Why having a son first stretched me as a mother

I have a languishing Pinterest board filled with crafts ideas for toddlers (I mean, who doesn’t?). Most remain unattempted, but it’s not because I don’t have time. My son just doesn’t love craft as much as I do, for now at least.

In the early days with a baby, I scrolled Instagram feeds punctuated with images of the light-filled, Scandi style homes of seemingly perfect mothers whose toddlers (yes, even boys!) sat quietly and completed engrossing, educational activities.

I imagined parenting a toddler would involve a lot of carefully planned craft activities, but in reality, my son rarely sits still long enough to glue a pom pom on a paddle pop stick!

Full time playmates

We travel the world full time, so we spend 100% of the time with our son. He doesn’t yet have a sibling, so we’re his play buddies. And spending so much time as my son’s playmate has put a few things under the microscope for me.

Even though I’m often looking for ways to break down limiting gender stereotypes, I have to admit that there is a BIG difference between how I relate naturally to my son as a woman, and how my husband relates to him.

My brain doesn’t invent games called ‘Boof Boof’

Yesterday my husband and two-year-old son Leo were playing one of their favourite games. My husband chased Leo into the room, squealing, and they turned and faced each other. They had cushions pushed up under their shirts. “Boof, boof!” yelled Leo. He charged at his father and did an almighty chest bump against the pillow, before bouncing like a ping-pong ball, rolling to the floor and cackling with laughter. He hit his shoulder on the nearby coffee table, but didn’t even stop to notice.

“Again, again?” he said, and ran into the next room for a more extended run-up. I couldn’t help but laugh, mostly because it was the weirdest and most hilarious game I’d seen.

“How on earth did you come up with that?” I ask my husband with a curious smile. He shrugged, nonchalantly. “It just happened,” he replied.

Studies show that mums and dads relate differently

Recent studies explain how fathers relate differently to their sons than their daughters, engaging in “more rough-and-tumble play and [using] more achievement-related language (e.g., words such as proud, win and top) when talking to their sons.”

An article in TIME confirmed the same is true for the mother-daughter relationship, revealing that mothers use more emotional words talking to their four-year-old daughter than their four-year-old son.

“We know … that children imitate same-gendered models [i.e. girls imitate moms and boys imitate dads] more than different-gendered models,” the researcher said.

These findings present a pattern that is consistent with my experience as a classroom teacher and at home, both in how children relate to same-gender teachers, and how my husband relates to our son differently than I do.

Dads and Dress-ups

There was a popular ad on TV a few years ago that depicted a dad manning the fort while his wife went away for the weekend. (I remember it because I was pregnant, and cried at most advertisements involving kids #raginghormones). Minutes after Mum pulled out of the driveway, a heartwarming scene showed Dad sitting at a tiny table in a pink tutu, knees up around his ears, sipping tea and having a tea party with his daughters and their teddy bears.

I asked my husband if he remembered that ad, and he laughed. “It was funny for me because I would have NO idea what to do at a tea party,” he admitted. “I mean, what’s the point of it?”

I haven’t tried a tea party with my two-year-old yet (I’ve got the sitting still factor to consider), but there’s no doubt in my mind it would be my jam. Dressing up as a princess was what I played a lot growing up. I just ‘get’ it.  

Brushing up on the boy stuff

I don’t get to do a lot of the kid things that come instinctively to me as a mum. So, like a dad has to take a 101 class on Tea Parties, I’ve been improving my Lego building mojo, refining my rough play tactics and building towers that I know will be destroyed within seconds. And it’s been so much fun!

Honestly, it took me a while to mentally and physically adjust to having an active two-year-old boy. I’ve had to let go of the style of parenting that probably would suit many girls, and embrace the energetic, loud, physical boy in front of me. I love my son’s energy and passion for all things noisy, mechanical or messy.

And the good news is I’m now well on my way to being a strong contender in a game of ‘Boof Boof’.

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