Author: Federica Zamboni, Psychologist
“As long as they are healthy, that’s all that matters”. We’ve all heard this answer from countless parents, when asked what gender they hope the child or children they’re pregnant with will be. And yet, there is often a hope, a wish or maybe a preference for one gender over the other. And in the context of a multiple pregnancy, one could be forgiven for believing that this can increase their chances of having at least one child of the gender they wish for. The other side of that medal is that one can also get doubly or triply disappointed.
There are many reasons why gender disappointment can occur – and all are valid
Gender disappointment often happens for parents who have a strong wish/desire for a child of a particular gender.
This is likely to mean that there is an underlying wish/goal/hope for that child. A “role” the parent is hoping for that child to fill. Sometimes, it can also come from the parent’s belief of what raising a girl or a boy will be like. Maybe the parent imagines raising a girl to be all sparkles and bows and tea parties. And a boy all dinosaurs and trucks and soccer. Maybe they wish for them to have a particular career or fulfill a dream the parent had (if you’ve watched Centre Stage, you know what I’m talking about).
Possible long term impact of gender disappointment
Regardless of the reason for wishing for one gender over the other, the expectations, beliefs, hopes and the resulting disappointment, come from the parent and need to be looked at closely, to avoid repercussions, on both the children and the parent.
It is completely understandable that parents may have a wish and hope for a certain gender. However it is also important to check-in with oneself. To understand what is underneath that wish, to not “transfer” this onto the child, as this can create long term difficulties in the parent-child relationship.
If the parent believes that having a girl or a boy will allow them to raise that child as a “new and improved” version of themselves, the parent risks creating an enmeshed relationship with that child, that will not allow them to develop their own identity fully. Also, if the young boy or girl does not grow up expressing their gender in the way the parent was envisioning, this can create resentment in the parent-child relationship, and may lead the child to believe they are fundamentally “wrong”.
Placing expectations of gender expression and behaviour on a child, is like putting them in a predetermined “box” at birth. Without giving them the chance to create their own “box” and decorate it as they like.
Kahlil Gibran, in his book titled “The Prophet” reminds parents that “you may give [your children] your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts” and that “you may strive to be like [your children], but seek not to make them like you, for life goes not backwards”.
Gender disappointment with twins or triplets
When you are pregnant with twins, triplets or even more there is a good chance that parents could experience double or triple the gender disappointment.
Approximately 33% of twins are identical (same gender) and 66% are fraternal. Fraternal twins can be the same gender or different genders. The chances of fraternal twins being different genders is approximately 50%. There is a 25% chance of two boys and a 25% chance of two girls.
What to do if you are experiencing gender disappointment
If you experience gender disappointment with twins or triplets, it is important to not dismiss your feelings. Your feelings are there for a reason and should be listened to. It’s also helpful to remember that, whatever wishes, hopes and expectations you may believe apply to one gender, are not “lost” if your child/children are of the opposite gender. Even twins and triplets of the same gender, may have different temperaments. Like different activities and express their masculinity or femininity differently. If you believe that gender disappointment is negatively affecting your experience of parenthood, talking to a professional can help to support you through it.
Director of Tailoring Therapy
Registered Psychologist and Sexologist