Parenting a gender creative child or trans youth can have its challenges. It can also be a rewarding experience filled with love and learning.
Parents love their children and want to do what’s right for them. Parenting provides ample opportunities for teaching and guiding and also for learning and growing. Gendercreative children and trans youth have a lot to teach us about creativity, acceptance and love.
A major theme that comes up in parenting with gender creative children and trans youth is the balance of authenticity and safety. In other words, how do we affirm and support our child’s authentic gender self while keeping them safe in the world? Here we will address this issue from two directions: reflecting on our parenting and gender-affirming parenting practices. Visit the Safety & Privacy page for more information on tips.
Examining the values and fears that influence parenting practices will help in figuring out how to parent in a new situation.
We begin with parenting values. What do you want for your child? For them to be happy, healthy and self-confident? To know that they are loved and supported by their family? To be affirmed in their authentic gender? To realize their fullest potential in life? This list could go on and on. It can be helpful to take time to think about what values are at the top of your list and why they are important to you.
Moving into unfamiliar parenting territory can bring up many fears. Parents may worry that their child will have a difficult life. They may be concerned about how others will react to their child’s gender identity or expression. They may worry about what the statistics on high suicide rates of trans youth will mean for their child. A lot of parents’ fears come down to safety, and this can have a big impact on parenting practices.
Some parenting practices, while often well-intended, may be harmful. Gender norms in our culture are powerful and may infiltrate parenting in unintended ways. A lot of effort can be required to overcome this. Self-reflection can be challenging, but also valuable. This process may uncover opportunities to make positive changes that will strengthen parenting and family relationships.
Some parenting practices that can be harmful. They undermine the authentic gender self, and often do nothing to make a child or youth safer. In fact, they may make children and youth less safe. Harmful practices include:
- refusing to accept or affirm gender identity or expression
- negative reactions to gendered behaviour. Negative reactions are sometimes called gender policing; they include criticism of gender identity or expression or pressure to conform to gender norms. They can also include punishing children for gender non-conformity
- preventing access to trans resources
- blaming a child for the stigma, discrimination, or violence they face in the world
- verbal or physical abuse in response to gender identity or expression
This list is adapted from The Transgender Child: A Handbook for Families and Professionals (see Resources: Books).
Parents are often asked to travel a long way in a short time. Parenting a gendercreative child or trans youth is often an unexpected journey. It can be confusing and overwhelming. After realizing that a child is gendercreative or trans, there may be a big period of adjustment for everyone in the family. Time is often what parents need most as they process how their parenting needs to shift in order to support their child. However, sometimes children and youth don’t have a lot of time. They need love, support and affirmation immediately and their wellbeing may be held in the balance.
Here are some ideas for steps you can take to better prepare yourself to meet the needs of your child.
- Find the information you need to educate yourself. Getting your questions answered can relieve a lot of anxiety and help you plan for your child’s needs. There are many resources linked on this website. If you are having trouble finding what you need, contact us, and we will do our best to connect you with resources and support.
- Access supports. Work through your feelings, whether they be of loss, worry, or confusion. Connecting with other parents through a peer support group or online network can help. Talking with a counsellor may also help you process your emotions so that you can focus more clearly on your child’s needs.
- Take time for self-care. Take care of yourself so that you can be ready to support your child. It can also make you a role model for your child, letting them know that joining a support group, making new friends who share your experiences and taking care of yourself are important things to do.
The overriding goal of gender-affirming parenting is to provide an environment in which children can safely explore, accept and express their authentic gender selves. The practices described here can be adopted in parenting any child, however, they can be especially valuable in creating affirming environments for those who are gendercreative or trans.
- Affirm, value and love your child for who they are today.
- Remain open to all possibilities for who they will become.
- Support their exploration of gender identities and expressions.
- Create an affirming space to talk about gender identity through language, conversations, books and play.
- Teach them the language they need to talk about gender.
- Talk about the many ways people identify and express their gender.
- Ensure they have access to accurate information.
- Allow conversations to unfold over time, as your child is ready.
- Listen to what your child is telling you about their gender, through words and actions.
- Provide the support and affirmation that they need from you all along the journey.
These parenting ideas are just a beginning. Listen to what your child is telling you about what they need to feel affirmed in their authentic gender self. Your affirmation, acceptance and love are crucial for healthy development: they support both authenticity and safety, especially safety within your child, in your relationship with your child and in your home.
Your child is on their own journey to figure out who they are and how they will live in the world. Love and support them as they explore who they are. Follow their lead and help them through challenges. Let them know you will be there for them wherever life takes them. This will have lasting effects on their health and relationships. Years from now, your child will look back on their journey and recall being loved, supported and affirmed in their authentic gender self.
The resources listed here focus on gender-affirming parenting. There are several books that offer deeper perspectives on parenting philosophy and more detailed ideas for parenting practices. The online resources offer some insightful and practical information for parents and families. Visit the Articles, Books & Movies page on how to access these resources.
The Transgender Child: A Handbook for Families and Professionals. San Francisco, CA: Cleis Press. Brill, S. A., & Pepper, R. (2008).
Transitions of the Heart: Stories of Love, Struggle and Acceptance by Mothers of Transgender and Gender Variant Children. Berkeley, Calif: Cleis Press. Pepper, R. (Ed.). (2012).
- The Transgender Teen - A Handbook for Parents and Professionals Supporting Transgender and Non-Binary Teens. Brill, Stephanie and Kenney, Lisa. Cleis Press, 2016
See Articles, Books & Movies for lists of trans friendly picture books, books for middle readers, and books for young adult
In the next section, Safety and Privacy
, we talk about authenticity and safety, privacy and disclosure in more detail.