When our grandparents were raising our parents, popular culture was not as dramatically at odds with the biblical understandings of gender as it is now. The current cultural confusion over gender, however, requires parents to be highly intentional if they want to raise masculine sons and feminine daughters.
There are no generic people. There are men, and there are women. Consequently there are no generic Christian people. There are Christian men and there are Christian women. In Genesis 1-2, Ephesians 5, 1 Peter 3, and Colossians 3, we find clarity about the primary roles of men and women. There are differing ways in which men and women will live out the Christian life. For instance, when giving specific instruction and admonition to men, the Bible usually does so within three key categories: leading, providing and protecting. In other words, biblical masculinity involves a heart that is inclined to obey God within this particular context of leadership, provision and protection. This may take place predominantly as husbands and fathers, but it still should be cultivated, encouraged and instilled in boys as they mature into manhood.
To that end, Christian parents should cultivate, teach and encourage the distinct characteristics of biblical manhood and womanhood. Both mom and dad share this task, but fathers bear the responsibility to lead it, to model manhood and to make distinctive contributions in their sons and daughters.
Here are the ways you should be actively involved:
Give your children a clear vision for biblical masculinity and femininity. There is certainly some subjectivity here, but you and your wife should agree on the behaviors and inclinations necessary to carry out the roles assigned to men and women and then decide how those can be cultivated in your sons and/or daughters. Since the Bible teaches that the role of wife, mother, and keeper of the home is a high calling for women, then you and your wife should instill and cultivate the desire and skill to embrace this high call – with your wife naturally having a more highlighted role. Since the Bible teaches that men are to be leaders, providers and protectors, then you and your wife should instill and cultivate the desire and skill to undertake these responsibilities – with you taking the lead.
Next, you and your wife have to model what you want to cultivate. Husbands and wives living out their proper roles together not only impact the marriage but also impact how children understand their own gender identity. Since role relationships are inherent in the created order, it naturally causes a certain amount of dissonance for children who are watching parents live contrary to their roles.
This is especially significant for boys. When they are born, boys and girls develop a natural bond with their mom as she feeds and nurtures them. A girl becoming a woman can just stay close to her mom. A boy, however, has to reach the place where he says, “I’m not this – I’m different from mom” and then he has to move toward dad and say, “I’m this.” This is disruptive. It’s not a sign of disrespect or a rejection of femininity. It’s just a transition that has to happen for boys to grow into men.
If mom clings to the boy too much or there’s not a man to gravitate toward, a boy may overwhelmingly identity with his mom and act like her or he might know in his gut that he’s equipped for something else and end up reacting in conflict and resentment that he can’t articulate. A dad who leads, provides and protects gives a boy a model to identify with. A strong dad can also discourage a boy from disrespecting his mom in the transition – and instead teach him to honor her as a woman as he follows a path to manhood. This is key for teaching your son how to treat his future wife.
Ultimately, you need to model manhood and then be able to answer your son’s (often unspoken) question: “Am I becoming a man?”
You have to teach your son to learn to submit to authority. Because one day he’s going to have it and he won’t be able to wield it correctly if he hasn’t learned how to show it to others first.
You also have to help your daughter to recognize good authority. Some day, a man is going to be responsible for sacrificially leading your daughter as a wife. It’s your job to make the transition into a future marriage as smooth as possible. When you give your daughter’s hand in marriage to her groom’s hand on her wedding day, you want it to be a strong hand-off.
Affirm manhood and womanhood
Children are not generic and neither is their behavior. Affirm your sons in their masculinity and your daughters in their femininity. Let them know you are glad God made them the way He did. When your daughters exhibit characteristics that will make them effective moms or wives, say, “you’re going to be a great mom.” When you observe particularly masculine behavior, say, “that’s good leadership,” or “that’s what men do.” Boys inherently want to be like their dads and girls want to be like their moms. They need to be encouraged in their progress with gender-specific language.
Affirm manhood and womanhood in your affection for your children as well. Wrestle with your boys, give them slaps on the back, high-fives, bear hugs, shoulder punches and other forms of physical engagement as a regular connection. It’s important to consistently show affection to your daughters as well. They might enjoy horseplay with you as well, but be intentional to also honor their femininity. Hold their hands. Kiss their cheeks. Give them hugs. This kind of affection can be challenging when your daughter starts changing into a young woman, but that’s when she’ll need it most. A good way to develop and continue a habit of affirming your daughter and showing her appropriate affection is to have a regular daddy-daughter date. With a set time to give each other your complete attention, you can draw her out and support her path to womanhood.
Create moments of training
Finally, be intentional in providing distinctive opportunities for training. If you want your children to be proficient at the piano, you’ll provide lessons. Similarly, if you want your daughters to be inclined to motherhood and homemaking, then (with your wife having a more highlighted role) you’ll involve your daughters in activities and training that prepare them to manage a home and care for a family.
If you want your sons to be resilient and inclined to lead, you should create moments for training through sports, and other structured activities that involve challenge, leadership opportunities, and discipline. In addition to those settings, you should intentionally create moments of risk, valor and adventure (even if they are only perceived as such).
For example, if you’re camping or hiking a trail you can build instincts in your sons by asking what they would do if they encountered a bear and then practicing scenarios. When you encounter challenges like someone dropping gear down a slope off the path you can give your boys an opportunity to be a hero. “Uh-oh Mom dropped her lantern down that steep ridge. I don’t know how steady that ground is there or what kind of threatening insects or vegetation are over there off the trail, but I need you boys to take care of it.” Let them believe it’s all riding on them. Perception is reality. Build courage in your boys. Incline their hearts and cultivate their instincts toward resilience and toughness.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – This article originally appeared in A Guide to Biblical Manhood, published by SBTS Press at SBTS.edu/press. Randy Stinson serves as senior vice president for academic administration and provost. He is also associate professor of leadership and family ministry. You can follow Stinson on Twitter at @RandyStinson. Dan Dumas is senior vice president for institutional administration at Southern. He is a church planter and pastor-teacher at Crossing Church in Louisville, Ky. You can connect with him on Twitter at @DanDumas, on Facebook or at DanDumas.com.)