Do Moms Favor Their Sons?
Analyzing the Oedipus complex
“Well, they say you love your daughter, but you fall in love with your son.”
I’d just confided in Diane,* an officemate, that I was having a boy. The nurse on the phone had told me the exciting news minutes earlier.
At that moment, a lightbulb flicked on inside my head that had nothing to do with the tiny person growing inside me. Unknowingly, Diane’s comment had neatly summed up the STORY OF MY LIFE, growing up with two younger brothers.
My mother was never a girly girl, never liked makeup or dolls – or her own sex, for that matter. I became painfully aware of that fact at the age of 6, when I came home from kindergarten crying that some bigger kids had been picking on me. She had looked down on me, rolled her eyes, and said, “Well, Jennifer, if you whine and weep all the time, that’s what’s going to happen.”
Years later, I watched in amazement when my baby brother Jonathan encountered the same fate, and my mother had an entirely DIFFERENT reaction. As soon as she found out that Jon was getting pummeled by two boys who lived on our block, she rushed across the street like Wonder Woman on a mission and confronted their mothers.
I had my own share of grief from neighborhood bullies and kids who rode the bus with me to junior high school. I remember being 13 and sitting in my guidance counselor’s office, pleading with him to transfer me to another bus route. As far as I recall, there were no parents sitting beside me to offer me support.
Yet, there were countless times when my mother would sprint to one of my brother’s schools to get them out of a difficult class they were sure to flunk or to transfer them to another school altogether.
I’d often wondered if this skewed Oedipal dynamic was unique to my own experience growing up, but over the years I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s actually pretty common.
Diane, I noticed, used two distinct “voices” for each of her kids. The happy “full of pride” voice was reserved for Michael,* her adorable 6-year-old. As soon as she started talking about her daughter, Helen,* her voice would drop SEVERAL octaves, describing her daughter’s shortcomings in a manner reserved by most funeral directors.
My friend Joanne, the mother of two lovely daughters, admits she’s bailed out of family gatherings because she refuses to tolerate the favoritism her parents show toward her older brother and his children.
As I watch my now 2-year-old son play with his cars and chase our cats, I often wonder what would have happened if we’d had a second child, and if that child had turned out to be a girl. My husband doesn’t want another one, and I’m over 40, so the chances of that happening are unlikely.
However, when it’s very quiet in our house, one of my favorite daydreams is imagining the daughter I’ll never have. She would have had my curly hair and my husband’s green eyes. I would have named her Erin.
There’s no doubt I would have fallen in love with her.
*Names have been changed
Jennifer Lubell is a health-care reporter in Washington, D.C., and mom to Alex, her spirited 2-year-old.