Under the banner of "gender equality," culture and media have long been feminizing boys and masculinizing girls. Boys are criticized for their aggressive and adventurous nature. Their expressions of leadership and service to females are considered patronizing or demeaning. Girls are told they can and should do everything boys do – and do it even better.

Young women who aspire to a supportive role to a husband and family are chided for taking a back seat.

These messages, imbedded in culture at every turn, distract from how God made us as distinctly male and female. And unless we teach and model healthy gender roles, children will become vulnerable to culture’s redefinitions of marriage and family.

Weak men and stressed women

Too many boys don’t know what it means to be a godly man. They see the media ridicule men as stupid or immature, and they often lack positive role models who demonstrate firm but compassionate masculinity. In the United States today, 8.3 million households with children don’t have a father. [In Canada today, over 1.13 million households with children don’t have a father.]

The cultural confusion about gender creates either passive or hostile men, neither of which can fulfill their God-given mandate to protect and provide for their household. Although a passive man may possess qualities such as kindness, gentleness or patience, he is largely ineffective as a provider and protector. Meanwhile, men who are hostile and controlling are often struggling to prove they are men. In both instances, insecurity is at the root of these warped expressions of manhood.

While the postmodern culture belittles the role of men, it plays an entirely different role in the lives of girls. By telling girls that they should rise to the top of their chosen careers while simultaneously trying to nurture their families, we place an enormous burden on them. The generation of women who bought into this false notion face unprecedented levels of stress, depression and heart disease.

In reality, neither men nor women can accomplish everything all at once. This deception leaves women exhausted and children bereft of effective parenting.

Gender security

We want our children to succeed in school, in relationships and in their jobs. Yet we also want them to develop their own sense of identity and become secure in their gender. In addition to serving as role models, parents help this process through physical and verbal affirmation. This is as simple as regular pats on the back or saying, "I am so proud of you."

Parents should affirm a child’s God-given design, not stereotypes of gender. A boy, for example, may be more interested in poetry than sports, and parents who encourage his interest help the child develop security in himself and his gender.

Critical, demeaning or disinterested parents leave their son or daughter at a distinct disadvantage in today’s world. And if a child doesn’t get what he needs from his family, he may seek what’s missing elsewhere.

Fathers and mothers

A godly father has a profoundly positive influence in the life of his son or daughter. He teaches his son the importance of self-control, respect for women, the value of work and healthy risk taking. He affirms his daughter’s femininity by expressing his appreciation for her as a woman.

A godly mother who shows respect for her husband helps to nurture a masculine identity in her son – making it safe and honourable to be a man. A mother’s positive role model of womanhood and acceptance of her daughter help shape her daughter’s femininity.

Keep these thoughts in mind as you nurture healthy gender identity in your children:

For moms

  • Support and show respect for your husband’s masculine role in the home and in the lives of your sons and daughters. If you are a single mom, introduce your children to trusted male role models who exemplify godly manhood.
  • Avoid the temptation to overprotect your sons.

For dads

  • Be intentional about showing verbal, emotional and physical affirmation to your children.
  • Give your sons opportunities to discover their masculine selves through challenges and reasonable risks. Cheer them when they try. Push them when they feel like giving up. Encourage them when they fail.
  • Avoid the temptation to live vicariously through your children. Give them space to develop their own interests, then become their greatest supporter.

Don S. Otis, author of Whisker Rubs: Developing the Masculine Identity, was the president of Veritas Communications, a Christian publicity agency based in Sandpoint, Idaho, at the time of publication.

© 2008 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

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