Friday 26 December 2014

Fathering boys or girls: which wins?

Published 23/04/2013 | 05:00

Joe Donnelly and Tom Dunne have very different experiences with raising boys and girls

Is raising the two genders really that different? Yes, according to fathers Tom Dunne and Joe Donnelly

There are two main ways in which having a family can be a dramatically different experience. One is going from having a single child to having more than one. The other is when you're solely raising boys or raising girls. It is said that boys break your house and girls break your heart, but does this expression have any truth in it?

As a Dad of two boys, I decided to compare notes with broadcaster Tom Dunne, a father of two girls the same age as my children.

Endless Energy and Wrestling

Joe: My own two boys, Ben, aged 7, and John, who is almost 4, have limitless energy. I often wonder if it's the same in an all-female household.

There was a period of about six months where they demanded that I wrestled with them every evening when I got in from work.

Some of you may be thinking: 'What a beautiful example of a loving, fun, family life, where the Dad comes home from the office, flings his briefcase to one side, loosens his necktie, and performs a full body slam on his first born.'

I can tell you that the novelty of wrestling wore off pretty quickly for me, as much as I love roughhousing with the lads. There are only so many continuous knees to the groin a man can take. Eventually we had to stop because Ben was literally getting too big for it and John always ended up getting a knock on the head or a twisted ankle.

Having boys is very physically demanding. They're always on the go and you're always expected to get involved. We're not a very sporty family, but my car boot has several hurls, two filthy pairs of football boots, a helmet, a scooter, a kid's karate belt, and a burst Thomas the Tank Engine football.

Tom: Eva is 6 and Skye is 4 and I'd have to say they're not as physically demanding as boys.

That's not to say they leave you alone when you get in from work. I've found that the time spent with your children is great, and very entertaining, but you simply can't have anything else that you need to do at the same time, especially with the girls. I find it hard to park everything when I get in; I sometimes feel it would be better if I could actually change my brain.

There isn't much wrestling in our house; instead I'll find myself playing an assortment of games, usually involving me being an animal like a lion or a dog.

They have sophisticated role-playing games whereby I'm buying a dog, one of the kids will be the pet shop owner, and the other will be the dog.

We'd do colouring as well, and play card games. I find they're quite helpful in assembling Ikea furniture, and this is a win-win situation in my book.

They'll also ask endless questions about life, the universe, and everything, and the questions are always preceded by umpteen calls of 'Daddy', as if I hadn't heard it the first time.

Sibling Squabbles

Joe: When they fight with each other it can get physical, loud, and angry. Ben is much bigger than John, and knows that he can't use full force, so instead there will be plenty of shouting and door-slamming, and similar retaliatory acts from John.

If you're in another room listening to it you'd be forgiven for thinking two rugby teams are burgling your house.

Sometimes it seems they've taken it upon themselves to test the durability of household furniture.

The physical rows escalate very quickly, and will end with either one crying, with claims that the other 'sat on my head' or 'stuck his smelly foot in my mouth'.

You'd often feel like a referee at a grudge-filled football match.

Tom: The two girls don't fight in a physical way; their mother would be fairly quick in letting them know it's not tolerated.

There's plenty of bickering though. A car journey can often be the scene of a row. They'll start saying things to each other and soon they'll be shouting their heads off. I'm often torn between leaving them at it or else intervening.

Unlike breaking up a physical altercation, with girls you'd have to get to the bottom of the dispute and peel back the layers of argument.

They'll bicker over weird stuff, like one might say to the other 'I have more friends than you,' or 'I'm not going to your party'. But I can see how boys will use their physicality more than girls.

We once brought the girls to a toddler disco, and it wasn't difficult to 'spot the boys'. While all the girls meekly danced on the spot, barely shuffling their feet, the lads were getting into the whole, pushing and shoving and the general freaking out you'd associate with a mosh pit.

Stop Making That Racket

Joe: My mother used to refer to it as 'guldering' and I believe it's an actual word too, with Ulster-Scots origins.

What is guldering? It's the act of making random, loud, or shrill noises as you go about your business. Maybe it's a genetic thing, but my two boys definitely enjoy guldering.

One of them will suddenly, while fetching a knife or spoon from a drawer, issue a series of shrieks or bellows. Sometimes I genuinely jump in alarm because I think he's been stabbed or scalded. They've also recently taken on stomping as a hobby. Perhaps they find the wooden floors perfect for this pastime, but they've embraced it with gusto.

Tom: I think our house would definitely be quieter in comparison to Joe, although the girls are fans of noise.

They'll often put on a music show and perform dances, and then afterwards collect money from whoever was in the audience. It's usually just me.

They have a fondness for putting on the television, and then also putting on a CD, and don't seem bothered by the two going at the same time, which is an interesting sonic experience, to put it mildly.

Toilet Talk

Joe: As far as I can see, boys are obsessed with all bodily functions and the fixtures in which the functions are carried out. Words like 'poo' and 'bums' and 'snots' provide endless fun in our house, despite my attempts to explain that they're not exactly polite.

Then again, I'm the eejit that bought them the (wonderful) book 'The Dinosaur That Pooped Christmas' a few months back.

For Ben and John a simple principle seems to be in operation: as soon as the next available opportunity arises to add a toilet word to something, then do so.

For example, it may be as innocent as asking them what they want in their sandwich for lunch. 'I'll have cheese,' one might say, and then the other will respond: 'I'll have poo.' They'll fall about laughing at this point.

Tom: There isn't the same obsession with girls; they don't talk about matters of the toilet too often.

In fact, they've yet to curse or use a 'bad word', and this amazes me. Thank God for small mercies.

Heading Off To School

Joe: The playground can be a tough place, and I haven't met many parents who don't spend time fretting over their child's entry into the school system.

Alongside their academic potential, I'm equally concerned whether they'll be able to stick up for themselves. Of course it's not entirely rational ,but I've been known to obsess over small incidents that are relayed back to me – by my children – from the creche or school yard. Perhaps the reason for this obsession is because it questions my own perception of justice and the need for physical aggression. Or to put it more simply, do you tell your son to hit the other lad back or tell the teacher instead?

Tom: I wouldn't have the same worries about whether they can stand up for themselves but you might have some teasing going on. For example, I know that my eldest might get a bit of slagging about her height, and she's quite sensitive about it.

They both love going to school, thankfully, and I hear about how girls can be just as cruel sometimes as boys, but that hasn't come on our radar yet. I don't think they're actually aware of things that they could be catty about; they're still quite young and innocent. This might come into play a lot more when they're teenagers, and I'm not looking forward to dealing with that at all!

Growing Up

Joe: I think it's a lot of easier with lads isn't it? I don't have to buy a shotgun and scare off suitors. I'll be delighted if and when they arrive home with a girlfriend, good luck to them I say. I'll just feel sorry for the girl, because she'll have to put up with the guldering and the talk about snot sandwiches.

I sometimes think I'd like to have a girl, simply to experience a different parenting role, but I probably have a romanticised notion of what it's like. A parent once told me that boys can be hyper and destructive and all that, but girls can create a big drama out of something small, and it's hard for a man to deal with that. Maybe it's true, in which case I think I'd settle for the wrestling and the damaged furniture.

Tom: A little bit of me dies inside when the eldest talks about boyfriends. On one hand I'm actually delighted for her when she goes on about her 'boyfriend', who seems to be a 10-year-old lad that she has a thing for. I think it's cute and innocent, and funny I suppose.

On the other hand, I know I'm going to be very wary about any fellow who approaches our front door when she's older. I haven't bought the shotgun yet; I think I'd be more likely to subject him to torture first.

I think I definitely would have loved a boy – not to take anything away from my girls – and my visions of parenthood would have been about boys. I thought we were going to have boys on both pregnancies. There must be a huge difference between the two. I'm so used to the gentleness of the girls now.

I'd notice it if their cousin is around, for example. He's four and you can just see he's more physical and boisterous. A girl's world is very different to that.

Conclusion: girls help assemble furniture, boys help disassemble it.

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