No, that family doesn’t “need” a boy (or girl)

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Do you remember the television show Kids Say the Darndest Things? Kids sure do say funny stuff, but I’d argue that it’s actually grown adults who say the darndest and most ridiculous things. This is especially true as it relates to family size and gender of those children. Can I get an amen?

I am a #girlmom to three beautiful, fun little girls and expecting baby #4 later this fall. We have never found out the gender of any of our kids in advance, and this one will be no different. One of the reasons my husband and I choose to do a gender surprise is that not knowing the gender prevents us (and others) from being excited about the baby because of his or her gender. We must be excited and anticipate our new family member because it is a baby, not because it is a boy or a girl. It’s a daily reminder that all human life is valuable and also that God is in control and we are not.

As you may know, people, and especially strangers, love to comment on pregnant women’s belly size, family size, and so on. And wouldn’t you know it, they also love to ask about the gender of the baby in the belly. I have had so many complete strangers (and some friends, too) tell me, either outright or by implication, that I need a boy. Friends with boys tell me that the opposite happens too—that they are bombarded with comments about their need for pink bows in their life. And apparently everyone knows that once you have a boy and a girl, you must stop having kids because your family is obviously now perfect, evenly balanced in the genders.  

Stop it

Moms, this kind of talk is ridiculous, and it has to stop. Here’s why: our precious kids are listening to this stuff. My three innocent little girls are hearing the sweet old lady in the grocery store tell me that we need a boy. She doesn’t have to explicitly state that the girls I have aren’t good enough; my girls are smart little sponges who know that what the woman really means is that a family isn’t complete without a brother. They’re smart enough to extrapolate that maybe mommy and daddy want the baby to be a boy too, and maybe their parents wished they were a boy. (Side note: the sweetest kids’ book you’ll ever read addresses this idea of siblings comparing themselves to one another. I cry every time I read it. Check it out here).

Words matter

Many people will argue that we need to let these comments roll off our backs, as these people are well meaning and just making conversation. And while it may be true that they mean well, I fervently disagree that we ought to say nothing, especially if these comments are made in the presence of children. It is our job as  parents to guard the hearts and minds of our children, particularly as they are young and impressionable. And while we can’t shelter them from everything, of course, we can battle hurtful words from others with helpful words of our own. Words matter; choose carefully.

Possible Responses

Commenter: Wow, another one?! I sure hope the next one is a boy (or girl).

Response: I hope the next one is raised in a society where he or she is valued not because of gender but because of his or her character. We’ll be thrilled to welcome either a boy or a girl to our family when the time comes.

Commenter: What cute kids! Is the next one a boy? These girls need a brother.

Response: We believe that God is in control of these things and that they’ll get exactly what they need from Him.

Commenter: You have your hands full! What are you having?

Response: A baby. {mic drop}

Plan your response

Despite my desire to speak eloquent words defending the little women we are proud to raise, I find myself fumbling for words, especially since these conversations tend to come up at stressful or inopportune times, like in the checkout line at the grocery store as I’m telling my child to stop licking the shopping cart. So, I’m here today to advocate that we have a plan for what to say when these conversations arise.

There are a variety of appropriate responses depending upon your own personality, the nature of the comment and your relationship (or lack thereof) with the commenter. Some are gracious, some perhaps a bit snarky. But whatever you say, speak truth. And the truth is that families are a blessing and children are a gift, whether they are male or female, healthy or sick, firstborn or the tenth baby. Let’s work together to create and then defend a culture that values children as gifts rather than liabilities.

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Mallory grew up in Oklahoma, met her husband Dave in college there, and they have lived in Maryland, Michigan, and now Alabama since getting married in 2008. She graduated from Michigan State University with a PhD in exercise physiology in 2014, and her family then moved to Birmingham so she could start a job as a college professor. She is mom to five great kids ages nine and under, and considers it a tremendous joy to get to invest in the lives of both her kids and her students. In her free time, Mallory enjoys family walks around the neighborhood, reading to her kids, bargain hunting, home improvement projects, and being involved in the children’s and missions ministries at her church.