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It wasn’t long after we found out we were having another boy that I began to field this question from people:
“Do you think you’ll ever try for a girl?”
This question makes me laugh, because it’s sort of like asking, “Do you think you’ll try to win the lottery?” Not that girls are the equivalent of winning a prize, but I have just about as much control over that outcome as I do over my children’s gender. “Trying” for a girl seems like a risky business. What my husband and I will need to decide is whether or not we want a third child, regardless of gender.
But, I would be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about it. I would love to have a daughter, so the moment we learned we would be a family of mostly boys, my mind started racing. Would I ever have a girl?
The funny thing is, some people told me I am lucky to only have boys. After all, the relationships between mothers and daughters can be complicated (especially during the teen years!). And, we live in a world where women are more vulnerable than men. Maybe my sons are a blessing in disguise, they’d reason. “Don’t ever have a girl!” some jokingly advised.
I guess I can see where they’re coming from. Globally, around 4 million women go missing each year, and in 2012 there were over 3,900 reports of forcible sex offenses on college campuses in the United States, a number that had risen 50 percent in three years. Our world is a dangerous place for women, so maybe it’s easier for those of us without daughters. Maybe we’ve been spared from worrying about such things.
But that’s not how I see it at all. I may not have a daughter, but I do have two sons who will shape the kind of world daughters live in. My sons can make the world a better place for women, or they can make it worse, and that reality guides my parenting.
Here’s something else I see: women might be more physically vulnerable in this world, but men are just as spiritually vulnerable. Women are more likely to be the victim, and victimhood does affect your soul, but so does being the perpetrator. Men who degrade women with their words, their deeds, or their thoughts, who objectify women through pornography, who treat women’s hearts like they’re disposable–these men experience a heavy spiritual toll. Victimizing or demeaning women will kill their own humanity, harden their hearts, and result in a deep spiritual bankruptcy.
My boys might have more power, but sin will still blacken their souls.
So I don’t think any of us have gotten off easy raising children in this broken world. All of us will have to grapple with the effects of sin on our bodies and our souls, and we have to prepare our children to face that kind of world.
What does this mean for parents with boys? Personally, I pray for the steady, Holy Spirit-shaping of my sons’ character, for an abiding integrity that manifests in their every day interactions with women:
I pray they honor and respect women.
I pray they refuse to objectify women.
I pray they see women first as humans made in the image of God.
I pray they encourage and build up women.
I pray they lift up women.
I pray they don’t date girl after girl, leaving a trail of broken hearts in their wake.
I pray they are strong enough not to be threatened by strong women.
I pray their identities are so firmly rooted in Christ that they don’t have to “prove” their masculinity at the expense of women, and other men.
And, I pray that my husband and I will model the kind of dignifying relationship we want our sons to have with other women.
As I think about raising sons in a world that is unsafe for women, it strikes me as especially powerful that, at the center of the gospel, is a man sacrificed on a cross. Jesus stands for us all, and every Christian is called to take up his cross, but I’m not sure we should ignore Jesus’ gender. Not completely, anyway, because his masculinity is radical in our world. Our world says it is better to be a man than a woman. Men have more power than women. Men are less vulnerable than women. You should rather be born a man.
Yet when God became a man, he was crucified. Christ laid himself down in a selfless act of sacrifice, a paradigm that’s relevant for all Christians but also redefines manhood. For those of us with sons, it should inform our parenting too. We are to raise our boys to be men who lay themselves down, sacrificially and even painfully. That will be their witness to Christ, and the way they bring healing into this broken world.
In short, our job is to instill in our boys a truth that opposes every other message they’ll hear. That’s a tall order.
But God created us as a connected people, which means I, as a mother of sons, am not released from caring about girls. How I raise my children affects other people’s children, and that’s a responsibility we all bear. So no, I am not grateful I don’t have daughters. Because really, I do. Maybe not biologically, but I have daughters in the family of faith. And sons. And within that big, beautiful family, I hope I raise the kind of men who will be good brothers.
Their sisters are counting on it.