It’s fair to say that when I imagined having a baby or a child, before ever having one, I always imagined that child to be a girl. We would walk around in matching fashion forward clothes, make popcorn every Friday and watch The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins every weekend. It was going to be blissful.
So when that little cocktail stick of a willy came up on the 20 week scan, I was a teensy bit nervous. Boys are smelly, aren’t they? They have sock sorting and loo seat issues, they are unruly and most of all they have bits that I don’t have and I have no idea how to look after or talk about. All I could think for a few short days was, “Am I ready for this? Do I really know how to be a mother to a boy?”
Luckily these nerves soon settled but there have been a few points along the journey where I have had to stop and think, “How does this work for boys?”
Toilet training is one example. I like to think that I am not an overly fastidious person, but toilet training showed me how wrong I was. It was not going well and we were having repeated accidents. I was pregnant with my second (a girl!) and I was struggling with the regression around toileting. Eventually, a helpful Health Visitor suggested that I leave the door open all the time and invite my son to inspect my good work in the bathroom, so that he would be proud of showing me what he had produced.
“Boys like a little bit of competition,” she said “and a little bit of toilet humour. Tell him that he will get a treat if he produces bigger poos than you. If his looks like a dinosaur pooped in the loo and yours looks more like a kitten’s offering, he wins.”
For 24 hours I chose to ignore this advice, until another accident occurred and I felt like I was back at square one. I was willing to try anything. So, the next time I went, I kept the door wide open and shouted to him in my best Mary Poppins voice “Darling! Come and look! It’s really big and in the shape of a … a … tractor!” Sure enough, in he raced to see the tractor-poo, and we were on track for successful toilet training well before the baby arrived. Job well done.
Another example is talking about anything sex-related. I want to give my son all the advice he needs in order to understand reproduction, body changes and also to protect him from the crude and the abusive. I do not want my children to feel confused if someone approaches them or tries to touch them in an inappropriate manner. But I also don’t really know what the playground language is anymore, or what the best and most direct advice is. Luckily his Dad is very good at speaking to him, and agreed to look after the birds and the bees conversation – and spoke to him about the reproductive urge, for which I am eternally grateful.
However, when the recent NSPCC PANTS campaign was launched, I realized that I had not dealt with abusive or inappropriate approaches. My son had already been out on sleepovers, cub camp and a school trip. I needed to make sure that I was giving him tactical advice – so I asked George to sit down with me and watch the video that was produced to accompany the campaign.
Anyone with young sons – and daughters – should watch this. It is a practical and simple guide which shows them which lines should not be crossed – and gives them the tactics to respond if they are. After we had watched it together – with me wincing at some of the language, my son said, “I already knew that was a rule. But I liked the video.” I am relieved that he did – and delighted that we could sit down and have someone else start that difficult conversation for us.
Much as I regret not being able to watch The Sound of Music on a loop every Sunday afternoon, tractor poos and other fun things have come along to replace the Von Trapps. And I’m sure that other Mums of boys would agree.
Sigrid Daniel is a mother of two. She lives in Cambridge and runs Care.com in the UK – the world’s largest on line destination for care. With 8 million members worldwide, Care.com launched in the UK in 2012.