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What My Family Is Doing to Support My Non-Binary Child

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My oldest child is wise far beyond their years and displays a confidence that absolutely impresses me day in and day out. Sometimes I end up having far more complex conversations with an almost-9-year-old than I ever imagined possible, and many times I end up learning something from them. While this means there’s never a dull moment in our house, I absolutely wouldn’t trade it for the world.

A little over a month ago, though, this same child threw an unexpected curveball at my partner and I. As we drove home from an outing, they simply proclaimed, “I think I want to try using they/them pronouns.”

While I’d already suspected my child may be a bit more like me than they realize, I also knew this was going to be an entirely new journey for us as a family. Over the past month, however, we’ve done these five things to support my non-binary child.

Exploring Age-Appropriate Gender Resources as a Family

In my opinion, providing access to resources is one of the best things any parent can do for a child. So, my partner and I immediately started looking for age-appropriate books and videos after our child shared information about their gender identity with us. We then shared the list of resources with our child and asked which ones they thought looked most appealing to explore first, and dove right into them as a family.

The books we read served two main purposes. First, they provided more knowledge and language for our oldest child to use, which will ultimately help their confidence and autonomy as they continue to explore their gender identity and find their place on the gender spectrum. Furthermore, these resources helped our youngest child learn what her older sibling was talking about so she could support her sibling better.

We particularly enjoyed “The Pronouns Book” by Cassandra Jules Corrigan. It offered lots of explanation in a way that was even easy for our youngest (who is 7) to understand while also helping our oldest feel validated and understood.

Providing a Safe Space to Explore Gender Identity

The day my oldest child expressed a desire to use they/them pronouns, I immediately jumped on board. We discussed their thought process, and I reassured them that our home is accepting of everyone because everyone is worthy of love. I asked clarifying questions to see what other accommodations I could provide to help them feel safe to explore themselves, and we discussed that it’s OK to try on lots of different things before picking one to stick with.

Even before my child expressed a desire to use they/them pronouns, though, they had expressed concern over not fitting neatly into one of the two categories in the gender binary. Together, my partner and I both listened to our child’s concerns, and reassured them that our home will always be a safe space for them, no matter what. We also openly encourage conversation around diversity and inclusion, and frequently point out the ways in which we ourselves don’t fit into the “neat little boxes” society tries to convince us everyone should be in.

No matter what my children ultimately decide about themselves, I want them to know it’s always OK to try things out at home first. Sometimes, that’s what children really need — a safe space to explore themselves.

Validating Their Identity Through Media Representation

Since I know that representation in the media is so important for marginalized groups, I’ve also made a conscious effort to seek out non-binary and genderqueer characters for my child since they first started their gender identity. Surprisingly, this wasn’t as hard as I thought it might be, since shows they already enjoy, like “Steven Universe” and “The Owl House,” already provide diverse characters. However, I can absolutely tell that even just pointing out these characters and watching these shows with my child makes them feel validated and seen.

Because I want my child to witness real representation as well, I have also taken time to point out real people who identify outside of the gender binary too. In fact, I briefly introduced my child to E.R. Fightmaster (Dr. Kai Bartley on “Grey’s Anatomy”) and Demi Lovato, who both use they/them pronouns and provide very different views of what “being non-binary” can look like. While my child is absolutely not old enough to watch “Grey’s Anatomy” or listen to Demi Lovato’s music right now, it’s still important to provide these representations for them.

Confirmed That Therapist Is Affirming

Since my child is currently already seeing a therapist to help with ADHD and anxiety, I wanted to offer that as another safe outlet for them to explore gender identity and self-discovery. However, I knew I first needed to confirm that my child’s therapist would be affirming and supportive.

I used an email the therapist sent to check in on my child’s progress in other areas to ask about gender identity and exploration. The therapist responded and said she definitely can and would support my child, and I left it up to the therapist and my child as to where the conversation went from there. I try to mostly remain hands-off with therapy and trust the process, but I absolutely did not want to put my child in a situation where “coming out” became problematic because I know from my own experiences how difficult this can be.

Respecting Their Wishes and Requests

Finally, and most importantly, my family is doing everything we can to respect my child’s wishes and requests as they begin this journey of self-discovery related to their gender identity. Most days this involves using their preferred pronouns and allowing them the freedom to dress in ways that help them feel truly authentic, which is easy enough to do. In fact, even their little sister has started jumping on the pronoun bandwagon, although sometimes the usage becomes something more like, “Them doesn’t like that!” so it’s a work in progress.

However, there are also times when this involves more. For example, since my child has really only shared that they prefer they/them pronouns with people they have identified as “safe.” This means that we have attended family gatherings where we had to talk through the situation ahead of time and decide what path would be best that day. Similarly, there have been days where my child has simply decided that they “feel like a girl today” and wish to be more feminine and days where they prefer to not be a girl at all. Although some would consider this “confusing,” I know it’s all part of the process — and I will continue to respect my child’s wishes no matter what that looks like on a given day.

At the end of the day, what matters the most to me is making sure my children know I love them no matter what. I want them to see they are free to be their own person and give them the opportunity to explore who that person is without fear of criticism or judgment. Because, ultimately, what matters most is my kids’ happiness — regardless of whether or not they fit neatly into the gender binary society has convinced us we must follow.

Getty image by Nadezhda1906.

Originally published: April 11, 2022
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