Both my children, a boy and a girl, were off school sick this week. But now I'm wondering, did I offer a warm facecloth as often to my son as I did to my daughter?
Not necessarily the literal facecloth. But I do try to parent mindfully and treat our kids the same.
In some ways it has been quite easy. Neither has ever liked sport or dolls, only trains and Lego. They share clothes. (Neither wears skirts and both hate scratchy labels.)
They both appreciate funny YouTubers and going to Armageddon. They play together on their computers. (Overheard: "Do you think I'm a bad leader for not giving my citizens any housing?" Out of the mouths of babes, hey?)
I'm a feminist. In a previous generation I might have been especially attentive to gender roles to make sure that my daughter was not being held back by repugnant girly-girl stereotypes. But the truth is, these days I worry more about how we bring up boys.
With good reason.
The girls can do anything mantra seems to be getting through. Girls are brought up now with a dual reality: you are allowed to be emotional and you are allowed to conquer the world. Lean in ladies! Girls are allowed to show sadness, tenderness, compassion and a range of other feelings.
All except anger, which is still frowned on. (Oh, and you still can't be fat, loud, slutty or unruly, but hopefully I have pointed that out in other columns so this one is about boys.)
Boys are still taught to stuff their feelings down and told to be brave, strong and tough and go out there and win at all costs.
Acceptable emotions for boys to show are anger, and er, let me see ... more anger. Whatever else you might feel as a boy - despair, grief, helplessness - morph it somehow into anger because it's the only feeling you're really allowed to show.
But neuroscientists tell us there are no "pink" emotions and "blue" emotions. Boys are born just as emotionally sensitive than girls.
But wow, how quickly they learn not to be.
We have elaborate social constructs set up for just this purpose. (The mainstream school system is a fiery hell for the emotional lives of many boys who don't fit in.) And who teaches them their emotional vocabulary? Women, mostly. Feminists, even, a lot of us. Shame on us.
As one teacher observed, after 20 years of teaching, boys and young men police each other when others display overt interest in literature or creative writing. Non-fiction passes muster but fiction, and especially poetry, are mediums to fear: they are the language of emotional exposure, what they have been taught to avoid and suppress.
There is a high price to be paid for the way we socialise boys. Harvard psychologist Susan David says that, far from making them better able to cope with adversity, "research shows that people who suppress emotions have lower-level resilience and emotional health".
Acceptable emotions for boys to show are anger, and er, let me see ... more anger.
When we are not able to acknowledge painful emotions we turn them on ourselves, as if our psyche had developed an auto-immune disease, causing anxiety and depression. Especially for men.
As author Poorna Bell wrote courageously after losing her husband Rob, suicide is a gender issue.
In New Zealand, men are three times more likely to kill themselves than women. This is twice the rate of male suicide in Australia. It is the second leading cause of death for Pakeha men and the third leading cause of death among Maori men, claiming more lives than cancer.
In the same findings suicide does not make the top five causes of death for women.
I have quite a few friends with teenagers who are struggling. (Yeah, whose aren't?) One with a daughter worries she will develop an eating disorder. But one with a son worries he will kill himself.
I have that in mind when I look at our daughter and son. Because no matter how mindfully and consciously one tries to parent, you can't help worrying that you are still transmitting unconscious gender bias. What a brave boy!
When both my kids were sick did I get my son his favourite silky pillow as often as my daughter? Am I modelling behaviour which will teach my son how to self-soothe when he hurts? I won't always be here to do it.
After being projectile vomited on, sleepless nights, getting stroppy with nurses at the after-hours clinic ("Mum, please don't argue with any more people!"), my bedside manner was probably sub-par for both of them.
But as I just put my son to bed he said: "Mum, it was very considerate of you to get me a hot water bottle and my plushies when I was sick. Thank you." (I particularly liked the use of considerate.)
I asked him if he'd like a warm flannel.
He said "Nah. Can I have some privacy please?"