Parenting is the most difficult, challenging, and stressful job anyone will ever do in their life. With a job that requires no qualifications and offers no training, how do parents know what is right and what is wrong when shaping their children for the future?
As parents we are supposed to protect our children. We are supposed to make choices for them when they are too young to make them for themselves. We are supposed to teach them to be compassionate, understanding, and kind. We are supposed to raise them to be independent and motivated to make decisions on their own.
I spoke to a woman whose daughter recently came out as transgender. I cannot imagine how overwhelming such a life change would be for the person making that transformation. I equally can’t imagine just how devastating it would be for the parents, but all too often the emotions and trauma a parent faces in tough times are ignored.
Why? Is it because the parent doesn’t matter? Is it because it isn’t politically correct to question someone who is making such a monumental transition? Isn’t questioning a child’s choice the job of a parent or is it considered controlling?
The parent of the child who is starting the process of changing her gender told me, “I am grieving and trying to be supportive, it isn’t quite happening … the more I try to get it right the more I get it wrong. I am scared, but need to be brave for her/him. She thinks I am controlling when I ask her to slow down changing things like her name (we chose carefully). It hurts and she hates it. I am trying to be brave, supportive, loving; none of it is enough. I love my child, I will get there, but I need time. This is so hard.”
The media has portrayed parents of transgender children as fully accepting and brave individuals who open their arms to their child with unconditional love and acceptance. Is this really how all parents of transgender children feel? Or are they more like the parent above, who is struggling to continue to be an effective parent?
Is it wrong for a parent to question a child who says they are the wrong gender? It is brave for a transgender person to overcome fear and anxiety and move forward to their true self; however, the trauma faced by the parents of a transgender person should not be overlooked. When someone becomes a parent they have expectations for the future. Dreams, plans, and fantasies of what they think their child will become. When a child is transgender, the parents have to grieve for the child they thought they had before they can fully accept this change.
Parents have a responsibility to help their children make informed, adult decisions. In the case with transgender children parents may feel they cannot tell their child to slow down or think carefully about the decision for fear of not being politically correct. Does this mean parents can’t have a conversation about how they feel about their transgender child?
A lot of choices children make are difficult for parents to accept. Parents want to be sure their children are fully aware of the ramifications of their choices. No parent wants to feel responsible for their child making a decision they will regret. And no parent wants to stop their child from making life-altering choices that will affect their future in a positive way, either.
With no training, parents go with what they know and this is usually experience from their own parents. They modify, they pick and choose the best of what they grew up with and add their own style. It is a constant learning process, one which takes time and one in which mistakes are made.
Parents must be allowed to continue to parent. They must question their children’s decisions, ask them to slow down and think carefully about all of their choices, especially permanent ones — from something simple like a tattoo to a complete gender shift. This is the responsibility a parent takes on when they have children. Yes, they are supposed to unconditionally love and accept their children, but they must also teach them.
Unconditional love does not mean letting a child do whatever they feel is right. Unconditional love is “tough love” and it can be painful, brutal, and stressful. Unconditional love can also be rewarding and fulfilling when you grow, change, and evolve with your child.
Transgender symbol available from Shutterstock