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Support for Parent Whose Adult Child Identifies As Transgender

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How should we respond to our grown daughter who told us that she no longer identifies as a woman?

We don’t know if she’s tried to change her anatomy, but she has taken on a manly appearance with clothing and hairstyle. She also changed her name and insists that we use only masculine pronouns when referring to her. I’m devastated. Sometimes I’m so angry I could scream. Other times I just sit and cry. We love our daughter, but we don’t want the influence of transgenderism in our home (we still have younger kids with us).

 


ANSWER:

We’ll cover several thoughts in this Q&A, including:

But before saying anything else, we want you to know that our hearts go out to you. Our prayers are with you, and we’re privileged to come alongside you in your pain and confusion. The conflicting emotions you’re experiencing — crying one moment, angry the next — is a common and understandable reaction. Any loving parent in your position might feel similarly.

You also may be struggling with grief, the natural reaction that happens when we suffer loss — and you have lost something significant. Maybe it’s the image of and beliefs you had about your daughter. Maybe it’s your perception of yourselves as parents. Or maybe it’s your hope for grandchildren. Whatever the case, it’s important to identify and acknowledge the reality of these losses.

At some point, you’ll want to sit down and talk calmly with your daughter. But we know that won’t be easy because parents in your situation commonly want to react out of the anger, fear, or pain they feel. With that in mind, be aware that your conversations will probably be ongoing; don’t expect to resolve everything at once. You’ll also want to make room for continued tension and grief.

So the first thing to do? Take care of your hearts. Remember that you can only control your own choices and actions, not your daughter’s. Focus mostly on yourselves, and let Christ’s character guide your attitudes and approach.

Care for your own hearts

Before moving ahead to talk with your daughter, get support from people who have the maturity to walk with you in such a difficult season — a pastor, mentor, close friend, small group, or a Christian counselor you already see.

Reach out and dig deep

Many couples in similar situations don’t want to tell anyone what’s going on, which is understandable. But Christians make wiser decisions in the context of a grounded faith community — even if that connection is with just one other mature believer. If there’s no one who you’re willing to trust at this time, we can help you find a Christian counselor who’s well-informed about issues surrounding transgenderism.

Don’t be afraid to dig into research in the light of God’s truth and with the help of caring Christian friends. Turn to those who follow the full counsel of Scripture (the character of God and the larger picture of the whole Bible). And if you need help preparing to talk with your daughter, our article “Male and Female He Created Them” may be especially helpful.

(As an important side note, keep in mind that transgenderism and homosexuality are different. They often operate independently of one another. And in certain respects, transgenderism can be the deeper and more complicated issue — and have little or nothing to do with same-sex attractions or sexual behaviors.)

Remember: What’s happening isn’t about you

Above all, remind yourselves that what’s going on is not about you. If your adult daughter is drawing conclusions about her sexual identity, she’s old enough to think many independent thoughts and process many sources of input.

That said, it’s possible that your daughter might bring up legitimate concerns from the past. If there are issues related to your relationship for which you have responsibility, ask forgiveness. Then, take steps to make amends — with your daughter and any other people who may have been hurt by your attitudes and actions.

However, try not to blame yourself for your daughter’s transgender identity; the situation is much more complex than that. No good will come from trying to take responsibility for your daughter’s choices or to carry a heavy burden of false guilt and condemnation. In fact, that will prevent you from effectively showing her God’s love.

Also, do your best not to think that this situation is a threat to your image or reputation. Instead, concentrate on doing whatever it takes to find firm footing and get yourself healthy so that you can be there with your daughter in this moment. She needs you to demonstrate steady faith and calm integrity, perhaps now more than ever.

Talk with your daughter

When you feel ready, ask your daughter if she’d be willing to sit down and talk with both of you about the way she sees herself and what she’s told you. If she agrees, keep your focus on two overarching goals:

  • Maintain your relationship with your daughter.
  • Maintain a godly influence in her life.

Affirm your daughter

As you move forward (remember, this conversation will be ongoing), take the initiative to affirm your daughter. Make a sincere effort to connect with her at the heart level. Stay in relationship with her and let her know that nothing can ever make you stop loving her or remove her from God’s care.

In the process, stay unified as a couple as you address the situation; it’s important to demonstrate that the two of you are on the same page. And when you talk, use first-person words – I and we – instead of you-based language, which can easily be heard as controlling, directive, blaming, shaming, scolding, or self-righteous.

Author Jeff Johnston says, “One of the deepest questions in the human heart is this: If you know the worst about me, will you still love me? Affirm your child in your unconditional love for [her]. Let [her] know you care — whatever [she] struggles with. There is deep healing in receiving love and affirmation from you.”

For example, you could say, We’re glad you’ve shared this with us. We want to know what you’re going through, so we’re glad you’ve chosen to talk with us about this issue. We love you and will always be there for you no matter what.

Remind her that love doesn’t always mean agreeing

At the same time, remind your daughter that loving unconditionally doesn’t mean loving without concern — or that you’ll always agree with her. God loves us unconditionally, but He also cares deeply about what we do, what we say, and how we view ourselves.

Loving your daughter as a person created in God’s image and affirming the permanence of your relationship with her is separate from agreeing that her views and life decisions are morally good. In an adult relationship between parents and a grown son or daughter, it’s important to find a way to agree to disagree. That’s especially true when it comes to values and morality. Your unconditional love for your daughter doesn’t depend on agreeing in those areas.

Help your daughter talk it out, not act it out

As you talk with your daughter, ask her respectfully if you can make a request:

We know that you’re an adult and we can’t control your feelings and perceptions, or your choices. We just want to tell you how we’ve learned from experience that it’s always a good idea to go slow when making big life decisions.

That’s especially true when it comes to your sexuality and personal identity. So we want to suggest that you hit pause before you embrace a transgender identity based on what you’ve been experiencing. You owe it to yourself to filter out all the cultural and political noise on this subject and take an honest look at your options through the lens of your deepest values.

Stress the importance of taking a descriptive rather than a prescriptive approach. In other words, invite your daughter to talk it out instead of act it out.

Encourage her to express her feelings, wants, hopes, and fears without assigning them to any specific category or putting a label on herself. Suggest that she research the potentially harmful consequences of medical “solutions” like hormone therapy or sex “reassignment” surgery. And be sure to follow all this up by doing everything you can to help your daughter feel better about herself without labels.

How to handle names and pronouns

The question of whether to use a name and pronouns different from your daughter’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, though, the important thing is to preserve your connection with your daughter. In other words, put the relationship first.

Do your best not to make her integrity issue your integrity issue. Calling your daughter 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. Using a different name or pronouns in a limited way could help maintain a conversational connection for the sake of the larger, loving influence.

But if you feel that using such language violates your conscience, it might be a good idea to honestly and compassionately tell your daughter (truth with love). Sit down with her and explain your feelings as calmly and respectfully as possible. Say something like, You’ve had a long time to come to this conclusion about your sexual identity. Consider giving us the same amount of time to catch up. Please don’t expect us to change our perspective and feelings overnight.

At the same time, do what you can to slow things down. Ask your daughter if she’d be willing to work through the implications of her request together with you. Say, Our relationship with you matters too much to give you an impulsive answer. Then, be diligent in prayer and leave the outcome in God’s hands.

Does your daughter know Christ?

Another important consideration in all of this is your daughter’s personal belief system. Does she consider herself a Christian? Is Jesus her Savior and Lord? The answer to this question will have a significant impact on your conversations with her.

If she does think of herself as a believer, urge her to carefully examine her faith convictions and give them priority over everything else. Encourage her with the truth that there’s wisdom in giving greater weight to biblical values than to feelings.

You can end your conversations by saying, We want you to know that we will be reading and learning about this topic because we care about you. If you’re willing, maybe we could read and learn together.

Talk to younger siblings

When you’re ready to talk to other family members in your household about what’s happening, keep these points in mind:

  • Use age-appropriate language to tell younger children that their sister is going through a tough time.
  • Share details only on a need-to-know basis.
  • Acknowledge and empathize with your children’s emotional reactions. Each one may need different kinds of help to sort out their feelings.
  • Tell the kids that even though you’re committed to biblical standards of morality, you’ll never stop loving your daughter.
  • Ask the other kids to join you in treating their sister with love and respect, and in praying for her.

Where to find ongoing help

We can’t overemphasize the value of working with a professional counselor who has deep knowledge about the topic of transgenderism. Would you let us help?

We have a staff of trained family therapists who can give you sound advice and practical assistance. Call us for a free over-the-phone consultation. Our licensed or pastoral counselors would welcome the chance to talk with you in more detail. They can also suggest referrals to qualified counselors and Christian therapists in your area for ongoing support.

 

Resources

If a title is currently unavailable through Focus on the Family, we encourage you to use another retailer.

Understanding the Myths of Gender Identity and Transgenderism

The Journey Back to My True Identity

Transgender Resources

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