As Christian parents, what is our goal?
I just finished reading Secure Daughters, Confident Sons: How Parents Guide Their Children into Authentic Masculinity and Femininity, a book by Glenn T. Stanton. Stanton is the director for family formation studies at Focus on the Family, a Christian organization based in Colorado Springs, CO. He is writing with the background of “fifteen years of experience a as full-time researcher in family-strengthening work” and “practical experience of more than twenty-seven years of marriage and raising five children with [his] wife” (11).
I must say that, overall, I was terribly disappointed – not by what Stanton said, but rather by what he did not say. The problem is not so much that the content of the book is incorrect, as sociological observance goes. The problem is that, from a foundational Christian perspective, it is woefully incomplete.
One could applaud the fact that the author would even take on such a politically and emotionally-charged topic, particularly in the midst of a culture that demonstrates significant gender-confusion. Stanton recognizes a significant space between the two extremes of, on the one hand, hard-lined gender stereotypes of “rough boys” and “girlie girls,” and, on the other hand, dismissing gender distinctions as minimal or inconsequential. His stated purpose for writing is to “gain a clearer understanding of what’s truly and authentically male or female and how this translates into parenting children who are distinctly unique from us, in partnership with a spouse whose essential makeup is fundamentally different from our own” (3). Accordingly, Stanton’s end goal is “nothing other than a healthy family of well-adjusted, happy human beings, because to be human is to be gendered” (4).
Stanton begins well enough by recognizing that men and women are created similarly as image-bearers of God, and distinctly as male and female. The problem is that the remainder of the book is based largely on sociological research demonstrating cross-culturally observable gender distinctions, with the occasional reminder that God made men and women distinct in these ways.
The biggest problem with the book is that most of the God-talk in the book, could be embraced as easily by a Mormon or a Jehovah’s Witness as by an evangelical Christian. Further, in considering how to achieve the “end game” of parenting, Stanton asks, “Just how do we take these new members of this prestigious humanity club who come to us as boys or girls and turn them into happy, well-adjusted men and women?” (10) He then answers his own question by quoting from Proverbs 22:6, “train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” His explanation for using that verse centers on two points: 1) our training impacts the kind of child our children will become, and 2) there is a way each child should go – indicating the need for an individualistic approach to parenting.
The larger question that must be considered, however, is, Is our goal as Christian parents simply to raise “happy, well-adjusted men and women?” I believe that answer is “no.” Our calling as Christian parents is to raise children who are passionate followers of Jesus Christ; those who have repented of their sin and responded by faith to the Gospel, seeking to live their lives for the glory of God. This kind of goal, and the necessity of the Gospel for achieving it, is simply absent in the book.
The chapter headings alone demonstrate a lack of Gospel-centeredness for the book: for instance, “What Makes a Good Man?” and “What Makes a Good Woman?” The Scripture is clear. There is no such thing as a “Good Man” or a “Good Woman,” for “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). This explains why some boys are bent toward using their masculinity for selfish or destructive purposes and why some girls turn their need for intimacy into an idol, trying to connect intimately with any person who will show personal interest in them. The answer to helping boys and girls become who God created them to be – worshippers of Him and followers of Christ – is to point them to their need for the Gospel, not simply to remind them of healthier, cross-culturally-recognized gender roles which they should be demonstrating. Only the God who gave them physical life and breath can give them spiritual life – redeeming them to Himself, filling them with His Spirit, and enabling them to live redeemed lives for His glory, as He intended.
Parents who understand the necessity of the Gospel in their lives, and in the lives of their children, may benefit from some of the sociological observances and practical suggestions found in this book, since they recognize that the Gospel, not the sociological principles, must be their foundation for living and parenting. My concern, however, is that non-Christian parents will read this book and think it is “God’s desire” for their children simply to live as “Good Men” and “Good Women,” who will then one day stand in judgment before the Holy God, only to find out that “Good” was not good enough.
(FTC Disclaimer – I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.)