Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Princess in a kingdom of confusion

Just the other day, Dr. Phil featured a mother who was "supporting" her five-year-old son's preference for dresses and all things sparkly. Mom called this child her princess boy, and even wrote a children's book about him by the same title, all designed to foster, of course, acceptance. Mom said that from the time the boy was two he had expressed a fascination for female things and girl colors, and now had a wardrobe of favorite dresses, costumes, and other little-girl adornments.

What did Dr. Phil say about this? Did he lean confidentially toward the woman and say, "Hey, call me an old southern boy, but what you're doing is just crazy. You are setting this child up for major hurt in the years ahead, and you're allowing him to be a source of confusion for his young friends and classmates. Don't do this. We'll get you all some help. It will be low-key, and we can work through it to get this little boy on track and keep him happy."

That's what I wish the doctor had said. Instead he told the mother that he fully supported her approach, which was, as she had put it, "going on this journey with him and seeing where it leads."

Isn't it something that the family is putting the person who's the least capable of sorting out his feelings and his sexuality--their five-year-old--at the head of the wagon train? I wanted to call up this mother and tell her (since Dr. Phil would not) that sexuality is often not clear-cut in young children. It requires some molding and direction. In some young people it is quite plastic, in the old sense of the word, and influence can be everything.

Truth to tell, many little boys are captivated by the bright color and glitter of girl things. My own sons, who are now in their twenties and thirties, would, at three and four, watch me keenly as I painted my nails and want colored nails too. Please. So, to their delight, I would carefully paint two or three of their little fingernails. Sometimes they would want a spray of hair on top of their heads, so with the help of a rubber band they got one. But before we walked down to the grocery store, the "sprout" was undone, their hair combed, and they ran outside with no more thought to it. They loved the bright colors and soft tails of the popular little pony toys, and they acquired a small collection--in addition to their pile of over-muscled He-Man action figures.

They went off to school, and their masculinity grew into the spaces where yellow ponies had been. They are now all manly men. I still have the ponies and the He-Men figures in boxes on a basement shelf. I wish I could show them to the confused mother and tell her to not throw down the reins, but let her little boy mosey into the clover here and there as she guides him down the right path. Because there is a right path and children often need our help in finding it.

Let's not give up so easily on our God-given design as male and female. To say these identities don't matter cuts to the core of who we are as individuals and who we are meant to be. As a philosopher (whose name escapes me) once said, after all, "There is no such thing as people--only men and women."

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