London - The clock was ticking fast. We were expected at a party to celebrate my nephew’s bar mitzvah and we’d been told to arrive early for official family photographs. And still my eight-year-old daughter wasn’t dressed.
Instead, she idled in front of her bedroom mirror, leisurely twiddling a stray curl of hair as she surveyed her reflection.
“No, I’m definitely not wearing this,” she announced with the lazy drawl of a bored checkout girl.
Then, with one fluid motion, she shrugged off her new party dress and tossed it disdainfully in a heap on the floor. I almost needed a straitjacket to stop myself from throttling the child.
We had been going round in circles like this for half an hour. The new sugar-pink dress had been bought with Sophie’s approval after a long trawl around the shops earlier that week. Now, on a whim, it had been randomly rejected. Sophie wanted to wear something else.
At first, I reasoned and pleaded with her to put it on. With diplomacy shot, I started shouting. She simply shouted back. Only louder. Little short of forcing her into the frock, she had me beaten - or rather brow-beaten - squealing and whining as I tried to slip it over her head.
Instead, she insisted on trying several other outfits, slinging clothes on the floor with contempt when they didn’t please her. In that moment, I hated myself for becoming one of those lily-livered mothers I had always despised for giving in to their children.
In the end - and only after some serious bribery (a trip later that week to Claire’s Accessories for some pink plastic flower clip-on earrings and a Union Jack hairband) - did she capitulate and wear a fawn-coloured dress with a waterfall skirt. And still we were late.
You see, the Devil May Wear Prada, but in my house, the little girl certainly wears the trousers. And to think, after giving birth to three lovely sons, I’d always craved what I imagined to be the “sweetness” of a daughter. How wrong I was. The little girl I wanted so much turned out to be little more than a miniature tyrant.
Though I loved Sam, 19, Max, 17 and Aaron, 13, to distraction, I could also see the downsides of a boys-only family. The house had turned into an assault course of headless Action Man figures, the flowers in my back garden had been decapitated by footballs, meal-time conversations revolved around toilets, worms and vampires, and every door bore a muddy footprint.
My womanliness was cut adrift in this brash and noisy household. So when Sophie was born I imagined a soft, silky world, festooned with glittery hair slides, tiny ballet shoes and cushion-soft femininity.
Well, I got the hair slides and the ballet shoes. But the price was a pint-sized prima donna who demands constant attention. I now realise how much easier it was to raise my boys compared with this tiny despot, whose steely inner core, unapologetic obstinacy and utter inflexibility brings me close to meltdown on an almost daily basis.
At first, I thought it was because she was the youngest. Then I realised that, before she was born, Max and Aaron had held that position and never behaved like her.
My mind drifted to a recent poll by a parenting website in which more than 55 percent of mothers said they found it easier to bond with their sons than their daughters. Mothers, it revealed, were more likely to find their sons funny, cheeky, playful and loving. But when it came to their daughters, they were far more critical, believing them to be more stroppy and argumentative.
Paul Abeles, a consultant clinical psychologist from Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital, who specialises in children and families, suggests the reason for this is that girls engage with the world “on a much more emotional plane”.
He says: “They reveal a very emotional response to the details of day-to-day life and remain very preoccupied with these details, be it how they look, the clothes they wear or the friends they want to play with. They can be very single-minded in pursuing those details. Boys take a much more pragmatic approach.”
Even when Sophie was born and we brought our princess home to a house festooned with sparkly cards, pink balloons and bouquets, friends who had both boys and girls warned me of the autocratic nature of their daughters.
But I dismissed their concerns. How hard could it be? It was all in the upbringing, I thought to myself smugly. My sons were easy, likeable, well-adjusted children. Yes, they were noisy and messy and would tumble around the house together like puppies. But, surely, a little girl would bring out their softer sides.
A little girl would be my companion, I thought. We could shop together, spend cosy afternoons cuddled up on the sofa, painting our nails instead of freezing on the touchline as the boys played football.
Yet that wasn’t how it worked out.
Sophie frequently arrives home from school hissing like a goose about the way certain girls in her class have behaved.
By comparison, my boys have never spoken in even the vaguest emotional terms about their friends. There’s never been the merest hint of jealousy, cliques or the changing of best friend status. Equally, she can be prone to outbursts of cattiness.
I remember being at a wedding when a little girl came in wearing an exquisite dress festooned with rosebuds. Sophie rolled her eyes at me and curled her lip. “I don’t like that dress,” she remarked, her nose all but growing at the blatant lie.
What was transparently obvious was that what she really didn’t like was the attention the other girl was getting. By comparison, my boys wouldn’t have been able to tell you the colour of their shirts, let alone what anyone else in the room was wearing.
I’ve spent hours commiserating with friends about the way our daughters rule our houses. Boys may fight and eat you out of house and home, but they don’t want to be queen bees like girls.
Captain Mark Phillips made some very telling comments recently when he compared his children, Zara and Peter. He described his daughter (albeit fondly) as a ‘brat’, while Peter was remembered as “a very well-behaved little boy, who knew where the line was and didn’t cross it”.
Sophie not only crosses that line, she kicks up the dust as she goes. And even though I feel a bone-melting love for her - as I do all my children - there’s no doubting her tricky, testy nature fuels our showdowns, while her determination means she often reduces me to a frazzled wreck.
Only the other morning, I was hugging my youngest son, Aaron, and wishing him luck for some important exams that day, when Sophie stormed into the middle of the conversation. “You didn’t care when I had a spelling test,” she blasted with her ability to drag up old grievances, however irrelevant, to make me feel bad (accusation is her default position).
Aaron, with his signature wit and weary irritation, turned to his sister and remarked: “Yes, and you’ll need those results for your CV.”
The emotional blackmail is intense. If I don’t do as she asks, she says it’s because I don’t love her, when the truth is I love her to pieces, and have never held back from telling her so.
I have always showered her with affection and attention. When she starts to dig at that nerve, I can’t help thinking there’s about as much chance of boys starting that kind of argument as there is of Victoria Beckham smiling this side of 2013.
She also has a wilful side I have never seen in any of my boys. Each morning, I sit there before school painstakingly plaiting Sophie’s hair or scooping it into bunches, only for my daughter to shake out the style, change her mind and decide to do her own (scruffy) ponytail.
I fall for it every day, as Sophie assures me the hairstyle we begin with is the one she wants. Clearly, my daughter is a graduate of the David Cameron school of promise-keeping.
Of course, all children are a blessing. And even though Sophie is a handful, she makes me ache with love for her. Especially when she turns on her sweet smile, crawls into the crook of my arm and tells me I’m ‘her best mama’ (something the boys would never do).
One day, when she’s grown up, we’ll dawdle over lunch and laugh as I remind Sophie what a nightmare she was when she was little.
Just as my mother did with me. - Daily Mail