A mom of a trans child shares her tips on how parents can offer support to their children as they transition
- The mom of a transitioning teen told Insider it's important to "affirm" a kid's chosen identity.
- She said sharing your own issues with your child could "burden" them during a challenging time.
When Jen's 12-year-old child came out as nonbinary and then transgender, the mom of two said she was "shocked" but "supportive."
Jen, who asked for only the first names of her family to be published for privacy reasons, recalled how the then-tween, who'd been assigned female at birth, hesitantly explained the situation with the help of a trained therapist.
"He was very worried about upsetting us, as if he was disappointing us," the 49-year-old told Insider. She added: "But we said, 'You're still you.'"
She said she and her husband, Chris, 57, were united in their efforts to stick by their son Sebastian. He originally described himself as nonbinary before deciding he was ready to consider a transition.
Sebastian, now 16, is "doing well," Jen said. But at the time of his announcement, he was "a child who was clearly hurting."
The mom, who wanted advice about how to stand by and encourage Sebastian in his journey, sought guidance from the gender specialist Rebecca Minor.
Jen — with help from the licensed social worker — shared her wisdom about the best ways for parents and carers to support their children and young adults like Sebastian.
Respect your child's choices as they move forward with them
It's important to affirm your child as they explore their options, Jen said, particularly by using their preferred pronouns.
"Sebastian started off wanting us to call him 'they and them,' but after about two weeks, he wanted 'he and him,'" she said.
Nevertheless, she said family members — including his brother, Mark, who is two years older — "made constant mistakes with names and pronouns at first," to the extent that Sebastian "used to get impatient." But they "figured it out in the end," she added.
Do your research and reach out to other parents
The Boston mom encouraged the young person's family to do as much research about the trans community as possible, via books, support groups, and the internet. She said that boosting your "knowledge" would help both you and your child.
Minor, the gender specialist, said: "Getting your own education is important so that your child doesn't have to be the one to guide you through the process." She added, "Parents can absolutely show up for their kids if they're willing to put in some work."
Meanwhile, Jen said it could be useful for some people to ask for "advice and guidance" from parents further along the road in terms of their child's transition.
Minor agreed, saying: "It can be incredibly healing. Otherwise, it can feel like you're alone on an island trying to figure out how to parent this kid who is feeling so different from everyone else around."
Don't put your own 'stuff' on them
Both Jen and Minor said they believed that, as Jen said, "rather than burden your child who is already going through a lot," it's healthy to seek outside help for your own issues.
"It's better to deal with your own stuff separately," the mom, who signed up for therapy sessions with Minor, said.
Minor emphasized the importance of this, saying, "Jen realized it was going to be really hard, so it was better to find someone else to talk to."
She added: "They may feel grief, shame, and fear — emotions that are rooted from a place of not knowing — and it sometimes gets in the way of showing up for their kids." She said they could offer support and understanding if they're getting the same benefits themselves from elsewhere, especially a mental-health professional.
Make sure you're the one who deals with paperwork, which can overwhelm kids and young adults
Jen said she embraced her responsibility as one of the adults in the family to handle steps like informing Sebastian's school so "everyone is on the same page."
Other issues to deal with include finding the right doctor and establishing what your
"It's a lot to cope with," Jen said, adding that a child like Sebastian would likely be overwhelmed by the complexities. She said that legal issues — such as an official name change — could also prove difficult.
"As the parent, you're driving the process of updating a passport, Social Security number, even a bank account," Jen said.
Show support, but don't forget you're the adult here
According to Jen, it's crucial to remember that, equipped with the correct knowledge and as the adult in the equation, you are your child's best advocate.
In Sebastian's case, Jen and Chris helped their son talk through his options with his specialist and decided to "bide time" with puberty blockers.
"He, of course, was champing at the bit, which can be very challenging for parents," Jen said.
She added: "You're like, 'I'm affirming you. I'm supporting you. But I'm still the parent.'"
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