When we moved to North Carolina, we had friends that moved there too (for the same reason - our husbands were in the same lab and their graduate advisor moved to a new school). In fact, the wife had said she was only moving if we agreed to move too. In fact, we ended up moving into the same apartment complex. We were both five months pregnant when we arrived in NC and became very close during the remainder of our pregnancy. Our due dates were a day apart. When the time came, their son ended up being born exactly a week before our sweet Lulu. I remember holding him when he was a day old; he was resting on my belly and Lucia was kicking him from the inside. They were destined to be best friends.
Sweet story, but anyway, where am I going with this? Well, my friend and I had very similar parenting techniques, we discussed them on our almost daily stroller walks. And yet our little ones were so different, even as newborns. Her son was so active. When he laid on his back, his feet would be go, go, going as if he was running a marathon. Stand him up and he would bounce up and down, up and down. Lucia, on the other hand, was much more mellow.
About four months after Lucia was born, another dear friend of mine had her son. And you know what? Same thing. Her little one's legs would go wild. He was so darn active! It's not a coincidence; since then I've seen the same activity in most of the baby boys I've been around and heard similar stories from many boy's mamas. I've heard arguments that boys and girls are only different because of the way they are raised, but I'm not buying it. From birth (probably even before) boys and girls naturally act differently. I won't get into the politics of it all, but I will say this: different does not mean unequal, it means that men and women have unique abilities, talents, and dispositions that are equally valuable to society.
One of the biggest shocks as a new mother was how, without exception, every little boy that saw Lucia wanted to play with her. They would smile at her and do silly things and I often heard the phrase, "She's so cute!" I was floored. Little boys love babies? Really? I thought that was only a girl thing. Once David and I went on a walk at a park with Lulu when she was only a few months old. A little boy on a bike, probably around seven years old rode away from his grandma past us, then back toward her, maybe a hundred times each time staring at the stroller until he finally got the courage to say, "That's a cute baby." Just this weekend, while I was shopping, a little boy about four years old kept leaving his mom to stare at Lucia in her stroller. His mom was angry that he kept wondering away, and he kept saying, "But I just want to look at the baby!" Boys and girls might be different, but they both love babies.
But at some point, it seems, boys are conditioned to think that babies are a "female thing". My male middle school students will smile at Lulu from across the hall, maybe even say, "She's cute," but they don't walk over. Sure, boys relate to babies differently, they are more interested in "doing" with them than just "being" with them like girls are, but they shouldn't ever be made to feel like they are showing weakness if they show interest in a baby.
If young men were raised in a way that embraced babies and young children, in a way that nurtured their "paternal insticts", I can't help but feel that our society might be different. Perhaps we would no longer produced men who are afraid of fatherhood, who at best are emotionally distant from their children and at worst will do anything to avoid having them at all or who abandon those they do have.
What do you think? Can we prepare young men to be loving, present fathers by making it acceptable for them to spend time with young children? Would you hire a male babysitter? How can you foster a love of children in the young men you know? In your own sons?