We have a running joke in our family. I’m the eldest of three and the only boy, my brother, is the youngest by seven years. He is, and always has been, The Golden Boy, The Darling Child, the Favourite, the One Who Can Do No Wrong.
This isn’t true, of course. Don’t get me wrong; he’s pretty special. But my dad, sister and I — and anyone else who is in on the joke — refers to him in these glowing terms for one reason. To wind my mum up. I know, I know. How childish. But it’s funny because we all know that it isn’t true.
I mean of course he is her Golden Boy. But no more than my sister and I are her Golden Girls. The reason we can joke about it — and she rises to it every single time meaning we’ll never stop — is that we’re all pretty secure in our places in the family.
Which I’ve been thanking my lucky stars for since reading Shona Sibary’s article in the Daily Mail last week. She’s a mother of four: three daughters (Flo, 16, Annie, 14 and Dolly, 5) and a son, Monty, 12, and she’s not ashamed to admit that her boy is her favourite. In fact she wants to share the fact with several million of us.
Which is absolutely fine. The thing about parenthood — the only thing, really, that is certain — is that it’s different for everyone. We all react to, cope with and celebrate the experience in our own way. Like all wonderfully complex, constantly evolving human relationships, we all have our own unique bonds with our kids. Or no bonds at all in some tragic cases.
Sibary doesn’t mince her words when spelling out how her relationship with her son is different to those with her daughters. “Of course, I felt rushes of maternal love for the girls when they were born, but nothing like this,” she says of the birth of her son Monty.
“And before you all accuse me of blatant favouritism there is strong historical and literary evidence backing up the closeness of a mother’s relationship with her son,” she says.
Perhaps she’s right; I haven’t taken the time to thoroughly investigate her claim. But I feel suitably qualified to respond to her because I have a son and a daughter.
I can relate to a lot of what Sibary says. She talks about looking at her “newborn son through the Perspex side of his cot and, in a fog of hormonal emotion, thinking: ‘I will kill the girl who breaks your heart.'” I’ve absolutely thought a similar thing about my boy at various times during his seven years and not just in those first few days of new mother wonderment. But I have also, on just as many occasions, gazed at my sleeping daughter and thought, “I will smash the face of any boy who treats you like sh*t.” I’m no more protective or proud of one than the other and that’s the truth.
Sibary’s eldest two daughters are much older than mine. I’m still a long way off from dealing with the stresses of teenagers. I hope, for Sibary’s sake, that her son is the perfect teen she seems to think he will be.
I really, truly, think how you feel about your kids (beyond the instinctive, inexplicable unconditional love that is just simply there) comes down to personalities rather than gender. Which is why I foresee my relationship with my son being more complicated, potentially more fraught, than the one I have with my daughter. He and I are more similar in nature. We’re sensitive, we’re creative, we’re emotional. My daughter could also be described as sensitive and emotional — she is a four-year-old, after all — but she’s different. I see so much more of myself in my son and I believe that makes our relationship slightly more vulnerable.
“I remember a friend once told me that when she looked at her daughter she could see all her own flaws, but in her son she could only see the traits of the man with whom she had fallen in love,” reveals Sibary, going on to say that this is “a truth most mothers would struggle to admit.”
Do we really believe that “most mothers” feel this way? The very notion that a son is a miniature version of his father and a daughter the carbon copy of her mother is outdated at best and dismisses the many, many versions of the modern family that exist today: single parents, same-sex couples, adopted children, foster families and every possible variation and combination of all of the above.
I respect Sibary’s right to share her personal parenting experience. But I can’t accept that the majority of mums feel a closer bond with their son than their daughter. In my experience it’s not true. And I hope my Golden Boy and Golden Girl grow up knowing that too.