By now you may have heard of the young boy who decided he wanted to dress like a girl.
His mother not only allows it, but calls him her "princess boy" and wrote a children's book for other parents to read to their children to foster acceptance of such cross-dressing desire.
I have no problem with young children wanting to play dress-up. I have no problem with parents allowing their children a certain degree of freedom in how they dress, particularly as they grow older (within the bounds of modesty). I certainly don't fault the now five-year-old boy for continuing to play along in light of the media attention he is getting by continuing to dress in…well, a dress.
No, the person at fault here is the mother and the way she represents an entire culture of parenting. What is that culture? When asked why she allows her son to dress as a girl, she replies that she didn't want to crush his spirit.
She finally decided to just let him be happy.
Let's call this the culture of parental appeasement, the practice of giving in to your child's desires and whims as if the happiness of the child is the ultimate objective of parenting.
And let's also say that it's not.
Parenting them is the ultimate objective. And parenting does not break a child's spirit, but it most certainly shapes a child's will.
Parenting involves discipline. It involves saying "no." It necessitates making your child, at times, very unhappy. As the writer of Hebrews reminds us, "No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening - it is painful! But afterward there will be a quiet harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way" (Hebrews 12:11, NLT).
Of course, what is often behind the culture of parental appeasement is the desire to be "liked" by the child. The irony is that this is not how you make a child drawn to you.
You may be familiar with the study conducted by Dr. Stanley Coopersmith, then associate professor of psychology at the University of California, who studied 1,738 middle-class boys and their families, beginning in the pre‑adolescent period and following them through to young adulthood.
Of all of the different characteristics of child-rearing which distinguished them, discipline was ranked at the very top. The most successful children were well disciplined, and had strong levels of accountability. Further, those families with strong discipline - not oppressive, just firm - were the ones who remained the closest over the years and most free of conflict.
So yes, you can follow your son's immature whim to be "princess boy" in the name of their happiness and your hope for ongoing intimacy.
But if you shaped his will and raised him as a prince, you might actually achieve it.
James Emery White
"My Princess Boy", When Boys Dress Like Girls, The Today Show, Monday, January 3rd, 2011. Online video at http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/26184891/vp/40887103#40887103
On the Coopersmith study, see http://www.uexpress.com/focusonthefamily/?uc_full_date=20030202; see also James Dobson, Hide or Seek.
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