I’ve seen and heard the saying, “black mothers raise their daughters and love their sons” repeated enough to know that some people actually feel this way. Sonja Norwood, mother of Brandy and Ray-J, even weighed in on the question for Essence last year.
My 14-year-old daughter has accused me, on many occasions (usually when being denied something she wants), of liking her little brother better, or loving him more. I would be lying if I said I never treated them differently. I never thought that saying applied to me, though, because I think that I treat each of my children in accordance with their particular needs.
But a recent conversation with a woman I know gave me pause. My friend admitted that she does more for her son than her daughter “because he needs more from me.” She asserted that her girl is more self-sufficient, more reliable than her son, even though he is older, and that her son “needs her more.”
That may be true. But is it fair?
Maybe girls are just more responsible than boys, period. My daughter is more responsible than my son, but I assumed it was mostly due to their age difference. My daughter is almost 5 years older than my son. She’ll be a freshman in high school in the fall, and he’ll just be entering 5th grade.
Truthfully, my daughter was more responsible at 10 than my son is now. For instance, at 10, my daughter started riding the public bus to school by herself. She had paid close attention to how we got from point A to point B on the buses and subways. She didn’t need instructions on how to get to school. She needed instruction on how to avoid trouble on the bus. I told her, “Sit near an older black lady, in the front. She’ll make sure nobody messes with you.”
My son, however, freaked out the one time I thought I would have to put him on the public bus to go to school. His school bus didn’t show up, and I couldn’t take him to school because I had an early morning meeting. It’s a straight shot from our house to his school on the nearest MTA bus, just as it was for my daughter. I told him all of this.
“I’m not ready!” he shrieked. I sent him to school in a taxi instead.
Because my daughter is more responsible than her brother, I expect her to be responsible all the time. When she’s irresponsible, I get angry because “she should know better!” When my son is irresponsible, I chalk it up to his immaturity. When my daughter is petulant, whiny, tantrum-prone and defiant, I can’t stand it. When my son acts that way – well, he’s still a little boy. My daughter feels and deeply resents the difference.
My daughter says I “baby” my son and that I “forced” her to do more at his age than I force her to do. I deny it. But maybe it’s true. I admit I sometimes forget she’s still a kid. Or that I, too, can be petulant, whiny, pouty and tantrum-prone. Maybe my standards for her are a little higher than they are for him. That’s a balance I need to evaluate and correct if necesary.
I don’t think I “raise” my daughter and “love” my son. I do make distinctions between them based on their age, what I perceive to be their respective level of maturity, and their personalities. I think it would be unfair if I did anything else.
I check myself to make sure I give them equal time and affection. And as my son approaches his 10th birthday, I am giving him more responsibilities, such as household chores. He is fast approaching his teens, and I know it’s time to stop treating him like the baby of the family.
Still, I suspect there always will be an imbalance of some sort. Imbalance doesn’t have to mean unequal or unfair. The burden is on me to make sure that even if I’m not treating them the same, that I am nonetheless being fair.