Adult mother responsibilities to adult daughters vs. sons

Attiton raised a super-good question in the comments of yesterday’s guest post from Num-Num:

“…I can’t help but wonder how this conversation between a mother andan extremely successful but frustrated child would be different if the
adult child in question were a man. I think it would be quite different.

How deep are the differences in emotional responsibilities between mothers and their adult daughters and sons?”

Wow. I hadn’t really thought of that, and I absolutely should have. I do think, often and intensely, about how I mother my boys now. And about my own relationship with my mother. So I really had to think about this. I tossed the question back to Num-Num first:

Good points have been made about how the boundaries between mother and
daughter appear to be looser than between mother and son. I believe
that to be true, and part of the need to have your mother not take
over your disappointment. In the playground, I’ve often seen mothers
of boys be more anxious that their children stop crying and get back
up from minor injuries quickly. I’ve also seen them tolerate more
aggressive behavior in their sons than in their daughters. I would
treat boys and girls exactly the same in these situations, as
Hillary’s mother did when her daughter was bullied. What struck me
about Dorothy was that no one protected her when she was a child. She
learned her own survival skills. Because she appears to have yielded
to her husband after her marriage may have sent mixed messages to her
daughter. (I’m not judging her at all. Her ability to raise her own
family after what she endured was no mean feat.)

It’s more difficult for me to comfort a son sometimes because I’m not
a man, obviously. I am not always sure how much anger is useful and
appropriate in a man when he’s disappointed. I would have to be
careful not to stifle his feelings and to respect his need to be
strong, a tricky tightrope. If the anger continued, I might try the
trick I’ve used with male bosses, become even angrier at opponents
than he was so that he could see himself through my behavior.

I believe there are real differences and would be interested in what
y’all think.

By the way, as I read about Dorothy Rodham’s childhood, I wondered if
Hillary’s early interest in the movement for children’s rights, for
which she’s been vilified, came from her knowledge of what happened
to her mother.

I think Nancy hits on what I came to when considering this question. In Playful Parenting, Lawrence Cohen talks about how society wants girls to be sweet and boys to be tough. So the challenge for parents is to allow their daughters to be angry and aggressive, and to allow their sons to be vulnerable and tender. Reading this gave me one of those lightning-bolt moments of “of course!” and I think it really informs how we interact as adults as well as as children.

We’re socialized to allow women to be sad, but not to be angry. So maybe mothering an adult daughter is about allowing her to be angry, aggressive, subversive, sarcastic, righteous, avenging. To balance out every other message she gets. We’re socialized to allow men to be angry, but not sad. So maybe mothering an adult son is about allowing him to be sad, disappointed, vulnerable, in need of comfort. To balance out every other message he gets.

How would that play out if we were talking about Barack or John losing the race? And what do you think about it all?

0 thoughts on “Adult mother responsibilities to adult daughters vs. sons”

  1. I’ve struggled with this from day one. My husband is a type-A alpha male which I’ve always loved about him until our son arrived. He’ll play with our son but won’t cuddle him (even as a wee infant). If DS is crying, he’ll try to cheer him up by funny faces/sounds/rough play, but he won’t ever think about what might be making him cry. I already feel sad about that relationship. At nine months, when DS sees dad at the end of the day he already turns rambunctious and aggressive, in readiness for play-time. As soon as I pick him up his thumb goes in his mouth, his head nestles under my chin. Nine months! And he’s already sorted out the messages we’ve given him. Nine months and all my intentions to try to avoid stereotype messages are all out the window. What will happen when the rest of the world gets to influence him for the next x years?

  2. I think you are right on about allowing a child to be the things society frowns on. Really it’s about allowing your child to be who they are, and not feeling guilty for who they are, how they react but helping them to process in a healthy way.I was an incredibly emotional child. Sensitive. My parents where ill equiped to deal with it. They tried, they did their best with the tools they had…. but alot of what they did was saying things, “wow you are so sensitive” and their tips for dealing with bullying was “just don’t let them see how it bothers you and they will stop”
    I always felt that there was something wrong with me for being so sensitive, that i needed to try and toughen up. I can’t, it’s part of who I am. But I am now learning how to process all of that.
    So hopefully I can learn from that, how different we all are, how differently we react, and that all of those reactions are appropriate and to help my child learn how to process them in his way.
    Thank you so much for opening up these discussions. The wealth of knowledge shared, and the experiences shared are better than any book or therapy session 🙂

  3. Wow. I must not be a good woman (or at least not a really sensitive one). My answer to both men and women who lost would be to tell them to buck up and try again. Move on, do something else, whatever. Quit your wallowing (after an appropriate wallow length) and move on with your life. Get going. Boat’s not stopping for you.It must be my own coping mechanism coming out to play.

  4. I have to say that I think the scale of the loss necessitates something other than ice cream and movies. That seems somehow more appropriate for a break-up or a failed promotion than a failed presidential bid. At which point maybe what’s needed is a week in a cabin int he middle of nowhere, with no reporters, and friends and family who are available but not intrusive. BEcause frankly none of them are equipped to know how to deal with failed presidential bids, either.In any case. Part of the reading I’ve been doing on single parenting recently touches on this–and that is that the sons of single mothers tend to do worse than their daughters because the mothers are more reluctant to strongly discipline and set effective boundaries for their sons, in the belief that boys are too different and they don’t understand what boys need. So I would be extremely cautious in any validation of the perspective that sons need something different from mothers than daughters do–that perspective causes problems, and I would guess not just to the sons of single mothers (where it may just be more evident given the lack of a regularly-present father) but to all of them.

  5. I know that this post was really about adult relationships but my kids will be adults someday, right? I am raising 19 month-old boy/girl twins and often struggle with this issue. I catch myself saying things like “they’ve had such parallel lives…from the womb to this moment, how are they so different?” Truth is they are treated so differently by everyone that interacts with them. I try to be fair, but as I learned as an educator fair does not mean equal. My son needs more snuggles and my daughter needs more attention/stimulation. DS is clearly categorized as a “mamma’s boy” (HATE that term…how can being dependent on your mother be so derogatory?) and DD is “so smart…” because she is far more verbal than DS. I hate how often he hears that; he’s not less intelligent, he’s just a BOY.I feel sometimes like I favor my son because everyone else seems to favor my daughter. They follow the gender lines pretty clearly in that she is more social and thrives on the attention of a crowd whereas he is content to dig, or play with his trucks. I hate the thought that my daughter can sense my need to “equalize” the effects of the outside messages that they both receive. I don’t think that either child can discern that I am trying to be the counterbalance of the rest of their collective experiences. God, I’m such a Libra…
    Also, I respect the idea of sending the “anti-tough” message to my son but I also think that puts me at risk of being so soft with him that I lose all footing as a disciplinarian as (at this age anyway) I am often the cause of his frustration and disappointment. He REALLY wants to play with the TV remote. Bad.
    …and I don’t think that anyone would even examine how [insert male political figure’s name here] mother would help them deal with disappointment. Our culture clearly tells men to “rub some dirt on it and walk it off” while we tell women to hole up with some Ben and Jerry’s and cry for a few days. It is no wonder my son is a “mamma’s boy” Ugh…

  6. I try to mother my son and daughter equally. But my kids are different and have different needs. And there are SO many factors that go into mothering that are either loosely related to gender or not at all related to gender. Example: my oldest child got a LOT more attention as a baby. My youngest got more freedom.Frankly, flame me if you want, but my kids have shown some typical gender sterotypes since they were tiny. My daughter is more social, highly articulate, and able to sit still. My son is more physical and, given half a chance, will turn anything into a weapon. Ultimately I don’t really care if it is about nature or nurture. I’m working on basic parenting skills in terms of my reactions to both kids: patience, consistency, not being invalidating or too critical.
    I don’t really buy this idea that encouraging my daughter to agressive or my son to be sensitive is going to balance out societal influences at all. I think my kids are doing what they see my husband and I do, and I’ve had better luck focusing on how we model these traits.

  7. I have two boys (ages 3 and 10 weeks) and think about this constantly. One of the things that I have prioritized during pre- and early-language development is to help my older son put words to his feelings. I let him cry if he needs to, throw a tantrum if he needs to, choose either me or his papa for comfort (which he does equally) — and then we work really hard to identify those feelings and talk them through. I’d do the same if he were a girl, because I think teaching young children to try to understand their feelings through *verbal* communication is very, very important, especially for boys.E.g., I watch my husband go into his “cave” when he is upset; he retreats and ceases to be present. He’s a master at the silent treatment and negative body language, which hurts me more than “irrational” screaming and yelling.
    I don’t want that for my boys, so I do all I can to keep my older one connected (this means no “go to your room” and no “time outs”). It means letting him feel things in his body first, then relying on someone to help sort out those feelings, name them, validate them, and come up with a plan — together — to deal with the emotion. One of the best questions I ask my son is, “How can I help you?” He’s getting better and better at articulating his needs when I don’t give up on moving him from raw emotion to verbalizations.

  8. This week’s Newsweek just had a really great editorial about how when female children are assertive in a social situation, they are labeled as “bossy,” but boys are just “assertive” or “rough and tumble.” These labels continue through adulthood. Women are bitchy or still bossy, but men are seen as good leaders that “get things done.”The author pointed out that not only do the labels that are given to our children affect their way of thinking and being, but also that being assertive is a good skill and that it’s important how we help our children use that skill, regardless of their gender, and that, most importantly, they realize how their actions affect others.
    I was considered a “bossy” kid, and my mom was proud that she didn’t have worry about me being able to stand up for myself (but she did have to point out sometimes that some kids like to choose their own spot in the circle, not be told where to sit). On the other hand, when my brothers were small, they needed a little coaching on how to assert themselves without being physical. It seemed to come more naturally to them to just bowl other kids over when they were being bullied or talked down to, whereas I would point my finger and tell them where to stick it…

  9. We recently went to a birthday party for a neighbor’s child (she turned one, and we have an 11 month old son). It was the first time my eyes were opened to the simple differences between boys and girls…as a mother. I don’t think I believed it until I saw how truly differently they acted – my son was the only boy baby/toddler, and all the others were girls – and he was the one energetically splashing in the pools, or trying to climb out, and the little girls were happy and content with their toys and got upset with the splashing. Which is fine, of course, but it was a big aha! moment for me.I do hope that we teach him to be vulnerable and tender, and he is definitely encouraged to be that way with both his daddy and I. We both play and wrestle with him, and we both snuggle. I’ll never forget my husband’s grandmother saying that my brother-in-law would NOT ALLOW his sons to have soft, cuddly toys (she said this after seeing our son’s ‘lovey’). That floored me, what stupidity! I’m still not over that.

  10. I always believed the differences were influenced primarily by the parents, but I have two boys and they are different as night and day. My older son hates attention, is timid about physical skills, is calm and bashful in groups, and will chose art or reading to pass unfilled time. His brother kicked me more in the womb, seldom sits still even when doing art with his brother, picks active games at every choice, loves attention, and teaches his brother (3yrs older) physical skills. Did I cause this? No way. I see a continuum, with very “calm/prissy” traits at one end and very “rough/aggressive” traits at the other, with most children in the middle.My husband reassures me that he was a rough and tumble and sometimes aggressive boy but is now a very calm, peaceful adult.
    Allowing both sons and daughters to freely express themselves and to learn to verbalize those feelings, regardless of their “appropriateness” will go a long way to alleviate any societal pressures.

  11. @ just Wendy- I really appreciate and found my own truth in your comment about feeling you favor your son to make up for others favoring your daughter. My son is only 6 months (daughter almost 3) and I can feel myself starting to do this. She is (correctly) labeled as smart and vivacious and gets loads of attention from extended family. Since he has been (correctly) labeled as the world’s most sensitive and fussy baby, people shy away from him and I have already gotten “mama’s boy” comments which infuriate me. I too struggle with trying to “equalize” or balance out the roles that they’ve taken up already at such a young age. It’s not about loving one of them more, it’s about my primal urge to protect the one I feel needs protecting. If they keep these roles throughout their lives I would be more tempted to tell my daughter to buck up and try, try again and give my son the icecream and hugs.

  12. We recently went to a birthday party for a neighbor’s child (she turned one, and we have an 11 month old son). It was the first time my eyes were opened to the simple differences between boys and girls…as a mother. I don’t think I believed it until I saw how truly differently they acted – my son was the only boy baby/toddler, and all the others were girls – and he was the one energetically splashing in the pools, or trying to climb out, and the little girls were happy and content with their toys and got upset with the splashing. Which is fine, of course, but it was a big aha! moment for me.I do hope that we teach him to be vulnerable and tender, and he is definitely encouraged to be that way with both his daddy and I. We both play and wrestle with him, and we both snuggle. I’ll never forget my husband’s grandmother saying that my brother-in-law would NOT ALLOW his sons to have soft, cuddly toys (she said this after seeing our son’s ‘lovey’). That floored me, what stupidity! I’m still not over that.

  13. We recently went to a birthday party for a neighbor’s child (she turned one, and we have an 11 month old son). It was the first time my eyes were opened to the simple differences between boys and girls…as a mother. I don’t think I believed it until I saw how truly differently they acted – my son was the only boy baby/toddler, and all the others were girls – and he was the one energetically splashing in the pools, or trying to climb out, and the little girls were happy and content with their toys and got upset with the splashing. Which is fine, of course, but it was a big aha! moment for me.I do hope that we teach him to be vulnerable and tender, and he is definitely encouraged to be that way with both his daddy and I. We both play and wrestle with him, and we both snuggle. I’ll never forget my husband’s grandmother saying that my brother-in-law would NOT ALLOW his sons to have soft, cuddly toys (she said this after seeing our son’s ‘lovey’). That floored me, what stupidity! I’m still not over that.

  14. Gah, accidentally erased the entire freaking comment.Sigh. Which means REALLY no time to edit here…
    Gender modeling and behavior starts in infancy, and is related to how long one watches what the child looks at and relates to. Everyone – regardless of opinions about gender preferences being inborn or not – watches children longer if they’re playing gender-typical play for their culture of origin. You think they don’t pick up on that? It’s in the research. It is what we watch them doing that sets it in their behavior. THAT SAID, it is nature plus nurture – no amount of watching will make a by-temperment calm and reflective child become utterly assertive and exploratory.
    My mom has seven kids. Three boys, four girls. She sometimes wishes people still had large families, because it would immediately kill off the idea that there is such a thing as ‘one of each’ – there are far more differences between the individuals than between the genders. Yes, there ARE differences between the genders. But they are nowhere near as big as they seem when you just have a small sample size.
    Cut the sample to one-of-each (girl/boy) with my kids, and it appears that you have ‘one of each’. But then cut it to two boys, and you have… um, one of each – one ‘more boy’ and one ‘more, um, less-typical-boy’. Same with the girls – one OHMYGODgirly social talkative extroverted, one holy cow, did you know she could climb that high? wow shes really into sharks and man look at the skinned knees and mud on her! Yet if you took the less overtly boyish of the boys, and put him next to the totally boyish of the girls, he’d look ‘all boy’ and she’d fall smack into ‘girly’. They each cover the entire range, near enough. And so by contrast, they appear to be on-center with their gender when they’re put into a comparative context.
    Take them into a more subtle context, with more data points, and … and you end up with ‘oh, wait, there’s a huge range here’.
    More difference between the individuals than the genders.
    So I say, ‘give them what they need as whole people’ and ‘give them from oneself as a whole person’. You’ll give them all you can, and give them the bulk of what they need. And also teach them that what they do not get from you is only because it is not your style or nature, and not because it is not their need.
    And ignore the culture a lot. Not entirely, but a lot. They’ll make their own fit with it as they go. They’ll ask the why and how, and see where it fits and does not, and thicken their boundaries where needed, and cross the boundaries that they choose to step over. It’s (IMHO) a disservice to them to try to do too much with the intersection of culture plus them FOR them. Point out the edges, but let them navigate it (go along for safety when the ride might be rough, perhaps, but don’t take the wheel). It’s astonishing how easily my kids navigate the expectations when they’re clearly outlined but left for them to navigate for themselves. Just treat them as whole – no need, I think, to overly support that which is counter to culture. Just support what they are enough that THEY can withstand what they need to withstand in order to remain whole. Which means supporting that which is LIKE culture, as strongly as that which is unlike. Grow them into themselves, and they’ll shape the culture to fit them, instead of the other way around.

  15. This is a great post. Missed yesterday because we launched our new website with all “new” seminars at lower prices, check it out. Moving on from my shameless plug, today I had to weigh in, hope it makes sense.I totally agree with Professor Mama when she said, “to help my older son put words to his feelings. I let him cry if he needs to, throw a tantrum if he needs to”.
    Maybe I’m missing the point, but wouldn’t you do same thing with a girl?
    We all know the genders behave differently. Yes, most women want men to be more emotional–less of a cave dweller. Most men want us to be less emotional, less in their face about how we feel. Yes, we want men to help more around the house, and most men would like us to care less about chores. I could go on and on.
    And what silent messages do children pick up when we focus on the emotional differences between the genders? What model does that set for our children? It seems counterintuitive to the way we’re trying to raise them. I think parents want both genders to be in touch with their emotions *and* their ability to speak up for themselves, without someone calling them a mama’s boy or bossy.
    What if we raised our children by asking the same question to both genders when it comes to how you feel?
    What if this question actually taught children how to find their emotions regardless of gender?
    I’m fully aware that boys are rough and tumble—I raised 2, and I’m fully aware that girls are emotional—I helped raise my very emotional sister. You can’t fight nature; all you’ve got input into is nurture!
    So what if you asked both genders “what does your heart have to say?” Which naturally leads to “Do you need to cry or yell?” “What will make your heart feel better?” “What will make the person’s heart you just offended feel better?”
    None of that is gender specific; it’s human specific.
    This country has just had its first political experience with seeing people as human, not black, not while, not male and not female. Now, in my humble opinion, we need to bring that wisdom to our children. We need to treat their emotions, regardless of gender, with equal value and respect.
    I promise you both genders get their feelings hurt and both want to bash someone over the head for taking a toy. The difference in how a child handles things can at times absolutely be attributed to gender and other times it’s just a child’s temperament that causes the difference in the way things are handled.
    By asking the same question to both genders as we raise them we begin working towards creating emotional equality and hopefully raise sensitive humans not just sensitive boys or girls. Who knows what can be accomplished for here?
    Then if you ever need to ask your adult child the kinds of questions Dorothy Rodham had to ask Hilary, it can all start with “what does your heart have to say about this?’
    Just a thought.

  16. YAY! Sharon said what I was trying to say. (funny, she does that a lot)taking it to that basic level, the ‘what do you need?’ and ‘how can I answer that need in you?’ – the ‘what could I say right now that would help’ and ‘what can I do right now that would fill this need?’ – those are just human answers.
    It doesn’t matter if my child is girly, or boyish, if they are getting their needs met in a whole way. If (as is true by evidence) my daughter M needs to scream and rage and wrestle her opponent to the ground, if G needs to step away from his brother and spend some time alone with his feelings, if R needs to come to someone else and have them witness the expression of her joy or hurt, if B needs to capture my attention and create a space that is just he and I for a moment. It’s all good, yes? It allows for what is in their hearts, their personalities, and their expression of self.
    Yes, I still watch to see if my sons are converting their fear into anger because it is safer and more allowed within the culture. And I watch to see if my daughters are converting their indignation into sadness for the same reasons. But if I open up the opportunity for them to express what is in their hearts, usually what comes out is not just what they tried to express overtly, but what they needed to express under it all. (By the way, both of the above patterns are mine – and both genders of kids do both. Modeling, dangitall, works. Too well. I am a good cultural model, despite my attempts to subvert it.)

  17. I’m just going to put a short one out here – It’s where my mind jumps on the question of “mom helping grown son” and reflects my experience (though given the comments yesterday, contradicts others’ experiences). That is, that I still rely on my mother, and my more “mother-wise” friends for emotional support primarily because I don’t/can’t get what I need from my spouse. Conversely, my spouse gets tons of support from me (& my father, you guessed it, tons from my mother). Thus, I would be surprised if my son still looked to me for support as an adult, and not to some intimate partner. (Which is not to say I won’t still be there for him. I’ll just be surprised.) Maybe my challenge is to make sure he can reciprocate?I think if I continued to use this logic to dissect the candidates, my biases would start to show, so I’m going to stop right now…

  18. I’ve witnessed several moms from a mom’s group do things like tell their 9 month old baby boy to “stop being such a cry baby,” or trying to show their 1 year old boy how ridiculous he is when he is frustrated and crying. Would they have done these same things if their babies were girls? I wish parents wouldn’t say those things to any baby, regardless of gender. Everyone’s feelings need to be validated, male or female.I’ve always thought it was this kind of socialization stuff that made boys and girls/men and women so different, but I’ve been reading a book called “The Female Brain,” which is about, well, the female brain. I don’t agree with everything the author, a neuropsychiatrist, says, but it is interesting to hear some science around the hormonal differences between boys and girls that start even before they’re born.
    The author talks about how our female brains are flooded with estrogen at different points in life, particularly in the first two years of life, and that this stimulates different parts of the brain than what’s going on in boys’ brains at that same stage of life. According to her, this is why from a young age, girls have a much greater ability to communicate and interpret and respond to others’ cues than boys do.
    Okay, okay, there might be some biology to it, but I still feel that validating each child’s individual experience and treating each child as unique is the best strategy. My daughter is 13 months old and is such a little lovebug, we snuggle with her all the time. I’d like to think that we’d do the same with a boy. And I hope that I make room for her to be angry and emotionally messy, especially since it took me well into adulthood to figure out how to give myself space to have ALL of my feelings (well, its still a work in progress).
    I like hearing about moms of adults still helping their children with their feelings. I hope that in 20, 30, 40 years, I’m still trying to do right by my kid like these moms we’ve been hearing from. And if I have a son someday, I hope that I base my decisions about how to support him on his needs and not what society says a male needs.

  19. I wonder how common another pattern of upbringing may be: I feel my mom focused more on getting my sister and me to grow “up and out,” to assert ourselves and make our way in the big world, while my dad never really wanted to lose his little girls, wanted us to stay under his roof, safe in the crook of his arm.I specifically recall being 5 or so and shyly waiting at the door to the market for my mom to swing it open and enter, only to have her say sharply that we don’t need to wait for her, just go ahead on in. I thought, at the time, that I heard scorn in her voice, but in retrospect, I think she was rueful and wondering what she had done (wrong) to create such timidity in her girls.
    I still am lucky to get unconditional love and support from both my parents, but it doesn’t seem to follow the usual gendered pattern: My mom is more likely to try to troubleshoot and deride whatever force was thwarting me. My dad is more likely to pet and soothe and reassure that all will be well. I’m not sure he would be the same with a boy, but I assume she would be.
    On the flip side, my MIL, who admittedly survived great economic, social, and emotional deprivation, wonders why none of her 3 boys and a girl confide in her or rely on her for solace. Most of her stories of their babyhood revolve around her being surprised they weren’t stupid. And as my 17-month-old showed off for her with an alphabet book, shouting out the letters and colors she saw on the pages, she muttered to my FIL, “It’s not good for girls to be *too* smart.” How do I get her to shut. up. and not. model. anything?

  20. @noodlemama, if just talking with her and expressing that those values/beliefs are not welcome in your house (gently if at all possible), you translate for her. If your child heard it (or even if you just need to address it for your own comfort) you can address it openly – in an aside to your child, you say, ‘gramma’s funny, she thinks it’s possible to be too smart!’ or ‘Grandma wants you to be successful in life. She doesn’t understand that you enjoy being smart, and other people will like it, too.’ Loud enough that it is an open statement, as if the three of you are in conversation. Pick the kindest approach first – find her underlying motivation (likely avoidance of shame, fear, guilt, or anger), and voice it for her. Say, for fear – ‘she is afraid there won’t be men smart enough to love a smart woman – but she forgot that your daddy loves me, and I’m smart!’ (and then drop it)As she gets older, ask your daughter to observe her grandparents – just tell her calmly that they believe some things that aren’t true about people, but they love their family and want the best for them, and sometimes it comes out funny as a result. Then let her observe.
    Any of the books on codependency would probably also help, since that kind of verbal pressure/manipulation is typical of codependency (IMHO).
    Otherwise, you’re stuck avoiding them.

  21. I’ll be honest and say that I breathed a sigh of relief each time when I found out I was having a boy. Not because girls are anything awful, but because I truly worry about how to raise one.I’m from a very large family where the boys were highly praised for every little thing they did and us girls were physically, emotionally and mentally abused. I have struggled with an eating disorder since junior high, one of my sisters literally pulls her hair out in an effort to cope with the stress. We’re all grown now. I choose not to have very much contact with my mom, which has been difficult since I have her only grandchildren. She calls me all the time begging to have my kids at their house or over night, and I don’t think I will ever be in a place where I can do that- I am positive that she would never hurt them (seeing as how they are male) but I cannot bare to see her any more than we already do.
    I worry that I push my boys too hard because my brothers were never made to be or do anything. I worry that I am alternately too lax or too critical because of my past. I worry that I will never just be comfortable mothering my children because I constantly worry that my mother’s actions are coming through me somehow. The very thought of having a girl myself makes me feel sick because I am so very worried that I would repeat my mother’s actions or detach from a daughter completely in order to not repeat it… I have no idea how to raise a girl to love and care for herself, which is one of the things I want most for my kids.

  22. Oh Hedra, what you have said about us paying more attention to children performing gender appropriate roles is amazingly true. My 18 month daughter is in no way a typical girl ( perhaps because she is a second child after a boy). She has never received dolls or other gender appropriate toys (except one toy bunny rabbit, which her brother absconded with immediately). And I have only this week put her in a dress for the first time. I have been thinking recently how do kids learn to behave like your typical little boy or girl, because my boy does, although he performs a lot of female gender specific behaviour too but my girl doesn’t. I see other girls around nurse their dollies, pretend to go shopping, play with tea sets, things my 3.5 year old son does (he nurses his pink-panther ‘just like mummy does with Zoe’ on our nursing chair). But DD loves DS’s train and trucks, balls, things that are more male gender-specific behaviour.But yesterday, just before I read your post, I noticed my daughter performing a gender appropriate activity ( she had her arm in a shopping basket)and I definitely spent more that the usual time observing her. In fact I was thinking, wow, look at the little ‘haus frau’, and she was noticing me smiling at her which encouraged her some more. Also, since putting her in a dress for the first time and admiring how feminine my little girl is, smiling more than usual, complementing her more than what I would normally, I have noticed she tends to favour that one particular dress more than anything else in her drawer, pulling it out, pressing it up against her. Amazing stuff.

  23. @Paola, it’s kind of scary, isn’t it? I definitely try to attend to them more when they’re doing things I know that they enjoy just because they enjoy them – like M and her trucks, and B and his garden. Those appear to be affinities beneath the socially supported, as they each responded viscerally to their first experience with same – M was just 5 months old the first time she saw a huge big black shiny truck (parked next to us in a parking lot as I was pulled over to nurse her sister), and when she heard that engine rumble and saw whatever it was she could comprehend about TRUCK at that age, she nearly climbed out of her car seat (buckles notwithstanding), literally shook and vibrated with her urgency to get to that thing, eyes wide astonished but not alarmed, sucking it in through her eyeballs right through the window next to her. She saw, and she loved instantly. She still loves great big shiny trucks of all sorts. I make sure I respond to her passion with attending and smiles, not to fix it in her (though it may well do just that), but because I don’t want to extinct it accidentally by NOT attending to it. Which isn’t to say that I don’t smile and watch when she’s dressed beautifully or when she twirls and dances or when she plays, mommy and daddy shark (yeah, sharks also were her own choice, not mine). But I focus on attending to what she naturally seemed to seek on her own accord, so that she gets her feedback balanced toward her needs, not just cultural ones. It is a scary power – and we’re so used to thinking about and working on the surface obvious notable actions, the words and deeds – to find that something so simple and unconscious as how long our eyes stay on them during an activity has greater power by far is rather alarming. (But also explains a lot about why kids continue to use loud attention-getting tricks to make us look. Because they work! So they repeat them. ‘Made ya look!’ is a powerful powerful thing.)There was also an interesting study that showed that people tend to glance away VERY quickly when they’re uncomfortable with something they see, EVEN if the discomfort is because they do not want to offend or indicate discomfort! So when we’re trying to allow greater gender range in our kids (compared to what we were raised with), we’re MORE likely to glance away when we’re feeling that internal conflict between how we were raised and how we want our children to be or how we want to be percieved as being. Which unfortunately just teaches EXACTLY what we were trying to avoid teaching – that crossing cultural role boundaries is uncomfortable and therefore not supported. Combine the two, and ta-DA! serious unconscious coaching to follow gender typical behaviors.

  24. I am 56 and my son is 39. He is disabled and when he was 4 he and his sister 3 were burned in a house fire. They both had 16 years of surgeries to correct hands and feet. Both burned 50 percent of their bodies 3rd degree. Now my daughter is 38.She’s doing fine, but my son suffered brain damage due to smoke inhalation in the fire. It was very hard to be a mother with 2 children who had been burned and a baby 18 months old (I rescued her from her room) I couldn’t get to my two oldest.
    Anyway, I’m proud of my son for being able to have his own apartment and a job. Alittle help from various resources out there and he does okay. But he is still what they call, bipolar. I have a problem with the diagnosis. Anyway he has over the years become very selfcentered, inappreciative, inconsiderate. Not only to me, but everyone else. He was arrested for battery, pushing someone when he got so angry. I’m afraid to have him at my home because of his blow up episodes and he is in a mandatory anger management class that consists of 2 people, alot of good that’ll be. I am considering not talking to him again because I’m tired of his abuse, emotional abuse. I think I feel guilty not taking his calls. I’m suppose to always be there aren’t I? Or not? My whole life was different dealing with the fire of 1975. I just don’t feel like it was worth all I did for him when he doesn’t appreciate me. I know he’s not quote normal, but I didn’t raise him to be the way he is and oh I guess what i’m wanting to know is, should I just cut ties. Every time we talk he makes me cry. It’s like he is so full of hate for everyone, not just me. He manipulates people and plays them against each other and stirs up trouble everywhere he’s lived. Neighbor troubles, landlord troubles, like he’s addicted to troubles. Any comments for me or encouragement? I’ve tried those Mental health chat rooms and things, but those would be great for my son, but not for me. I’ve tried to find help groups for mothers abused by adult sons, but can’t find any.

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