Focus on the Family

How Gender Distinctions Affect Parenting

If there are identifiable gender distinctions - psychological and emotional as well as physical and sexual - do they have practical implications for parents? What do moms and dads need to know about this subject, and how will such knowledge help them do a better job of raising their kids?

We’re glad you raised the question. Theologically speaking, it’s important for everyone to grasp some of the basic differences between the masculine and the feminine “subdivisions” of the human race. In the very first chapter of Genesis we are told that “God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27; emphasis added). The implication is clear: the distinction between the sexes is not only basic to human nature, it’s also uniquely reflective of the divine. In some way we cannot fully grasp, it presents us with a visible image or picture of the unseen triune Creator.

So much for the lesson in Bible doctrine. Let’s turn to the practical side of the matter. Why do the average mom and dad need to have a working knowledge of these profound theological truths? The answer is simple: equipped with an understanding of the differences between male and female, they can become more intentional about raising their children with sex-specific goals and objectives in mind. This in turn is crucial, because the purpose of efficient parenting isn’t simply to produce good kids-it’s to train up good men and women.

What, then, are some of the key differences between males and females? As you read the following summaries, remember that they aren’t intended to be exhaustive-we realize that each individual is unique, that there are many different “styles” of masculinity and femininity, and that every parent can probably cite a number of additional characteristics that seem basic to his or her child’s identity as a boy or girl. Nevertheless, we feel strongly that the qualities enumerated below represent a good starting point. Let’s take a closer look.

The male’s orientation toward life tends to be outward. He is explorative in the sense that he is compelled to discover his identity and purpose out in the larger world. He places great stock in knowing that he has what it takes to accomplish the task at hand and is determined to “deliver the goods.” Unlike the female, who is content to “linger” in the moment, he wants to know what’s next. Generally speaking, he’s an opportunistic doer, a risk-taker, and an initiator. Because it’s in his nature to make things happen, he tends to be active, aggressive, competitive, and dominant.

In contrast, the female’s perspective tends to be more inwardly directed. An innate sense of the preciousness of her own femininity enables her to be “confidently enticing” in her dealings with the opposite sex. She cares more about being than doing-in other words, she values intimacy above action-and finds the reason for her being in relationship. When forming relationships she is wisely and selectively receptive. She seeks security and prizes modesty. She is caring and nurturing by nature, desires equity
and submission
in relationships, and uses words primarily to communicate feelings and thoughts rather than information or ideas.

Parents who are aware of these basic differences between the sexes can begin at an early stage to guide their children into attitudes, activities, habits, and behaviors conducive to the healthy development of their inborn, God-given maleness and femaleness. Boys, for example, need opportunities to explore and to make a difference in their world. They must also learn what it means to be independent, disciplined, and self-controlled, to persevere and push on toward a goal, to serve and respect others. Girls, on the other hand, should be encouraged to have self-confidence in their own capabilities, in their personal attractiveness, and in the mystery of their femininity. They also need security, safety, intimacy, friendship, community, opportunities to demonstrate care and compassion, and lots of verbal communication. Perhaps more than anything else, every girl needs to feel that she is the most important person in the world to one man-her dad. That knowledge will carry over into her adult life and shape all of her future relationships, especially those with men.

(We should add here that, in general, a girl doesn’t have to be taught to become a woman in the same way a boy needs to be trained to become a man. Because her orientation is inward, she intuitively knows who and what she is. She is equipped with an innate sense of the power of her femininity. In contrast, a boy has to earn his manhood by going out and finding it in the world through interaction with others.)

Meanwhile, mom and dad should be aware that they, too, are operating on the basis of sex-distinct perspectives. Because of this, they tend to approach the challenges of parenting from different angles. This distinction plays itself out in many practical ways and on a number of different levels, but it would be fair to sum it up by saying that mothers protect while fathers prepare. Parents who realize this can avoid a lot of unnecessary conflict. They’re in a better position to see why dad’s style of discipline is not always the same as mom’s, how the two approaches balance one another, and why both are essential to the process of raising healthy, well adjusted, and well rounded kids.

If you’d like to discuss these ideas at greater length with a member of our staff, feel free to call Focus on the Family’s Counseling department for a free consultation.

If a title is currently unavailable through Focus on the Family, we encourage you to use another retailer.

Secure Daughters, Confident Sons: How Parents Guide Their Children into Authentic Masculinity & Feminity

Bringing Up Boys

Bringing Up Girls

Books on the Importance of Fathers

Books on the Importance of Mothers

The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood


Manhood and Womanhood

The Involved Father

Moms and Dads

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