Cheeky Daddy

How to Deal With Gender Disappointment as a Parent

How to Deal With Gender Disappointment as a Parent

The moment you find out you’re going to be a parent can be an emotional rollercoaster. You’ll likely experience excitement mixed with anxiety over what the future holds. Sometimes, there’s also a sense of anticipation for the big reveal of the baby’s sex. But what happens when the balloons pop, revealing a colour that somehow disappoints you? How do you deal with this sense of a letdown? Let’s talk about these feelings of gender disappointment, a topic many parents-to-be experience but few dare to discuss openly.

Three balloons of different pink shades in front of a pink wall.

Understanding Gender Disappointment

Gender disappointment is the feeling of sadness, grief, or even depression that some parents feel when the baby’s sex doesn’t match their hopes or expectations:

  • You may feel disappointed.
  • You may feel ashamed about your disappointment.
  • You may not be able to shake the feeling that you’d prefer a different sex for your child.

The first thing to note is that experiencing gender disappointment is a common phenomenon. You’re not alone in feeling disappointed you didn’t get your wanted baby girl or baby boy. You’re not a horrible father or an awful person, and it doesn’t mean you’ll love your child any less.We’re not here to judge those initial feelings. However, we do need to unpack them and address any underlying causes.

Societal Influences on Gender Expectations

Snips, snails, and puppy-dogs’ tails, that’s what little boys are made of.

Sugar and spice and everything nice; that’s what little girls are made of.

Do you remember a variation of this nursery rhyme? Such old-fashioned sentiments reflect some of the built-in associations we still hold regarding sex and gender. This is probably a good opportunity just to make a note on the difference between sex and gender: The sex of your baby refers to its biological characteristics (its chromosomes and anatomy) determined at birth.

Your baby’s gender is a broader concept that includes the roles, behaviours, and expectations society attaches to biological sex. Understanding this distinction is crucial as we articulate our expectations and hopes for our children. We should now all recognise that each child’s identity and experiences are unique and may not align with traditional gender norms.

After all, we now all hopefully understand that young girls can play football and become doctors and that it’s okay for boys to show vulnerability and embrace more traditionally ‘feminine’ personality traits. Such obvious statements didn’t hold true half a century ago. This progress is a result of incremental mindset changes in cultural gender norms over time. That being said, there’s still progress to be made.

Acknowledging Our Gender Stereotypes

Often, our own gender stereotypes and expectations are shaped long before we plan to become parents. Maybe you dreamed of teaching your little boy how to play rugby and cricket or imagined painting nails with your little girl.

These visions can be influenced by our upbringing, societal norms, or simply the human tendency to fantasise about aspects of our future lives, including our children.

The long and short of it is that these gender stereotypes are outdated. The sex of your baby does not determine the activities you can share or their personality traits.

People experience gender disappointment because they feel that the assigned sex of their baby comes with preconceived notions and expectations. Instead, a baby’s gender, rather than their sex, is a social construct that we can simply choose to ignore.

Navigating Your Feelings

To experience feelings of disappointment about your baby’s gender doesn’t make you a bad parent. To feel sad makes you human. It’s crucial to allow yourself to feel these emotions without drowning in guilt. Suppressing or denying your disappointment only fuels negative self-talk. Instead, approach your feelings with self-compassion. Discussing these feelings with a safe person can be incredibly cathartic.

The second step after acknowledging these negative feelings is to understand why you feel this way.

  • Why did you want a certain sex?
  • What is ‘wrong’ with having the opposite sex?
  • Do you need to examine your prejudices?
  • What can you do moving forward to overcome disappointment?

Again, these questions, specifically addressing your prejudices, are not about self-criticism. Instead, they are about remembering that a new baby should always be a joyous, celebratory occasion. Therefore, you ought not to lose sight of this by getting hung up on gender disappointment. So, our approach is that whatever soul-searching you need to do, whether it be educating yourself on gender issues or speaking things through with a trusted friend, this is worthwhile if it helps you arrive at enthusiasm for your child’s sex.

Women playing professional football

Finding a Support System if Needed

Sometimes, gender disappointment goes beyond frustration. Gender disappointment can lead to a unique mental illness spectrum, from transient sadness to major depression or even postpartum depression for mothers. This risk of more severe issues is why finding a support system is vital. Whether it’s through a parent support group, discussions with other new parents, or professional help, support is always available. You’re never meant to navigate your parenting journey alone.

Celebrating Your Child

Moving forward means shifting the focus from the gender you were hoping for to the excitement of meeting and growing with your unique child.

Every child brings their own set of joys, challenges, and surprises, regardless of their sex.

Try to envision the future not in terms of gendered activities or expectations but as a journey of discovery with your new baby.

Start celebrating your child for who they will be, not their gender. This can mean setting up a nursery that reflects a variety of interests or planning activities that aren’t bound by gender stereotypes.

Remember, your child’s biological sex doesn’t dictate their personality, interests, or the depth of the bond you will build together.

Final Thoughts on Gender Disappointment

Gender disappointment is a complex issue tied to deep-seated expectations and societal pressures. Feeling disappointment can be a natural reaction, but it’s one we do need to move past. Those initial feelings don’t represent your worth as a parent; they can be a legitimate reaction (and one you may not have consciously expected). It’s crucial for you to quickly address your gender disappointment and move past it so you can raise your child with unmitigated enthusiasm. The best way to do this is to tackle feelings head-on and speak to those around you.

This moment is an opportunity for you to grow as a father and to move past any gender biases you may have held.

Let’s round off with a couple of questions to get us talking:

  • Have you experienced gender disappointment?
  • How did you navigate those feelings?
  • What advice would you offer to parents-to-be grappling with similar emotions?

Share your experiences and insights in the comments below. Let’s create a supportive space for all parents to share, learn, and grow together.

Leave a Comment

Scroll to Top

Join our Cheeky Daddy Mailing list!

Get all latest research, advice and dad questions answered straight in your inbox

Join The List

Sign up to receive the latest research, advice and dad questions straight to your inbox