Emily Bobrow in More Intelligent Life:
Matt, a father in his early 40s with soulful eyes, thinning hair and a ready smile, is doing his best to explain why he has a more intense relationship with his son than he does with his daughter. Over a mojito at a bar in Brooklyn, near the flat he shares with his wife and two children, he admits that he is not a stereotypically macho guy. Most of his friends are women, he says. He was never much of an athlete and his marriage is a fairly egalitarian two-career juggling act. Yet there is something about his bond with his boy that feels particularly profound. Partly, he thinks, it is because his four-year-old son is older, and therefore more interesting. As the first-born, his son is also teaching Matt how to be a parent, which provokes all sorts of potent new emotions and anxieties. But perhaps the most compelling reason is also the simplest: “I really identify with him,” Matt says. “He just looks a lot like me, and he’s like me in certain ways. Every time I look at him I see myself when I was four years old.” Of course he adores his daughter, “but it’s just different. I don’t know how to make a little girl happy the way I fundamentally know how to make a boy happy, so I worry I’m going to somehow screw that up.”
Such candour can be uncomfortable for parents. In rich countries, where children are more like luxury goods than savvy economic investments, and where gender is simply one attribute among many, parents tend to pride themselves on their open-hearted, unconditional love for every member of their brood. Admitting a stronger emotional connection with one child over another, one sex over the other, is taboo. Yet the presence or absence of children of either sex has a real impact on the dynamics of a family – even, it seems, on whether the family survives as a unit.