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Are we really gender-blind when it comes to parenting?
August 8, 2018 | 5:17 PM
by Farzeen Ashik
Mothers are more critical of their daughters than their sons.
 
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Last week a conversation with a friend sent my mind into a tizzy. We were talking about her son’s summer plans when she said something like, ‘If it had been my daughter I would have been behind her always but since it was my son I didn’t really nag him. I figured he’d work things out on his own.’

Being mother of two girls I has never really given much thought to this before. Do we, as parents, treat our sons differently from our daughters?

Mothers are more critical of their daughters than their sons, according to a 2,500-strong survey by parenting website Netmums. More than half said in the survey that they had formed a stronger bond with their sons and mothers were more likely to describe their little girls as “stroppy” and “serious”, and their sons as “cheeky” and “loving”. The report warned that girls grow up with more self-critical issues, and suffer as a result.

As mothers when it comes to daughters we see them more as an extension of ourselves and this makes us more critical. We are more likely to criticise them if they show negative traits we’ve passed on to them that we aren’t really proud of. And when our sons don’t meet our expectations we probably go easier on them, at least the mums do.



Also, our expectations from our daughters are different. Do we expect our sons to help in the kitchen, tidy up the rooms, look after their younger siblings? Maybe a few of the parents out there are genuinely gender-blind but the vast majority of us continue to reinforce the age-old stereotypes. We raise our daughters expecting them one day to have their own families and run their homes. Of course, this is in addition to them being super students and successful professionals as well. But when it comes to our sons we only expect them to be successful doctors, engineers, businessmen, artists, and more, and we don’t really worry about whether they are going to be supportive husbands or good fathers, do we?

Of the 2,672 mothers questioned by Netmums, 15% said that they had formed a stronger bond with their sons than their daughters. That would obviously be the case I guess since we moms probably nagged our daughters to death. We probably don’t do this consciously but research suggests that our interactions with our children are gender-specific and has far-reaching consequences on their cognitive and behavioural development.

In a study published in The British Journal of Developmental Psychology in 2014, authors Ana Aznar and Harriet Tenenbaum found that mothers are more likely to use emotional words and emotional content when speaking with their four-year-old daughters than with their four-year-old sons.

The fact that we talk more to our daughters about our emotions is not really a shocker, is it? This could possibly be the reason why women typically have a higher EQ than men and we are more likely to find emotionally unavailable men. Research shows that kids in kindergarten who can understand and interpret emotions generally do better socially that those who do not.

And it’s not just moms who show this difference. New research showed that fathers also use more emotion-laden language while speaking to their daughters. This in turn reinforces the girls to be more emotional and expressive than boys. Also, it was found that daughters were more likely to talk to their fathers about their emotions than sons. There were also significant differences in the kind of language fathers used with sons and daughters. Fathers were more likely to use achievement-related words with their sons — “top,” “win,” “proud”— while using more emotion-laden and analytical words with their daughters.

“Most parents say they want boys to be more expressive, but don’t know [they] are speaking differently to them,” says Tenenbaum.

Gone are the days when boys were encouraged to keep their emotions hidden. In the new world boys are being taught to be more expressive. And the easiest way to do that is to use emotion-laden language with both your sons and daughters.

Whether we accept it or not the truth is that we do treat our children differently. And it’s not just mothers who do this but fathers too. A new study published in the Journal Behavioral Neuroscience provides one of the first in-depth analyses of how fathers interact with their children and what this might mean in terms of brain physiology. As expected, fathers were more likely to engage in rough and tumble play with sons rather than daughters. When interacting with daughters, however, fathers were more likely to engage in singing or whistling, and were also more emotionally and socially responsive.

Now don’t you think these are some interesting points to mull about before your next parent-child chat? We could still change the world, one child at a time.

Farzeen Ashik is the author of the prize-winning novel ‘Rainbow Dorm Diaries–The Yellow Dorm’.

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