Boys will be boys, whether they like it or not

Ex­pec­ta­tions have not veered much from the stereo­type

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Health Lifestyle - Jen Ho­gan

The world of boys was pretty alien to me un­til my sec­ond child, my first son, was born. Hail­ing from a house of girls, friends’ sto­ries of ex­tremely ir­ri­tat­ing and smelly broth­ers who couldn’t pee in­side the toi­let bowl if their lives de­pended on it, was as close as I got to hav­ing any grasp of the “chal­lenges” of grow­ing up in a house with the male of the species.

I’m still not quite sure if this was a hin­drance or a help.

Ig­no­rance is bliss ap­par­ently – six sons later I’m cer­tainly no longer ig­no­rant. It turns out the toi­let bowl claim was true. So far though, my boys smell quite nice most of the time, par­tic­u­larly my five-year-old who has a pen­chant for his fa­ther’s Lynx and his sis­ter’s lime shower gel.

They’re a noisy bunch who hold vary­ing views about the im­por­tance of un­der­wear. They look alike, are very close, and if farts and burps could be con­verted to a re­new­able en­ergy source then Ho­gan Power could po­ten­tially corner an area of the world’s com­modi­ties mar­ket.

But that’s where con­form­ing to type largely ends.

Like their sis­ter, as tod­dlers and small boys, they loved ev­ery type of toy – from train sets to toy kitchens. One had a hoover he loved more than life it­self though, un­for­tu­nately, also like his sis­ter, his love of chores had long since dis­ap­peared by the time he was old enough to op­er­ate a real one.

And though the great philoso­pher that is Piers Mor­gan might not ap­prove, the youngest still loves to push his buggy with a teddy, whose nappy, in­ci­den­tally, he’s a whizz at chang­ing, un­aware of his im­mi­nent emas­cu­la­tion.

Boys will be boys it’s al­leged, and in our case that means they’ll be ram­bunc­tious, loud, care­less, phys­i­cal, sport-lov­ing, gen­tle, sen­si­tive, de­struc­tive, lov­ing, deep-think­ing, sport-hat­ing, con­fi­dent, shy, artis­tic, rough, thought­ful, fo­cused and kind – with in­sa­tiable ap­petites.

Out­side the home, how­ever, ex­pec­ta­tions of boys haven’t veered much from the stereo­type. As my daugh­ter con­sid­ers what she might do af­ter her Leav­ing Cert, she knows the world is her oys­ter. There is noth­ing she be­lieves she can’t do and there is noth­ing her broth­ers be­lieve she can’t do ei­ther. Be­cause, quite rightly, they all as­sume that girls can do any­thing boys can do.

For lads, things seem dif­fer­ent. Boys should like sport, boys shouldn’t cry, boys need to “over­come sen­si­tiv­ity”, boys should be strong in ev­ery sense of the word, and boys shouldn’t like pink be­yond a cer­tain age. And, some­how, even though we’ve got to a stage where girls tak­ing part in what are con­sid­ered tra­di­tion­ally male ac­tiv­i­ties is cham­pi­oned, the re­verse is sce­nario non grata for some par­ents.

“No way would I al­low my son to do bal­let,” came the re­sponse of a young mum to whom I posed the hy­po­thet­i­cal ques­tion. She had a daugh­ter who played foot­ball and at­tended bal­let lessons and a son who played foot­ball also. “And no way would you ei­ther,” she said dis­miss­ing my claim to the con­trary. “Think of the slag­ging.”

As any par­ent of more than one child knows, the same in­gre­di­ents don’t nec­es­sar­ily pro­duce the same re­sult, and my boys have proven to be as sim­i­lar and as dif­fer­ent from each other as they are from

My boys have proven to be as sim­i­lar and as dif­fer­ent from each other as they are from their sis­ter

their sis­ter. It’s an as­pect of par­ent­hood I’ve en­joyed but one that causes me to worry for some more than oth­ers.

The pres­sure to con­form to how boys “should be” in­ten­si­fies with age and the world can be a ruth­less place for the sen­si­tive and the vul­ner­a­ble – par­tic­u­larly when they’re not read­ily ac­cepted traits for your gen­der.

With a sixth-year stu­dent in the house, recent din­ner con­ver­sa­tions have centred on what ev­ery­one might be when they grow up. The one clos­est to be­ing grown up has lit­tle idea what she wants to do yet. Some of her sib­lings have clearer no­tions – it seems we have a bud­ding author and ac­tor, train driver, in­ter­na­tional foot­ball su­per­star and teacher po­ten­tially in our midst. But most cer­tain of his im­pend­ing role in the world is the Lynx and lime-smelling five year old – “I’m go­ing to be The Hulk” he an­nounced.

Maybe not in keep­ing with his plans some weeks ear­lier to be Won­der Woman (“so I can be strong like you Mum”), but prob­a­bly a plan so­ci­ety would deem more suit­able.

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