Boys vs Girls [by Hannah Shepherd]

When I was pregnant for the first time, we didn’t find out what we were having, we wanted a surprise. Everyone was convinced we were having a boy so we were all surprised when Phoebe came along! I was secretly a little relieved, I felt that having a girl was more of a natural fit for me, having had a sister and being a pretty ‘girly girl’ myself! Phoebe was exactly as I expected, just like me, we can clash but I understand her – I can see how she thinks and learns, I get it all, she is my “mini me”! So when I found out I was pregnant again, we decided to find out what we were having; Phoebe was 4 and we wanted to help her adjust by being prepared. I knew she would want a sister so when we were told we were having a boy at the scan, I immediately looked at her blank face, I knew she wasn’t impressed! So we jumped straight into making her excited about the new arrival, we bought a boy doll for her to dress up and lots of clothes for both the baby and her doll (who, for reasons we will never understand, she decided to call Leon Axeblock!).

Boy holding car transporter in street

Cooper arrived and immediately I knew he was different, not just because he was a boy, but because I just felt him to be a different personality to me, I knew I would be experiencing a whole different version of motherhood. Many people talked me about the differences in bringing up boys and girls and in all honesty I just dismissed a lot of it as gender bias. We have always really tried to be open to everything with Phoebe, she had trains and cars, she watched dinosaur films and wore lots of neutral clothes, we took her on muddy adventures and signed her up to baby ballet and baby football at the same time. Some of it she enjoyed, some not so much, we let her form her own opinions. Before long she was wearing princess dresses at every available opportunity, watching only princess films and insisting on taking her doll and pram everywhere we went.

So when Cooper came along, we jumped straight into the same approach. He loves his dolls, has a particular thing for wearing bracelets and does like a brightly painted thumb nail but he is so totally different. He loves everything that his big sister does so there are many things that he is learning straight from her but his whole approach to every part of life is so totally different it is fascinating. When I spoke to Lee, my husband about writing this, he tried to explain what he was like, he flinched as he said the word “boisterous” it’s a word that is often associated with behaviour as is so obviously associated with the whole approach of “boys being boys” and an inability to control their behaviour. But it is a word I understand so much more now. Cooper is energetic just like any toddler, but he is so much more physical and less risk averse than Phoebe ever was. He sees a hill, he HAS to climb it, he sees a step, he MUST jump off it, he sees a puddle he CANNOT NOT jump in it!

Girl dressed in pink holding football

It has meant that all the strategies I had for Phoebe’s tantrums, emotional explosions and general approach to teaching

her right and wrong, safety and how things work is simply not working with Cooper. My personal guidebook has been thrown out of the window and I’m muddling through again. Some of this is simply because they are different people, but their approaches to most things sit so firmly within the stereotypes of how girls and boys are different that it has opened up so many questions to me. Understanding that they are wired differently and trying not to compare them or approach their development in the same way has been my first big step. I’m yet to learn how to stop him running in the opposite direction when I say his name, throw anything he can get his hands on or climb on absolutely everything, but I’m learning what works and what doesn’t, that I don’t need a gym membership thanks to him and that most days need to end with a glass of wine in the bath at the moment (and that’s ok, he isn’t going to be 2 forever!)

I have no answers to any of this, I’m just muddling through like everyone else, but I know that having 2 very different children is teaching me to be more open, understanding and accepting than I was before having Cooper.

– Hannah