As a parent, it can be a shock when your child tells you that they are transgender. You may have no knowledge of the subject, or you may have some understanding of the basics from the media. Maybe you even have a friend or relative who is trans. But everything changes when the person in question is your own child. You may feel a variety of emotions - fear, anger, anxiety. All of these are valid emotions and you should allow yourself to feel them. But as a parent who loves their child, you might also wonder how to support them now. Here are a few things that you, as the parent of a transgender child, can do.
1. Validate their feelings
The first reaction of many parents is to think that their child is going through a phase. Children and teenagers often do - it's part of their development, and undoubtedly you've experienced one or two weird ones from your child, so when confronted with something new, it's pretty natural that you might assume it's just a trend. However, giving your child the benefit of the doubt will help you to earn their trust. It takes tremendous strength for a child to come out to their parent, and although the GLB rights movement has helped many parents to accept their children, transgender people still face a lot of discrimination. Although the Internet contains a lot of misinformation, it has helped the average person immensely in finding information about just about any subject. It's a pretty safe bet that by the time your child finds the courage to say "Mom, dad, I want to be a boy/girl", they have done some research on the subject. Whether or not it's a phase, your child deserves love and support in discovering who they are. Your thoughts are your own, but try to avoid such insinuations out loud.
2. Educate yourself
As I mentioned before, the Internet has a plethora of resources for transgender people and their loved ones. In addition, your local public library will almost certainly have books on the subject. Learning some basic information - terminology, support, and information on medical and legal options if your child decides to transition. In addition, Internet communities can provide you with help if you are struggling. Education also shows your child that you care about their feelings and well-being.
3. Names and Pronouns
Most parents never have to worry about what they call their children after they're born. But the parent of a transgender teen can find themselves in crisis. After so many years, the name you gave your child no longer fits. And gendered language is even trickier.
If you can't yet bring yourself to use your child's preferred pronoun, you can try using neutral pronouns, such as they/them/theirs, or you can try to avoid pronouns altogether. With names, your child may ask you to help them pick one, they might want to know what name you'd planned to give them if they had been assigned the right gender at birth, or they might want to pick their name by themselves. Either way, once they've picked something, try to use it consistently, except in situations where you or they feel that it's unsafe. If you make a mistake, then try not to make a big deal of it, just correct it and move on.
What's Next? Ask Them What They Want
Okay, so you believe your child, you've researched gender identity, and you're using the right pronouns, or at least trying to. What's next? Well, the best way to figure that out is to ask your child what they want from you. If they can't articulate, try prompting them with questions. Do you want me to take you shopping for new clothes that you're more comfortable with? Do you want help talking to your teachers? Would you like to see a gender therapist? Your child knows what they need better than anyone, and trusting that will help both of you move forward.
It Will Be Okay
Parents of transgender children can often feel overwhelmed, especially in the early stages of coming out and social transition. (expressing as their desired gender without hormones or surgery) You may be worried about their safety, or their future, or that you aren't supporting them enough, or any number of other things. And worry can sometimes be helpful, if you use it in productive ways, like asking their teachers if they are doing all right at school or being bullied. However, worry can consume your life, and that isn't healthy.
It's important to remember that your child is still the same child - if you had a special game or hobby you did together, keep doing it! Keep your interactions with them from becoming too serious, or centering too much on their transition. Although some things will change, many things will stay the same, and if you can remember that, it will make both your journeys easier.