Sometimes Doug Smith thinks his relationship with his 17-year-old daughter has done more to help him fathom the opposite sex than 27 years of marriage.
“She’s definitely given me a window,” he said.
More than a few other parents feel the same way. Mothers learn things about males from their sons. Dads gain clues from their daughters.
“And one of the things you learn is that everyone’s different,” said Leanne Schillinger, whose three boys have dramatically distinct personalities.
So let’s be clear. Nobody’s talking about sweeping one-size-fits-all insights. People are not that simple.
But at a time when it is popular to jokingly assert that the genders come from different planets, maybe it’s worth remembering that they also live under the same roof.
Some parents report that there are occasions when their opposite-sex children do or say things that make the mental light bulb snap on and the thought occur: Ah-ha, THAT’S what makes them tick.
“Happens all the time,” said Jack Christiansen, a single father with a teenage daughter.
So what specifically do parents learn about the opposite sex? It depends on whom you ask.
For Smith, who has coached girls soccer teams in recent years after previously coaching boys, one thing he quickly realized was that yelling did not motivate girls. “I needed a totally different approach,” he said. “I needed to relate to them on another level.”
Vi Maynard, mother of two sons, said she came to believe that boys are not as sneaky as girls. “I think girls try to get away with stuff, where boys just say, ‘Well, if I get caught, I get caught,”’ she said.
Jan Robison is convinced that girls are better able to entertain themselves while, the way she sees it, boys typically seek the company of others for stimulation.
The merits of those observations notwithstanding, many agree that the genders exhibit a variety of behavioral contrasts.
Sprague’s Mary Ruud believes in the research suggesting men and women think in different ways. And she suspects she saw that in action once when her daughter was taking cans out of a low cupboard and putting them back in a different place.
One of the little girl’s older brothers observed this and told her she was going about it all wrong. So he took all the cans out and then climbed into the cupboard.
“Girls see the world through a different set of lenses,” said Monte Swenson, a father of daughters in La Crosse, Wash.
But from his perspective, understanding individual personalities isn’t a process best guided by attempts to decode the mysteries of the other gender.
Hayden Lake’s Elke Beatty more or less agreed. She knows what it’s like to have a son. Still, she’s never felt as if that made her an expert on the male psyche. “I’m still trying to figure my husband out,” she said, chuckling.
And here’s what Bob Healey said his 13-year-old daughter has taught him: “Life is full of surprises.”
Others are convinced that children of the opposite sex do, in fact, reveal to parents plenty about the other gender.
The Rev. Ronald Greene said his wife, Dianna, undoubtedly has learned a great deal about males from their sons - though he’s pretty sure not all of her conclusions are entirely flattering.
V. E. “Gene” Cameron said one thing he learned from his daughter is that two people who see the world in altogether different ways could still understand one another, if they made the effort.
Relationship therapist Sandra Turtle has personal experience with being a mother to a son. And she acknowledged that sometimes the gender gap is all too real and difficult to bridge.
So, she said, that makes it doubly important for parents to communicate with one another and help interpret their own gender, so to speak.
In any case, parents don’t stop learning from their children when the kids grow up and leave home.
Helen Laws has three sons. And as adults, they continue to offer glimpses of what it means to be male. “They are really involved as parents,” she said. “And I think, from watching them, that men can be a little more objective, a little less emotional about problems than women.”
Of course, she admitted, she’s probably not all that objective herself.
She is, after all, their mother.