Parenting trends come and go with every new generation, but one of the biggest shifts in the past decade has been the concerted effort both in families and on a social level to move away from gender-based parenting. Boys can play with dolls, clothes can be genderless, girls are encouraged to pursue STEM classes, and children are learning, in some cases faster than adults, that gender is fluid. So, what’s up with the #BoyMom movement?
Its not just a hashtag
Hashtags make it easy for parents to find their support group online and to be clear, every parent needs support. Parents of multiples, parents of preemies, parents in blended families, parents of adopted children, and parents of children who are differently abled are just some of the people who can benefit from finding other people in their situation. But #BoyMoms? I didn’t get it.
I had my daughter in 2018 and, from the outside, #BoyMom felt like another exclusionary group within parenting. My knee-jerk reaction to first seeing the #BoyMom hashtag was that these moms were setting the war to stop gendering children back. There were the #BoyMom shirts on Etsy, the memes about how tough it is to parent an active boy, the overall ‘you can’t sit with us’ vibe. I didn’t want to hear someone Momsplain to me about why I had it so much easier with a little girl. Hadn’t we spent the past few decades crying foul over toys that support gender stereotypes? Aren’t we finally seeing nonbinary people on major TV shows? Wasn’t it five minutes ago that we were applauding major corporations like Disney for finally taking steps towards rectifying their years of showcasing women as damsels in distress needing rescue by men?
A quick search on Instagram will tell you that the #BoyMom hashtag has been used 7.3 million times, while #GirlMom has only appeared 2.3 million times. Is it really that different to raise a boy? Do we need that many gifs of #BoyMoms being tired? I’m tired too!
Ask the moms
Instead of letting a knee-jerk reaction be my guide, I reached out to friends who happened to be mothers of boys (calling them #BoyMoms feels limiting). As usual, the moms came through with brilliant words of guidance.
Rosie, who is mom to a boy and a girl, says that while she finds her son to be more active and more likely to find his way to electrical outlets than her daughter, she notes that the differences are better attributed to the specific child than gender. “It’s definitely nice to find other moms who can relate and form a support group, so we don’t feel like total utter failures,” laughs Rosie. “I think raising a girl versus a boy definitely has differences, but I think it also depends on the temperament of the child.”
Victoria is a new mom to a baby boy and says that she sees the hashtag as an evolution of an old adage. “I don’t know if there is a whole lot of difference between caring for baby boys and girls, but I’d imagine the older they get the greater the differentiation,” says Victoria. “I associate the hashtag as a modern day (and less obnoxious) sentiment of boys will be boys, rough and tumble, I-don’t-entirely-relate-to-this-behavior-but-I’m-learning-as-I-go sort of thing.”
Jen, who first became a mom with twin girls and later welcomed a boy, said she doesn’t identify with the #BoyMom hashtag. “Maxwell is definitely cut from a different cloth than the girls and has his own way of doing things,” says Jen. “But I’m just a mom trying to raise my kids equally and treat them equally, which is harder than I ever thought.”
Steph, who has a toddler, says she too isn’t ready to identify with the #BoyMom label, instead finding support from all parents. “Maybe in the future the differences will really emerge, when girls start having cooties and he only wants to play with boys (if that even happens). For now, I’m taking any and all tips from fellow moms with boys and girls because I think I’m winging it like the rest of the first-time moms.”
The hashtag can simply be an afterthought when captioning a cute pic, but for some moms, the #BoyMom movement has been more than seven characters at the bottom of a picture. For some, like Alex, who is mom to an eight-year-old boy, it’s been a way to connect to other parents. That support is something that until talking to my #BoyMom friends hadn’t occurred to me while sitting on my soapbox.
“I think the motivation behind it is because we are the (obviously) opposite sex of our child, that we inherently can’t relate to their behaviours,” said Alex. “So, we are looking for solidarity with other women, hence the hashtag which seems to represent ‘I get you girl. I know how it is with a little boy.’”
It’s about sharing
What I saw as exclusionary and antiquated could actually be used a way to find other moms with shared experiences.
I’m a new mom to a baby girl. If she identifies as a CIS gender straight woman, then generally speaking it will be easier for me to relate my experiences with friends, school, puberty, sex, dating and beyond to her compared to if she was a boy or identified as male. When it comes time to talk to her about dating and consent, I’ll do so from a similar perspective. For moms of boys, they’re starting out of the gate with inherent biological differences that can make relating more difficult. That can be tough.
Parenting is hard. Millions of books on how to raise a child are proof of that. Trying to relate to our children and empathize with them is a struggle for any parent, regardless of gender. If #BoyMom is a way for moms to find that extra pat on the back of support after a difficult conversation, a confusing phase, an unexplained change in behaviour, a long day, and an even longer sleepless night, then I’m all for it.