Fire and Ice. I chose these nicknames for my kids early on. They signify the differences in not only their hair color (flaming redhead and platinum blonde), but their completely opposite personalities and mental makeup. I learned early on, from my own household observations, that my parenting tactics would need to be “customized” for each child. I wondered which gender would be more challenging.
John Gray, author of "Men are From Mars, Women Are from Venus" started an intriguing conversation that has continued to go on for over two decades. When did the differences between the sexes begin? Males and females are biologically and emotionally programmed completely polar of one another, commencing at conception. And although (I’m putting in a disclaimer right here) not all girls are princesses and not all boys are rambunctious and aggressive. The differences between the sexes seem to apply to most. But is one sex more difficult to raise than the other?
My daughter Alexis is my oldest. From the beginning she expressed her strong will (I swear that child came out of my body rolling her eyes). She was like a little sponge, eager to absorb everything around her and learn and please. She's always challenging herself and preparing to take on the world. She was articulate in her speech early on, extremely focused, potty training was a breeze, and manners and interactions came natural. Through style and interests, she consistently displays her individuality. She knows what she has to get done and needs very little direction.
While she was very attached to me as a baby, Alexis gained her independence very quickly, as she settled into pre-school and easily made friends. Her leadership qualities were soon apparent to me in that I noticed she inherently governed her flock of friends. I found her needs to be more personal; seeking approval from her peers and mostly from me. But there is also a very stubborn side to her, especially as she’s entered into her teen years. Everything is a debate, and “No” is simply not in her mental vocabulary. When she gets upset, she has a hard time controlling her emotions.
As an infant, my son Matthew was very content and easy going. But physically and socially, he took his time learning to walk, had zero interest in potty training (his first success out of pull-ups was peeing on a tree in the parking lot of his preschool), and preferred to use gestures over speech. Now older, he still pees on the toilet seat, he could care less what clothes he wears and tends to stick to simple language. He has a few good friends, but hasn’t established a pack as his sister did early on. He is focused mainly on things of interest to him (passionate about mechanics and architecture). My son is deep and sensitive, but keeps his feelings to himself. He is a peacemaker who despises conflict, despite him having a competitive nature when it comes to his peers. I get in very few challenges with him, but I do constantly have to keep him moving with his tasks.
Dianna Gerwig of St. Petersburg has two daughters and a son. “My boy is the oldest. I have to say the differences are amazing. I'm not sure though, if it has more to do with birth order or sex. My middle child is a girl and extremely helpful and thoughtful. My son is easily distracted and more self-absorbed. He is caring and loving at times, and very protective of his sisters. But there are definitely major differences.”
Regarding which gender is easier to raise, I really don’t think there is a clear answer. Much depends on what stage in development you are asking the question. In my experience, my daughter was easier in her early years, but has become much more of a challenge as she's gotten older. I feel that my son was notably needy and dependent in the beginning, but now has a much more “go with the flow” personality as he matures. Keeping him entertained is not so easy (again the focus thing), but he’s much more in tuned to the needs of those around him. Right now in my daughter’s world, it’s all about her. Perhaps Matthew will become more self-focused as hormones kick in. It’s just too early to tell.
In my view, (and again this does not apply to all) girls tend to be more emotionally demanding, but much more independent. Boys can drain you physically, but need emotional guidance for a longer duration. Is this the old age adage of nurture versus nature (girls preparing for a mate and motherhood, boys preparing for providing and protecting) or about how we are subconsciously raising each gender because of social stereotypes? Perhaps it’s a combination of both.
Regarding her parenting experience, Terrie Payne of St. Petersburg shared, “In our house, my son Jake (now 14-years-old) was a handful when he was little, always getting into everything. He has always had his own mind and didn't care what anyone said or did. My 10-year-old daughter Nicole is a lot calmer and very concerned about the feelings of others. At this point, I think girls are easier but then she's not a teenager yet so all of that could change.”
There have been many studies and professional advice about the differences in raising boys versus girls. Teach boys that they can be avid learners and that it is acceptable to show their feelings. It’s important to teach girls that friendship should not be exclusive but rather inclusive. Channel your son’s energy into projects you can do together. This is an integral part of his development. Support your daughter in taking interest in math and science and excelling in traditionally male dominated academia. Learn the differences in learning styles for boys and girls, and support their individual needs.
No matter what gender you are raising, love and respect your children for who they are and who they will become. There should be no molds placed upon our kids and no gender map that should be followed. It’s fascinating to observe how different each child can truly be, and in the end gender may have nothing to do with it.