I have a really tough question that I am not sure how to address. When is the best time to inform a child that their parent is transgendered? The children range from toddlers to teenagers, and they are completely unaware of the situation. The family has never addressed it with the kids, mainly because they do not know how to go about it. The parents maintain a friendly and cooperative relationship, though the marriage ended over 10 years ago. One parent thinks the children should never be told, while the other thinks they should be told at age 18. When and how should this information be revealed to the kids?
You’re right that this is a tough question. What’s particularly difficult is the lack of detail in the question regarding who wants to tell and who doesn’t. Let me start by asking some questions that need to be considered before moving forward with this discussion:
- By “transgendered”, do you mean that one of the parents has already commenced sex reassignment surgery or cross-hormone treatment? Or, do they just identify as a different sex and want to make a legal transition to a new gender? To clarify the difference, the American Psychiatric Association has developed an information sheet on gender dysphoria that you may consider via the link provided.
- Is the person affected feeling the urge to take this public, as in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender population, or is he/she content to manage it on their own in the privacy of his/her own home?
- What does the parent who wants it shared have to gain by sharing this information with the children?
- How would this information benefit or harm the children?
My recommendation is that both parents seek the help of a family counselor who can help each of them sort through their fears and desires as it relates to telling the children. If the purpose is doing what’s in the best interest of the children, then it’s worth spending the time with an objective third party trained in working with these issues sorting through the different scenarios and the impact of each on the children.
Each parent needs to understand the potential impact on the children, which could include shifting parental dynamics in unforeseen ways.
Chances are, the children, especially the older ones, already know or suspect something. If that’s the case, talking about it will only confirm what the children already know. Children are much more perceptive than we give them credit for. They could initially be relieved, angry, indifferent, etc. The parents need to be able to handle the roller coaster of emotions that the children will experience for quite some time.
Waiting until each child is 18 could also be problematic. This might unintentionally encourage additional secret keeping. The delivery of the message and the support the children receive afterwards are the two most important considerations. Again, having a quality and experienced therapist available to the children would be wise.
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.
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