by Drew Griffin
“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I thought as a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” I Corinthians 13:11 (ESV)
Children have a gift, it is undeniable. Their young minds are free from the constraints of cynicism. To them abstractions are mysteries for bedtime stories and their world is a finite vision of what appears right in front of them. Their pint-sized perspectives can be refreshing, but they can also be dangerous. At a young age they do not know that the iron is hot, that cars may not see them, that strangers may not be friendly; at that young age they need guidance and protection. God in His infinite wisdom constructed the family for that very purpose; to produce and protect children; to promote life and the structures that support it. Without any doubt, the structures that support life are being undermined and the fabric of the family is fraying. This crisis shows itself in bold displays, like marches down Folsom Street in San Francisco and even in PTA meetings across the country. There are more subtle displays of this crisis, like quiet articles written in magazines and posted to blogs. Their titles seem innocent, but their implications are not.
One such article in The Atlantic grabbed my attention this week. It was entitled, “Do Kids Care if Their Parents Adhere to Traditional Gender Roles,” written by self-described domesticated dad, Matt Villano. As a stay-at-home father, Villano has gained some attention writing for the New York Times Motherload Blog. In this article, he poses the question of traditional parental roles to his two daughters, at 1.5 and 4 years old respectively. “So do you girls think that there are any differences between mommy and daddy?” One should not be surprised that his 4-year-old did not pass judgment.
‘“Dad, you and mommy do the same kinds of things.” She said, I felt vindicated.’
Villano sought further vindication from Mary Carter-Creech, a family therapist in Seattle and Dr. Peggy Drexler, asst. Professor of psychology at the Weill Cornell Medical College in New York.
Creech said her kids focus more on “parent” than mom or dad.
“Generally speaking, there is this dynamic that plays out among parents: one becomes the nurturer and the other becomes the structurer,” she explained. “What I’ve found is that it doesn’t matter which parent takes on which role; so long as the parents serve in these capacities, kids will be happy.”
Drexler came to Villano’s aid by confirming that “gender roles are converging.”
“Roles become troublesome when they become inflexible… [parenting] is a lot like coaching a team some [kids] will respond better to toughness, other do better with a softer approach.”
Ultimately, Villano concludes that “we as parents, need to get over ourselves.” that, “Our kids crave structure. They want nurturing. They seek someone to take them to see wildflowers… on any given day that someone can be mommy or daddy. It can also be both.”
Children look at the world around them and see the basics. That is what we love about children. If you were to ask your young children about the state of your family, you would hope that they give a good report. When they look up they may not see a distinction between the roles of father and mother. But should a distinction exist in your home?
The sad message of Villano’s article is not that he is a nurturing stay-at-home father, nor is it the met expectations of his 4-year-old. The sad fact is that Villano, and the experts he quotes, have embraced an unfortunate two-dimensional image of parenting. For the world, and for Villano, the choices appear to be between “nurture” and “comfort;” and between “tough” and “soft.” The scandal they perceive and the status quo they defend is one where the father is the comforter and the mother is the balance. The true scandal lies in the fact that they have stripped parenting of its need for different gender roles. As long as there is a warm body meeting the needs of the child, it doesn’t matter whether the persons are man and woman, woman and woman, man and man, man alone, or woman alone.
Embedded at the heart of the gospel is the truth that through Christ we are freed to become the fullest person we were meant to be. And as we grow in this gospel truth we should begin to look more and more like Christ. If you are a man, then the gospel empowers you to grow into Christ’s example, one who loves sacrificially, and lays down his life for his spouse. If you are a woman, then you are empowered to a life of humble beauty and selfless submission. Children who witness this display are called to obey these parents who occupy distinct roles and model distinct characteristics of Christ. The children may not understand the differences at first, and they may not speak with understanding, but in time they will give up childish things and see the truth face to face. As parents we should not simply “get over ourselves,” we must encourage ourselves to be what God has called us to be.
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