Why I re-wrote my last post

Thanks to a really insightful comment from one of you on my Facebook page, I decided to go back and change the title and some of the content of my last post about raging boys.

I like this post, but I must admit I’m not keen on the slight ‘gender essentialism’ edge to it. Labeling this type of behavior as somehow a ‘boy’ thing isn’t really a good thing for either boys or girls. Also in my opinion it’s really not that clear cut. I have a boy who is (at least so far) the total opposite of this- very physically cautious etc. this describes our friend’s daughter far more accurately. A mom I talked to recently with a wonderful spirited ‘wild’ daughter was lamenting the fact that everyone seemed to think this kind of behavior was fine from boys and wrote it off as ‘boys will be boys’ type stuff, but saw it as almost unnatural and totally unacceptable in a girl. Since having kids I see so many examples of how much we try to stereotype them. When we see behavior that confirms our bias we note it, but when we see anything that runs counter to our bias we ignore it. Boys or girls, the same principles, solutions and dilemmas apply so why pigeon hole?

Since honesty is my bag here, I have to admit that I felt really defensive after reading Ruth’s comment at first. “But I wrote it because I have a boy, and 99% of the comments on my post about Jo’s badness were from parents of boys.” And then I thought some more, and had a back and forth with Ruth and decided that she was right. Parents of raging, wild, aggressive girls probably feel less open about it than those of boys, so I probably hear less from them. And like it or not, this kind of behavior is something that’s more tolerated in boys. Based on my own experience at the playground, I can only imagine what onlooking parental wrath I’d incur if my 4-year-old girl kicked and then dumped sand on the little boy sitting by the slide.

So I want to broaden this discussion from parents of boys to parents of kids. Are you the parent of a kid? Do they rage? Do they head-butt you and then laugh? Well then step right up. I re-wrote this for you.

22 thoughts on “Why I re-wrote my last post

  1. My son is 2 1/2, my daughter is 5 months. He is a rager, like you describe your son. My concern is that his sister might also develop the same persona as she progresses through toddlerhood. I have already received plenty of sidelong looks when he throws one of his fits, and more than once it has been implied that it is our ‘parenting techniques’ or lack there of, that have caused him to behave this way. Ugh, parenthood. As if we didn’t have enough to worry about with BPAs and internet addiction. We should start support groups for parents with spirited children. Parents Of Spirited Toddlers, POST.

  2. Dear Honest Mum,

    I’ve just subscribed, after seeing a fb post of yours from a friend. I was so taken with your views (and writing) on all things ‘boys’ and their ‘raging behaviours’. I am one of many it appears with a beautiful, rough and tumble, misunderstood, easily frustrated, explosive…all-boy. I loved that you were able to articulate honestly the daily battles having boys bring. I also loved that you created an honest and open forum. Yes, it probably isn’t gender specific, raging behaviours. I guess that girls can also ‘lack some crucial skills in the domains of flexibility/adaptability, frustration tolerance’( Dr Greene, The explosive child). Please keep honest and resist subscribing to political correctness or gender studies 101/gender essentialism. You spoke as a mother of a boy child. This is your reality. Ruth doesn’t appear to even have a daughter but a boy who doesn’t have these same issues. Why is she on this forum, not that it has to be exclusive. In my circle of friends, the mums with girls do not have the same raging issues and are quick to denounce boys that do as products of ‘bad parenting’. Yes, there are some girls who have these behaviours traits, but they seem to be the exception to the rule in my reality. Isn’t specifically talking about ‘kids’ with these problems reverse discrimination/doing an injustice to the very essence of boys and how they are wired?

    1. I agree. It’s ok to talk about our crazy boys (I have two of them). We all know there are some crazy girls out there too. I love them. I love any kid as crazy as mine 🙂

      But, as you say, most crazy run around won’t sit still kids are boys and I think it’s ok to say that.

      1. I agree that most crazies probably are boys, and I also think there are larger cultural forces at work that make that true. I think its totally okay to say that but I want to take it a step further and welcome moms of girl crazies too because I have a lot of empathy for what that must be like.

    2. I’ve been marinating on your comment for a couple of days, Judith. I’m glad you wrote it. I have no intention of watering down my comments about my boys and my experiences with them. And I don’t want to sterilize my ideas with political correctness. Just as much as I want to be unflinchingly honest about my own experience, I want to make room for everyone else’s mess too. And the thing about Ruth’s comment that really rang true for me and motivated me to re-write the post was that I really do believe that my commentary–the reasons why I think this raging is happening a lot in our little houses–has less to do with gender and more to do with culture and the way (and where!) we spend our time as families. Because I have boys and wrote about them and got tons of comments from parents of boys, it felt natural to generalize about boys. But I do think this can be part of the problem–making it a boy thing. Even though Jo (and by the sounds of it, many of our boys) fit this crazy active boy stereotype to a T, I also want to make room for Jo in the world beyond the assumption that he does what he does because of “boy wiring.” So ultimately, I feel that whats most real for me to say is that this is happening in MY house and I have boys. And I’m thrilled to be hearing so much about what’s going on in your houses and its INSANELY heartening to know that this is a larger pattern. I’m happy as hell to feel huge camaraderie with all you moms of raging crazy “bad” boys out there, cause there’s a baseline way we can all relate. And I’m really interested to hear more about the girl side of this too. My aim is to be just as vulnerable and real about all of my boy experience and to also open this discussion up to parents of any raging crazy “bad” one.

  3. How can you tailor your blog to every individual?!?!?!

    Meh…is this a “Me Generation” thing?

    Thank you for sharing YOUR thoughts, opinions, and feelings in whatever manner you choose. “Taking” what’s useful and/or adapatble for me and leaving the rest to the rest.

  4. I just have to say…there’s no such thing as “reverse discrimination”; it’s all discrimination, just against the people we’re not expecting it to be against. And I would hope that someone with a different experience with their kid could still get to be a part of the amazing audience of this blog! As a feminist and a mom, I want to hold space for a world where girls and boys can totally surprise us. I have a boy; he’s a boy who, in public, does not rage or shriek or storm about. He’s much too shy for that. At home, all bets are off, and we get kicked and punched like the best of them. I like that he surprises me in that way. I like that he doesn’t hit other kids. And I do find myself thinking that some of his behaviors are intrinsically “boy”–they probably are. But I love that socially, he’s more like all “girl” (and trust me, that doesn’t, actually, make his life easier. I suspect that socially he’ll have a hard time because he’s not as extroverted as some of these boys….). Thanks, AHM!

    1. You’re welcome, Susie. Yes, that’s what I’m trying to make more room for–that staying open to surprise, trying not to close things off too much in a boy or girl direction when I’m generalizing.

  5. Thanks for this great post AHM and for your thoughtful comment. I was recently telling a friend that before I had kids, I really believed that boys were a certain way, and girls were different, but since having my two, and observing a ton of their friends, I’ve noticed that they are all so different that the gender differences are meaningless in comparison with the individual ones. I have a physically cautious boy, my neighbor’s girl of the same age is massively physically confident and much more as you describe your J. i have met cautious boys and wild ones, and the same with girls. Just let them be who they are. Gender stereotypes often serve the parents more than the kids. As a society we are very invested in these stereotypes, but they can be extremely limiting. Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine is an absolutely brilliant read on this.

  6. Also, a previous poster’s claim that boys are somehow ‘wired differently,’ really doesn’t stand up to scientific scrutiny. Here is a good summary of some of the research:

    http://www.boston.com/news/globe/ideas/articles/2007/10/28/the_difference_myth/?page=full

    I actually looked into this topic pretty extensively myself for a documentary I made at the BBC. The documentary was actually commissioned on the basis that male and female brains had strong demonstrable differences and we wanted to show this. I hunted high and low for any reputable evidence of this whatsoever and was desperate to find it (it was my job to prove this particular point, and I worried that if I didn’t I would have somehow ‘failed’) but I absolutely came up short. There really was almost nothing int he way of scientific evidence that definitively showed anything of the kind, and many studies which had been passed off or reported as showing marked gender differences actually were flimsy at best, once you drilled down beyond the media spin. We ended up having to make a show which said the opposite.

  7. Dear Honest Mom,

    This debate is no longer about nature vs nurture but about epigenetics. We are born with a complement of genes but the environment determines whether those genes are turned on or not. Although Personality appears to be hard-wired from birth, impulse control is a frontal lobe function which is plastic and which maturity doesn’t come until our early twenties. Furthermore, sex steroids have a very different effect on male vs female brains. The brain is a black box and we know very little about. Whilst we don’t know comprehensively how male and female brains differ, it is intuitive to think that evolution would have caused some specialisation between the sexes. Our boys are born with a propensity to be rough and tumble, but despite these differences, we have expectation or uniform behaviour between boys and girls. These behaviours are often to be polite and in control, to sit quietly and attend to activities for long periods of time but however this behaviour is more commonly found in girls/less commonly in boys. When our boys act boisterously and naturally, we label that behaviour as inappropriate and problematic and demonise them. This is no more apparent than in schools where girls are awarded for behaviours like sitting and attending while boys are often prescribed Ritalin to have them emulate the same behaviour. The difficulty is it is not as simple as nature vs nurture, how we and society interact with our children directly influences neural processes. It is not so simple as saying we have to forgive our children for socially constructed behavioural issue nor is it appropriate to wipe our hands of our responsibility by saying genes are our destiny. We parents and broader society have to accept that the way we interact with our children directly impacts how our kids brains function so we don’t create Frankenstein’s monster. Honest Mom, I think that was what you were saying at the beginning, thank you for making me think about this issue in a bigger picture way.

  8. Interesting study, but be very wary though of subscribing brain differences shown on scans to ‘nature’ rather than ‘nurture.’ Neuroscientists generally agree that the wiring of our brains is formed by nurture, and neural connections are forged from our experiences and environment, rather than being ‘hardwired’ a certain way from birth. These connections are then visible on brain scans. Hence the brain of a neglected orphan say will look very different on a scan from a well loved and cared for child etc. This is not ‘nature’ but nurture wiring the brain.

    1. I’m curious Ruth, what you found I your research about the effects of hormones on brain development. From my profoundly lay perspective it seems to me that if there were any nature component to gender differences other than genitalia, it would be hormones.

  9. I have to admit, my sister is a neuroscientist and chatting to her about this, there is a saying in neuroscience that “genes are the gun but its environment pulls the trigger”. Ruth, this is epigenetics and this is what neuroscientists agree on. We definitely should concentrate on what we can control – our own interactions and our little hot-house environments. My thing at the moment is childhood anxiety.

  10. Jude- how interesting, thanks. I dislike gender stereotyping in general because people are so quick to do it, way out of proportion to any evidence of actual innate gender differences, and it is so limiting for kids and sets up terrible models for adulthood. Would be interested to hear about your childhood anxiety theories/ research. Thanks!

  11. Thanks Ruth. I’ll be more aware and careful not to generalise in the future. My son suffers hugely from anxiety and I always thought that some of his extreme toddler behaviours were caused by this. Now he is older (8) there is no question he is anxious. Nobody really thought anxiety was the issue until now, Anxiety is a illness that is treatable and really responds to early intervention. He is incredibly well-behaved outside the house – his anxiety keeps him in check so that he is always enguard. It is when he is at home is able to let go and this is when all the expressed emotion and hitting out happens.

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