When your child tells you they are transgender, many parents go through feelings of loss of the son or daughter you once had. "When my son came out, I felt a deep grief that I had lost my little girl. When I realized, though, I was interpreting my son's coming out as a switch, when really, Jude had always been transgender. The only thing that has changed is my vision of who Jude would be, not who Jude is."
Gender is more complex than most of us have been taught. Gender is made up of three parts: (1) gender biology (our bodies or biological sex – our sex assigned at birth based on appearance of genitals), (2) gender expression (how we dress and act), and (3) Gender identity (how we feel inside). For most kids, these three facets of gender line up and the kids are typically gendered boys or girls (cisgender). For other kids, however, these three facets of gender align differently; these kids are Gender-expansive, which includes transgender kids.
What are Affirming Parenting Practices?
Parenting practices that are based on affirming a child’s own sense of gender strengthen a child’s self-esteem and sense of self worth. While some of the parenting practices discussed in this section may be challenging for some parents to implement, it is important to take whatever steps you can to demonstrate to your child that you are with them on this journey.
Create a supportive family environment: The ability to make the home a sanctuary of security and support for your child is the single most important factor in promoting lifelong health and well- being for your child. Such an environment creates a buffer for your child from the hardships they may face outside of the home. Creating such a space may not come easily for you, particularly if you are struggling with accepting your child’s Gender identity or expression. If so, seek help from an empathetic, knowledgeable friend, family member, support group, therapist or other source of support.
Require respect within the family: With immediate and extended family, it is imperative that you require and accept only kindness and respect for your child. While you may not be able to change people’s opinions, you can certainly dictate how you expect others to behave and speak around you and your child. It can be scary to make this demand of family members, yet many parents report that once they’ve taken a stand on their child’s behalf, they feel a great sense of relief and empowerment.
Express love and support for your child’s Gender expression: What does this look like? It means allowing them to choose, without pressure or unspoken messages, the clothes they wish to wear, how and with whom they play, their favorite toys, the accessories they favor, the manner in which they wear their hair, and the decorations and images with which they surround themselves. It means helping them prepare for any negative reactions they may encounter outside the home by practicing their responses with them and making sure, when appropriate, that there is a safe adult for them to turn to in case they need assistance. It means discussing any negative or conflicting feelings you are struggling with over their gender identity or expression with other adults, not with your child.
Allow zero tolerance for disrespect, negative comments or pressure: A concrete way to demonstrate ongoing support and acceptance for your child is to tolerate absolutely no negative comments about your child, from anyone, whether your child is with you or not. This means following up with the people who make such comments in a firm way that makes clear your commitment to your child’s well-being. It may also mean needing to follow up with other parents or the school about the comments made by other parents or children.
Maintain open and honest communication with your child: Stay open about this journey, both your child’s, and your own. By demonstrating to them that you are a partner in this process, and showing a genuine sense of interest in how they see themselves, what they think, what they are experiencing, you show that you are there for them. This open level of communication will also help you evaluate your child’s level of stress or distress, and whether they may need additional outside support or intervention.