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Motherhood, Boys and Testosterone - I'm Happy

By Benison O'Reilly - 13th October 2011

I attended a dinner recently. Also at that dinner was a young man so handsome and charismatic that I could barely take my eyes off him. I’d try to turn my gaze away for a second, only to be drawn back to him immediately.  After a while the young man noticed. How could he not?

He turned to me and said, "Mum, can you stop staring at me please?"

The occasion was my seventeen year old son’s Year 12 Graduation Dinner.  Although he has his final exams to go, he has officially left school.

He hasn’t been the easiest child to raise, as I’ve mentioned before. He is - it’s certain now - going to underperform in his upcoming exams, but he is also intelligent, articulate and socially gifted so I’m hoping when he reaches a suitable level of maturity he will make a success of his life.

Following him is my fifteen year-old, who was a scallywag as a boy but is developing into a wonderful young man.  His teachers call him 'a delight’.  Following him, is Joe, my bright but very unusual ten year-old on the autism spectrum.

Each night my family sits down together for our evening meal with the television off.  It’s for Joe's social development, but it has had other positive effects.  I love the conversations we have around the dinner table. Teens often get a bad rap but there’s a lot to like about them too; I, for one, prefer parenting them to little kids.

And it’s only recently that I’ve realised how content I am just having boys.  They suit me.
I happily call myself a feminist but when I was pregnant with my first child I surprised myself by wanting a son. I was smug when I had him too; the first boy on either side of the family after five girls. With my second son I had an unspoken preference for a girl, but he was such a beautiful baby, a competition winner no less.

With my third - hmm - I’ll admit to being extremely disappointed, as I knew he would be my last. I had the good sense to find out beforehand and did my crying and sulking before he was born, so that when he arrived I was ready to love him.

Ironically it was that third boy who provided me with my biggest lesson in life.  When he was diagnosed with a disability I realised that gender is unimportant. The old cliché ‘just as long as they’re healthy’ exists for a reason.

Recently the Sydney Morning Herald journalist, Adele Horin, herself the mother of two boys, wrote about this topic, noting that while the old bias towards sons persists in many countries, in Australia these days girls appear to be the preferred gender, especially among women.   I’ve encountered this attitude myself. Girls are seen as more sedate and easier to manage and, dare I say it, much more fun to go shopping with.  

But boys have their good qualities too. I love the glorious uncomplicatedness of my sons. And they adore their mum. I often feel that my husband is losing out more not by having a daughter. Recently he made a ‘dad joke’ and my two older sons groaned.  "Don’t worry, Dad," said the eldest, "in a few years time we probably won’t think you’re so lame."

There’s no doubt I’m missing lots of wonderful experiences by not having daughter, but there are worse deprivations. I also can’t help wondering if it was predestined.  A while back I stumbled across a research paper, called Achieving Women and Declining Sex Ratios. Here’s an abbreviated abstract:

Professionally written biographies of 353 women [from 1921-1960]…were analyzed separately for data on family structure, occupation, and personality characteristics… Results showed that 55.2% of women biographees had no children… Of those who did have children, biographees had a significantly high ratio of sons to daughters compared with the norm… totals: males = 221, females = 156; x2 = 7.87; p = 0.005).

One of the authors, Valerie Grant, has performed other research that suggests that women who have naturally higher levels of circulating testosterone* are more likely to be confident and assertive and also more likely to have boys, ** possibly because testosterone makes the egg more receptive to male sperm.
Now I’m not sure that I like the idea that I’m some butch creature with testosterone coursing through my veins (friends can testify that I wear dresses and makeup) , but I have noticed that many women I’d describe as ‘career-driven’, such as myself, have a preponderance of sons.  There are four mothers involved with my latest book, Beyond the Baby Blues - a publisher and three authors - and we have fourteen children amongst us. Twelve of them are boys.

Of course, we will all be able to point to exceptions but, as Grant says, it’s a trend, not an absolute. It may even be that a woman’s levels of testosterone fluctuate depending upon life’s circumstances.  

I’m too old now for babies so I’m going to have rely on my friends for clothes shopping and chick-flicks , although maybe down the track I’ll be able to persuade my nieces, daughters-in-law or - heaven forbid - granddaughters to accompany me.

In the meantime, I will rally to the task of raising honourable young men who are respectful of others, in particular women, so they will make fine husbands and partners in the future!

*Females do have some testosterone just as males have some oestrogen.
** Interestingly there is also research to suggest that women with high levels of testosterone are more likely to have boys with autism.

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