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How to prepare your children to see their gendered bodies as gifts for God’s mission

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May 10, 2021

Evelyn Bassoff, a psychologist and author of Between Mothers and Sons, tells the story of a celebrated bullfighter from Madrid who disappeared one evening during his own victory party. After searching the entire house, one houseguest finally found him in the kitchen, washing dishes. The guest was aghast. He couldn’t swallow the idea that a bullfighter — the pinnacle of masculinity in Spanish culture — would be engaging in what he thought of as a woman’s work. When he asked the bullfighter what he was doing, the bullfighter looked him in the eye and stated, “Sir, I am a man. Everything I do is masculine.”1Evelyn S. Bassoff, Between Mothers and Sons: The Making of Vital and Loving Men (New York: Penguin Books, 1995), 18. Cited in Nate Collins, All but Invisible: Exploring Identity Questions at the Intersection of Faith, Gender, and Sexuality (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), 218.

Recently, I wrote about two foundational truths that parents should teach their kids about gender. The goal of teaching these truths is to help your child, like this bullfighter, grow in confidence in their given gender. 

First, because God made mankind male and female, a person’s gender corresponds with his or her biological sex. Gender is, in this sense, fixed. It cannot become whatever we want it to be, because our gender is a part of our personhood. Being a man or a woman is a gift we receive from God.

But while our true gender is fixed, it’s important to affirm ways in which gender expression varies from person to person—even in the Bible. Think, for instance, about the two patriarch brothers, Jacob and Esau. They were both men. But Jacob imaged forth God’s orderly rule in the kitchen: he made a legendary lentil stew! Esau, on the other hand, expressed his masculinity as a hunter (Gen. 25:24–28). 

Jacob and Esau were different boys, and it’s not just Jacob and Esau. There are a range of ways masculinity and femininity are expressed across relationships and cultures today as well. In Scotland, for instance, a kilt is a cultural expression of masculinity.2Walker, God and the Transgender Debate, 31–32. In the United States, wearing one might seem more appropriate for a schoolgirl. As I described in the previous chapter [of A Parent’s Guide to Teaching Your Children About Gender: Helping Kids Navigate a Confusing Culture], the man and woman in the Genesis 2 narrative expressed their gender in the context of their relationship. Their gender expression was personal and relational. This is always the case. Gender always takes a cultural shape, and it doesn’t emerge identically across all times and cultures.

This is where raising kids can get tricky. What should we teach our children about gender expression? Are there biblical gender norms that are essential to teach our kids? If so, how do we distinguish between what is part of God’s design for gender expression and what has been culturally constructed since the fall?

Teaching our children about gender expression

The Bible never gives us the impression that it’s essential to teach culturally constructed gender stereotypes to children. Phrases such as “Boys don’t cry” or “A woman’s place is in the kitchen” should be eliminated from our vocabulary. We shouldn’t think there are certain traits that will make a boy manlier or a girl more of a woman. Even the term “gender roles” can be unhelpful when it gives the impression that manhood and womanhood, masculinity and femininity are cultural personas or scripts to which children must conform.3Russell Moore, “Gender Roles,” Video posted July 2, 2019. Accessed online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cmeTPNLHw18/. That’s not the kind of conformity we want our kids to embrace. Instead, parents should call both their daughters and their sons to be transformed, that is, to live in conformity with the character of Christ. As kids of both sexes grow in maturity and, if converted, transform into Christ’s likeness, the integration of their body and soul will ensure that they grow to maturity as women and as men.

This doesn’t negate sexual difference. Parents are responsible to teach their children, who already have a given gender, the kind of character that’s necessary to be a godly son or daughter, brother or sister, wife or husband, mother or father. 

Boys need to grow up into godly sons and potential fathers who can provide for and protect others. Girls need to grow up into godly daughters and potential mothers, that is, influential helpers who cultivate the relational structures necessary for nurturing others.

Teaching boys

For young men, this means parents should prepare them to live as servant leaders — to work to cultivate good, to fight to protect what’s true, and to take initiative:

A boy’s gendered body is a gift that enables him to help fulfill the creation mandate and the Great Commission:

Teaching girls 

A girl’s gendered body is also a gift that enables her to help fulfill the creation mandate and the Great Commission. Just as we prepare young men to be servant leaders, we should call young women to live in conformity with Christ’s character as influential helpers:

Now that I have outlined some particular encouragement parents can give to their daughters and sons, please allow me to make a clarification. I’m not saying that men shouldn’t contribute to society’s relational structures. A father shouldn’t be all authority with no nurture.5Moore, “Gender Roles.”  Nor am I saying that women shouldn’t provide for and protect their families or communities; consider Deborah the judge (Judg. 4–5)!

Throughout the Scriptures, we see that both sexes are necessary for God’s people to fulfill their essential functions in the world. Both sexes are necessary to fulfill both the creation mandate (Gen. 1:28) and the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19–20). Wendy Alsup describes it this way:

At the most basic level of human existence, both sexes are necessary for bearing new image-bearers into the world, an incredible, though often downplayed function of these sexes. But whether individuals ever have biological children, the two sexes are integral in bearing and growing spiritual children. The importance of each sex is lost if we dismiss the distinct elements of their giftings or roles given in Scripture for doing the work of discipling the next generation of believers.6Wendy Alsup, “Equal but Different: A Complementarian View of the Sexes” in Cultural Engagement: A Crash Course in Contemporary Issues, ed. Joshua D. Chatraw and Karen Swallow Prior (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academic, 2019), 107–108. 

It’s the importance of using the distinct giftings that we have as men and women to disciple coming generations that we need to pass along to our kids. Our goal as parents should be to celebrate our child’s biological sex, their true gender, as a gift for ministry and prepare our kids both to receive this gift and to employ it with Christ-like character. 

Jared Kennedy

Jared is the husband of Megan and father to Rachael, Lucy, and Elisabeth. After serving fifteen years on staff at local churches, Jared now serves as a freelance editor, as the Managing Editor of Gospel-Centered Family, as a Children’s and Family Ministry Strategist for the Sojourn Network, and as an … Read More