‘My boys aren’t a consolation prize – they’re equally as precious as their sister’

‘Girls wreck your head, boys wreck your home,’ I was assured

 Jen Hogan with her daughter Chloe and six sons  Adam, Noah, Zach, Tobey, Luke and Jamie in their home in Co Dublin. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Jen Hogan with her daughter Chloe and six sons Adam, Noah, Zach, Tobey, Luke and Jamie in their home in Co Dublin. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

“At least you have a girl” is one of the comments I hear most frequently, when people get over the initial shock of my numbers, and move forward to asking about gender divide. The announcement that I have six sons has been enough to send many an unsuspecting question-poser floundering in recoiled horror.

I’ve never been quite sure if it was a general aversion to boys or if a perceptual difficulty with my uneven gender balance was enough to provoke such a tailspin.

The next question is invariably predictable – “where does your girl come?” A seemingly rhetorical question they believe, thrown quite askew by my response that she is in fact, the eldest.

Yes, I chose to continue having children, even though I was a master son-producer. And I never saw it as a negative.

But the sympathetic head tilts, and constant offerings of reassurance that I had a daughter, in case I’d forgotten, suggested to me that all did not see my good fortune as such. And so I mentally prepared myself for the impending onslaught I was assured would come as a mother to boys. Farts and smelly socks would make up my life and I would be eaten out of house and home. Broken bones and ornaments (should I be daft enough to leave any on display) would be commonplace. Muddy boots would litter my hallway and the toilet seat – well that was going to prove a very different experience to the all-girl household I had grown up in.

Opportunity

“Girls wreck your head, boys wreck your home,” I was assured. As a mother of both I would have the opportunity to find out.

Turns out they were right about some of those things – though no one warned me of the underwear battles that would also unfold. And though some of my boys were gentle and calm, there were those who escaped my grasp like an overexcited pup upon spotting a classmate on the school run. A pursuit would follow after my small boy would manage, without fail, to bulldoze through the gently linked hands of a parent and daughter who were walking to school serenely, in a picture-perfect fashion. My apologies carried on the wind as I chased “The Hulk”.

But while some were and are master destructors, they’re also kind, caring and fiercely loving. My boys aren’t a consolation prize. They’re as equally precious as their sister. In fact I’m not sure they’re even any messier. And so I’ve mentally filed the negatively-tinged perceptions of boys under “different strokes for different folks”. Or at least I had until recently.

As I chatted with an old acquaintance, all talk turned to the summer and the plans I might have to keep the troops occupied. “My daughter is sitting the Leaving Cert,” I explained “but I reckon my eldest son might try to get some babysitting jobs over the summer”. “His sister was a similar age when she started babysitting,” I continued, before becoming aware of my companion’s confused expression.

“Do you think anyone will hire a teenage boy to babysit?” she asked sincerely and without intent to cause offence. But her question stung as I considered it. I had always thought his sister’s only advantage when it came to babysitting was that she had six younger siblings as opposed to his five. I never considered his gender might possibly work against him. Yet conversations with others revealed my acquaintance was not alone in her thinking.

Sweeping generalisations

Over the course of the month, my son brought his younger siblings to school each morning so I could bring his sister to school for her exams. He’d taken care of his three-year-old brother on the mornings I’d needed to work. And he’d taken that same three-year-old with him to collect the junior infant at pick-up time. He’d distracted, played with, fed and helped his younger siblings as needed – instinctively, because that’s what he’s used to doing. The same sort of traits and experience blatantly evident in him, that had seen his sister, at the same age, in constant demand within babysitting circles.

Teenagers largely get a bad rap. Teenage boys even more so as sweeping generalisations and assumptions reign supreme.

“Teenage boys don’t talk, they grunt,” one person advised me, lest I expect conversation from any of my sons in the future. The truth of course is, some do, some don’t – it’s more dependent on the person than the gender. That also goes for capabilities, kindness and suitability to babysit.

To suggest one gender is more suited than the other to caring or responsibility, is to do both a disservice.

Maybe it’s time we stopped with all the negativity and recognised boys for who they truly are and what they’re equally capable of.

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