Are you learning of your teens gender identity for the first time? Are you feeling afraid that your child is being influenced by media or friends and perhaps is not yet mature enough yet to make a determination that they are transgender? Are you worried that other parents or family will judge you or blame you? You are not alone. I have worked with many parents who have been afraid, ashamed, angry, confused and worried about the future of their child, teen, or young adult who is disclosing that they are questioning their gender, or identifying as transgender. If this is the case for you-the good news is, that your child loves and trusts you enough to ask for your support.
First: Your child will always need your love and support. But that does not mean that you cannot have concerns, questions, or need time to catch up with your feelings.
One of the reasons our kids are so insistent in asking for our support, is that they feel vulnerable and they are asking for our protection, our love, even if it seems they are demanding us to change or catch up overnight. Most likely, this is very scary for them and they are afraid of your rejection. But if they are talking to you about their gender identity, there is trust and there is a need for your assurance that you will do your best to listen, to learn; even if you need some time to catch your breath.
Second: Your child is a living, changing, and conscious being who is unfolding their own lives.
Parents are the primary sources of security and soothing, critical for optimal child development. When our children are small and dependent, we have oh so much responsibility; and oh so much control! But our children mature, and become their own little selves. If you thought your child would follow in your footsteps, you may be surprised to find that they do the opposite! This doesn’t mean that they are rebelling. It means that they belong to themselves, and after we have protected them, taught them basic human kindness and personal responsibility; we will find that they become a version of themselves that we could never quite have envisioned.
Third: If your child is telling you that they are transgender, non-binary, or gender fluid; believe them, and prepare to go learn about them in new ways, while learning about yourself. This is an opportunity as much as it is an unexpected curve in the road of life.
A parent who is available to provide emotional nurture, support and unconditional positive regard, is one who is
emotionally aware of their child’s emotional life, attunded to their child’s needs, and available for support, reassurance and
guidance. Your relationship will always change, because you and your child, are always changing.
Fourth: The risk of parental rejection is real.
LGBT children are at a high risk of experiencing parental rejection and this predisposes them to risk of depression, suicide, homelessness and abuse.
Parents often experience grief, loss, shame, and fear around their child’s sexual or gender diversity, whether that child
has “come out” or not. This can lead to micro-aggressions and small corrections that instill a sense of shame or fear in a child who
is perceiving that their behavior or being is distressing. Children seek security at all costs, and will modify their behavior and presentation in order to
avoid such rejection and secure the love of their parents.
If you are reading this, you are seeking information about the best ways to love and support your child, and that means dealing with your own
feelings so that you can be available to your child. That is a wonderful beginning. I am dedicated to helping families navigate these stages of change in a way that allows for concerns and questions to be fully explored while maintaining a commitment to the health and well being of the child, teen, and family as a whole.
Resources for Parents
“The Family Acceptance Project® is a research, intervention, education and policy initiative that works to prevent health and mental health risks for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) children and youth, including suicide, homelessness and HIV – in the context of their families, cultures and faith communities. We use a research-based, culturally grounded approach to help ethnically, socially and religiously diverse families to support their LGBT children.”
Our team has been putting research into practice by developing an evidence-based family model of wellness, prevention and care to strengthen families and promote positive development and healthy futures for LGBT children and youth. We provide training and consultation on our family-based prevention and intervention approach across the United States and in other countries.
Trans Youth Family Advocates is a national organization dedicated to education, support and advocacy for gender variant youth, transgender youth and their parents.
A Soul has no Gender: Love and acceptance through the eyes of a mother of sexual and gender minority children.
Denise Ajeto, PsyD.