All-girl families

Dear Mr. Dad: My wife and I have four daughters and it seems that no matter where we go we have to deal with people’s sighs, smiles, and dopey grins. They’re often curious about whether we’ll keep trying till we get a boy—it’s as if they think that by not having a son we’ve somehow failed. This happens almost every day and often in front of my daughters. Any advice on how to handle this?

A: As the father of three daughters I know exactly what you’re going through. As you’ve discovered, there are a lot of people out there who feel that a family isn’t complete unless there’s at least one child of each gender. And there are others who feel that sons are a more valuable asset to a family than daughters (this is especially common in certain cultures where they actually do consider sons more important).

Interestingly, research shows that families are more likely to stop having children after the birth of a boy and more likely to try again after having a girl. In addition, the divorce rate for “all girl” families is higher than those families that have all boys or mixed gender offspring. Oddest of all, men with three or more daughters have a higher risk of getting prostate cancer than men with fewer (or no) daughters. But don’t worry, daughters don’t cause cancer—researchers suspect that the both are caused by the same genes.
It’s pretty unlikely, though, that the people you’re complaining about know anything about this research. In their minds, in commiserating with you about how difficult it’s going to be to deal with a houseful of estrogen or how many shotguns you’re going to need to buy when your daughters start dating, they’re simply being friendly or compassionate or funny. Obviously, they’re not.
For those who are inclined to think that way, there’s not much you can say or do besides smile politely and walk away. Their comments are more about them than they are about you and your family. Do your best to ignore the comments, but if they’re delivered insensitively or in front of your daughters, make a loud, clear statement that you are absolutely thrilled with the state of your family as it is.
It’s perfectly natural for parents to have a strong desire for a child of the same sex. They often feel that because they’ve been there done that, it’ll be easier to bond with their child. They may also feel that they won’t have as close a relationship with a child of the opposite sex, and won’t be needed by that child. None of that is true.
As almost any parent will tell you (and you know this very well yourself), once our children—boys or girls—are born, it doesn’t take long for all those preconceived notions to disappear. And raising girls can be just as fun as raising boys. I just finished coaching my youngest daughter’s girls softball team and I can assure you that I had a terrific time (and so did she).
The bottom line is that the vast majority of us love our children regardless of who or what they are and can’t imagine them being any other way.