Family Friday Links 9.17.18

Here's what we've been thinking though this week from our online reading:

Jason Allen had a parenting post on motivations to avoid. The post lists 3 such motivations, although I'm sure there are more. He wrote, "Gospel-centered parenting focuses on cultivating the heart toward submission to the Word of God, repentance, godliness, and cherishing the gospel."

Kids Ministry 101 from LifeWay posting a link to their about connecting with volunteers. This is vital for ministries to not simply survive, but thrive in doing the work of both discipling kids as well as partnering with parents. It's just over 28 minutes long, but worth the time for the practicals that it offers.

Pastor Cam Hyde had a post about discipling your kids. His last paragraph starts this way, "These four things can help you start using your time intentionally with your children. God has given us to our children to help shape their hearts and point them to Christ. Sometimes, we just need some help knowing where to start." He is both practical and pastoral, check it out.

What have been benefiting from online this week? eave us a link in the comment section to check out.

What do I do if my child doesn’t seem to fit with typical gender norms?

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In a 2014 blog post titled “Let Kids Be Kids Instead of Sexualized Little Adults,”[1] writer Amy Julia Becker raised concerns about a YouTube video that tells the story of a child named Ryland. Ryland “transitioned” from female to male at age six. The seven-minute video, which had been viewed more than seven million times at the time of writing,[2] shows a cute little girl with attentive parents talking about herself as a boy. Ryland wants to wear a tie and sees herself as a big brother to her little sister. When her manner and these preferences stay the same for years, her parents decide this is more than a phase. Experts told them that children know their “true gender” by age five. So, the parents begin to support Ryland’s transition to a boy by cutting her hair short, using male pronouns, and supporting her desire to dress in boy clothes.

The Bible teaches us that our given gender identity is the identity that corresponds with our biological sex. Because God made mankind male and female, a man or woman’s gender is—in this sense—fixed (Gen. 1:27). 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.

While affirming this truth, it needs to be nuanced. It’s important to affirm ways in which gender expression is fluid and relational—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). They were really different sons. 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. In the States, wearing one might seem more appropriate for a school girl.[3] Gender doesn’t emerge identically across all times and cultures.

So, on the one hand, our gender is given (Gen. 1). And, on the other hand, the particular expression it takes varies culturally and relationally. According to the American Psychological Association, the term gender refers to the “attitudes, feelings, and behaviors that a given culture associates with a person’s biological sex.”[4] The APA’s definition captures well the personal and relational ways each person’s gender identity is expressed. In Genesis 2, the man and woman expressed their gender identity in the context of their relationship. And, since that time, gender has always taken a cultural shape.

What does this tell us about Ryland? Ryland’s parents and the experts who advised them made early assumptions about Ryland’s adult gender identification. It is true that kids begin to form their gender understanding early, but the process by which this happens is not well understood.[5] Children don’t typically need to be taught purposefully about their gender. They absorb this knowledge from the normal course of family life and their larger social environment. While a strong sense of gender identity is common by preschool, it can change, like any matter of self-perception, as children move into puberty and then adulthood. Becker relates anecdotes of other children, including her sister, who acted like the opposite sex as a kid but ultimately emerged with the typically masculine or feminine traits corresponding with their biological sex. She concludes,

When little girls want to dress and play like boys, when little boys want to dress and play like girls, it's too early to indicate their gender identity. Some of them will go on—in puberty and beyond—to want to change their biological sex. Some of them will go on to identify as gay or lesbian. But many of them—perhaps most of them—will simply grow up into the gender in accord with their biological sex.[6]

Jumping to conclusions about a child’s future gender identity based on their childhood interests fails to see children as who they are—kids, who still have a lot of growing up to do.

But simply knowing kids are kids doesn’t keep us from worrying, does it? What if your daughter is into boxing and will have nothing to do with ribbons and dolls? What if your boy cares nothing for sports but instead is interested in fashion and dance? Should you be concerned if your child loses interest in the toys and activities typical for their sex? Should you be worried that your children are on the road to a destabilized gender identity or that they’ll want to transition to the opposite gender?

God always chooses broken people who need him. He meets us in our discord, and he works out his glorious purposes.

A certain degree of anxiety about our kids is understandable. A very feminine mom can struggle to relate to her tomboy daughter. And if dad is a man’s man who loves to hunt, it can be hard to accept a sensitive son who prefers the kitchen to the woods (Just ask Isaac!). The biblical view is that our masculine or feminine gender identities are not established by our cultural gender expression but are rooted in God’s design. Sadly, our tendency—both within the church and in society at large—is to connect gender identity to rigid stereotypes. We think girls must wear pink and play with dolls while boys wear blue and play sports. Andrew T. Walker thinks this is a particular danger in our day:

Perhaps this is tempting for Christians in this generation, where, for the first time in history, questions of gender identity and a celebration of those seeking to change gender have moved into the mainstream. In our quest to stay true to God’s calling, it is possible to play to extreme stereotypes in such a way as to bring confusion . . . [But a] man who cooks or a woman who likes watching football is not blurring inappropriate gender norms; nor is that any sort of concrete evidence that a person has gender-identity issues.[7]

If we disentangle the biblical perspective on gender from our cultural biases, then we can be set free from these assumptions and fears. Since cultural norms don’t make a boy or girl, we can support our child’s interests, even those that don’t fit gender stereotypes, and at the same time encourage a gender identity that aligns with our child’s biological sex.

So, what does it look like to encourage your child to embrace his or her God-given gender without putting too much weight on cultural norms? Here are a few pointers:

First, affirm your child’s biological sex and their corresponding gender identity.

Affirm God’s creation of your child as a unique person and affirm the gender identity that corresponds with your child’s biology. This may be in ways that fit common gender stereotypes. But it may also be in ways that do not—such as encouraging a young man who is interested in music to see a great male musician like Bach as a role model or encouraging a daughter with mathematical skill to look up to an outspoken female engineer.[8] Rigid gender norms should be avoided. They may appear to codify biblical manhood and womanhood, but, generally speaking, they do more harm than good. A father who feels shame, for example, over a son who wants to pursue cooking may invalidate his son’s legitimate desire to cultivate a real gift and ability simply because it doesn’t match with his preconceived idea about what it means to be a man. And if a child fails to live up to such inflexible and extra-biblical standards, this may create a sense of internal distance between the child and his or her gender identity.[9] Biblically speaking, seeing your child affirmed as a man or woman according to the culture’s values is not the most important thing. More important than worldly affirmation is encouraging your son or daughter to grow in confidence as the person God made them to be.

Second, give your child focused attention and appropriate affection.

In his classic book on parenting, How to Really Love Your Child, Ross Campbell wrote, “A child is the most needy person in our society, and the greatest need is love.”[10] Most parents know this intuitively, but they find it a challenge to convey their love in a way their child can receive it. Many parents only touch their children when necessity demands it, such as when helping them dress or buckle into their car seats. This is a travesty. Children need the emotional encouragement that comes from regular affection. God means for every child to be held, touched, and snuggled. As kids grow, they need wrestling, back-slapping, high fives, and physical contact from sports and games. We can help our sons and daughters grow in confidence by giving them unconditional love, eye contact, focused attention, and physical affection.

Finally, face the obstacles presented by a destabilized gender identity with grace, truth, and hope.

Sometimes preferences and desires, like Ryland’s in the YouTube video, do persist. Loving parents sometimes watch their child progress from harmless interests to deliberate, regular cross-dressing and a destabilized gender identity. Godly, Christian parents have children who experience discord and inner conflict between their gender identity and biological sex. Psychologists label this gender dysphoria.

We don’t understand much about the causes of gender dysphoria, but we do know the experience is real. It might be tempting to label a child’s feeling that he or she would feel better as the opposite gender (or no gender at all) simply as an example of wrong thinking or a lack of faith. But when a child experiences distress, anguish, and conflict about their perceived gender identity, this is usually a complex, unchosen experience. People experiencing gender dysphoria experience the feeling that their biological body is lying. And, when their experience is severe they may also experience depression and thoughts of suicide.[11]

Please don’t be dismissive with your child about their experience. Rather, show compassion and speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). Supporting your child by empathizing with their pain does not mean affirming gender dysphoria as natural and normal. And it does not mean supporting a “transition” or transgender identification, that is, their expressing a gender identity that does not match their genetic sex. Parents should be wary of hormonal or surgical treatments that seek to change an individual’s body and chemical balance and bring them into alignment with their perceived gender. As Nate Collins writes, “God designed personhood to be constrained and shaped by bodies, and efforts to make permanent, fundamental changes to the body are inherently traumatizing.”[12]

We know that God made men and women to live out our masculine and feminine gender identities with joy and confidence. But in a fallen world, broken bodies, broken family systems, and broken human cultures can conspire against us. Our love must not change nor shrink back. Instead, we must respond with grace, truth, and hope.

Even if an experience of gender dysphoria persists for your child’s lifetime, God remains faithful. I briefly mentioned the story of Jacob and Esau above. Have you considered that God didn’t pick the most gender stereotypical son to be the patriarch and namesake for his chosen people? Jacob wasn’t even the most obedient and faithful son. Scandalously, God chose the deceptive son who pretended to be someone he wasn’t. You see, God always chooses broken people who need him. He meets us in our discord, and he works out his glorious purposes. Because he is faithful to broken sinners like Jacob, we can faithfully love our kids as well, facing whatever obstacles may come with hope.

This post appeared first at ERLC.com

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Join me on Tuesday, October 23rd when Pastor Ryan Welsh and I will be leading a Navigating A Gender-Fluid World Leadership Intensive at the Sojourn Network Leader's Summit. The goal of this intensive is to help pastors and parents navigate the difficult conversations around gender and sexuality in our culture. Learn more here.

 

NOTES

  1. ^ Amy Julia Becker, “Let Kids Be Kids Instead of Sexualized Little Adults”, Thin Places (July 10, 2014), accessed online at http://www.christianitytoday.com/amyjuliabecker/2014/july/let-kids-be-kids-instead-of-sexualized-little-adults.html.
  2. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yAHCqnux2fk
  3. ^ Andrew T. Walker, God and the Transgender Debate: What Does the Bible Actually Say About Gender Identity? (The Good Book Company, 2017), pp. 31-32.
  4. ^ “Definitions Related to Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity in APA Documents,” accessed online at http://www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/resources/sexuality-definitions.pdf, p. 2.
  5. ^ Douglas Davies, Child Development: A Practitioner’s Guide, Third Edition, (Guilford Press, 2011), pp. 296-298; Walker, God and the Transgender Debate, p. 167; Stan and Brenna Jones, How and When to Tell Your Kids About Sex: A Lifelong Approach to Shaping Your Child’s Sexual Character, (NavPress, 1993, 2007), p. 104.
  6. ^ Becker, “Let Kids Be Kids.”
  7. ^ Walker, God and the Transgender Debate, pp. 55-56.
  8. ^ Stan and Brenna Jones, How and When to Tell Your Kids About Sex: A Lifelong Approach to Shaping Your Child’s Sexual Character, (NavPress, 1993, 2007), p. 109.
  9. ^ Nate Collins, All but Invisible: Exploring Identity Questions at the Intersection of Faith, Gender, and Sexuality, (Zondervan, 2017),  pp. 218-19.
  10. ^ D. Ross Campbell, MD, How to Really Love Your Child, (David C. Cook, 1977, 2015), p. 14.
  11. ^ Walker, God and the Transgender Debate, p. 33.
  12. ^ Collins, All but Invisible, p. 220. Also see Walker, God and the Transgender Debate, pp. 33-35.

Family Friday Links 8.10.18

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Here's what we've been benefiting from online this week:

Jana Magruder had a post on managing kidmin classrooms. She says, "There are many tips for engaging kids and keeping their attention, but my personal favorite is singing—yes, singing! Now, hear me when I say—kids do not care if you are a good singer or not, so talent does not matter!" She goes on to list benefits. This is a helpful tool to have in your box when your seeking to disciple kids.

For those parents who have kids online educateempowerkids.org had a post that helps kids see the impact of what they post. The post talks in terms of the ripples our interactions can have as says in part, "Our ripples affect those around us for better or for worse." The post goes on to list a couple things kids (and most adults) need to keep in mind when posting anything. This is very helpful for parents.

Mark Merrill had a post entitled, "4 Steps to Marriage CPR". In it he wrote, "A dying marriage is the result of countless moments of hurts, habits, and hardships." His steps are helpful not just evaluate where your marriage is at, but also how to start fixing it in order for your marriage to thrive.

What have you been reading online lately? If you've been benefitting from it, leave a link in the comment section for us to check out.

5 tips for establishing a devotional routine with your toddler

When our daughters were toddlers, we had a regular bedtime routine. It usually involved reading a story, saying prayers, giving hugs and kisses, and listening to some music before bed. Their stuffed toys got involved, too. Mr. Lamb would read along, and Smiley the Dog would share in hugs and kisses. Once the nightly rhythm was established, every part mattered. Knowing exactly what to expect helped our kids feel safe, confident, and secure.

And when one part was missing—well, I remember one vacation to a theme park. We’d been out late watching fireworks, so we skipped some of the normal bedtime steps. On top of that, we discovered Smiley had been left on a tour bus earlier in the day. Needless to say, sleep was fleeting that night! I learned just how much my kids count on a regular rhythm to thrive.

Christians know that rhythm should include religious instruction, but toddlers are always on the move—no wonder most parents struggle to corral them for any sort of formal family devotional time. Adding to that difficulty is the fact that young parents are often on the move, too. They’re busy establishing a career while raising toddlers and preschoolers at the same time. It’s hard to be present with your children when you’re on call or working overtime or third shift.

I believe God is aware of our seasons of life, and I’m thankful he doesn’t give us a family devotions model that’s overly formal. Moses told Israel to teach their kids during the regular rhythms of life—mealtime, bedtime, drive time, and so on (Deut. 6:7).

With that guilt-free vision in mind, here are five quick tips for establishing a regular devotional routine with your toddler.

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1. Find a Time That Works

In our family, we were able to establish the most regular routine at bedtime. If you work third shift, that’s not going to be feasible. Choose a regular time around the table—maybe at breakfast—instead. You’ll be surprised just how much your kids hold you accountable once a family worship pattern is established. It’ll be something they count on and look forward to. Start with one small thing, like reading a short story or saying a prayer. Be consistent. It’s better to gather the family once per week than to exasperate your kids with failed attempts to meet every day.

You’ll be surprised how much your kids hold you accountable once a family worship pattern is established.

I recently spoke to a dad who for several years worked what he described as the “grave shift.” During that season, a nightly devotional was impossible, so he leaned heavily on teaching his kids in small doses throughout the day. My friend’s wife would read to their kids at night before bed, then he’d take a five- or ten-minute break from work to call and pray with them.

I’ve found his regular intentionality to be incredibly encouraging. While not having a set devotional time may seem less than ideal, a regular, “slow drip” approach to family discipleship is actually quite effective. In this way, we can teach our toddlers that relating to God isn’t just something we check off our list at the end of the day; it’s the way we live.

2. Read Something Simple

Two- and three-year-olds have an attention span of two to three minutes. Their vocabulary is limited to 200 to 1,500 words. Like a careful parent cutting up their child’s food into digestible chunks, it’s important to keep your routine short and understandable. Our youngest kids need to learn the vocabulary of faith—basic Bible words like sinpromiseprayer, and the name of Jesus—before moving to more abstract concepts like forgiveness.

If you’re just beginning a family devotional time with your toddler, find a resource that keeps these developmental considerations in mind. You might try Ella Lindvall’s Read-Aloud Bible Stories, David Helm’s Big Picture Story Bible, or my Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible.

3. Talk to God

Bow your head. Close your eyes. Tell your kids to fold their hands. (So they don’t hit each other during the prayer! That trick has worked for centuries.) Then, talk to God. Make it something quick and memorable; remember their short attention span. In our family, we adapted this short prayer:

Thank you God for [child’s name]. Help her to grow up to love Jesus and trust in Jesus. Please help her to have godly friends and a godly husband when she gets big. Please protect her from harm and danger this night. And from Satan and his schemes. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

4. Use Music for Memory

Our kids wanted to listen to music as they fell asleep at night. A friend recommended an album of lullabies that put the questions and answers from the Children’s Catechism to music. (If I had toddlers today, I’d use the The New City Catechism albums and the music of Rain for Roots.)

Our kids memorized great truth simply because they sang it nightly. Other great music albums like the ones from Seeds Family Worship and PROOF Pirates have more of a beat and are less helpful at bedtime. But we made sure this music was in our car so we could sing along (sometimes loud and silly!) while we drove around time.

5. Give Your Kids Your Full Attention

Your devotional routine isn’t just a time for you to impart information to your kids; it’s time for them to spend time with you. So put your phone away. Look your kids in the eye, and let them know you’re listening to them. Show them affection, and not just when it’s time for bedtime hugs and kisses. Cuddle. Have a short wrestling match.

It’s through the attentive presence of loving parents that kids learn about our loving Father.

This post first appeared at The Gospel Coalition.