Monday, April 20, 2009

Let's Hear It For the Girls

I've been feeling badly recently. It hits me at odd times: in the bath; drifting off to sleep; sitting at a stop light. I and a few others have been talking about the joys of parenting teen boys and implicit in that is the claim that teen girls are less joyful to parent.

And I used to be a teenage girl, and I am a feminist, and the preference for boys historically is offensive and I am officially offended by myself.

I want to apologize to any and all teen girls, and those who were once teen girls, for offensive comments.

And I still have found that boys are easier.

I've been wondering why that is my experience, and the experience of other foster parents. I have some thoughts.

One is that maybe it is just my limited experience. I happen to have parented boys who were relatively easy and given respite care to girls who were living in a therapeutic home. It is a distorted sample.

Maybe it is that unconscious prejudice in which people from dominant groups are not taken to represent anyone other than themselves. A boy steals from us and I think, "that is a difficult kid." A girl lies and wanders off and I think, "Girls are hard to parent." I know I am not immune to those errors.

Maybe it is because of the expectations we/I judge kids against. My experience as a professor is that students who get C's from my male colleagues conclude that they (the students) are not good at that subject. Students who get C's from me are more likely to conclude it is because I am a b*tch. They expect me to be more understanding, supportive, gentle, something. So maybe I'm doing the same thing...judging them by different standards, seeing the girls as more difficult because I expect girls to be nicer.

Maybe there is some reality behind it. Girls are more likely to be adopted at almost every age (I'm told, no reliable info to back that up). Once again based upon no firm evidence at all, it seems to me that the most difficult boys are more likely to end up in juvenile detention, so maybe when you put those things together the teen boys in foster care are easier to deal with than the girls.

I have often thought though that one difference is that the boys are not as angry or fearful of women. The girls feel their mothers' failures more acutely. They boys have seemed less defensive with me. Of course the boys often do this whole dominant male dance with Roland, who thankfully doesn't notice and just moves on.

So maybe it is just us.

But I don't know.

A lot of the things I say about teen boys applies to teen girls. They have a track record. You are much more likely to know whether their needs match your skills. They respond better to parents who see themselves as mentors and don't try to control them. They need understanding and support. They need to feel valued and cherished.

So if you are thinking about what age of kid to parent, consider teens, girls and boys.

There are amazing, wonderful kids out there. They come in different ages, genders, sexualities, sizes, and backgrounds.

Consider it.


  1. I really, really appreciate this post! It is so important to say these things out loud, and to be mindful of how we may or may not treat the girls and the boys differently. (Parents AND teachers need to think about this.)

    I have two bio kids, a girl and a boy. I have had to think about these same issues... one of my kids was a much bigger challenge to raise. Do I make generalizations about that entire gender, or do I say it's just that person's personality? I have had to think about those things over and over. And even from birth, my kids seemed to fit into gender sterotypes, no matter how hard I tried to be "fair." So it was something to think about from day one... and is a fascinating and important topic. Thanks for your thoughts.

  2. Anonymous9:46 PM

    Ah, in my inexperienced opinion, I think it all essentially boils down to individual personality. I have two boys: both are six, both have a similar history, both have similar interests, similar diagnoses, but one is infinitely easier than the other to raise. Both are a joy, don't get me wrong. But incredibly different. As for girls, I can't even go there LOL Maybe someday I will be able to speak of more well-rounded experiences...but I still find myself falling into stereotypes and forcing myself back out of them. Why can't my boys like pink and cooking? Why can't my daughter be into cars? No reason really. But I still have to bite my tongue.

  3. Anonymous11:31 PM

    Thanks for this post.

    Remember, what is easy for one might be harder for someone else. Also, saying it is easier doesn't mean it is more rewarding!

    Laura (who is for some reason terrified of parenting boys)

  4. Maybe it's partly because the people who are doing the reporting are women, who are experiencing the direct gender rebellion? I'm explaining it badly, but in my (limited) experience, teenage girls push against mom and justify it by becoming best buds with dad; and teenage boys push against dad but get no identity benefits by pushing against mom. Mom's the one who communicates with other moms, et voila! girls are difficult, boys just get into this alpha stuff with dad but they're really so sweet if only the guys could work things out...

  5. Girls, in my experience, are horribly difficult to raise. Don't know if it's because I'm a guy, or because they are objectively more difficult, or because the moon really isn't made of green cheese.

    But it doesn't matter. Women fascinate me, and that very much extends to teens and even younger. I wouldn't have them any other way. Otherwise they'd probably be boring.

  6. I confess to limited experience here as well. I have 3 boys, a 2 y/o daughter and a former f. dau (Rob's bio sis) that are in our life. I also have nieces in my life. What I see in girls (even my 2 y/o) is that they hold onto their anger in ways boys don't. Boys--at least mine--blow up and move on. They do that physical thing, throw a ball around, stomp around, but they are not into glowering for hours or days. Girls in my life seem more able and eager to do this. And even my 2 y/o diva darling seems amazingly able to remember a real or imagined slight and extract revenge at a future date!

    Like you though, this is a far from scientific sampling.

  7. Anonymous4:12 PM

    Thanks for writing this. It's something I've thought and thought and thought about. At this point we're still focusing on a boy because it's Lee's strong preference based on her personal history, and I want to make things as easy as possible for her.

    I can't speak from experience here, but just looking at how some foster parents in this area talk and definitely looking at photolisting writeups, it seems to me that kids in care particularly get pushed into the gender binary. Even a girl who loves science and playing softball is going to also have a section about how she loves to shop and get her hair done. I think girls are made "girlier" and boys more rough-and-tumble so that they can be considered acceptable. I don't know to what extent the kids themselves take these expectations to heart, but I have a feeling that's part of what's going on too.

    I tried to post this before work this morning and it didn't go. I'm sending it anyway even though it's not especially pertinent.

  8. It seems pertinent to me!

    I really appreciate everyone contributing to the conversation.

    It's tough especially for people who are being matched. On one hand, thinking in generalities is so wrong, on the other it is the only way the matches can be done.

    I don't know how to remedy that.

  9. Anonymous6:50 PM

    I am much less conflicted by the idea that we're saying "Yes, please, give us a black child!" than displaying a preference for boys, even though there are legal issues involved with race-matching. It just seems obvious that while living just outside a major metropolis with one black mom would be a good fit for many white kids, it's just so much better than living way out in the country where everyone's white would be for a non-white kid that it's unlikely we'd end up with a white kid. Others in similar situations have, but we and all our workers are operating under the assumption that we should be parenting a black child. This isn't really a response, but I have lots of tangled thoughts about all these issues.


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