A few months ago, I received an email from a young father who was concerned that his preschool-aged son was starting to identify as a girl. With his permission, I am excerpting some of our exchange to illustrate how parents might straightforwardly respond to what he rightly described as “the treacherous seas of our day.”
I’m a father of two young boys and one pre-born child. Our eldest is three and a half and (I assure you I mean this objectively) incredibly intelligent. His reasoning ability far exceeds what I saw in many kindergartners when I used to teach in a Catholic elementary several years ago.
At about his third birthday, he began a habit of pretending to be a “big sister.” As a three-year-old boy, that meant nothing more than going about his normal play habits and then periodically declaring, “the big sister is going to ___.” We didn’t encourage it, and we never referred to him in any way as sister, girl, etc. We also told him that he still had to call himself “brother” to his one-year-old brother, because his brother is still learning the meaning of words.
That habit faded somewhat, though he retained a marked admiration for the big sisters in families we know. Just the other day, however, he decided he wanted to pretend to be Judy, the sister character in the Paddington stories. I asked why pretending to be Judy would be different from pretending to be Jonathan, her brother. He said, “Something funny about me is that I like to pretend to be the sister.” I told him that pretending to be good, loving, and heroic boy/man characters helps him practice to be a daddy or a priest one day, and that God gave him a very special gift in being a boy. He said, “I’ve been a boy my whole life. Now, I want to be a girl all the time.” I asked him what that meant, and he said that it simply meant he’d “be a girl.” My wife reinforced what I’d told him, and he decided to play as Jonathan while she was Judy and I enjoyed the great honor of playing Paddington Bear.
He’s not in any daycare or preschool, we don’t own a television, and he’s never watched a single mass media production. So this idea is purely the product of his own brain. Is this common, or at least not uncommon, behavior? What else can I tell him if he says something like that again?
I responded, “I can understand why this can be disconcerting!” and proceeded to give some information from my own experience raising eight children (six of them boys!), along the lines of what I wrote in Made This Way: How to Prepare Kids to Face Today’s Tough Moral Issues (page 204):
My six boys, when little, ranged from “all boy” to “Mom, I need more glitter and watch me dance!” All of them are [teen boys or men] now, and if they were tempted to think otherwise (as some little boys will be, especially given the messed-up cultural cues today), Dean and I gently reminded them, repeatedly if necessary, that they are male.
I told the young father that redirecting our sons had never been a problem or caused us to second-guess ourselves. I advised:
I think your reinforcement of reality is the key. He will keep hearing from you that he is a boy, and that it’s so good and really a gift. Also, it’s fine to tell boys that “boys walk more like this” or “boys talk more like this,” and it’s okay to reinforce that if they start to do effeminate things. Does that make sense? Be nonchalant, but be clear. It’s just “training” for manhood, that’s all. Some need it more than others, but it’s the path to go!
God bless you for caring so much about this. Your son is very blessed.
A little over a month later, I received another email from the young father:
I dug up the original message I sent you and your response to remind you of our brief exchange. I just want to say thank you!
We took your very simple advice, and my son has been delighted to play pirate, knight, superhero, and (my personal favorite) St. Michael over the past several weeks. Not even a mention of female characters.
I was pleased to hear this outcome, and not a bit surprised. I simply handed on the wisdom of the Catholic Church and the moral law of God. God has a created order. He made us male and female, and we are complementary—equal in dignity, but not the same. And we are most certainly not interchangeable.
A few days ago, when I told the young father that I was writing this piece, he was happy to let me know that his son, now four, is playing a variety of male characters with Daddy and brother. The little guy reported that his two-year-old brother was going to be a bishop one day, and he himself would be a daddy! The father continued:
That relatively short phase [of his believing himself to be a girl] has since entirely passed us by. He’s as much a boy as we’d imagined he’d be on the day he was born. He’s inventive, he’s a builder, he’s playfully violent in imaginary battles against pirates and devils . . . and he now has a baby sister whom he proudly protects from them all!
To be clear, there is no alarm in the normal stuff of little boys going through a phase of putting on mommy’s shoes (yes, even heels!) or getting into the princess clothes in the dress-up box, or slathering Mommy’s makeup on his face. Not until recently would folks latch on to those things as a way to suggest that a boy was “born in the wrong body” (which is not possible). But when a small boy’s affect (ways of walking, talking) becomes consistently feminine, or when the child is claiming to be the opposite sex, that’s when the gentle but consistent parental correction comes in.
Catholic parents, regain your confidence! God gave us authority over our children, whom we know and love more than the worldly “experts” ever could. Our sexually perverse society is not the standard-bearer for how to raise healthy, holy children—Christ is our standard. Don’t be intimidated by the disordered dictates of those who do not have our children’s best interest at heart.
Though we pray for them, the folks who want to affirm “transitioning” and “gender fluidity” and homosexuality in children are our spiritual enemies. Reject their dangerous offerings, because the only one to whom we must give an account at our judgment is the Creator of our boys and girls—and he will expect that we have formed our children in rightly ordered ways, fiercely protecting their latency period (the age of innocence).
I commend this young father for redirecting his young son. I can only imagine the same boy in a “progressive” family, being taken to therapists and doctors who would affirm his “trans” status and put him on a path that would destroy the poor boy, body and soul.
Yes, it’s a rough culture out there for parents and children now, but as I always like to say, the Faith isn’t rocket science. Christian answers are as simple, beautiful, and innocent as they always were.