My Transition As The Parent Of A Trans-Child
My daughter had recently turned 6 when she started talking about wanting to be a boy. A few months before, she was pretty committed to being a tiger, so my husband and I didn’t think too much about it. But as she increasingly sought to wear her brother’s clothes instead of her own and began talking about wanting to change her name, we had to acknowledge that maybe there was something more going on.
We found some kids’ books about gender identity and started talking about it home – which led to my daughter declaring that she was in fact non-binary. Still, we were slow to adopt the new name and pronouns, and we couldn’t help still wondering whether this was a momentary phase.
In my professional life as a career coach, I help women successfully navigate big transitions in their life, but in this case, I was a little taken aback. It took a meeting with my child’s school to make things finally click. In a conversation about using our child’s new name, the administration appeared to be creating hurdles, designed to help them avoid the issue completely. This unleashed the mama bear in me, and I finally realized that I needed to fully embrace this transition – however challenging it may be.
Still, I was still fumbling through things. At a playdate, one of the children asked if my oldest was a boy or girl while her mom was out of the room. I told her that my kid says they are neither boy nor girl, which was accepted without a question by the child. But I hadn’t notified the child’s mom prior to our visit, and at our next meet up, she told me I should have given her a head’s up about the situation.
While I understood her perspective, the thought stuck with me. Should I be warning people that my child is exploring their gender identity? Is that supporting them – or is that apologizing for them? In the school setting, I felt the need to step in and protect them, but how do I also ensure that the experience is still being directed by the child? Should I focus on helping my child advocate for themselves in this setting? Raising kids is hard, and this seemed infinitely harder.
I realized I already had all the tools I needed at my disposal from my own training as a coach. When I support my clients through a major transition – I need to listen carefully, withhold any judgements, and help them find the answers that already lie within them. And I realized the same applied here. My child knows what is best for them, it’s just a matter of asking the right questions to uncover their truth. And data tells us that coaching is effective, with increased self-confidence and better communication skills along with establishing and taking action on goals.
I started by asking my child what they wanted. Do they want us to introduce them by their new name, or do they want to choose whom they tell? Do they want us to talk to the school? And then I sat back and let them talk. And the more they talked, the more I heard about the difficulties they had using different bathrooms at schools, or what friends said about their new short haircut.
Sometimes it’s more complicated because of their age and their inability to fully communicate their feelings on the understandably complex issue of gender. When I see them struggling or shutting down in frustration, I try to verbalize options for them to choose from to help them better express themselves.
Avoiding judgement isn’t always easy either. My child’s process has been a journey from girl to boy to non-binary – and I’m not sure we are at the end point yet. This is challenging for me, as I like having decisions made sooner rather than later, but this is their journey, and so it’s not for me to say. Do I love the name they picked out for their new identity? Or the style of their new haircut? In the end – it doesn’t really matter.
While I know we will continue to make mistakes and there will be challenges along the way, this fundamental approach to supporting my child’s transition has been invaluable, and has helped my child have fewer angry outbursts, become more open, and be more willing participant in family activities.
As for my own transition into the parent of a trans-child – I’ve realized that it’s not my job to apologize for my child, nor is it my role to protect them completely from the challenges the world might throw at them. I’m here to support them to be secure, confident, and happy – no matter who they want to be.