As the mom of a transgender 13-year-old, this is the question I get the most from parents of LGBTQ children and youth. How can they trust that their child is right about their gender or sexual orientation? How can they tell if it’s just a phase? How can they trust that it’s not just the latest cool thing to do?
My second daughter does not like kale. I have presented it to her a thousand different ways and asked her to taste it again every time, but she has known from a very young age that she will not eat kale. I trusted that at 7 years old she knew that she didn’t like it no matter how much I love it myself. At what point do I go along with her preference and offer spinach or broccoli instead? I want to be a good mom and take care of her nutritional needs, so when do I accept that my child knows she won’t eat kale?
My children have all shown preferences for colors and flavors and types of music and styles of clothes and sports and activities at different stages of their lives. Yet, we question whether we can trust that our child knows they are attracted to a particular type of person. This is because the social implications of our child coming out as LGBTQ are far bigger than if my son chooses to play the guitar instead of the cello.
What happens if you trust them?
1. Being a former nurse, my first fear was the medical implications. Changing genders meant hormone therapy and surgery which sounded barbaric to me when I felt that I had a healthy child. And the first thing that comes to mind with a gay child is HIV/Aids and other sexually transmitted infections. The good news is that we should all be having well informed sexual education talks with all our children no matter where they fall on the LGBTQ spectrum. The other good news for parents of gender creative children is that nothing has to be permanent in the beginning.
Your child can dress as their preferred gender. It’s just clothes, and a wardrobe can be switched back at any time and any age. If your child is older and flirting with puberty, or just entered puberty and it is causing them distress, you can talk to your doctor about puberty blockers. They are reversible, and delaying puberty gives you more time to explore their gender identity. If this is a phase or something cool to do, you can ride it out.
2. And then we have the social implications. Let’s face it, not everyone in our society is super accepting and enthusiastic about people who are “different”. Trusting that my son was indeed a boy and allowing him to dress like a boy and to change his name and pronouns was difficult for him at school and difficult for me with my friends and family. Even if this wasn’t permanent, even if we were riding out a phase, doing so in public is a big commitment to bravery, courage, and authenticity. Sometimes scary experiences are worth it. In the end, my son’s mental health far outweighed what other people thought of me.
What happens if you don’t trust them?
3. The mental health implications are undeniable. After my child settled down from a relatively short episode of suicidal thoughts, I asked the therapist in the emergency room how I could tell if my son was truly suicidal or just trying to get out of school and away from the relentless bullying he was facing there. Her advice to me was to always believe there is a suicide risk because if we don’t, and he was truly suicidal, we can’t take back our decision to ignore his plea for help.
If you don’t trust that your child knows in their heart that they are a different gender than what they were assigned at birth, or that they know who they love, you risk damaging their self-esteem. How would you like to live the rest of your life being told something that is fundamentally true about yourself, that you know to your core, has to be hidden and denied? Would you feel depressed, anxious, and live in fear of having that secret show up unexpectedly as you went about your everyday life? Is that the future you want for your child “in case it’s a phase”?
Trust me, trust them.
Of course, I am completely biased. I see the difference in my child since we embraced transition. His school grades are back to excellent, he thrives in his music lessons, he has true friendships, and there is a spark in his eyes that had been dimmed for years. Even though everything we have done for his transition to this point is still reversible, I know in my soul that he was right and that I have a son. His happiness and contentment have been worth the social implications and I would do it all again.
I put my second child, my daughter Victoria, on a plane yesterday. Today, I grapple with waves of sadness and grief. Why? Because I like her. Because we had a beautiful, loving, close, grounded, and fun time together during her visit for reading week. A veritable retreat from everyday life, and an oasis from the hustle of both our worlds.
Having four children has taught me more about life and the people in it than anything I could have learned in the psychology degree I have always regretted not finishing. This week’s lesson is one of being the observer instead of the fixer.
It’s not easy to go from the mom making sure your kid eats their vegetables to the mom of an adult who buys their own groceries and orders their own Uber and chooses whether to drop a class they are struggling with in University. It was my plan all along to raise a self-sufficient adult, and Victoria was the most reluctant of all my children to stand up to my suggestions and make her own decisions which made her independence that much more pride-inducing.
She’s grown up. She’s smart and funny and caring. She’s the type of person I’d actually want to be friends with if I were 20 years old too. How amazing is it as a parent to say, “I like my child!” because, let’s be honest, there are times when we are raising our children that despite a deep-seated innate love we don’t really like them all that much.
And now the grief.
I have decided that I am going to start writing about the grief of motherhood on a regular basis. There is no way that for the amount of love a mother has for her children that she doesn’t grieve to an equal extent the losses that inevitably show up in our lives. From the last time they ask you to read them a bedtime story, to the heartache of not being able to take away the pain of unrequited love, to the empty nest and all the challenges in between, motherhood is one long exploration of the grieving process.
My tears yesterday were about Victoria leaving for University after a great visit as much as they were for the loss of her childhood. I miss having her easy nature around in my everyday life. I miss her relationship with her younger brothers. I miss being the one she told all her sorrows and celebrations to every day before she left for school.
I often wondered why so many people were resistant to change in their life and now I see that change and growth are very closely related with loss. It doesn’t mean that something great doesn’t come in its place. I look forward to watching Victoria become a professional who has an impact in the world of mental health. I look forward to witnessing her having her own family one day. And, having lived through these lessons with her and her sister and brothers, I can be there for her own day as she grieves the losses that motherhood will bestow upon her life.
No, I’m not delusional from sleep deprivation. Yes, it can be done. I know because I did it. And, let’s be realistic, you won’t be writing the next New York Times bestseller during baby’s first month home when you’re feeding every 2 hours and staying up at night more than you did in college. But you will, both mommy and baby, eventually fall into a routine, and in that routine there is plenty of time to write. If people can write books during one month in NaNoWriMo, then surely you can swing it over a year.
Writing a book on maternity leave is a perfect time to explore all those thoughts and feelings awoken by your stronger sense of intuition, and that primal drive for your survival during childbirth and wanting the best for this new tiny human being. The intuition connects you to your most creative side, the part of you that doesn’t need to think, that part of you that just knows. Your awakened primal drive connects you to stronger and more visceral emotions. I have always said that the number one purpose of storytelling is to elicit emotion, what better time to capture those emotions than when we’re more emotional.
Here are some tips that will help you with your book writing goals:
Well Laid Plans
Remember the last time you had to drive in a new neighborhood or new city and how nerve-racking that can be? Remember how much easier it was the time that a friend gave you excellent directions with landmarks to watch out for? Your writing will be much easier if you give yourself an outline and signposts and landmarks along the way. However, before you embark on any road trip and before you set your trusty GPS, you need to decide on the destination. Decide exactly what it is you want to write. Will it be fact based like a self-help or inspirational book, or will it be fiction like a romance novel or a who-done-it mystery? What lessons do you want to impart in your non-fiction book, and what emotions do you want to evoke in your novel?
Routine and Rhythm
Babies love routine. I had the hardest time with this because routine has been something I rebelled against most of my adult life. But, after four children, I eventually learned to embrace it in certain areas of my life, including my writing. I have learned to call a rose by a different name just to trick my brain. Thanks to the amazing book The Baby Whisperer I had watched my babies for their rhythm and adopted the book’s E.A.S.Y routine. Baby Eats, baby is Active, baby Sleeps, Your time. Once my little ones got into their rhythm, I was able to find mine. I tended to do all of the household stuff in the morning during the first nap and write in the afternoon during the second nap (which luckily was the last nap my kids gave up). Not so oddly, I still write more in the afternoons today long after all my kids have been in school full days. Other author friends of mine preferred getting up at 5 AM and writing for an uninterrupted hour when the house is still quiet, while others preferred skipping an hour of television after the kids went to bed and writing in the evening. Look for your optimal writing time and make it a routine.
We all have well-meaning people in our lives who inadvertently like to stifle our dreams. They don’t want us biting off more than we can chew, they don’t want us to be disappointed if our ship doesn’t come in, they dismiss our dream of one day being a published author as a “cute idea”. Those people are not your writing support system. It can be challenging when those people happen to be your real-life support system like your spouse or you mom or your best friend. I can assure you that you can indeed write a book without having to discuss the content or the process with the naysayers in your life. And you can find a support system outside of your usual circle of friends and family. Look for a writing group online, join a local writer’s association, drop in on a writing Meet Up group, or start your own Writing Momma’s Meet Up in your town or city. Writing can be an isolating endeavor so having a positive circle of like-minded people holding you accountable is a huge step towards completing your book.
If you’ve always wanted to write a book one day, take advantage of the halt in your usual work routine and those pockets of quiet time during your maternity leave to pursue your passion of reading and writing. Follow in JK Rowling’s footsteps, she wrote Harry Potter sitting in a coffee shop with her baby napping next to her in the pram, and look at her now! Tell me, what will you write on your maternity leave?
“Into each life some rain must fall.” -Ella Fitzgerald
As much as I am completely on board with positive psychology and the spiritual concept that the positive vibes you put out in the world return to you, there come times when life hands you a shitty situation and you’re going to feel shitty about it. This is a blog about shitty feelings.
I went to an excellent talk last week given by two child psychologists from Anchor Psychological Services on Emotion Coaching with our kids. Boiling a three hour talk down to a paragraph, in essence, they said that we as humans need emotions or we would have evolved out of them by now. Each emotion shows a need: sadness for comfort, fear for safety, anger for a boundary or to be heard, and shame has a need for reassurance of self. They also said that by avoiding our negative emotions there is a risk of maladaptive coping strategies like emotional eating, self-harm, substance abuse, depression, or anxiety.
Today, I am angry because of an injustice towards my daughter at school yesterday. I also have some sadness for her pain, and some shame around how she chose to react. If I listen to what society says is proper for a lady… I don’t get to puff up and yell and demand justice. At best, women are allowed to cry about it—that’s much more socially acceptable. But in all reality, in proper society, people would rather I just bury the shitty feelings, slap a smile on my face, and let it fester inside of me clogging up my arteries.
When I briefly asked about anger on my Facebook profile, most women said they do something physical like run or clean the house, many of them journal about their feelings and some of them vent it out with a friend. I also received some well-meaning advice through private messages to question if I should even bother being angry. Does the situation really matter? While I know these lovely ladies were trying to make things better by looking for the silver lining, it was still asking me to dismiss my feelings… and I kinda like my arteries to stay clear, thank you very much.
I am not suggesting we all be in a rage for months on end or fall into the depths of despair, but I am suggesting that we give ourselves permission to feel our feelings, to deal with our feelings, and to move on. Because, I can assure you that, at some point, another situation and another feeling will show up. I do wish all of us the more positive emotions more often, but this is life, and we are here to discern the difference between light and dark and joy and pain. One doesn’t exist without the other.
Thanks to having taken the class last week, I emotion coached my daughter (though I have a feeling I have more work to do there). Then for my own self-care, I voiced my boundary to the school, I had a good ranting session with my friends, I had some comforting hugs from my husband, and I let myself be vulnerable and have my oldest daughter reassure me that I am a good mother.
I can’t fix the injustice but at least I’m not burying mine or my daughter’s feelings. This is self-care my friends: Emotions need to be in motion.
Leave me a comment about what you think of the need for all emotions, good and bad.
If someone took your 16 year old daughter and tortured, scarred and mutilated her body over and over and over again for 3 years, how would you feel? What would you do? Would you be completely enraged? Camped out at the police office until the person doing this to your daughter was arrested? Would you take matters into your own hands and hurt the torturer back?
What do you do when it’s your daughter doing it to herself, and no amount of yelling or loving words makes the mental illness go away, and you are not allowed in the doctor’s office with her anymore, and you can’t force her into treatment. There’s no police officer coming to take the bad guy away.
If someone took a 35 year old mother of two and slowly poisoned her since the age of 13 with all kinds of chemicals that ate away at her spirit, making her think horrible thoughts, making her body writhe in pain to the point where she can’t hold down a decent job or raise her kids the way she always dreamed of raising a family, how much news coverage would this crime get? What do you think would be a prison sentence for someone who poisons someone else for over 20 years?
What do you do when it’s a family member addicted to drugs poisoning themselves, and no amount of yelling or loving words makes the mental illness go away, and you are not allowed in the psychologist’s office to tell the whole story, and you can’t force them into treatment. There’s no police officer coming to take the bad guy away.
Mental illness doesn’t only affect those who suffer day in and day out battling their own demons, it also affects those of us who have to sit back and watch.
In light of Robin William’s death by suicide this year, I was surprised by how little was said about World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10, 2014. We have got to do better than this.
Turning a blind eye doesn’t make it go away. We need more to be done in terms of earlier detection and better treatments, we need to raise awareness in the public and we need health care professionals to take an interest in curing the mental health diseases with as much energy and enthusiasm as cancer and Aids. Let’s make mental health sexy.
What do you do when there is no bad guy to arrest? You take a stand and you help find a way for the good guy to shine again.
This time of year can be really difficult for some of us. The music, the cheer, the food and traditions can all act as triggers. For many of us who are keeping up the smiling façade for the rest of our friends, but mostly for our children, the holidays can be very painful under that smiling mask.
6 Reasons You Might be a Closet Grinch
As a child, you came from a divorced family and the holidays brought a lot of disruption in your routine with lots of bouncing around between families in order to make everyone else happy having “a piece of you”
You currently share custody of your kids and the holiday spent without them is heart wrenching
As a child, you dreaded when mom and dad got drunk and started beating on each other, or you and your siblings
You currently work a job that requires shiftwork and you will spend at least one of the holidays changing bedpans or responding to a three-car pile-up
As a child, while you were eternally grateful for the turkey from the food bank, you dreaded the thought of going to school with your new socks and hearing about all the cool toys everyone else got
You currently deal with a monster-in-law from hell, and would rather stick needles in your eyes than sit across from them at the dinner table… or for some reason they feel that way about you and you don’t get invited to the holiday celebration
First, remember that you are no longer a child and you get to create your reality as an adult. No, you cannot control whether you have to work, or have custody, or have a dysfunctional family. However, you can choose how to orchestrate your season’s activities, if and how to react to the other players, to not take things so personally and be the bigger person, and to set healthy boundaries and expect them to be respected.
If you don’t have invitations pouring in, or you can’t stand the thought of being without your child, volunteer to serve holiday dinner at a homeless shelter. Or, work with any number of volunteer groups that help underprivileged or hospitalized children during the holidays. There are many, many opportunities to provide community service. You won’t be depressed when helping others.
In the end, if it gets to the point where the mere mention of Christmas makes you twitch and you find yourself turning green and chanting: “I must stop this whole thing! Why for fifty-three years I’ve put up with it now! I must stop Christmas from coming, but how!” consider booking yourself a week or two away to avoid the whole thing. If you can’t afford a vacation this year, use your holiday time to budget and make plans to take-off next year.
In all seriousness, this is a very difficult time of year for many of us, including me—at some point in my life I fit at least one, if not all six, of the descriptions above. Be compassionate with your friends and family who are not spreading holiday cheer, and adjust your expectations for that picture perfect holiday season. In the end we are all human, and “we’re all just waling each other home”.
Don’t forget to sign-up for my newsletter in the form on the right, and let me know what you think in the comments below… are you a closet Grinch or is the holiday season really your most wonderful time of the year?