The first three years of our lives have been called 'the incredible years'. That's because of the tremendous rate of development of our brains and when our fundamental neural pathways are formed. Most of that development we can't remember and we had little influence over how it all happened.
Those first three years can set a person up for life – or do the opposite.
The power of the mind seen in the imagination of an articulate and talkative three year old is a wonderful thing to behold. It's something we often take for granted.
My granddaughter is an interesting example of such a three year old. Her preference for playing with dolls was obvious before she had turned one. Her fascination with mothers and babies took precedence in any reading of a story book – 'Where is the mummy?' and 'Is that the baby?' were frequent questions as we turned the pages when she was two. Now at just three years of age, she is separating her world of playmates into boys and girls, and if she is visiting anybody's house she wants to know if there will be girls there.
For some boys and girls their gender awareness is not as obvious as my granddaughter's. Sometimes dressing up games and other imaginary ventures involve a child playing the role of someone of the opposite gender. That is normal. (My two year old son wore a long skirt to the railway station once, to meet his aunt. It was all part of his imaginary game.)
Following a child's lead is important when it comes to play activity. It is also important not to superimpose an ideology on to a child and to try to fit their play activity into a predetermined perspective. (That includes fitting them into stereotypical play for a boy or for a girl.)
An ideology that is pushing for people to be able to opt in and out of any gender that they choose is being superimposed on children. The so-called 'binary' condition of being male and female is regarded as being restrictive; instead, gender should be seen as being on a spectrum, so the argument goes.
For such people, it's being able to choose that matters. People should be able to identify with how they feel. (We see this in other areas too. In New Zealand if someone feels as if they are Maori, and wants to identify as such on a census form, then they are able to put themselves down as Maori, regardless of their background.)
One four year old boy happened to watch Beyonce on a video clip then wanted to dress up and act like her. His interest in doing that may be sustained for some time - in the same way as my pre-school grandson's interest in zoo animals lasted for a couple of years. It does not mean that the child will always want to be a female, even if he says he wants to be a girl. At such an early age, how can he have any idea what that really means?
If gender issues ....
If gender does become an issue, research indicates that most children have resolved issues of gender identity for themselves by the time they are through their teenage years. And some reports suggest that even those who have had surgery to change their sex feel that this has not had the outcomes they have sought. It's what happens in the mind that counts.
In the imposition of a gender ideology, the mind operates to subvert reality. However the reality is that we are created male and female, in the image of God who encompasses both, and our chromosomes show that we are either one or the other. (There are very few people who have ambiguous genitalia, where it is not obvious which sex they are when they are born.)
Every child has the right to grow up and be nurtured by parents and carers who encourage them to be who they are, in a way that is congruent with reality and with their personalities.
Let's use the minds we have been given in the best possible way as we shape the next generation.
Liz Hay lives in a mountain village with her husband Ron. They share a love of books and the outdoors and make frequent trips to NZ's capital city, Wellington, to spend time with three of their five grand-children, and marvel again at the amazing 'ordinary miracle' of human development.
Liz Hay's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/liz-hay.html