My sister-in-law now looks like a man, dresses like one, and goes by a masculine name. There’s a family gathering coming up that my wife and I want to attend, but I’m worried about how the influence of transgenderism will affect our children.
This is a delicate situation. You have good reason to be concerned about the potential impact on your kids, especially in view of our country’s changing attitudes toward sexuality. As a parent, you do have a responsibility to carefully consider who or what influences your children, and you’re wise to take that seriously.
At the same time, we think it would be good to keep up a positive influence and a solid Christian witness with your sister-in-law and the rest of your extended family. After all, she’s still a person created in God’s image and an object of His unfailing love.
How to love without compromising your values
As Christians living in a secular world, we always have to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. In the parenting context, this means figuring out how to protect your children physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually — while still keeping an open heart and showing Christ’s love to those who don’t necessarily share your convictions. How?
Remind yourselves of this important biblical truth: We are all sinners. There’s a good chance that you have other relatives who don’t believe as you do or who don’t measure up to Christian standards of behavior. Maybe someone in the family drinks too much. Or another can’t control his tongue. Or a loved one lives with her boyfriend. In each of these circumstances, the individual is not acting in obedience to God’s Word, and you have to decide how to respond to that choice.
If you’re still on speaking terms with your sister-in-law, consider calling her to discuss your concerns about the family reunion. Stay away from language that might come across as judgmental or condemning. Instead, try turning the focus on yourself. Talk honestly about your Christian values. Share your concerns as parents.
Tell your sister-in-law that you’re looking forward to seeing her, but make it clear that you feel like you’re between a rock and a hard place. It might be helpful to say something like, We care about you and sincerely want to continue our relationship with you. But at the same time, we’re still helping our children form their sexual values, and the path you’re taking makes that more complicated.
How to talk to your kids about a transgender-identified family member
In the meantime, prepare your kids to interact with your sister-in-law by having direct, age-appropriate discussions about sexuality at home. If they have questions, don’t be afraid to give them straightforward answers.
The best way to counteract negative outside influences is to model healthy attitudes toward sex in your own lives. When it comes to sex-related issues, you are the best and most effective teachers your children have.
Show them by your own example what it means for a husband and wife to cooperate and live together in harmony and peace. Kiss, hug, and openly demonstrate your affection for one another. Celebrate the differences between male and female by helping your boys and girls develop healthy masculine and feminine traits.
Then, when summer rolls around, you can head off to the big family gathering confident that you’ve done your homework. In this way, it’s possible that everybody there might benefit from your presence.
How to handle names and pronouns
The question of whether to use a name and pronouns different from your sister-in-law’s biological sex is difficult. This is one of those issues that doesn’t have a clear-cut biblical answer, and so every believer needs to be “fully convinced in his own mind” (Romans 14:5).
From our perspective, the important thing is to preserve your connection with your sister-in-law.
In other words, elevate the relationship above other considerations. Do your best not to make her integrity issue your integrity issue. Calling your sister-in-law by a male name and pronouns might be uncomfortable, but you might still choose to comply. Why? Because staying connected with her isn’t an endorsement of her decision.
We can’t say for sure what’s best given your family’s unique dynamics as well as your personal convictions. But using a different name or pronouns in a limited way could help maintain a conversational connection for the sake of the larger, loving influence.
What if you feel that you’re violating your own conscience by calling your sister-in-law by a male name and pronouns? Or feel that those actions confuse your kids?
Then you might feel there’s no other choice but to bear witness to the truth about her God-created design. In that case, difficult as it might be, it’s a good idea to tell your sister-in-law with compassion (truth with love). Then be diligent in prayer and leave the outcome in God’s hands.
You can express care and concern for your sister-in-law while also doing what you can to slow things down. Ask her if she’d be willing to journey with you to a place where you can work through the implications of the situation together. You can say something like, It’s obviously taken you a long time to come to this conclusion about your sexual identity. Consider giving us at least the same amount of time to catch up. Please don’t expect us to change our perspective and our feelings about you overnight.
Find support for yourselves
Would you like to talk more about your question? Our licensed or pastoral counselors would welcome the chance to hear your story and chat with you in more detail. Call us for a free over-the-phone consultation. They can also suggest referrals to qualified counselors and Christian therapists in your area.
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