The Layers of Surprise
I heard the technician tell us, “You should save your girl clothes.” I looked at the screen and saw that the baby growing inside me was indeed a female. I was surprised, having walked into the appointment thinking I was carrying a boy.
Truth be told, I’m happy I was surprised. Not because she’s a girl and that’s the gender I was hoping for, but because I had no idea what to expect about my first time finding out the gender during pregnancy. I was worried that an office reveal would not be as exciting as the announcement during delivery. But I was wrong. The flurry of texts I sent about her gender was a different kind of excitement than what I experienced when I heard the doctor tell me about her older sister and brother when they first arrived in the world.
The reveal happened several weeks ago. I like being able to call her “she.” I like being able to narrow down the naming process. But knowing her gender also forces me to realize something I don’t like to admit. Despite my concerted efforts to avoid gender stereotyping, it instinctively makes its way into my parenting.
A Different Kind of Mom Guilt
Prior to the gender reveal, I had consciously thought and voiced, “It will be easier to have another boy.” I rationalized that boys are less dramatic than girls, having shorter meltdowns and not being as sassy. I argued that my daughter who had always been the oldest wouldn’t mind gaining another brother. My son, on the other hand, who was used to being the youngest, would have an easier time adjusting if a boy completed our family. Not to mention, I feared all that accompanied raising two teenage girls. Everything associated with body image. Clothing. Weight. Make-up. Hair. The emotional fights between two girls would be far worse than the physical fights between two boys.
And so I caught myself, trapped in stereotypes. Why would I make those assumptions? It doesn’t make sense. I encourage my children to be who they are; I adamantly teach them that girls and boys can and should like and do the same things. I happily fulfill my son’s requests for painted nails. I beamed when my daughter, at age three, requested a yellow cape and arm bands for Halloween. They’re already breaking stereotypes, so why would my mind naturally jump to stereotyping them and the child who will join them?
It’s probably because stereotypes are unavoidable and seep into our subconscious. My heart broke the night before that Halloween when my daughter asked to wear a Rapunzel dress to school, instead of her superhero costume. She said the rest of the girls in her class were being different Disney princesses. I tried to dissuade her, but I didn’t want to pressure her. In the end, she was happy and the school party pictures were adorable. When we went trick or treating as a family a few days later, she proudly wore her superhero costume and zoomed down the streets.
My son has received not-so-nice feedback about his painted nails and he responds with silence and a downcast look. It’s a look of stoic sadness, not embarrassment, and it’s his way of staying strong. But whenever I whip out the polish at home, there he is grinning again, selecting the blue and green shades and asking for a manicure and pedicure.
So here’s what I’ve ultimately realized. My kids observe stereotypes and sometimes, it’s easier for them to submit to gender norms. They haven’t gotten caught up in them, though. And that helps my mom guilt subside.
My practical reason for discovering the gender of my final baby was to free up space in our small house. After I spent six hours re-organizing the bins upon bins of clothes, I realized I hadn’t pulled much from the boy bins to let my last daughter wear. That was the point, I guess. Donate what’s not necessary. I’m not beating myself up about it, but I wish I didn’t submit so easily to those gender boxes I’ve filled.