Things I Wish Everyone Knew About Raising A Transgender Child
I believe parenting is like the sport of curling. We as parents and caregivers are the sweepers in front of the stone; the stones, of course, are our children. They are the ones with the momentum. We try to sweep the path in front of them to prevent them from hitting a divot or hurdle. However, those bumps are where our children learn about resilience and reality. No parent can or should stop their kids from experiencing these pitfalls, as this is where we all grow.
But when you are an ally and parent to an LGBT child, you cannot help wanting to sweep more. This could look like making sure a school will be supportive of a child by honoring name changes, pronoun changes, bathroom choices, a social transition, educating the school community on LGBT history or on how to be an ally. Often, trying to stop a doctor's office from using the wrong name or pronoun is a sweeping skill that you'll perfect. You are often accused of being or creating the momentum of the stone, yet you're simply following your children's lead and direction, and doing what you can to smooth the path.
Transgender is when your gender identity is different than what was assumed when you were born. When your child - or children, in my case - tell you that they are transgender or nonbinary, that is the moment you will know that your child is trans. They have bravely shared with you their authentic self. This information is a gift, and isn't about you as the parent or caregiver. You didn't make your child feel this way, and you can't change who they say they are. What you can do is listen with love and curiosity, and affirm what they are telling you.
Today's youth often understands gender and allyship without as much concern as adults have. They get that a doctor or midwife has looked at a newborn and assumed their sex at birth based on what their body looked like. Today's young people can also appreciate that gender identity is who you feel like within yourself. For some this is a boy, a girl, neither, and more.
As a parent of a transgender or nonbinary child, it is most important to lovingly follow their lead and timing, and to affirm your child from the moment they share their gift. All kids, not just transgender children, deserve your effort through curling and cultivating community. Transgender kids' lives depend — more than cis kids (those whose gender matches what the doctor assumed at birth) — on this affirming love, support, and care.
Although parents have all kinds of feelings about their child's gender identity, your feelings would be best shared away from your child. Having a therapist, support group, or friends to talk to would be ideal so that you can have your feelings heard and validated without your child needing to take on your complex emotions. Your kid may not need therapy, but you probably do. How you respond to them greatly affects their mental health and future. Statistically, it takes only one adult supportive of gender identity to greatly reduce the probability of suicide or other scary outcomes for a child.
As a parent, it is important to remember the time before they were born, or before you met them, when your sole wish was for a happy and healthy child. No parent of any child knows who is going to love their child, who their child may love, if their child will want and be able to have their own children, who is going to bully their child, and what their kid's future holds (unless you have a magic ball that tells you the future, and if so, can you share it?) However, when raising a transgender child, we feel tremendous pressure to know all these answers. Yet just like any other parent, we do not know. So just like our peers with cis children, we are left to follow our kid's lead and listen and love them along the way. Being an LGBT ally does not make you psychic, but parents of transgender children feel a tremendous amount of pressure to know all of these answers. We are going to help our kids make choices, some life-changing and some not, that will shape their future selves, and we often long for the future-telling ball that would answer the questions for us.
When someone transitions in their life, the entire immediate family transitions too. This can be a challenging time when extended family or friends want your help in understanding and educating themselves on gender. This is not your job. And it's helpful to have a resource on hand, like a book or website to direct them to. Although you are grateful that people want to learn and get on board, you are not their cruise director. Send them to the library, the internet, their own support group, or a book. If you run across toxic relationships, even if it's family, it may be good to take some space until they can get on board. Often, the transgender or nonbinary person has specific requests about how and when they would like to come out. Although this may not match your needs, it is imperative to follow their lead. Again, this isn't about you - even if it feels like it is. Cultivating community and resources for yourself is great modeling for your child to do the same. Depending on your kid's age, they may be ready and interested in getting gender-affirming care. This helps you become an even better ally because the care they get will be with a team of people, so you can know that you are not alone, and that they are receiving the most loving and affirming support possible.
Being a parent to two transgender kids has taught me more than any parenting book I could have read. I have learned so much from my children, and they have made me a much better person. Parents of all kids will eventually need to release expectations and plans they had put onto their children. Being able to meet my kids, without my preconceived notions of who they will become, is another precious gift I've received. It is a true honor to support them in becoming exactly who they are and to help them blossom into resilient, happy humans.
About the Author
Sara Kaplan is the proud mother of two transgender children, and lives in Berkeley, California. Sara holds a bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Religious Studies from Ohio State University. Sara works to help families, schools, and business navigate their way to support and acceptance, for their tran or nonbinary loved one, student, client, or staff. She enjoys speaking on panels, facilitating workshops, and coaching others on the trans-formative potential of acceptance, self-love and gratitude. Sara helps run a nonprofit, Rainbow Families Bay Area, which holds family playdates, parent/caregiver support groups, tween support groups, educational events, and social events.