Monday, February 10, 2014

Should We "Dread" Our Children's Growing Up?

The other day, I wrote a post delving into my feelings about having only boys. It was very popular and got a very positive response, but talking about it with some friends got me thinking a bit more.

In that previous post, I wrote that I sometimes joke about my relief that I won't have to experience the girl tween years, or puberty, or uniquely feminine drama. A few days later, I met up with a friend who has a toddler daughter, and we talked about how she is dreading those years. We laughed about how with boys, they get angry, they punch each other, and it's done with, whereas girls let things simmer and hold grudges. The day after having this conversation, I met a woman who said her grandmother had four boys but really wanted a daughter, tried one more time, and the fifth was a girl. I have encounters like that a lot. Somehow, when I had just two boys, it wasn't cause for comment, since having two kids is pretty average, and you just got lucky to have two of the same gender. If you have three, you start getting the question, "Were you trying for a girl?" as if somehow your family isn't complete unless you have at least one of each. But once you hit four, people are certain that you've "kept going" because you're "trying for the girl" and that you will keep going because you desire that daughter so strongly. Is it the same for parents with four girls? Do they get strangers asking if they're "trying for the boy?" I don't know. I imagine so. (Any parents of three-plus girls want to weigh in?) I usually just say that my husband and I wanted four kids, and this was just the luck of the draw in terms of sex. We weren't "trying" for anything, except "trying" to have four kids.

I keep going back in my mind to the idea of "dreading" a certain stage, though. I looked up the word "dread." It means: "anticipate with great apprehension or fear." And I don't like that wording. We should "dread" getting a diagnosis of a terrible disease (G-d forbid!). We should "dread" a terrible earthquake (or another winter like those of you on the East Coast of the US are having) - G-d forbid! We "dread" inevitable sadnesses or tragedies, like the death of close loved ones.

But "dreading" our children growing up and entering new phases? That doesn't seem right. Our children growing and maturing and attaining new facets of their personalities, new skills, new expectations, a new outlook on life - these are not things to be afraid of. These are causes for joy! This means we're doing something right! Our children are alive, thriving, opening up to new experiences and ideas.

Sure, there are phases that are more stressful than others. I imagine nine-year-old girls give their parents plenty of stressful moments. There are questions we're concerned we won't be able to answer, problems we hope they won't have to face (but probably will), traumas and difficult times we don't want them to have to go through (but they probably will). And we can anticipate how we'll address their worries when they come up, how we'll respond to their misbehavior, how we'll guide and direct them as they grow. But to "dread" the inevitable growing-up of our beloved children? I'm not sure that's the right word to use.

Some parents "dread" the day their child asks where babies come from, or they "dread" the day their elementary schooler asks about the events of 9/11/01, or Columbine, or Sandy Hook. Some parents "dread" having to explain why people have skin of a different color, or why someone at school made fun of them for their weight or religion or hair cut or interests, or why Chris has two Mommies, or where Grandma is, or what happened to the dog. And we do worry about these things, but is it intense fear? Is it great apprehension? I hope not!

What I'm finding as my kids get older and start asking questions like those is that, even if I "dreaded" getting the question or having the topic come up, once it did, it wasn't as bad as I expected. I know my kids pretty well, and I have a pretty good idea of what will upset them and what won't, what will interest them and what won't, what they'll understand and what they won't. I enjoy explaining things to them. I enjoy anticipating the next question they'll ask or the next idea they'll present. And so when something does come up, I find I do have the tools to handle it.

So if I had a girl, would I "dread" her getting her period, or having to explain about safe sex, or issues about her appearance, or things like that? No. Sure, I'd worry about them. I'd play out scripts and scenarios in my head in anticipation. Her behavior probably would stress me out, and I'd jokingly complain about having a girl and having these problems with her. But I also think I would be grateful to have a daughter. Just as I'm grateful now for having my sons.

And there are more serious things that might happen to our children, or that our children might do, as they grow up. And I think it's fair to dread some of those things. But the normal course of maturing is not something to dread. Having a tween girl or boy in itself is not a cause for terror. Knowing your sweet toddler daughter will one day be a hormonal mess isn't cause for "great apprehension or fear." I think, quite the opposite, that we should dread our children not becoming hormonal pimple machines! We would dread the idea of our children not experiencing the fullness of life, taking risks, and simply growing up. There are plenty of parents out there dreading the day they don't have their daughters giving them sass or their sons watching porn in their rooms.

Now, I realize that when we talk this way, we're exaggerating, using sarcasm as a defense mechanism. I know that saying we dread various stages isn't a literal paralyzing fear. It doesn't mean we aren't grateful for our children or that we don't love them. It doesn't mean we regret having them. But I think it's important to have perspective, too. Often the things we're most concerned about, once they come up, aren't as horrible as we anticipated. And knowing that we can anticipate those moments can help us manage those fears in advance, so we don't have to dread them.

So, yes, I joke that I'm glad not to have to deal with "girl" stuff, and I know I won't have the stress of my daughter coming home and asking for birth control, or having a fight with her best friend, or being made fun of because she doesn't have an American Girl doll, but I also won't have the joy that a daughter brings.

Maybe it's time to focus on the positive.

What are your favorite things about having a son? What are your favorite things about having a daughter? Did you have a preference before your baby was born? What are you most looking forward to sharing with your kids as they grow up?

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