Most parents raising their children would be grateful for a parenting manual, some sort of a guidebook listing best practices and “How-Tos”. After all, most parents make decisions hoping to raise healthy, happy, well-adjusted children. As no such ultimate parenting guide exists, parents are left to amalgamate information garnered from friends, relatives, and other research to rear children. While all a parents’ efforts go into caring for children, it’s equally important for parents to care for themselves. Self-care for parents of trans children is especially important as these parents face a complex and unique parenting process.
It’s hard to refute that transgender children who are emotionally supported are much better off than those with weak support systems. Gender-affirming strategies, in addition to social and physical transitioning, mitigate the negative symptoms of gender dysphoria resulting in higher levels of overall life satisfaction. Parents of transgender children though, often experience confusion, stress, concern, and anxiety. While transgender children need unwavering support, it’s essential their caregivers seek help too.
While support of a transgender child is critical, the tips listed below are meant for parents raising trans children.
Strengthen Your Social Support
When moving through life, stress is unavoidable and, in most cases, harmless. But, prolonged stress can impact one’s physical and emotional wellbeing. While it’s well documented that the stress, also known as distress, common to transgender children is detrimental, so too, is the stress experienced by their caregivers. Support for parents of trans children is equally essential. When thinking of an airplane emergency, it’s crucial to wear one’s oxygen mask before assisting others. In the same vein, parents of trans children must care for themselves, or they’ll be of little help to their trans child.
While emotional support includes some form of social support, the proximity to others alone, isn’t enough. Emotional support comes from those who share a commonality, and in the case of parenting trans children, might include finding other parents of trans children to create a support group.
Emotional support has been shown to increase the ability to cope with problems alone, improve one’s self-esteem, and enhance one’s feelings of autonomy. Most importantly, emotional support is shown to reduce stress.
To find help, the American Psychological Association suggests you strengthen your support network using the following strategies:
Cast a Wide Net
Don’t assume you can share all your concerns with one individual. There may be one individual you can share certain things with, and someone else you’re more comfortable with regarding other issues. Different relationships will provide different forms of support.
When feeling stressed, depressed and anxious, it’s easy to hide away from friends and family. If you’re feeling isolated, it’s best to try to connect with friends and family socially. And, the more you authentically share, they’ll likely share their life’s stresses too. While the problems between you and your social circle might not be the same, trying times and stressful situations are common to everyone.
Regarding strengthening your social support network, it’s certainly best to connect face-to-face, but, if that’s not possible, it’s beneficial to connect via phone, video chat, or text. If someone you’re willing to confide in lives elsewhere, use technology to stay connected.
Find Support Through Other Parents of Trans Children
While your friends and family might be a good source of support, it can be even more beneficial to connect with other parents of trans children. After all, they’ll have a much better sense of your experience. Not only could you be beneficial in sharing with someone else, somebody else might have wisdom for you.
Communicating with other parents who are raising transgender children is the best way to share resources, problem solve and commiserate. No matter where you live, support is available, if not in person, certainly online.
Here are some ways to connect with other parents of trans children.
Physical Support Groups
Many communities have support groups for parents of gender diverse children. These are often set up or listed through LGBTQ community centres. Support groups provide incredible emotional and social support. Support groups offer benefits in the following ways:
- Reducing feelings of loneliness
- Increasing feelings of control
- Improving coping skills
- Reducing anxiety and stress
- Receiving and giving advice
- Sharing resources
Support groups are especially powerful as they merge people who share similar concerns and problems. As each member is somewhere different in their journey and has unique experiences, members mutually benefit one another.
Numerous Facebook groups exist which are dedicated to parents of transgender children. Like physical support groups, virtual support groups (like Facebook groups) also provide space for the sharing of feelings, sharing of resources, in addition to the ability to offer and receive advice. Facebook groups are especially beneficial to those in rural communities with limited access to physical support groups.
While blogs might not provide support in the way a formal support group would, they do offer incredible support in the form of education. Many blogs exist covering topics pertinent to parents of trans children. Other blog sites include a comment section at the bottom of each blog post. Here, readers can add questions and comments for further discussion. In addition to the articles themselves, it is through the discussion thread support and community is possible.
Quora and Reddit are two robust discussion forums with endless questions, related answers, and countless comments and discussion to follow. In many cases, an individual poses a question with the ability of readers to chime in. While some responses include uninformed opinions, others come from educated and knowledge individuals. Forums like Reddit and Quora offer support in the form of education (similar to blogs) as well as support through the discussion thread.
Attend a Conference on Trans Issues
Conferences not only bring like-minded people together, they provide comradery and strength. Transgender conferences celebrate gender diversity while collaborating on areas of counselling, assessment, medical care, advocacy, and policy about transgender health.
Align Yourself with a Counsellor or Mental Health Physician
While social support is helpful, seeking help from an educated professional is beneficial too. Counsellors, psychologists and the like are skilled helping to sort out thoughts, removing feelings of emotional isolation while increasing levels of self-awareness. Many parents of trans children are open to learning about gender dysphoria to ensure their child receives the support they need, yet other parents struggle.
Some parents experience sadness and confusion upon learning their child is ‘different’. There are parents who grieve the loss of the way they thought their future might be, struggling to adapt to their new reality. As parent process grief, they may experience anger, rage, denial, etc. Therapy, in the form of counselling, will validate feelings, offer support, and help make sense of something that might seem nonsensical.
Education is powerful in helping to understand gender dysphoria and the journey ahead. It can be sought through websites, in addition to books and pamphlets. Many LGBT centres have resources available in addition to being able to provide relevant online places to request information.
ParentsCanada.com recommends the following books and websites for additional information:
Books for Parents
- The Transgender Child by Rachel Pepper
- Gender Born, Gender Made: Raising Healthy Gender-Nonconforming Children by Diane Ehrensaft
- The Transgender Child: A Handbook for Families and Professionals by Stephanie A. Brill
- Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin (for teens and adults)
Books for Kids
- Backwards Day by S. Bear Bergman
- 10,000 Dresses by Marcus Ewert
- When Kathy is Keith by Dr. Wallace Wong
- Gender Creative Kids: ca
- Gender Bread Person: com
- Rainbow Health Ontario: ca
- Transgender Child: net
- Camp fYrefly: CampfYrefly.ca
Remember, You’re Not Alone
While you might believe you’re the only parent with a transgender child, the chances are that unbeknownst to you, there are gender diverse people all around you. It’s reported that 1.4 million people in the US identify as transgender, with one in three knowing a person who is transgender.
Ditch the Self-Judgement
It’s easy to judge yourself with respect to your coping skills, including how you feel as you move through a complex journey with your transgender child. While many parents aim to love their transgender children unconditionally, some struggle with complicated feelings like guilt, anger, and sadness too. Rather than feeling wrong about certain feelings, try to accept what you feel when you feel it. Permit yourself to move through different feelings. Your feelings are valid, no matter which feeling.
The Bottom Line
It’s easy to believe your circumstances are unique because you feel you’ve been left emotionally alone. But, by being proactive and seeking education, in addition, to support in the trans community, you’ll find that while your circumstance might be unique, those in your supportive community will have moved through a similar journey and felt similar feelings. In working towards validating your feelings, gaining self-awareness, and reducing confusion, you’ll be best equipped to support your trans child. Like flying on an airplane, it’s best to put on your oxygen mask first (in the form of self-care) before assisting others (your child).