Training Heart Identities in Boys and Girls
Boys are different than girls. It’s plain in the Bible and plain in our everyday experience as parents.
I have five children. The first three are girls; the last two are boys. They are different! There is no question that each child is unique. There is no question of the heterogeneity in temperament, interests, skills, gifts, weaknesses, areas of sin, areas of obedience, and more. Yes and amen. God is not in the business of creating a monolithic people. But from birth, the boys, as boys, were intrinsically different than the girls.
My husband and I parent on many levels. There are places where our parenting is the same across the board (no one is allowed to say “shut up” to anyone else). Then there are aspects which are dependent upon personality (the child’s personal strengths and weaknesses). And then there are areas which are dependent upon the specific sex (the boys can play dolls with their sisters, but they need to play roles as boys or men).
The aim is to deliberately parent our children in such a way that reinforces their gender and gives them contentment in how God created them.
Now it does not mean we make shallow, meaningless rules like girls can’t climb trees or boys can’t play house. We are living every day in the thick of parenting girls and boys. Reinforcing their girlhood and boyhood is a heart issue. It is not necessarily what they are playing; it is what identity they are cultivating in the play.
Helpers and Protectors
Our kids’ play has proven to be a great opportunity to reinforce the beauty of God’s good gift of gender.
When my husband gets on the floor and pretends to be a dragon, he asks our oldest son to protect his sister. This is a way to train the boys to protect and guard. But he also turns it around so that sister can have a chance to defend herself and come to the rescue of her brother. You may wonder what the difference is. It’s subtle and inward. The difference is in the heart role we encourage them to take: When a sister is saving the brother and helping to kill the “dragon” (their daddy), she is doing it from the intrinsic identity of helper. She is helping her brother by coming to his rescue, and she is exercising dominion over the “wicked dragon” by slaying him. However, when a brother is coming to the rescue to save his sister, he is doing so from the intrinsic identity of protector.
There are times when the same outward action is properly motivated by completely different inward thought and heart orientation. The brothers and sisters can both do the same thing, but do them from different motives and self-understanding. And teaching this is part of teaching gender identity to our children. This is part of what I mean when I say we reinforce who God created them to be. It is about heart orientation (see Proverbs 4:23; Matthew 7:21; 12:34).
From Deep to Deep
If we want boys and girls to be content in their gender — content in who God created them to be — the answer isn’t about what they can and can’t play with or whether or not they should get a different kind of education. It is heart training that will help our boys grow up to be men and our girls grow up to be women, both of which are two distinctly glorious realities in creation. Therefore, what this comes down to is a heart orientation that is intrinsically tied to each gender. Why? Because gender is an intrinsic, objective reality that comes from deep within our personhood. Gender, either masculine or feminine, is spiritual, psychological, physiological, and emotional. There is a feminine glory and a masculine glory — both God-made for his glory. It is this high aspiration that we want our children to increasingly grasp.
Therefore, training their heart to orient properly to the things around them will help them, by the grace of God, to understand the masculine and feminine qualities of creation, to understand their sexuality as adults, and seek a marriage union which is compatible spiritually, intellectually, and physically. It is a matter of the heart that will help them understand true equality before God and labor side-by-side with others and their spouses to bring the light of the gospel to those around them. Heart training is what equips them to identify and exercise vocation, value family life and children, and above all, follow robustly after Christ, their Creator and Redeemer.
The Beautiful Genius of Creation
Such heart training should not be heavy-handed. Our little boy doesn’t get scolded immediately for putting on his older sister’s high-heeled shoes. We aim to parent with grace and reasonableness. We gently guide that little toddler toward an appropriate pair of big shoes he can play with and take that opportunity to remind him that the other ones belong to his older sister.
Given the empirical evidence that faces me from sun-up to sun-down every day, there is no other logical and intellectually honest conclusion I can arrive at: Boys and girls are different. This intrinsic diversity, alongside its amazing harmony, is fundamental to the beautiful genius of God’s creation of his image-bearing human race. Especially, in our age of gender confusion, we want to give special vigilance to our boys and girls understanding who God made them to be.
Our parenting, we hope, is neither stifling nor obtuse. Quite the opposite. Within the life-giving boundaries God has placed in creating girls and boys, our children can enjoy their gender and wield their identities for God’s glory and their everlasting joy.