In Part 1, we introduced the idea of Three Tools that help us grow healthy gender or personal identity in our children. The first tool was Awareness, which requires that we be physically and emotionally present in the lives of our children in ways that are healthy. In Part 2, our second tool was Assessment, which equips us to measure the ‘energy’ flowing out of our children’s developing identity. The third tool detailed in Part 3 was Intervention, which gave us ideas for stepping in to help guide our children toward more healthy gender or personal identity development. I highly recommend that you read Parts 1-3 before reading this final entry. If you’ve joined me for this entire series, thanks and I hope you enjoy this last message.
When we ask the question, how do I raise children with healthy gender identity, we focus a lot of energy on children. At this point, we must switch gears. Our children have fewer opportunities to develop healthy gender or personal identity if we as parents are not healthy. Thus, we need to now turn the spotlight on us as parents.
Mom, are you consistently angry or frustrated or impatient with your child’s demand for your time and energy? Dad, do you pull away from physical affection with your child? Mom and Dad, do your marital struggles bleed over into family life in ways that sow seeds of insecurity and distrust in your children’s hearts?
Children who grow up with a fragile family bond or amid intense anger or violence between their parents will struggle to develop healthy gender identity. Children who are abused or verbally condemned (in large and small ways) will also struggle. Children who are deprived of touch or who are inappropriately touched will also struggle. It is this issue of touch that I would like to focus on.
Physical touch becomes a kind of ‘voice’ that conveys either safety or great insecurity and fear. If we (or others) inflict upon our children inappropriate touch or if we fail to offer sufficient healthy touch, our children will miss the ‘voice’ that positively affirms them in their gender and calls them out into their life purpose. Have you or someone else inappropriately touched your child? Have you withheld sufficient healthy physical affection? Do you deny such affection? Do you neglect? If so, these are all serious red flags. You can do something about these things – if you are willing.
Dads, are your children showing signs of ‘father hunger’? Are they literally starving for more of your physical and positive emotional presence? If so, these are red flags. You can do something about these things – if you are willing. It is this willingness issue that is so key.
Moms, do you yell and scream or convey a demeaning tone or offer remarks that condemn? Dads, are you an impatient teacher when your child learns something new? If so, these too are red flags. We can do something about these things – if only we are willing and committed to try.
You see, so many want to know how they can prevent their child from developing an unhealthy or confused gender identity. They want an easy answer to prevent homosexuality – but they forget about preventing all the other kinds of gender brokenness in their children that set them up for a self-destructive adult life. I always respond that the prospect for health identity is not as nearly dependent upon the child as it is on the parent’s every day choices. If we want healthy gender identity, we’re going to have to invest in it. Are we really willing to lay down our lives for the sake of our children? This is the real issue.
For Dads who are not physically present, are you willing to take a sabbatical or change jobs in order to offer your children the physical presence they need? For Moms who are emotionally rough or abusive, are you committed to get outside help for your anger and impatience? For Dads who are uncomfortable with their own identity, are you committed to get outside help to work through your hang-ups or addictions? For Moms who are reeling from the damage caused by abuse in their own childhood, are you committed to working toward a path of healing and forgiveness that will enable you to model a more healthy mother role to your sons and daughters?
Moms and Dads, are you willing to be the ‘hinge’ in generational sins that have destroyed those who have gone before you and now threaten to destroy your family? Are you committed to ‘stop’ the passing down of these destructive sins? If so, then there is hope for you and your children! There is help available – I discuss this more at the end of this entry.
Dads, are your sons emotionally ‘tough’ or super-sensitive? It is an inherited predisposition toward emotional sensitivity that increases the chances that sons experience rejection from Dad or same-sex peers. Peers often won’t care. So Dad, you really need to protect your son and not tear him down or allow others to tear him down. You don’t want to ‘baby’ him, but you want to affirm in him that you believe in him.
Dads, do you accept or reject your son’s artistic leanings. You have the power to affirm such gifts as God-given and natural and connected to God’s calling upon his life; or you have the power to completely reject the gifts and talents that God has intentionally placed into your son. You can so reject his talents that he will perceive that you have rejected him (and you have). He can feel so rejected that he will conclude that he cannot be a full man and be an artist; he will have to choose one and he often refuses to choose the male role that you have exhibited. He can very easily reject your expression of maleness to pursue his talent completely disconnected from masculinity. But the energy must flow out – and so many times, the energy flows out by his attempts to artificially obtain masculinity from other men. It is not an artist talent that creates such men; it is the rejection of their talent that does it. What was intended by God to be celebrated is instead crushed and the net result is that our sons are crushed.
I know several military fathers who have crushed their less than ‘tough’ sons so abusively that their sons want nothing to do with the image of male that these fathers presented. I know such fathers who have since surrendered their lives to Christ and now see their error. I’ve seen tough, grown men – fathers – weep like babies as they realize they killed the spirit inside their own sons. I see them reaching out passionately to rebuild healthy images of what being a man and father should really look like. For some, they still have time. For others, time has passed and right now the outlook is not so good. Relational abuse and disconnection has torn at the fabric of trust between father and son and it could take years for them to make it up. With God, ALL things are possible and that is where we must place our trust!
Our sons and daughters need to know they are special as is – that God has made them to have the special gifts, talents and characteristics they possess today. It is not these talents or gifts that produce unhealthy gender identity; it is rejection by parents and peers that kills the inner spirit of children. When that happens, we should not be surprised at the diversity of brokenness that emerges in our children’s lives.
Children who do have ‘lonely’ talents, they don’t need to be criticized or condemned. But they can still be positively drawn out of that place of isolation – not to remove them from their core talent but to expand their talents by investing the time and energy required to help them explore other talents that will draw them out of isolation and into healthy integration with same-sex peers. So we don’t want to fail to call our children out of isolation; but in calling them out, we want to create the space where their core talents and interests are affirmed and valued.
Moms, if you are emotionally too dependent upon your children for your own stability or comfort, you may need to pull back just a bit; particularly with your sons. You should not lash out or reject them in pushing them away; you should simply make moderate adjustments to lessen the emotional demands you place on your children. Allow boys to rough play. Respect healthy adult-child emotional boundaries.
Dads, your children need you – particularly your sons. You have the power to call out, affirm and build up healthy gender identity in both your sons and daughters. You also have the power to draw them out into their life purpose or calling by walking with them as they explore who God has made them to be. You may need to make adjustments to increase the time and energy you have to offer your children. It will cost something – but it’s worth it.
Moms and Dads, there is no replacement for adequate physical presence with and positive emotional engagement of your children. With these two ingredients, you will have the healthy presence needed to implement the Three Tools: Awareness, Assessment and Intervention. With these tools – along with God’s Word and prayer and building our families up into the Lord – God will give you everything you need to make the adjustments needed to guide you toward raising up your children into healthy gender or personal identity. With God’s help, you can do this…
I want to close by stressing to Christian parents – particularly those who homeschool their children (as my wife and I do) – that healthy gender identity is not solely about homosexuality or heterosexuality; nor is it solely about effeminacy or masculinity. We have viewed the issue of gender identity through too narrow a lens. We need to expand our lens to see gender identity as having to do with the whole persons our children are intended by God to become: their ability to accept themselves; their ability to live free from addiction; their ability to relate well to the same and the opposite sex; their ability to appreciate the differences in the genders; their ability to relate well to people older and younger than they are; their ability to live under God’s authority and under the authority of earthly leaders; their ability to live out God’s full calling on their lives; their ability to forsake the things of this world in order to gain the things of Heaven; their ability to live a surrendered life of peace and joy instead of an anxious life of woundedness and fear.
The bottom line is we can have heterosexual children (or masculine boys) who are still very messed up in their gender or personal identity. A son who has achieved masculinity but learns to treat women in a demeaning way or to see them as sexual objects – that’s a mess of a man! The question is this: how did he come to treat and see women in this way? Did it come from Dad? Did it come from Mom?
Christian or not, if we want our children to grow into healthy functioning adults who possess holistic self-identity, we’re going to have to do two things: first, we’re going to have to work on our own recovery in the areas where we are broken adults; and second, we’re going to have to invest in our children the healthy holistic identity we want to see flowing out of their lives when they grow up. This doesn’t just happen – it requires significant investment in the lives of our children…it requires sacrificial parenting.
SPECIAL NOTE: It is impossible to address every possible scenario in a short (or long!) blog series. If you have a family situation that you need assistance with, you can contact me toll-free at (877) 683-6867. We can help you or refer you to local resources where you can get the help you need.
If you leave this series personally convicted of your need – as a parent – to pursue recovery in regards to your own brokenness, I encourage you to read my series titled Brokenness. You can simply click on the key word “Series: Brokenness” and my blog will pull up the entire series of articles on this topic. The end of that series includes helpful resources that will connect you to recovery options in your local area. If there are no known options in your area, please feel free to contact me for additional assistance.
Finally, to those in the LGBT+ Community, I want to reiterate that this series is not about preventing homosexuality; it is about a more holistic attempt to raise children with a healthy and godly sense of their personal identity. This is inclusive of but extends far beyond one’s sexual orientation.
Thanks to everyone who followed along. May God bless you and your family!