NOTE: This archive only contains Carolyn Hax columns through March 2011. Her more recent columns are located here.

Tell Me About It

Tell Me About It
(Nick Galifianakis for The Washington Post)

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By Carolyn Hax
Sunday, July 29, 2007

Dear Carolyn:

I just had our second child; our first is a boy, second a girl. My husband doesn't seem to like our girl as much. He was pretty involved with our son but makes comments like "I don't know how I'm going to relate to a girl" and "I just can't calm her down the way you can."

He's so into our son, and they play baseball and do all sorts of things my husband enjoys. He's even made fun of a few dolls and girly things she's received, which I think is awful -- as she grows up I don't want her embarrassed to be a girl.

We didn't find out the gender before she was born, but why should there be any sticker shock? When I bring it up he tells me I'm being silly, which I also don't care for.

I Can't Believe I'm Asking This

Being diminished will have that effect. And his recoiling from a girl does diminish you both, intentionally or not. More specifically, it dehumanizes you, wiping away who you are and filling the blank with a stereotype. And then, worse, ridiculing the stereotype.

Yeah, yeah, boys find baseball and girls find dolls. Our eyes don't lie. But they don't tell the complete truth, either, since they don't see what each boy and each girl enjoys -- or would, with the effects of socialization removed.

And so the only way to avoid alienating, limiting, shaming or condescending to shortstop-playing doll collectors of either sex is to treat children first and always as people.

There's still time to see if your husband warms to that role as your daughter becomes more baseball-ready, something many dads do. His attention to your son, not lately, but as a baby, is the valid comparison here.

If he continues to put girls and boys in neat little unequal boxes -- or already has a history of it, which I suspect he does, given your interpretation of events -- then it's time to ask why. Pick any reason, that he's ignorant, "old school," controlling, angry, in a rut or, to be comprehensive, gay in denial, and you still have the same common denominator. Fear.

The clearer we draw our distinctions, the less gray we need to navigate, the fewer unknowns we need to face, the less we need to learn about ourselves or others, and the less we have to try.

Trying, on the other hand, is scary. Physically, it's when you fall. Professionally, it's when you look inept. Emotionally, it's when you get hurt. It's also when everything is accomplished, but that's merely rhetorical when fear keeps you back.

All of this is to argue that a baby girl has your husband outside his comfort zone, and he's scared. He's reaching for the nearest crutches: detaching emotionally and laying it on you. Please don't let that stand.

Instead, help him find real comfort. With, "I don't know how to relate," remind him, "Yes, you do. Treat her like a person." With, "I can't calm her down," remind him, "You can help each other find a way." With mocking, try, "Why not let her decide who she is?"

If time and tutoring don't produce a loving environment for your daughter, please find a good, reputable marriage counselor who can help you get to the heart.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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