Parenting a teenager is hard enough these days; it’s a challenge you can’t fully be prepared for. this person who’s been in your life for SO many years is becoming their own person going through a process of development and separation from you; where has the time gone? And when you add to the mix a declaration of a gender identity that’s different from what you thought you’ve known of your child for all these years, well, that’s just a LOT to handle.
Here I’m sharing various tips on how to successfully navigate the experience of parenting a teen whose gender questioning and/or no-sleep-disorders com as transgender.
Tip #2 – Go from telling and directing to listening and learning
Let me start by saying, as a parent myself, I KNOW this is hard. Really hard. So, this is not to say that I expect it to be effortless and smooth going for you.
As parents, we’re responsible for the safety and well-being of our kids. So it’s important and necessary to direct our kids, and tell them what to do, what not to do in SO many situations. We are after all working to prepare them to one day be out on their own in the world, so it makes sense that we use our life experience as a adults to teach them.
But when it comes to our kids sharing with us that their gender identity doesn’t match the sex they were assigned at birth, based on the physiological characteristics of their bodies, the situation calls for a wholly different mindset and approach. Especially if we ourselves are cisgender (gender identity aligns with the sex we were assigned at birth).
What teens in this experience need from parents is listening, words and actions that they’re cared for, and an approach that’s open to learning. Parents, I cannot stress enough how VERY important this tip is.
Before your teen has shared their gender identity with you, chances are HIGHLY likely that they’ve been thinking about it, exploring it, contemplating it for quite a while. Weeks, months, maybe even years. I’m not exaggerating about this; teens are well aware the heaviness of what this information means, and they know they can’t un-say it once they tell someone. So by the time they’re sharing this with you, they’ve likely given it extensive thought, and the last thing they need is someone telling them it’s not real, that they’re wrong for being this way, or be told how, when, or if they should transition.
If you’ve read my first post in this series, you’ll know that this type of response is very likely to shut the conversation down. Your teen will get the message that it’s not safe for them to talk with you about this big heavy important stuff in their lives.
What’s helpful instead is to approach this disclosure with listening and learning.
Listen, REALLY listen, to what your teen is telling you about their understanding of their gender identity, and what it means to them. Listen when they tell you how long they’ve been thinking about this, how long they’ve been aware of it, and learn how this experience affects their daily lives. Listen to them if they tell you there’s some parts of this experience that they don’t feel comfortable or ready to talk about. Learn from them when and how they’ll let you know when they’re able to share more. Learn from them how they’d most like to communicate with you. Listen to them when they tell you if they have certain privacy concerns. Even if you’re affirming and supportive, it’s important that you listen to and respect your teen’s wishes for disclosing their trans identity to others.
An important part of this listening and learning approach is asking questions. We tend to sometimes doubt that we should ask questions, because we’re afraid to show we don’t know enough about something. Or we’re worried that our questions might make someone upset or uncomfortable. Yet, it’s important to note that it IS possible, and oftentimes really helpful, to ask questions to help you learn what this all means for your teen and you. Everyone’s transition journey is unique, and there are countless ways for someone to express their gender identities. If you take care to ask relevant, respectful questions of your teen, with care to communicate that you’re trying to understand their unique experience, you’ll be communicating to them that you want to learn what this means for them. You’ll communicate to them that their experience matters to you, and that you’re open to learning how you can best support them.
I hope this was helpful for you, and gets you thinking about some things. Please feel free to share this post with anyone who might find it helpful. Stay tuned for tip #3 next week!