Boys are criticised for their aggressive and adventurous nature. Their expressions of leadership and service to females are considered patronising and 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 for a husband and family are chided for taking a backseat.
These messages, imbedded in modern culture at every turn, distract from what makes us distinctly male and female. And unless we teach and represent healthy gender roles, children will become vulnerable to culture’s re-definitions of marriage and family.
Weak men, stressed women
Too many boys don’t know what it means to be moral and ethical, God-fearing men. They see the media ridicule men as stupid and immature, and they often lack positive role models who can demonstrate firm, but compassionate, masculinity. In many parts of the world, many households with children don’t have a father.
The cultural confusion about gender creates either passive or hostile men, neither of who can fulfil the 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 modern culture often 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 whilst simultaneously trying to nurture their families, we place an enormous burden on them. Women who are convinced by this notion face unprecedented levels of stress, depression and heart disease.
In reality, neither men nor women can accomplish everything at once. This deception leaves women exhausted and children bereft of effective parenting.
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 can help this process through physical and verbal affirmation. This can be as simple as regular pats on the back or saying “I am so proud of you”.
Parents should affirm a child’s individuality and not bend to the stereotypes of gender. A boy, for example, may be more interested in poetry than in sports, and parents who encourage his interest help the child develop security in himself and his gender.
Critical, demeaning or uninterested parents leave their son/daughter at a distinct disadvantage in today’s world. And if a child doesn’t get what he/she needs from the family, he/she may seek what’s missing elsewhere.
Fathers and mothers
A moral, ethical and God-fearing father has a profoundly positive influence on his son and 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 of her as a woman.
A moral, ethical and God-fearing mother who shows respect for her husband helps nurture a masculine identity in her son – making him know that it safe and honourable to be a man. As a role-model of womanhood, she helps shape her daughter’s femininity.
Keep these thoughts in mind as you nurture a healthy gender identity in your children.
• 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 mum, introduce your children to trusted male role models who exemplify moral, ethical and God-fearing manhood.
• Avoid the temptation to over-protect your sons.
• Show 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 and then become their greatest supporters.
This article is courtesy of Focus on the Family Malaysia. For more enquiries, kindly contact Focus on the Family, 6-2 Jalan Bersatu 13/4, 46200 Petaling Jaya, Selangor. Tel: 03-7954 7920, Fax: 03-7954 7858, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Website: www.family.org.my.
Focus on the Family’s 90-second commentary is aired over TRAXX FM at 6.30am, Mondays to Fridays.