Why I hope it's another boy for Kate
The other week, I loitered with my 21-year-old son, Sam, in a chilly lounge at Manchester airport, waiting for his younger brother, Max, to land after a gap year away. I was touched Sam had offered to join me on the pick-up, especially since the flight wasn’t due in until after midnight.
However, as we idled in the Arrivals hall, my son passing the time drafting a humorous welcome home message for Max, 19, on his iPad (it read: “I’ve got your room now”), it became clear Sam wasn’t just there to keep me company. He wanted to see his brother, too. And indeed when the doors in Arrivals peeled back and my younger son appeared, the warmth between my two boys was palpable as they shook hands, landed each other a playful slap and began babbling away about mutual friends.
“Erm, what am I, chopped liver?” I eventually cajoled, after forcing my wandering son into giving his mother a hug. But inside I was thrilled. Quite simply, the pleasure of seeing your two sons greet each other like long lost friends is an intensely warm and gratifying feeling.
That’s why I do hope that Kate Middleton, now pregnant with her second child, is carrying a boy. And unlike seasoned commentators with one eye on perpetuating the Royal lineage, I’m not thinking about the usefulness of the Duchess of Cambridge delivering a “spare heir”. In my experience, there’s nothing more delightful than following a first born son with the close arrival of a little brother. (Sam and Max were born just over a couple of years apart, while Prince George will be under two when the royal baby arrives.)
I hope this not only for the pragmatic pay-off of bulk-buying navy blue T-shirts and hard working elephant cords – little boys rarely behave like critical fashionistas or pint-size divas when it comes to clothes – but more significantly for the profound bonds of kinship and friendship that bind together a little boy and his baby brother.
Yet when it comes to a second pregnancy, there’s a prevailing assumption that parents will want the opposite gender to what they already have. It’s the laboured notion of having “one of each”, though in reality, the gender of an unborn child obviously isn’t something you can order with the panache of a seasoned diner. However, when I became pregnant with my second and was already mother to Sam, then 20 months old, I dearly wished the new baby would be a boy.
Unlike Kate, of course, there was no pressure to preserve the family name. Rather, I took the view that Sam would have a little friend and playmate on tap: someone who would be by his side, through noisy, messy boyish infancy, scuffed knees and soccer games and onwards towards adolescence and adulthood.
Indeed, I still remember the deliciously warm feeling when my husband, Martin, brought our older boy to the hospital a few hours after Max was born. When Sam, a spectacularly inquisitive toddler, leant over the crib to peer at his golden haired little brother, and magnanimously inquired whether the baby wanted to play with his Thomas the Tank engine, my heart contracted with absolute joy.
Of course, just because you have two children who are both close in age and the same gender, there’s no guarantee they will be the greatest of friends. From the Miliband brothers to the Everly brothers, history is littered with spectacular rifts and shattered relationships.
Perhaps in such cases, unapologetic ambition or the pressure of being high profile were the touchpaper to sibling resentment. But that hardly squares with the Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry, shining examples of a warm, mutually dependent brotherly relationship.
Their evident familiarity, easy teasing and genuine camaraderie suggests a closeness hitherto unprecedented in the Queen’s own children.
In my own home I’ve watched as Sam, a much noisier and more boisterous character than his younger brother, has fulfilled the role of both peer and playmate over the years.
Indeed, from a social perspective, having two boys together just made life so much easier.
Family outings on a Sunday afternoon didn’t require other friends to come along for company, since the boys had each other. I still remember taking the two of them to an exhibition and fair at the Leeds Armoury museum when Max was two and Sam just over four, both boys dressed in matching red T-shirts with a cartoon cow on the front (we’d just been to Geneva). Together, the boys raced around after each other, enjoying the rough and tumble of the games on offer. A little sister may have been unwilling to concede an inner tomboy, leaving Sam to play alone.
That’s not to say that some interventional parenting hasn’t been involved – but this is the case with any sibling combination, as you fight to ensure you don’t give any of your children reason to feel jealous or overlooked. A younger child is always the potential usurper – newer, more vulnerable, the fabled baby in word, deed and birth certificate.
When Andy Murray, 27, thrashed Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut to reach the last 16 of the men’s singles at Wimbledon this year, the dour Scotsman cast himself as “number two son” when he discovered his mother, Judy, had been watching her older son Jamie, 28, and his Aussie playing partner John Peers win in the men’s doubles instead.
But away from the international tennis circuit, there’s so much scope to prevent that resentment. With two boys, the fuss at the arrival of your second child is inevitably muted (I wish I’d banked a tenner for every time I heard the expression “another boy”). When Max was born, there were cards, gifts and congratulations. But nothing like the kind of reception which would have marked the arrival of a baby girl. So any scope for jealousy was immediately diminished.
There’s something else for Kate to consider, too. What certainly helps with having two sons together is the fact that boys are, well, just so much easier. Unlike little girls, who can be steely-minded despots (as proven by my 10-year-old daughter), their default position isn’t to be perennially argumentative. The dynamic between brother and sister can be explosive.
Little wonder a poll by Net Mums revealed that 55 per cent of mothers found it easier to bond with their sons.
Terri Apter, a psychologist at Cambridge University, has observed that brothers are more prone to fist fights, but sisters wound each other psychologically, and much more deeply. Boys, she feels, are more objective, less sensitive and more goal orientated.
Certainly any blowouts between my boys have been like short bursts of thunder, necessary for breaking the tension when hot heads swell the pressure but immediately replaced by bright sunshine and clear blue skies.
As my boys have grown older, so the age gap has narrowed further. With each passing milestone – from starting junior school to choosing A-level options – Sam has been there to give Max the benefit of his experience while, at the same time, his brother has blossomed into his peer and equal. When they are both at a loose end, they’ll go off to the cinema together or knock around with a football.
By sheer fluke they have ended up at the same university, and though Sam is a third year and Max a mere fresher, my older boy is already offering to show his brother the ropes. I suspect part of him will rather like being in loco parentis, but Sam flavours his advice with enough caustic humour to make it easy for Max to accept his guidance.
Judging by the friendly sibling relationships between Kate and her own brother and sister, this second baby will no doubt be welcomed and adored regardless of its gender. But if it’s a boy, George will gain more than just a brother. He’ll gain a life-long friend.
Brotherly love: Diana, Princess of Wales delighted in the fraternal bond between William and Harry, which may be replicated if Kate has a second son after George, inset