April 6, 2012
By Ekta R. Garg
Earlier this week Three and I walked from the car to our front door after school when an elderly husband and wife who live in our complex stopped to say hi. We chatted casually for a few minutes, and the wife complimented Three’s natural curls and the way I fix both girls’ hair every day.
“They’re both so sweet,” she continued with a sweet smile.
“They’re a handful,” I half-joked with her. She has grandchildren and great grandchildren—Three and Five play with one of her great granddaughters who often comes to visit—so I thought she would appreciate my sentiment. She did with a chuckle of her own.
“They need a little brother,” the husband said with a kind smile of his own that held the hint of teasing.
“Oh, no, I’m done,” I told him with another laugh. We waved goodbye, and Three and I continued on our way home.
I couldn’t help wondering later about the husband’s comment, although I’ve heard it before. Several people of various ethnicities have asked, commented, and joked that we might want to think about having a third child in order to try for a boy.
Women in the corporate world and in the world of celebrities make a hue and cry about gender equality, and yet people of many different walks of life and different education levels still wonder out loud whether we want a boy.
Why would I want a boy? In all the time since becoming a mother, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say we should definitely try again for a girl. It’s always about a boy.
Please don’t get me wrong; I fully understand the desire for older generations to continue the tradition of someone carrying on the family name. In previous, more conventional eras, women always took their husbands’ surnames when they got married. Therefore if families wanted their stories, their importance, and their identities to survive, a boy alone could shoulder that responsibility. Furthermore, again in more conventional times, the husband alone provided for his family in the financial sense. His name provided future security for the family’s identity and present-day security for monetary success; a man’s name and his profession often became synonymous.
There is something also affirming for a man in having a son. Anyone who has paid attention in biology knows the basics: girls have XX chromosomes and boys are all XY chromosomes. The man in the relationship determines the gender of the baby, and it’s natural for a man to feel more—well, manly, I guess, if he is able to produce a boy. An heir. A sire. These terms and others throw back to the whole concept of transferring the family name and property from one generation to another.
But today so many of these things have changed. Women often don’t take their husbands’ names when they get married, retaining their own. Celebrities provide us with the most obvious example, but many non-celebrity wives also keep their maiden names after getting married.
The financial equation has flipped as well, especially in our current economy and with the help of digital technology. Many men have elected to stay home with their kids while their female partners earn the main paycheck that supports the household. At the least it’s more common now to run across situations where both partners work.
And yet society still holds on to this notion of needing to have a boy. Again, I’ve heard this comment from people of a variety of ages and education levels. Our sweet elderly neighbors come from a generation where this thought process was normal for most of their contemporaries, but even people our age have asked the question.
I fully respect the right for people to have their own opinions and to express them. I don’t feel, however, that we need to have a boy to make our family complete. We have exactly the right number of people and the right genders. When I think about my girls, I feel content. I don’t think I’m missing anything, whether that be in the form of more kids or having boys.
When most people offer their thoughts on the having-a-boy/having-more-kids issue, I simply nod and smile. If they require me to participate in the conversation, I am polite and I still smile. And I do my best to remind myself that if I feel like I don’t need to have any more children, other people may disagree with me and that’s okay.
I love my girls and miss their baby selves, but I can’t wait to see what they’re like in these coming years as they continue to grow and mature and become little women. Jo March would have approved, I think, of my stance, which I think is just as forward-looking as all those women who don’t change their last names or who bring home the larger chunk of bacon.
Besides, I know that while he may complain out loud, secretly my husband loves all the pink and purple and flowers and butterflies we have around the house.