I want to be supportive. And while wanting to be supportive, I also absolutely hate the idea that I will have to refer to my daughter with another name and another set of pronouns. She hasn’t talked about transitioning, and she supposedly identifies as lesbian. This is not an issue I struggle with. However, I am really struggling with the gender thing. Help me with some wisdom here!
AT: In this day of ever-loosening gender norms and greater acceptance of our children’s fluidity, it is easy to forget how left behind, scared, and angry parents can feel. Because we love our children and want them to feel safe and supported, many parents simply bury their feelings. They refuse to acknowledge any grievance, as if we can flip a switch on our emotions. We can’t. You are allowed to have every emotion: You are allowed to struggle, and you are even allowed to feel betrayed. You are allowed to grieve a life you thought you were going to have (though that was always a fantasy), and you are even allowed to feel suspicious.
What we aren’t allowed to do is take out our complicated feelings on our children. Let me say it again: We cannot take out our complicated feelings on our children.
I know it may feel as if all children have gone on social media and have now decided they are gay or transgender or bisexual or all or none of the above, and I know it may feel overnight or sudden, but the truth is we really cannot check this. Not without doing untold damage to our children and our relationship with them.
Depending on your age, you may have grown up with thoughts such as, “I didn’t even know gay people,” or, “Sure, you could be gay or lesbian, but that’s it,” or, “Okay, maybe being transgender is a real thing.” And while we were tiptoeing out of the gender binary world, there were scores and scores of people closed, hiding and being forced to lie. Just because these issues feel new to us doesn’t mean they are new.
Here’s the good news: Your world feels rocked, and you still want to be supportive. Your head knows that you need to show up for your child, but your heart is angry. Anger, while not a good or bad emotion, is usually masking something deeper, and in this case, I believe it’s fear. Fear of the unknown? Fear of instability? Fear of your child’s safety? Fear because you feel out of control? Fear of not feeling like you know your child? I don’t know the answer, but the wisdom you are searching for rests in gently facing your fears.
To normalize your fears, please do not seek out people who will shame you. Instead, partner with someone who will both see your viewpoint and help hold you accountable in changing your behaviors. There are many professionals who can do this, and one whom I trust is Uchenna Umeh. Umeh, aka Dr. Lulu, is a retired pediatrician who specializes in helping parents accept, understand and support their LGBTQ+ children. She has some recommendations for parents who are struggling as they work through their fear: “Conquering that fear requires abandoning any preconceived notions about the community, and seeing your child as a whole and complete human being worthy of your love and acceptance.
“It will require small steps like:
- “Looking in the mirror and saying, ‘I am the mother of a transgender child.’
- “Practicing writing the pronouns, saying the pronouns and challenging your thoughts and feelings.
- “Being patient and loving with yourself as you go along.
- “Really being determined to do the inner work that is required.
- “Finding supportive people or organizations who will affirm your struggles and support you along your way.”
As you review that list, the path you need to take may become apparent, and that’s great. If you feel unsure, I encourage you to reach out for support as soon as possible. You may consider finding a therapist who also specializes in the emotional freedom technique. EFT is a method in which you tap on different points of your body (I know, it sounds weird), thus lessening the emotions that you feel are hijacking you. It is not meant to sidestep grievance, sorrow or fear; instead, it’s a highly effective tool to help regulate your emotions. Whatever you do, please get support, so you can fully show up with compassion for yourself and your child. Good luck.
Leahy is the mother of three daughters and the author of “Parenting Outside the Lines.” She holds a bachelor’s degree in English and secondary education and a master’s degree in school counseling and is a certified parent coach. Send a question about parenting to [email protected]and Leahy may answer it in her online Q&A or in an upcoming column.