Parents of trans youth sometimes find it challenging to maintain a satisfying relationship with their kids. It can be confusing and upsetting at first for parents to come to terms with the fact that the son they thought they had is really their daughter or vice versa. Even after making this adjustment, parents might not know how to forge connections with the child they now have, no matter how much they Love that child and want to connect with him or her.
The sad thing about this is that a lot of trans kids become depressed and even commit suicide because they feel isolated and alone. This is even sadder when you think about how many parents want with their whole hearts to Love and support their kids but just don’t know how or what to do. No matter how much you Love your child, it seems like everything changes when he or she realises they are transgender. (I come from a very Loving family that accepts everybody no matter what, but I was scared of being rejected anyway just because I’d spent so many years rejecting myself.) There are things you can do, however, to connect with the trans youth in your life and make sure they feel Loved, accepted and safe.
41 percent of transgender people attempt suicide, and about 25 percent of homeless kids are transgender. These sad statistics are usually attributed to parental rejection–but there’s no data available about how many of these kids just thought they were totally alone, as opposed to really being alone.
If you recently became the parent of a trans kid, there are five things you can do to connect with him or her.
1. Respect your child’s desires regarding transition. Every child is different; there’s no one “right” way to transition. However, you should do your best to respect your child’s desires. Call him or her by their preferred pronoun and name.
Of course, children don’t always know all the ramifications of medical care, and if your child is underage, you’re the one who is responsible for making the final decision. But you can and should talk to your child about his or her desires. Don’t push a particular treatment option on a child who doesn’t want it–i.e. don’t insist your child have hormone blockers (or state unequivocally that they’re out of the question.) Talk to your child about his or her transition so that you can make the decision together.
2. Continue to share activities with the child that he or she enjoys. Before you knew your child was transgender, you probably played games, watched television or went to movies together. There’s no reason not to continue doing these activities now that your child is transgender. Granted, it may be a little bit more difficult for you to share in certain activities now; some parents have a hard time going to events that are more associated with their child’s target gender (i.e. dance recitals, sports events.) However, there should be some activities that you can still do together. You should make as much of an effort as possible to continue doing these things so that your relationship with your child continues to grow.
3. Keep lines of communication open. Even though it may be difficult for you to talk about your child’s transition, don’t ignore it. When my parents initially ignored my transition, I didn’t understand why and I felt even more isolated and angry. When we finally began communicating, it helped a lot. It’s okay to be upset or even angry sometimes, as long as those feelings don’t dominate every conversation with your child. Let them know that you Love and support them and be open to listening to their feelings about their transition.
4. Don’t focus exclusively on transition. Although you want to make sure you’re supporting your child, you don’t want him or her to feel like you see them just as “transgender.” Your child’s gender identity is only one part of who your child is, and he or she may feel awkward or embarrassed around you if you never talk about anything else. Talk to your child about how his or her day was and other mundane topics. Remember that your child is a person who is transgender–don’t get so caught up in trying to support the transition that you forget the person underneath.
5. Consider getting outside support. Lots of parents have a hard time accepting their child’s transition, even if they intend to be supportive. It can take time to adjust–transition is a family process, not just a process for the child who is transitioning. It can be helpful to get support. Groups such as PFLAG can provide you support and allow you to meet other parents of transgender children so that you feel less alone. You may also want to speak to an LGBT-friendly counselor, coach or therapist to help you learn how to best support your child.
Above all, remember two things. One is that your child is still the same person s/he was prior to transition–they are just more openly themselves. The other is that the transition process takes time for everybody; as much as your child may want you to be perfectly supportive right away, you need to learn new skills and adjust to having a child who doesn’t quite match the picture you had of him or her in your head.
Don’t give up. You can learn to connect and support your transgender child. No matter how challenging it is now, you’ll eventually overcome it and your relationship with your child will be stronger because you are both more honest and genuine.
For more tips on connecting with your transgender child, please see my guide for parents of transgender children, My Daughter Dresses Like A Boy and Says She Is One. I’m also available if you or your child need communications coaching.