I find the differences in how boys and girls are parented – and how as parents we end up having different relationships with each of our children, interesting.
This led me to explore the bonds between a mother and daughter in my first novel, and with mothers and sons in my most recent novel, One Little Lie.
My three children are now 18, 21 and 23 – the eldest being a girl, the other two are boys – and attitudes towards parenting have already altered since mine were little: social influences are different – the media, particularly social media – now plays a larger part than it did when my kids were at primary-school age.
When I had my first child I didn’t have a computer or internet, I didn’t even have a mobile phone.
The internet came a few years afterwards (and then it was dial-up and I hardly used it!) so initially, it had no bearing on my parenting, or the children’s lives.
From the time they were born I wanted to ensure I gave each of my children the same upbringing: the same love, attention and emotional support, the same rules and the same treatment.
I didn’t try and parent them differently based on their gender. My daughter tended to gravitate towards toys that were traditionally marketed towards girls although she was also happy to play with construction-type toys, like bricks and Lego: I didn’t actively encourage either type, I let her choose.
Toy selections became more interesting once I had my first boy.
As he grew up he had the choice of toys right there available to him as he had his sister’s things as well as things he’d been given or had asked for. He often chose to play with dolls – Barbie being his favourite – and he enjoyed playing ‘dress-up’ with his sister where he would adorn feather boas and allow her to put make-up on him. He was equally happy with that as he was the cars, Lego and action men.
My third boy also played with any toy – his favourite for several years was a doll, Tilly – from the TV show Tots TV. He never went anywhere without her. We lost her in New York when he was seven and he never got over it. (He recently bought a replacement from eBay!)
However, despite their choice of playthings, I did notice a marked difference in their types of play.
My first son was much more active and a keen climber – as soon as he could move he would pull himself up onto the furniture and toys became things he would stack up high and attempt to ascend.
Whereas my daughter seemed less of a risk-taker and preferred to play games that required time and sustained effort. (The risk-taking is a difference that remains now they are 21 and 23).
I noted how both boys preferred more rough-and-tumble gameplay, and this seemed natural to them – it wasn’t something that I’d encouraged, anyway.
There has always been a debate about whether it’s nature or nurture that impacts on our children more, and there is a good argument for each (for example see this article). Realistically, there is a mix of both but maybe it is the environment which inevitably plays a bigger role in the longer term.
I do feel that once my children hit their teenage years things altered.
One reason for this was the internet. Bebo – which was the first social media site my daughter signed up to before the popularity of Facebook took over – became a ‘thing’, and a mobile phone became an extension of her hand.
By the time my boys were of the same age although they too had Facebook accounts, their interest was not as great. Selfies and updating their friends on what they were doing didn’t seem to interest them. At this stage, it was gaming that overtook all other gameplay.
It was also at this point I realised that maybe I was beginning to parent the three of them differently, and whether intentional or not, I began to change the ‘rules’ slightly. My eldest boy became interested in Halo – an X-box game that I knew to be popular with his friends. Their dad also played it.
However, it was a game that had a 16-age rating, but I allowed his near-constant nagging to sway me, and I let him play it five years earlier than I should have. It was an alien game – I didn’t see the harm. It was probably a case of bad parenting and no doubt would have had some parents jumping on my poor judgement and telling me how I was irresponsible and doing it all wrong. If I had that time again, I would have made a different decision. But, I admit, the term, ‘boys will be boys’ did cross my mind.
Where I loosened the parenting reigns on the boys slightly, I began tightening them on my daughter.
Fear of her meeting unsavoury characters online, people taking advantage, her going out with only a few friends after dark – were all things that suddenly became more of an issue because she was a girl. So, however hard I’d tried to ensure I treated all my children the same, I felt it was inevitable that differences crept in. Not only because I had boys and girls – but because they are individuals.
Ultimately each child, whatever their gender, have personality differences that may mean we end up treating them differently to their siblings.
Sam Carrington’s novel One Little Lie publishes in paperback on 6 September.