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. Gender creative 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.
Reflecting on our parenting
Examining the values and fears that influence parenting practices is important 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.
It is also important to reflect on how 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.
The following list includes parenting practices that can be harmful, adapted from The Transgender Child: A Handbook for Families and Professionals1:
- Refusing to accept or affirm gender identity or expression.
- Negative reactions to gendered behaviour. This is sometimes called gender policing. It includes criticism of gender identity or expression, or pressure to conform to gender norms. It 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.
These parenting practices 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. In the next section we will discuss parenting practices that promote both authenticity and safety.
Gender-affirming parenting practices
Parents are often asked to travel a long way in a short time. Parenting a gender creative child or trans youth is often an unexpected journey. It can be confusing and overwhelming. After realizing that a child is gender creative 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. It is important to work through your feelings, whether they be loss, worry, or confusion. Connecting with other parents through a peer support group or online network can be an important step. 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. It is important to 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.
Here we focus on parenting practices that support healthy gender development. 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 are especially important for creating affirming environments for those who are gender creative 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.
In the next section we talk about authenticity and safety, privacy and disclosure, and growing your Support Systems in more detail.
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.
1 Brill, S. A., & Pepper, R. (2008). The Transgender Child: A Handbook for Families and Professionals. San Francisco, CA: Cleis Press.
Ehrensaft, D. (2016). The Gender Creative Child: Pathways for Nurturing and Supporting Children Who Live Outside Gender Boxes. New York, NY: The Experiment.
Lucas-Stannard, P. (2013). Gender Neutral Parenting: Raising kids with the freedom to be themselves. Verity Press.
Pepper, R. (Ed.). (2012). Transitions of the Heart: Stories of Love, Struggle and Acceptance by Mothers of Transgender and Gender Variant Children. Berkeley, Calif: Cleis Press.
Krieger, I. (2011). Helping Your Transgender Teen: A Guide for Parents. New Haven: Genderwise Press.
Families in Transition – A resource guide for parents of trans youth – Central Toronto Youth Services
Family Education Information: Supportive Families, Healthy Children – Family Acceptance Project
Impacts of Strong Parental Support for Trans Youth – TransPulse
Parenting and Family Resources – Gender Spectrum
Trans Friendly Picture Books – Trans Care BC
Trans Friendly Middle Readers – Trans Care BC
Trans Young Adult Books – Trans Care BC