Sunday, October 12, 2008

It's a Boy!

When I became pregnant last year (was it only last year?) I knew it was possible I could have a boy. The timing of conception led that way. I felt it would be a boy. But psychologically, it was hard for me to imagine anything but a girl.

Once I knew it was a boy, after I tried getting beyond the strange images of a penis growing inside me, I thought about the positives. With a girl, I’d be more likely to project my own experiences and my own development trajectory onto her. With a boy, since I didn’t have anything to go off of, I’d probably be more accepting. That would be a good thing because it meant I’d be less likely to be like my mother, less likely to encounter the years of adolescent fighting that characterized our relationship.

Since River appeared, we have bonded marvelously. I am head over heels in love with him. He seems to like me quite a bit, lately even preferring me to dad. I’ve started to understand the Russian women who coddle their sons to the point where these men expect the same from their wives. I’ve started to understand the overbearing mothers-in-law. I hope not to be like either, but I now empathize with where they are coming from.

Even though the adjustment has so far been easier than I expected, even though so far River and I have been able to communicate and more or less balance each others needs, I feel like there is still a lot I don’t understand about boys. So I picked up a book at the library called It’s a Boy – Understanding Your Son’s Development from Birth to Age 18.

It’s written by the psychologist Michael Thompson, the author of Raising Cain. The chapters are divided into age ranges: birth to 18 months, 18 months to three years, 3-4, 5-7, 11-13, 14-15 and 16-18. I don’t know whether or not I’ll make it through the whole book, since newer information might be available about teenagers 16 years from now. But I did read the part on birth to 18 months and a few months from now, I’ll return for the 18 months to three years section.

Probably the most useful fact I learned is the importance of early interactions with adults in determining the baby’s ability to attach and have good relationships with adults. Thompson says that 15 months is a safe marker. If a baby is well attached at that point, he is likely to relate to his parents and other adults in the same way at age six, and possibly throughout life. So far I’d say our attachment is pretty good. River’s needs are met quickly, he’s content and even-tempered. We feel lucky to have gotten a relatively easy baby and keep hoping he’ll keep this personality long-term. Only five more months to get an indication of what he will be like in the future. That’s exciting.

I also received reaffirmation of what I learned from the Buryats and what I intuited made sense. These people believe that no matter what you do, children are going to grow up anyway. They love and care for their children, but elders are higher in the order of respect and children are brought up to be obedient and respectful of their elders. Parents feel their job is to love their children, to help them, to be there for them (expecting assistance in return from their adult sons), but they don’t feel they can shape or mold their kids as so many Americans parents do.

This book confirmed both that parents do not mold their child’s development and that the fancy learning toys really don’t do anything that the world itself can’t do for a child.

Thompson tells readers they are not in charge of their son’s development. “Your son’s development will be his own to live, his to manage, his to determine,” he writes.

About the toys, he writes, “Every moment your son is awake he is learning as fast as he can and in the best possible way. He is doing it naturally, cultivating his intellectual curiosity and creativity through the joy of discovery. Your son is just as happy, and his neurons are just as happy, playing with a wooden spoon, shiny aluminum pie pans, colorful plastic bowls, or a clattering bundle of plastic measuring cups or spoons. Save your money – you’ll need it for pizza a few years from now.”

My husband has bought River three new toys – spending a total of $25-30. I’ve gotten him some things for free on freecycle, or cheap at garage sales, spending about $6 so far. I’ve visited friends’ homes who have spent more than our entire 10-month toy budget on a single toy. Yes, the $30 texture-rich ball my friend bought at FAO Schwartz was really cute. It did momentarily make us feel like deficient parents for not getting River anything that cool. It even made us want one for him. But I don’t believe that her son will be any smarter in the long run, or even appreciative of that purchase. It seems it’s more gratifying to the parents than it is helpful to the child.

We do have a couple of fun toys and I’m happy that River enjoys them. But I’m probably even happier when he is able to enjoy an autumn leaf with the intensity he does or to point repeatedly at certain objects that catch his attention or find joy in pushing a plastic doorknob cover across the floor.

River is in charge of his exploration of the world right now. All I can do is set the stage for a safe and varied experience. It may change as he grows older and wants to assert himself more. But for now, I’m happy to allow him to be the master of his universe. The love he shows for me is plenty of reward for the help I give him along the way. In the meantime, I look forward to see how this boy develops over the life cycle.

Does this information ring true to parents of boy? Any tips on what boys need from parents that is different from girls?

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