A recent UK internet survey (sample size: 2,500 but non-random) found mothers are more critical of their daughters than their sons. The results sound utterly depressing:
More than half said they had formed a stronger bond with their sons and mothers were more likely to describe their little girls as “stroppy” and “serious”, and their sons as “cheeky” and “loving”.
I am very wary of falling into the trap of treating my daughter differently to my son, although I also find it difficult to evaluate my own results given the significant age gap between the two children. Lauca is five years old and Cormac is a year old. I think things like am I letting you get away with murder because you’re a toddler or is it because you’re a boy? And will I remember to ask him to take this same level of responsibility when he gets to five years old, too, and if I don’t will my failings be on account of thinking he is ‘my baby’ or because I won’t expect as much from a boy?
The Guardian asked a couple of women writers to un-pack these survey results and I liked Anne Karpf’s take on it best:
We feminist mothers were going to change the world. We’d be our daughters’ support group, their all-round encouragers. With us, they would always feel good about themselves. Sorry, girls (and I have two), but it didn’t quite work out that way. For a start we didn’t factor in the lasting consequences of our own experiences of being daughters. I made my peace with my late mother a few years before she died, thank God: if I hadn’t, I’d have been left with the loving but highly critical mother I’d struggled with most of my life. It’s hard to become an uncritical mother if you’ve never had one yourself.
We also failed to recognise how much daughters present you with particular challenges around separation. Boys are obviously “other”, but with girls there’s a boundary problem: what’s me and what’s her? I desperately wanted my first child to be “not me” and she isn’t, but when I see some of my less desirable parts in her I probably overreact. In criticising her I’m really criticising myself. On the other hand a daughter who rejects most of what you represent (and as teenagers they almost all do) can feel like a reproach – a re-run of your own mother.
This survey reminds me of this other post I wrote back at the beginning of the year where I explored some of the stereotype that ‘boys love their mothers differently’ which apparently should really be described as ‘some mothers love their sons differently’.
(Thanks Kim for the link).