Twelve-year-old Corey Hopley of Lexington, Massachusetts, is a self-assured, confident seventh grader. Her mother, Vicky, chalks this up to the fact that Corey lives in a houseful of boys. As the third of four children and the only girl, Corey may tell you that she does not like the family dynamic. However, as Vicky says, “being the only girl has developed strengths in Corey other girls may not yet have. She has learned how to assert herself and to have her needs met. I think that in the long run this will make for a strong personality.”
“A child’s personality should come out regardless of the family make up,” says Marilyn Buckler, a licensed psychologist and parent educator for Families First in Boston where she leads workshops on raising daughters. “The alert parent is always trying to figure out how to help the child’s identity unfold.”
Buckler cautions that parents of only girls risk two extremes -- treating her just like her brothers or making her into a little princess. “If you push a girl into a certain predetermined direction you do not allow her unique personality to develop.”
“I wanted to be treated like one of the boys,” recalls Carolyn Rubenstein, now 31. A speech pathologist from Houston, Texas, Carolyn remembers that as the youngest sister to three brothers her mother wanted to feminize her; “she tried her best with ballet and piano lessons, but all I wanted to do was go outside barefoot with no shirt on and play football with the other kids on the street.”
While Corey enjoys sports, Vicky believes she has a good balance, “she loves music and has a real nurturing side, too.”
I Enjoy Being a Girl
Eleven-year-old Chelsea MacLeod who lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is the older sister to three brothers. “Chelsea has always been really feminine,” reveals her mom, Tammy. “She played with dolls. She takes ballet. She loves fixing her hair and wearing pretty clothes.”
What she does not enjoy is spending time with the boys. “Chelsea spends a lot of time by herself even though her brothers wish she would play with them more,” Tammy comments.
It is common for only sisters to spend time alone. According to internationally- known psychologist Kevin Leman, girls in boys’ households need solace and a respite. “She’s surrounded by boys all the time. She needs her own space where she can find peace and entertain herself.”
“All kids should be treated differently, but when there is only one girl in the family she should have some special privileges, especially ones that accentuate her femininity,” suggests Dr. Leman.
Tammy and her husband, Pat, take turns going on dates with Chelsea. “Pat and Chelsea go out for hot chocolate or dessert, but when she is with me we go shopping.”
“Sometimes Corey and I go for high tea or a girls’ night out,” says Vicky. “We make a special effort to do feminine things together like manicures and movies.”
Buckler adds, “You don’t always have to engage in a strictly female activity. I think it is important to spend separate time with each parent around an activity you are both comfortable sharing.”
Let’s Get Together
Even though there may be periods when they do not feel close, only sisters to brothers have special allies. “Only girls growing up with boys understand men much better than girls with lots of sisters,” explains Dr. Leman, who is the father of four girls and one boy. “They are comfortable around boys and men.”
“These girls are taking a crash course in understanding men since they live with a variety of them,” adds Buckler. “It takes the mystery away.”
To understand women, only daughters look to their mothers. “And how mom handles her sons teaches girls how to handle boys,” confirms Dr. Leman.
Recently the Hopleys added a golden retriever puppy to their family. It is a female named Izzy. “I guess subconsciously Corey and I wanted a girl dog for the camaraderie. Sometimes we do feel outnumbered,” laughs Vicky.