My recent article, "9 Truths 'Moms Of Boys Only' Need To Know" went viral. Over a million folks worldwide "liked" it, shared it or commented on it. Something about the article clearly moved people. I received dozens of emails from Moms of Boys Only (MOBOs) who shared their own experiences with raising sons. It was referenced in other articles on the same topic and was translated into several languages. In other words, it took on a life of its own. And no one was more surprised than me.
Author/artist Austin Kleon penned succinctly (and I paraphrase, respectfully): When people give advice, they're really just talking to themselves in the past. And that's what the article was: advice for my younger mom self. That daughterless mom who raised three boys in a gender-balanced-family-obsessed community. It was a high-five to the long-ago, overwhelmed me. The me who pasted on a smile when others had their baby girls. The me who thought (at the time) that having a daughter would make my family complete.
You see, whether we want to say it out loud or not, there's grief. No, not for everyone. But when girls are taught that having a daughter is their duty, their legacy, their right -- and it doesn't happen -- there's loss. After the article was posted, I heard from moms who had gotten counseling to help come to terms with not having a daughter. Others had sought out energy healing or hypnosis to work through their disappointment. But the overwhelming number of women said this: Raising boys is both challenging and joyous. Thanks for acknowledging that... and for the encouragement. And none -- not one -- would trade what they have for any other kind of family.
I can now look back on the whole chaotic, in-the-trenches-for-years experience of raising a family of boys, with a broader lens. I survived the thoughtless comments ("It's so sad you'll never have a daughter you can shop for a wedding dress with!"), the eye-rolling and silent judgement from others when the boys acted up in public, the little zing when BabyGap would roll out its newest line of adorable dresses.
So, what did a million moms teach me?
For one thing, I was heartened by the MOBOs who said they consider raising their boys into good men a great responsibility. Some mentioned growing up without brothers (or a father) and acknowledged their vulnerability in raising a gender they felt they knew little about. Mostly, I was moved by their collective declaration that having only sons isn't an incomplete family of sloppy seconds; it's beautifully and wonderfully whole.
Does everything happen for a reason? With all the violence and devastation in the world, I tend to think not. But when I think back to those childbearing years, I realize I never really had a girl's name picked out. Would she be Jessica? Emma? Retrospectively, that feels auspicious -- as if my life as a MOBO was preordained.
And that turned out to be truer than I ever imagined. Having and raising a family of boys turned out to be my life's greatest gift for reasons I could never have predicted at the time. You see, I always wanted more than three children. And what I didn't mention in the article is that I now also have two stepsons -- bringing my total number of sons to five. And my experience in raising my three boys gave me just what I needed to open my heart to two more.
Some readers commented that I wrote the article because I was trying to make myself feel better. That I had to "build up" the experience of having boys while hiding behind the pain of not having a girl. Um, hardly. But their point was an interesting one because... isn't that what a successful life is all about? Finding happiness in what we have? Learning to love the circumstances we've been given? At least a million MOBOs seem to think so.
One satisfying byproduct of writing the article was that it struck a chord with hundreds of thousands of others around the globe. But I got way more from writing the article than the readers it resonated with. I was reminded that we MOBOs really are in a special club -- and we wear our badges with pride, exhaustion, resilience and, above all, love.