My Children, Myself
When it comes to assessing which gender is tougher to raise, one should never discount the "grass is always greener" hypothesis. Kathleen Crowley-Long, PhD, professor of psychology at the College of Saint Rose in Albany, New York, says that in her experience, parents of girls often believe they're harder while those with boys make the same claim of males. "When I meet parents with both, they respond based on which of their children was most difficult, and they often relate difficulty to the child's gender. But clearly, there are many other variables involved."
It's also true that each mother's tolerance for certain gender-related traits has as much to do with who she is as with who her child is. One friend of mine with a daughter complains that girls worry too much about appearance. Another friend is frustrated because she can never get her son to change into clean clothes. (She'd find a girl who insists on frilly dresses a welcome relief.) In my case, I'm a low-key person who is sensitive to loud noises, so I was initially thrown by my high-energy, weapon-loving sons (I've finally figured out that we do the best outside). I wonder, too, since so many of the mothers I spoke to seem to find boys easier, whether many of us see in our daughters the gender-based traits we dislike in ourselves and therefore tend to react more negatively.
The bottom line is that raising children is hard work, regardless of gender. "From everything I've witnessed, children's unique characteristics stem from their temperament and how their parents raise them," says observant mother Susan Prestel, of Boise, Idaho. "I don't believe gender has much impact. Some kids are just more challenging than others, and for those, parents have to work together, adjusting their style accordingly."
"Parents should be aware of each child's abilities and dispositions and focus on developing them in positive directions," agrees Crowley-Long, "instead of basing expectations on what they think girls and boys are like." In other words, whether you're raising a male or female, there's always more than enough difficulty to go around. So every parent should look for the joy buried in the tough stuff and run with it.
Renee Bacher, a mother of three, is a Louisiana-based writer.
Originally published in American Baby magazine, May 2004.