Your teenage daughter has recently told you she is transgender and wants to transition. You’re feeling blindsided. Your child may have struggled to form close relationships with other girls, but she has never indicated before now that she was uncomfortable in her body or that she felt more like a boy.
Your daughter has always been a smart, creative child. You used to be close, but lately, she has been pulling away from you. She’s spent a lot of time online while alone in her room. And she’s increasingly struggled with mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, or ADHD.
You start looking for information online. You read about how children need to be affirmed in their declared gender identity or they will kill themselves: “Would you rather have a live son or a dead daughter?” You read that puberty blockers are benign, completely reversible medications that put a “pause” on puberty, giving a child time to decide what direction she wants to go. You read that taking testosterone will help her become the authentic person she was always meant to be. You read that it can be a bonding experience for a mother to help her daughter purchase a binder to flatten her breasts. There isn’t even any question in most online commentaries that you should use your daughter’s newly designated male name and pronouns—“Let your child lead the way.”
You keep reading. You find information that is not so positive about transition. You read that there are far more teenage girls and young women transitioning these days than ever before. You read about the concept of social contagion. This rings true, as you have noticed that many of the teens your daughter spends time with, whether in person or online, are identifying as trans. You also read about the risks of puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones—risks such as infertility, diminished bone density, and heart disease.
Your daughter tells you what language to use. You can’t use her “dead name.” You can’t talk about what she was like as a little girl. You can’t even call her your daughter.
You mourn for your lost girl. You want to talk with her about what she is experiencing, but it feels like landmines are everywhere. What if you say the wrong thing and lose her forever—figuratively and perhaps even literally?
You want to shout, “How can you do this to yourself? How can you do this to your family?”
You often feel overwhelmed. Overpowered. Hopeless. Heavenly Father knows your child and knows all the forces weighing on her.
Heavenly Father knows your child and knows all the forces weighing on her.
First of all, please know that there is hope. There is always, always hope.
This is hard. So hard. You probably feel so isolated. But Heavenly Father knows your child and knows all the forces weighing on her. Maybe you are acutely aware of how you could have been a better parent. Please realize that this situation is complex and is caused by far more than one issue or influence, such as parenting. God understands this. He knows your child’s heart, and He knows yours.
Your child needs you, even as she is pushing you away. Somewhere at the back of her mind, even as she is ignoring your texts or telling you that you’re wrong and hateful, it registers when you say you love her. Please, tell her.
Remember that loving her does not mean you are obligated to agree with her. Loving her does not mean you even have to like her all the time; because sometimes she is disrespectful and unkind, and she’s not always easy to like.
But being a parent means making the choice to love. That may look different from parent to parent, but often the choice to love includes asking questions and listening. “What does it mean to you to be a boy?” “What does it mean to you to be a girl?” “What are you hoping to achieve through transition?” “What do you think your life will be like in the long-term?”
Ask questions and allow her to make connections if she is ready—when she is ready. Help her slow down. One should not make important, life-changing decisions when feeling unstable or desperate. Support your daughter in getting professional help for serious issues such as trauma or other mental health concerns, being careful to find professionals who respect your values, involve you in the therapeutic process, and take a careful, exploratory approach. Remind your daughter that although she may think you have the wrong view as her parent, you always have the long view.
Even when your daughter insists upon a particular self-identity, even when she demands others’ validation in order to be okay, don’t feel you have to pretend to be on board. In fact, the better long-term outcomes most often happen when parents hold firm to what they feel best about—and do not simply go along with what makes their child immediately comfortable.
Loving your daughter may mean making some compromises while still holding to your values. It may mean sympathizing with your child’s discomfort and committing to figure out ways to approach this together. No matter how many insist that there is only one way to resolve the inner tensions your daughter may feel, that will never be true.
No matter how many insist that there is only one way to resolve the inner tensions your daughter may feel, that will never be true.
No matter how many insist that there is only one way to resolve the inner tensions your daughter may feel, that will never be true. There are other ways of working through this tension, for you and her both. It’s possible to experience tension and to observe it with compassion, gentleness, and curiosity. It’s possible to notice poignant and unsettling feelings or thoughts inside and to not react or identify with them. It’s possible to be patient in all this and to wait on the Lord’s guidance and comfort to come.
Your relationship with your child is eternal. Despite what some so-called experts may say, you play a far more important role in her life than a therapist, friend, or teacher. Seek inspiration for your God-given stewardship as a parent. If your child is technically an adult, perhaps she may choose to distance herself for a while. But please, make your home and family a place where she will always feel welcome so long as she respects the standards of your home.
Find out which resources are helpful and which are damaging. The human brain does not stop developing till around age 25, so your daughter’s identity may be in flux for a while. Learn from the experiences of young people who have decided to detransition, knowing your child may or may not change her mind.
Find trusted people you can talk to. Practice good self-care. If you are married, know your relationship with your spouse is of utmost importance right now. Lean on each other. You may not entirely agree on how to approach your daughter’s situation, so allow space for difference, while presenting as much of a united front as you can when communicating with your daughter. Focus on your shared love for and commitment to your child, and your love for and commitment to each other. As much as possible, don’t allow gender issues to define your relationship with either your daughter or your spouse. The gospel is a gospel of hope, and when we don’t feel hopeful, there is often something important that we are not seeing.
The gospel is a gospel of hope, and when we don’t feel hopeful, there is often something important that we are not seeing.
Rely on the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Remember that this is not the end of the story. The gospel is a gospel of hope, and when we don’t feel hopeful, there is often something important that we are not seeing. Remember that “they that be with us are more than they that be with them” (2 Kings 6:16). Heavenly help is there if you seek it. Hold to your covenants. The journey may be long, but the Savior is mighty to save. And even when things feel bleak, don’t forget that Sunday will come.
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