Dear Mr. Dad: My wife and I have twin daughters, and are now expecting our third child–another daughter. I feel terrible about thinking this way, but when we found out the new arrival was going to be another girl, I was disappointed. It’s as though having a third daughter reduces my value as a man (I’m quite sure my in-laws, who were hoping for a boy this time ’round too, feel exactly the same way). This probably makes me sound like a terrible person, but I was really hoping for a jock. Is there anything I can do to move past this internal struggle?
A: The first thing you need to do is stop torturing yourself. There is absolutely no scientific evidence that shows that fathers of girls are any less masculine than fathers of boys (and I say that as a Marine Corps veteran with three daughters). Although most parents wouldn’t admit it in public, there’s a ton of research that shows that a majority of dads—and moms—do have a preference. And that preference is usually for a boy. Men often hope for boys because they aren’t quite sure what to do with girls. And women often hope for boys because they want their husband to be happy. After the first child, though, most parents say they want the next one to be the other sex. So you’re not alone.
Of course there’s a difference between having a preference before a child is born and being disappointed after the birth. But once again, you’re not alone. Couples whose first child is a girl tend to have larger families because they keep trying to conceive a boy. But those who have a boy first tend to have fewer children. Interestingly (in a creepy sort of way), couples with all girls are somewhat more likely to get divorced than couples with all boys.
I want to give you two pieces of advice that may seem a bit contradictory. First, allow yourself to be disappointed. Stuffing your emotions or trying to convince yourself that you’re not really feeling what you’re feeling will come back and bite you. Giving yourself room to experience your disappointment could very well make those feelings disappear more quickly. Second, keep your disappointment pretty much to yourself. Telling your wife will only make her worry that you’re not going to love your new baby as much as you do the twins. And children (girls or boys) who are the “wrong” sex have a greater risk of developing mental health problems later in life than kids who are the “right” sex. If you need to vent, talk to a good friend (a guy who also has daughters will be able to empathize) or a therapist.
One thing you should ignore, however, is any kind of negativity from your in-laws or anyone else who makes fun of you or criticizes in any way. The overwhelming majority of parents and grandparents get over their disappointment once the new baby squeezes their hand and gives one of those heart-melting smiles.
Finally, it’s important to understand that your dreams of having an athletic child are every bit as likely to be fulfilled with a girl as a boy. Girls are just as sturdy as boys and wrestling with them and playing physical games with them will be incredibly good for their self-esteem and self-confidence as they grow up. And the warmer their childhood memories of playing with you, the more likely they’ll be to make sports a regular part of their life.