“At each stage of their lives I would relate to how I felt at that age, and what I wished my mom said to me.”But among fathers, this preference is plainly more profound.

Sean Grover, a family psychotherapist in New York and author of the book “When Kids Call the Shots”, suggests that this is because men often feel less intuitive as parents than women do.

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“I have never found a single statistic on a father’s presence in the household that didn’t have a significant gender difference,” says Shelly Lundberg, an economist who specialises in family behaviour at the University of California, Santa Barbara. laygrounds in hip neighbourhoods may be full of sprogs with unisex names like Sage and Riley, and big-box retailers may be ditching gendered toys and clothing, but changes in public behaviour haven’t necessarily changed private attitudes.

This can perhaps be seen most clearly in parents’ communications with Google – those quiet, furtive moments, when the site’s autocomplete feature absolves even the most neurotic questions (misery may love company, but anxiety needs it).

Yet the presence or absence of children of either sex has a real impact on the dynamics of a family – even, it seems, on whether the family survives as a unit.

Gordon Dahl at the University of California, San Diego and Enrico Moretti at the University of California, Berkeley noticed more than a decade ago that men are more likely to marry, and stay married to, women who bore them sons rather than daughters.

Mothers offer babies their first opportunity for attachment; their bodies are literally essential for nourishment.

Many fathers find it takes longer to connect with their children, not only because they lack that physical bond, but also because they are often stuck at work during the day.This effect can be seen in data on households across a number of rich countries, which show that adolescent boys are more likely than girls to live with both biological parents.The difference is small – in America, for example, 39% of 12- to 16-year-old girls live without their biological father in the house, compared with 36% of 12- to 16-year-old boys – but consistent. Or are there other forces that bind fathers to homes with boys?”, even though young girls are more likely than boys to be enrolled in gifted programmes in school. Results from the most recent poll, in 2011, were startlingly similar to those from the first: Americans said they favour boys over girls by a margin of 12 percentage points.This preference is driven mainly by men; women are largely agnostic.By granting their children opportunities that they themselves lacked, and by behaving as the parents they always wanted, many seek to remove the same obstacles they believe were set on their own paths as they were growing up.