* * *
Twenty-four years ago, when I was pregnant with our second baby, we found out we were having a boy. When my mom heard the news, she found a doll to purchase for our first child, Hannah. She thought it would be good for Hannah to have her own “baby” when we came home from the hospital so she wouldn’t get jealous of the new addition. Hannah named this new doll, Baby John.
When No. 2 Boy Child was born, Hannah’s eyes were constantly on me. When I changed No. 2 Boy Child’s diaper, she changed Baby John’s diaper. When I put No. 2 Boy Child in my front pack to wear around the house while I worked, she put her Baby John in her front pack. When I nursed Boy Child, she “nursed” her doll baby. It was cute. She was already practicing to be a mommy. After a while, she tired of Baby John and he was put aside in the toy box.
No. 2 Boy Child loved his big sister. He followed in Hannah’s footsteps. If Hannah read, he read. If Hannah was in a tree, he was in the same tree. They spent many hours playing Legos together, even on the floor in the delivery room at the hospital as our third child was born, a girl.
When I came home from the hospital with our new daughter, No. 2 Boy Child glued his eyes to me and his new baby sister. He was enthralled. There were 4-1/2 years between the two. He loved to prepare her diaper bag when we’d go to church. I never asked him to do this, he did it on his own. He was fascinated that I could lift up my top and put my baby to the breast and she would nurse and be satisfied. Nursing was very normal and ordinary to him – no big deal.
This was life at the Smith house. There were no instruction manuals that came with each kid. I allowed them to play and enjoyed watching their creativity and development. I marveled at how different each child was. I didn’t worry that Hannah was a tomboy, climbed trees, played Legos and hated to brush her hair. I didn’t worry that Boy Child #2 imitated his older sister. These things never entered my mind.
I read an article called, Training Heart Identities in Boys and Girls posted at the Desiring God website which got me curious. The article is written by Luma Simms, wife and mother of 5 children (ages 2-19). I started wondering what kind of identity she was talking about. Identities in Christ? I quickly found out she was talking about gender identities. Oh. Wow. I missed that memo. I’ve got 7 kids, 3 of whom are adults, my Caboose child is 7 years old. I had no clue I was supposed to actively train their gender identities. Did you all get that memo? Where have I been? Mom fail.
Ok, let’s break down the article with some excerpts and editorial comments:
Boys are different than girls. It’s plain in the Bible and plain in our everyday experience as parents.
Yup, that’s true. All of my boys learned how to make car engine noises sometimes years before they spoke with real words. My girls spoke early.
Simms discusses what our goals should be as we parent:
The aim is to deliberately parent our children in such a way that reinforces their gender and gives them contentment in how God created them.
Now it does not mean we make shallow, meaningless rules like girls can’t climb trees or boys can’t play house. We are living every day in the thick of parenting girls and boys. Reinforcing their girlhood and boyhood is a heart issue. It is not necessarily what they are playing; it is what identity they are cultivating in the play.
So, I guess she’s saying that we need to be intentionally watching them as they play to ensure they don’t mix up their gender. Ok. I’m following along. I don’t necessarily agree, but I’m tracking with it.
Our kids’ play has proven to be a great opportunity to reinforce the beauty of God’s good gift of gender.
When my husband gets on the floor and pretends to be a dragon, he asks our oldest son to protect his sister. This is a way to train the boys to protect and guard.
You know, I do like that. I’m sure most of us have heard about play therapy – this seems to be kind of like that. Simms continues:
But he also turns it around so that sister can have a chance to defend herself and come to the rescue of her brother.
Uh-oh, I smell trouble in Gender Identityland here. A sister rescuing her brother? Doug Phillips of Vision Forum would have a cow with this idea. I’m pretty sure that Phillips would say that a girl must never rescue a boy. That is the job of a boy/man, as we see from this Vision Forum Ministries quote (Phillips references the sinking Titanic and how real men saved women and children first):
How do we reconcile “women and children first” with the spirit of feminism? We do not. Today, many are confused. They have a quaint appreciation for “women and children first” while misunderstanding the application to the duties of manhood and the distinctions between the sexes. Source
I will let Phillips and Simms’ husband duke that issue out (because surely Phillips would not engage a woman). Going back to Simms’ article, she continues discussing the difference in the boy/girl roles:
You may wonder what the difference is. It’s subtle and inward. The difference is in the heart role we encourage them to take: When a sister is saving the brother and helping to kill the “dragon” (their daddy), she is doing it from the intrinsic identity of helper. She is helping her brother by coming to his rescue, and she is exercising dominion over the “wicked dragon” by slaying him.
Ok, I think it’s cool that the author is saying it’s fine for a girl to come to her brother’s aid and kill a dragon. However, I am pretty sure that this quote, along with the previous, is clouding the gender identity boundaries for Patriarchs like Phillips by having a girl take a lead role like that, but whatever. Along the topic of rescuing someone in harm’s way, I personally think that if anyone sees someone in need, they have a moral responsibility to do something about it. I do not believe this to be a gender issue, but a moral responsibility – dragons and all, for goodness sake. (Are you seeing what I’m seeing? Just as the complementarian/egalitarian/patriarchy issues are so confusing, this one is as well. We will not find clear boundaries.)
However, when a brother is coming to the rescue to save his sister, he is doing so from the intrinsic identity of protector.
Again, I don’t see this as a gender-specific issue. I teach my children to respond to abuse/violence the same way: if you see it, report it or stop it if you can.
She continues to discuss training the heart of our children to embrace their God-given gender:
Such heart training should not be heavy-handed. Our little boy doesn’t get scolded immediately for putting on his older sister’s high-heeled shoes. We aim to parent with grace and reasonableness. We gently guide that little toddler toward an appropriate pair of big shoes he can play with and take that opportunity to remind him that the other ones belong to his older sister.
. . . . . Especially, in our age of gender confusion, we want to give special vigilance to our boys and girls [sic] understanding who God made them to be.
Uh-oh. If this is a parenting test, I have failed. Totally failed. I have a confession to make. I forgot to mention something about No. 2 Boy Child. Remember how I told you that Hannah imitated everything I did with my baby using her Baby John doll? Guess what happened with No. 2 Boy Child? He found the abandoned Baby John doll in the toy box around the time I had our third baby. One day, I walked in the room and found him “nursing” Baby John. Heavens to Murgatroyd, we have gone far beyond the clouded gender identity boundary lines into full-fledge DANGER ZONE!
Yes, my nearly 5-year old son pretended to nurse his baby boy doll by lifting up his shirt and putting Baby John to his little boy chest with his make-believe milk. No. 2 Boy Child had a lengthy nursing relationship with me, weaning at just over 20 months. Could he have been remembering his nursing experience when he nursed his baby doll? The nursing relationship between mother and child is a precious one. Of course nursing provides nourishment, but there is a unique emotional bonding going on.
While nursing, I frequently sang to my babies, talked to them, snuggled with them, connected with their eyes, played with their noses, tickled them. It wasn’t just a time for feeding, it was a time for relationship where they get mama to themselves. When I saw No. 2 Boy Child “nursing” his baby doll, I also heard him talking to Baby John. He was mimicking me. He wasn’t just nursing his baby doll, he was nurturing his baby doll.
No. 2 Boy Child is now 23 years. I’ve never seen any young man his age have the kind of connection he is able to make with babies and young children. He adores them.
Nursing a baby is obviously an activity dedicated strictly to women. But was it a sin for me to allow my son to “nurse” his baby doll? Did I contribute to gender confusion? Imagine if I took Baby John away from him and told him that only girls get to nurse and boys shouldn’t behave like that. What message would that have sent to him at his very young age? Boys shouldn’t be playing with babies? For shame.
I’m glad I didn’t have either of these articles to read when I was raising my sweet boy. The issue really wasn’t about “nursing,” but about nurturing. I’m sure that No. 2 Boy Child will be a great father. And I’m pretty sure he won’t be nursing his babies.
As I was cutting and pasting excerpts for this article, my eye caught a glance of an image on the sidebar of Mrs. Simms’ blog:
Hmm, interesting. This author, Luma Simms, also contributes articles to the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW). This is not surprising since Piper is one of the founders and her article was posted at Piper’s Desiring God website. But check this out:
* * *
Do you see the category and tag? Why would she label this article as “Complementarian Issues?”
I know this article is getting long. Hang on, though, we’re almost done. All of a sudden, it reminded me of another article that came out earlier in the year by Owen Strachan, the president of CBMW: The Gospel is for Baby Bear: On Sesame Street and Gender Confusion. In this article, he publicly airs his disappointment at Sesame Street for causing gender confusion based on a scene in the show in which a boy plays with a doll.
Here is a screen shot of the Sesame Street dialogue from Strachan’s blog:
Strachan explains his beef in a couple of excerpts:
This episode, “Baby Bear’s Baby Doll,” is subtly but directly overturning long-held conceptions of manhood and boyhood. Boys can play with dolls; there’s no reason they can’t do exactly what girls do.
What does all this mean in regards to Sesame Street? Well, it means that we should laugh at this episode, with its open denial of sex roles and gender distinctions. Boys can play with all kinds of toys, but it is right and good to train them in masculine, not feminine, ways. It’s wrong to train them in such a way as to blur the sexual boundaries God himself created.* * *