Dear Carolyn: My daughter is expecting her second baby, another girl. We are thrilled. However, our daughter told us her husband said he wanted a boy, which frustrated her.
We will be babysitting for them soon (so they can have a babymoon). Knowing our son-in-law, he will make that statement to us. What can we say that will convey dismay at this attitude?
We think girls are just as valuable as boys, and the baby’s health, not sex, should be the main concern.
Anonymous: Ooh, said the fish. A big fat worm on a hook.
Of course it’s terrible if your son-in-law’s reason for preferring a boy is a belief that girls are less valuable humans than boys are and if he goes on to act on that preference in the way he treats his girls.
But this fish knows bait when she sees it, and I urge you to do the same: Recognize the “ifs” as a sign of multiple possibilities instead of acting on the most inflammatory, son-in-law-shaming one.
Your son-in-law could just as easily be mourning the death of his Mini-Me visions, which I think every parent-to-be harbors to some degree. You know — where you conjure your favorite parent-child memories as a kid, and you gender those activities more out of reflex than any real notion that girls can’t go fishing or boys can’t plant flowers with Mom, and you picture yourself bringing them to life in a new generation.
Poof, you learn the baby’s of the opposite sex. Disappointment, sadness.
Those emotions are often faster to our tongues than logic is. So, a man enjoying warm memories of Dad, freshly stirred up by his own impending fatherhood, might stammer out “. . . but I wanted a boy!” before the full implications thereof had time to form in his brain.
This isn’t gendered, either; the version of your dilemma I’ve gotten most over the years is from moms-to-be bummed to have sons.
Plus, some just want one of each.
So please, find any doubt you can about your son-in-law’s motives and then give him the full benefit of it. Consider how he treats your daughter, and their baby girl, how good a spouse and parent he is in general, how good a person he is overall.
If he’s a doink, then you won’t fix that with your dismay, no matter how aptly conveyed.
And please recognize that telling him how he “should” feel is not the way to lift anyone, doink or not, up to the high ground you think you’re occupying.
Do I think babies’ health “should” matter most? Sure. But this also “should” be for him figure out for himself, and for you to express only for yourself and only where appropriate.
Otherwise he will have grounds to convey his dismay that you jumped to sexism when maybe he was just having a primal nostalgia moment for Little League and mud and trucks.
Which, yes, girls like, too.
Which he’ll learn from his girls, if he needs to and if he’s not a doink.
Which you can encourage by saying, “Yeah, it’s normal to prefer a boy or girl. But, then, kids end up being themselves regardless of what we might want, don’t they?” And we fall for them hardest that way.
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