking the harder, more searching questions about why you might be feeling the way you do can light a pathway towards some action you can take and some healing you can find. Counselling is an excellent space for working some of these feelings and solutions through. But a good friend might be able to help as well.
4. At some point, we all need to let go of our ideals and pre-conceived ideas. The only task we have as parents is to parent the children we HAVE in the ACTUAL circumstances we are in. I have no obvious idea as to why I have four boys and someone else might have four girls, or a mixture. In much the same way that I don’t know why some become parents through giving birth and others only can through adoption, why some have healthy babies and others have poorly ones or why some wonderful parents end up having to do it alone when they hadn’t planned to. All I know is that the children we have are ours and they are a gift. In oh so many ways (and trust me, there are many) my experience of parenting is not quite like how I thought it would be, or even long for it to be at times. But I am so blessed. I have four beautiful, amazing, healthy and very different children. They all happen to be boys and don’t care too much for pretty dresses. It’s no biggie. I can buy the pretty dresses for friends’ daughters… or even for myself!
Do I sometimes still wish I had a little girl in my life? Yes, of course. But I have found ways to keep it all in perspective. I’m working on plans for my she-shed. When it is done you are all welcome. I promise not to try to braid your hair. But I might want to do nails and watch chick flicks… you in?
A Poem For A Daughter….
I’ll never hold you in my arms, or put ribbons in your hair
I’ll never plan your wedding day, or buy you pretty things to wear
I won’t spend hours with a nit comb, running through your lovely long mane
We won’t watch chick flicks together, or talk about period pains
I’ll never mend your broken heart, when boys start to let you down
Or reassure you about babies, and they’ll be no girly chats in town
No one will play with my doll’s house, as I did three decades ago
No Disney princesses, glitter pens or floaty dance costumes to sew
I’ll never have tights on the airer or leotards on the line
I’ll never paint your bedroom pink or spot the shoes you have on are mine
I would have really loved you, we could have had such fun
But I need to let you go now, because God has given me 4 sons!*
(*who are absolutely brilliantly awesome and fun and the best thing ever, but not the point of this poem!)