Orientation

How do you identify with your child?

As a parent, I often feel like I’m navigating new territory. The territory isn’t changing quite as rapidly as it did when my children were very young and I was really new at being a parent, but has instead changed to steeper terrain. When my children entered a new phase early in life: rolling over, sitting up, crawling, eating solid foods, walking, etc., the task required me to change with my child’s physically — helping them, allowing them to try, fail and learn from their mistakes, and help them grow. Now I’m navigating areas that have more weight to them — while no physicality is required, it requires much focus on my words, actions and handling.  Gender identify and sexual orientation are areas I knew may need to be discussed with my children, but I don’t have a lot experience with either outside traditional roles.

I wasn’t necessarily a ‘girly-girl’ when I was growing up, but I always felt comfortable being a girl. I can’t recall a time when I was interested in being anything else. Same with sexual orientation. I certainly thought there were other girls that were pretty (wished I looked like or could be them even), but never recall having any romantic feelings for the same sex. It never bothered me when others did. One of my uncles was gay. I loved him. I didn’t realize he had suffered as a gay person until I was much older, but have always remembered that he mattered, he was a good person. and he never deserved anything but being treated as the wonderful man that he was (he passed from HIV when I was 18).

My boys are now in their teens (tweens, to be more precise) at 10 and 12. When one of my sons was younger, he had said he wished he were a girl. I experienced a quick range of emotions. First, denial — he can’t mean what he’s saying, and then second, curiosity — okay, he wishes he were a girl. I need to better understand what he means. Of course, in my mind I prepared myself for him wanting to transition from male to female (yes, I jumped to the extreme pretty quick). “Why do you want to be a girl?” I asked. “Well, because I like a lot of the same things they like,” he responded. “Do you wish you could wear girls clothes, or have the same body parts?” I continued. “No, I like being a boy,” my son said, “I just don’t like sports or rough house stuff. And I feel more comfortable around girls.” It was becoming clearer to me, that my son was concerned he wasn’t fitting into the ‘stereotypical’ male gender role. Thankfully my son has been in schools that have encouraged expression in whatever form that takes for all genders throughout his childhood. I reminded him that it was okay not to like sports or want to rough house, and that, believe it or not, there were a lot of other boys that also didn’t like the same things. “You are realizing who you are and what you like and don’t like, that’s a good thing,” I told him. Still, I feel like there is more I probably should be doing — more checking in with him — does he still have those feelings? Does he like and accept who he is, or does he feel pressure to conform — if so, where and why? It’s a good reminder for me, that many opportunities in parenting to do right by our children reside on us not only showing up, but proactively inquiring.

One son is starting to become more attracted to others. Though he is quick to let everyone know he has no plans to act on it, despite us encouraging him to be open to the idea. During PRIDE week at school, one teacher talked to the students about different sexual orientations — words/labels used to describe various sexual orientations, and encouraged the kids to ask questions. When my son came home, he said, “Mom, I need to tell you something.” The way he said it, I thought he was going to tell me about something that happened at school, or how he’d done on a test. Instead he said, “I think I might be pansexual.” My first thought was stay cool, you can do this. I’ve certainly seen people on TV that claim to be pansexual, but don’t know anyone personally who identifies as such. I wanted to get this right with my son. I wondered if my son was truly sexually attracted to male and female peers, or if he was struggling with normal adolescence exploration. I’m not sure he knew, and I felt horribly unprepared to help him navigate this the best way. I told him, “You father and I don’t care who you love. We love you just the same. It is completely fine to love whomever you choose.” He sighed with relief. I felt I handled it well, but know I need more help.

I’ve been prepared much of my life to help my kids role-play for certain situations — how to handle a disagreement with someone, how to ask for help, how to advocate for yourself, even how to let someone know you like them and/or are interested in them. I struggle with how to encourage my son to explore same-sex interests. I want to be supportive and know we, as a culture, are much more open to these types of relationships, but still fear him being rejected, or worse outcast or harassed by others. I am reminded of my uncle and learning of the pain he experienced at the hands of others for being gay. I want to believe that everyone would be supportive of my son, but know that might not always be the case. I want to protect him, but not limit him or hold him back from exploring his interests.  How do you help your son let another boy know they’re interested when you’re not sure the other boy identifies as gay or pansexual themselves? Anyone who has any experience and insight, please share.

Very much like when my kids were young, I want to help them, allow them to try and fail (even in relationships) and grow. I’m navigating new territory and hope I get it right.

How are you navigating challenging parental terrain? If you have a child who identifies as gay, transgender, pansexual or other, how are you helping them navigate their identify and sexual orientation?

Please Stand Up

Have you ever been reluctant to take a stand on something? Or let others know how you truly feel when it might not be universally popular?

I have. I hate to admit it, but over the course of my life there have been more times than I can count where I’ve kept my mouth shut, hand down or otherwise stayed out of sight instead of saying (or showing) how I really felt for fear retaliation — judgment, embarrassment, and shame. Now for all the times I’ve stayed in the shadows or been quiet I don’t truly know what would have happened if I stood up for myself because I didn’t do it.

I can remember one of the first times I did stand up for myself. A boy on the bus decided to pick on me one day. I can’t remember what he said exactly, but it left me in tears. I got off the bus at a friend’s house and was greeted by my friend’s mom who asked what was going on. I told her about the boy and she asked me, “Why would you put up with that? You need to let him know he can’t get away with that!”  It was the first time I can remember someone telling me how to stand up for myself. It was the words I needed to take action. The next day on the bus, I went right up to the same boy and was very direct with him — I told him in no uncertain terms that I wasn’t going to put up with him picking on me any longer. I don’t know if it was my tone, or what he might have viewed as aggression (I seem to recall walking very swiftly towards him with my index finger pointed squarely at his face), but he backed down and actually apologized. The experience taught me that standing up for who you are or what you believe in can be very freeing. You don’t have to stay in the shadows or feel trapped.

I am stepped out of the shadows this weekend, participating in the local Sister’s March in unity with others in my community who believe we are stronger together and that coming together is better for all. I wanted my boys to see their mom in action, standing up for something she believes in, and let my kids know they can stand up for things they believe in to (when the day comes). I felt it important they understand each of us has values and beliefs we hold dear, and we can’t let fear hold us back from taking a stand when we feel compelled to do so.

When I asked what my kids what they thought about me marching they said, “That’s pretty cool, mom.”  Standing up for myself sounds pretty cool indeed.

How do you stand up for yourself? How are you helping your child stand up for themselves?

 

Soccer Mom

Did your parent(s) ever embarrass you as a child?

Of course they did, right?  It’s a rite of passage for most parents. While I’ve been open with my boys that mom and dad will likely embarrass them from time to time, it will never be intentionally done. They know they can call us on it, and we (my husband and I) have to own it, and try to make it right (e.g. don’t do it again).  What I didn’t anticipate was where I’d have the most trouble not being a repeat offender — at the soccer field.

I am not one of those parents who yells at the kids or the refs and tries to correct them. Instead I’m guilty of calling a play-by-play with what the kids are doing on the field, like it’s some how going to help the outcome of the game. “Nice pass to Jake.” “Way to block it, Luke.” “Take it away, Caleb. You’ve got this.” But one time I went a little too far. My son was struggling in a game, and instead of doing what the coach was telling him, he got angry and started to talk back, “I’m doing what you told me!” “What am I doing wrong?” I didn’t like the way he was talking to the coach, and instead of letting the coach handle it (like I should have) I said, “Why don’t you channel your anger back into the game, and get more focused?” My son was clearly beside himself with embarrassment grunted and gave me a “zip it” hand gesture (moving his fingers across his mouth). When it was half-time he came over to the sidelines with his teammates, and knowing I was standing nearby, loudly said, “I don’t ever want you to come to a game again!”

He had a point. I would have hated it if my parents had done the same thing to me. I wanted to be supportive and encouraging (that’s what we need at any age), not shame him in front of his peers. That’s the last thing I wanted to do. If I wanted to have this discussion with him, I should have done it in private. I told him as much after the game.  “I was wrong. Not what I said, but where I said it. I should have said it away from everyone being able to hear and I’m sorry.”  He still wasn’t happy, but he got it. I owned my part in what happened, and haven’t made a similar comment (at least in front of his peers) since.

I think I rationalize my broadcasting tendencies (which are now strictly the positive play-by-plays) as wanting to show I’m interested and vested (e.g. my son knows I care about what he’s doing), and that somehow my encouragement will help the team (know that they are supported and care). Not to worry, I’m aware that my ‘cheering’ likely isn’t doing much, if any, good, and am working to be a more subdued parent. Outside of walking away from the game and distracting myself, I haven’t come up with a lot of best practices for how to do this.  Anyone have any suggestions to share?

I know my son realizes I mean well, and that I’m his biggest (along with his dad) fan, but I need to model for him how you support someone without strings attached (e.g. I support you even when you’re struggling…especially when you’re struggling), encourage without having to voice my praise (clapping or a yahoo is fine during the game, any points I want to make can be saved for the car ride home). And maybe that’s it…a desire to share feedback real-time, versus seeing how things play out and providing more constructive input at a later time. It’s not easy. It takes practice. I’ve got some work to do.

Are there any other rowdy parents like me out there (willing to admit it)? Do you have a hard time being quiet and calm while watching your child participate in a competitive activity?