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.
Do you hate it when things veer off your plan? Do you like to have control over your life as much as possible? Do you have a perfectionist streak in you?
I have struggled quite a bit with perfectionism over the years, and I never knew if it was a positive trait of mine, or a negative one. Then I watched Brene Brown and Oprah during the live broadcast of the taping of their upcoming Life Class. It seems Oprah has had the same debate stating that she is not a perfectionist, she is only striving for excellence. Hmmm… maybe that’s it. Maybe I just have very high standards. Then Brene explained that perfectionism is when you are worried “What will people think?”
Do you keep a clean house because you care about sterility and coordinated throw cushions or do you (like me) go into a mad cleaning frenzy when someone is coming to visit? “What will people think?” Do you want to melt into the woodwork when your toddler throws a tantrum in public? “What will people think?” Do you hold back from following your dream career because it isn’t anything your family has ever done before? “What will people think?”
Then I looked at my own life… I am married to a retired military officer. Marching orders are a common thing in my home. I give him his marching orders (it was agreed upon when we married that I had more stripes on my sleeve by virtue of my ovaries) and he gives the children their marching orders. Another common phrase is asking if something passes inspection. Passing inspection—is that not the pinnacle of “What will people think?” My husband and I suddenly realized what we have been teaching our children!
I am the first one to admit that I strive for excellence. I am renown by my clients to be a coach that encourages achievement. When I was young, my mother always said I must have been born with a silver spoon in my mouth to explain my expensive taste. But I can honestly say that while writing Being Human, I reconciled a lot of my perfectionist tendencies. So now, how can I continue to pursue excellence without instilling a false perfection into my kids?
Dancing will get you across an open floor just as easily as marching will.
I can choose to dance, to be more creative, more fluid, and still move forward and strive for excellence. When I dance with my husband we are both participating in the steps, sometimes he steps forward and I step back, and sometimes I step forward and he steps back. No one is the superior drill sergeant and no one is being inspected. Instead, we glide across the floor and get to where we have to go in a much more pleasant way. I’m not worried what he thinks of me when we dance, I am too busy enjoying the music. And if we stumble, we are in each other’s arms and we laugh while help each other back up. We have decided it’s time to dance with the kids too, and to dance in our careers, to dance through life!
How are you getting through life? Are you always preparing for inspection at muster, or inspecting others? Or do you dance through life deliberately moving forward as you step?
Do you ever get hit with a message over and over again to the point where you just can’t ignore the synchronicity?
This has been my week. It started with seeing a music video posted on a group page I belong to on Facebook–Beyoncé’s song Listen. If you can’t feel the emotion behind that song you need to get yourself checked-out! Whoa! Follow that up with someone else posting Sara Berellis’ song Brave, which had me singing along “Say what you wanna say, and let the words fall out, honestly I wanna see you be brave.” Not long after that my daughter was playing Katy Perry’s new song Roar. I escaped the house and all the social media forums and went to get some groceries. Lo and behold, what was playing on the overhead while I was picking ripe peaches? John Mayer Say… what you need to say.
Do you see a pattern there or is it just me?
So? What am I supposed to be saying? And who is supposed to be listening to me roar?
Let’s see. I have 3 book ideas burning it my imagination which I am waiting until the kids are in school full time to start writing. I have a love of public speaking (yes, I know I’m weird) and only one engagement booked this fall. Could it be either of those that the Universe is encouraging me to get a move on?
Or is it something deeper?
Have you ever had messages from the Universe and wondered what God is trying to tell you?
Do you want to know the secret to a happy life? Of course you do! We all do!
One week ago, my husband and I walked into a room and the outpourings of love that were showered on every single individual were absolutely awe inspiring. That room was Happiness on steroids! Have you been to a high school reunion? I haven’t, but I always have this Hollywood idea that the cattiness and cliques remain beyond time and that all anyone is really interested in is how fat you have become and how much money you make now. So the happy-festival I witnessed when I attended my husband’s 30 year reunion for his summer job as a camp counselor for senior leaders was a total surprise for me.
I don’t know how a random Universe could gather 50 people and have all of them been so egoless and so concerned for the wellbeing of others (then again I don’t believe in a random universe 🙂 ). Many of them went on to a career of service to others, from teachers to psychologists, peace keepers and environmentalists. During the reunion they went back to being fast friends as if time had never elapsed, skin had never wrinkled and hair had never grayed. They even sat in a circle and sang along to some guitar playing the way they had 30 years ago. I felt like I had opened a time capsule, one I would have gladly climbed in and gone back in time to be with people I had never met before that day.
That feeling was essentially the topic covered by Gregg Braden during his talk at I Can Do It! Toronto. He has traveled the world delving into many ancient cultures and has written several fabulous books with his findings. Gregg is a brilliant man.
If I attempt to condense a two hour talk into a paragraph… he said the secret to a happy life is love and compassion. He saw it confirmed across history in all cultures and religions, and I am pretty sure he’s right. He then went on to demonstrate how we can feel this by having us touch our own heart center with our hand and watch a video that is sure to move most people to tears it is so uplifting and full of love and compassion. We all literally felt the emotion in our chest. Gregg’s advice was to go to that place as often as we can.
I knew of the concept of heart coherence and blogged about it as a guest blogger over at Life in Pleasantville right after the Boston Marathon bombing, but witnessing it first hand to such a degree as with my husband’s reunion was a gift that I shall not soon forget.
My answer to a happy life? As far as I can tell, it is in losing your ego-self to love and compassion for others, as often as you can.
What do you think is the answer to the secret of a happy life? What makes you happy?
I posted a new headshot on my Facebook wall today. It is a professional shot taken in a studio with a lot of lighting and a high-end camera by a highly skilled professional photographer including some strategic Photoshop after the fact. After I posted the photo, amid a sea of praise and applause came a private question from someone asking how I can write a book about being human and self-acceptance and post such a fake photo of myself.
Hmmm… Good question. Let’s explore this.
What is authenticity really? Am I still authentic if I wear make-up in public? What about a bra? Am I fake if I have my eyebrows waxed? If I shave my legs? Do I do these things because I am ashamed of the way I look? Or am I selling-out and following the crowd and not being true to my self?
I have a very strong belief in the power of intention. We are social beings and I devote a couple of chapters to culture and community in my book Being Human. We are part of a tribe and our tribe has certain habits and rituals. I certainly don’t feel that shaving my legs would be an offense to anyone in my tribe, and I do not shave my legs with the intention to hurt others or knock them down a few pegs. It is a socially acceptable behavior in my culture. The content of my character, my integrity, my ability to be truthful and sincere with co-workers and friends is not questioned by the fact that I shave hair off my legs.
So where do we draw the line?
Is the line wearing artificial nails? I know many sincere and well-meaning women who do a lot of good in the world and get their nails done. Is the line wearing hair extensions or fake eyelashes? Gastric bypass or Botox? Or maybe, just maybe, the line is that we don’t need to judge when other people have crossed the line. Maybe, instead, we need to concentrate on where we choose to draw our own lines for ourselves. I believe that authenticity and integrity is when we live happily within the boundaries that we feel represent who we truly are, and for many of us who feel beautiful on the inside it is completely congruent to beautify our outside too.
Women really need to stop judging other women. REALLY. I can say with certainty that whatever others are saying about another woman in judgement is nothing compared to the negative self-criticism she is doling out to herself. We need to celebrate each other and uphold each other. We need to stop defining what is right and wrong with everyone else and hold ourselves into account, connect to our deepest truths, and live our lives from there.
In all honesty, if I had put up a headshot of me with my hair up wearing my glasses and in my pajamas (which is how I spend my writing days) many women would have complained about my lack of professionalism. I like to think that a headshot is our first date, and I want to look nice on our first date. I am unapologetically well put together on this picture and I am very happy with how my inner sparkle shines through. Now you get out there and show off your beauty and do not apologize for it either. Yes, you can be authentic while embracing the beauty rituals of our society as long as you are consciously choosing what is right for you.
Oh the lead up, anticipation and stress to Oprah in Ottawa and Live Your Best Day! I was so excited to be speaking on the main stage about Finding Peace in Everyday Chaos. I was so excited about being interviewed on CTV News at noon. I was so excited about going to see Oprah with my friends that evening. I was so excited that when the second TV interview—After the Oprah Show—was over I totally crashed.
By Friday I had turned into a zombie. I wasn’t physically exhausted. Besides having tender tootsies from wearing heels my body was fine (must be all that running and eating healthy I’ve been doing). No, I was emotionally frozen. I wasn’t sad, or angry or happy. I was shell-shocked. I didn’t remember a word I said on stage, and I was pretty sure I didn’t cover everything I had in my notes. All I could hope was that some of it made sense to someone. A few people came up to me later and said that my message really resonated for them, and that I was telling their story. My numb brain was wondering if they were just being nice. I could, however, clearly remember what I said on camera to the local news. THAT was the paralyzing agent. THAT was vulnerability.
The beautiful and bubbly Leeann Cusak asked me on camera how Oprah had the biggest impact on my life. I answered truthfully with a fact I have written about before, that it was an Oprah Show episode that facilitated a conversation with my mother about child abuse I endured by my step-father and prompted her to call the police that day. That Oprah show changed my life forever. But by Friday I learned that it is one thing to bury that sort of information in a book or blog post and a completely different kind of vulnerability to say it out loud under the glare of the lights with a television camera in your face. I wanted to go back and take it all back.
Why did I want to take it back? It is the truth. It is part of my story. Why did sharing my story have me second guessing my choice to talk about it? Was I worried what people would think of me? No. I have always been very open about my past on purpose. I worked hard on ridding myself of the idea I had something to be ashamed of and I try to model that for other women who have abuse histories too. In fact, I was contacted by someone that night who had been abused as a child, and she thanked me for showing her how strong we can become once we work through the trauma of our pasts.
I think my regret was more about the when and the where of the sharing, and I think my regret has more to do with social constructs. This was an event that I had been very excited about—happy happy joy joy. The room was filled with bright pinks and sequins, the music was upbeat and the organizers’ smiles exuded positivity. But I was sharing a message that is typically shared in hushed tones, or talked about with empathetic nods and the passing of tissues to sop up tears. I was breaking the code of conduct by holding my head up high, and stating facts without shame or drama. I was also inserting the darker realities of life into a rainbows and butterflies moment. That was what I regretted during my vulnerability hang-over. I wasn’t the cool, funny, miss-Mary-sunshine person in the crowd. I was real.
So, was it wrong of me to have shared my story during that day? According to our current social constructs, maybe yes, though no one called me out on it. This has really all played out in my head. But I think it is more than about time that we take the layer of shame and grime off child abuse and let survival of it and thriving after it share the stage with happiness and joy. The fact that it took me three days of soul searching to come to this realization is one of the symptoms of a problem that will not go away overnight. But relentless chants of women can be heard everywhere lately, calling for change around victim blaming and rape culture. It’s time we all accept some vulnerability hang-overs for the sake of humanity, for the sake of facing the truth, for the sake of being real.