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.
In the next 3 weeks, I’ll share various tips on how to successfully navigate the experience of parenting a teen whose gender questioning and/or identifying as transgender.
Today I start with tip #1 Do some inner work.
Granted, this isn’t typical of parenting advice, but hear me out here; I’m not saying you’re a bad parent who needs to change what you’re doing. The reason I’m starting with this tip is that SO so much about what happens after your child shares this very sensitive information with you will determine how your relationship goes moving forward. If you respond to your child’s declaration of their gender identity in a way that’s caused by your lack of knowledge or discomfort with the subject, chances are, your kid will be reluctant to discuss this with you anytime again in the future.
In 2020, kids and teens are exposed to SO much more information about gender diversity; they have access to blog posts, videos and social media accounts of people who identify as transgender, genderqueer, gender questioning, and share their gender journeys. For parents who grew up in the 70’s or 80’s this means your kid likely knows WAY more than you likely do about this stuff, and of course that makes sense. The increased exposure of gender variance in recent years has created a really fascinating time in our society, and at the same time, a real generational divide with regards to awareness and acceptance of gender diversity. So hopefully it’s a bit clearer for you now as to why you might be struggling to take it all in and make sense of it, and that’s totally understandable.
So another piece of this inner work that I think is so important is to view this disclosure as an opportunity. Your child coming out to you with news that their gender identity isn’t what you thought it was is an opportunity to expand your learning about gender diversity. Thankfully there’s now a growing body of books, website, in-person and online support groups available to help parents better understand gender diversity, and how these varying gender identities relate to your child’s experiences.
And since we’re on the topic of viewing this as an opportunity, here’s one last thing to think about. Learning of your child’s gender identity is an awesome opportunity for you to deepen your relationship and communication with your teen. If you respond to your teen’s disclosure about their gender identity, and respond with an approach that lets them know that you’re interested in learning more about what their gender identity means to them, and/or trans issues in general, that’ll go a LONG way in opening up the line of communication with your teen. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard stories of people completely feeling deflated, invalidated, and shut down after their parents refused to engage in any conversation about their trans identity, or gender diversity in general.
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 #2 next week!