Image is of a parent and child in front of a set of outdoor stairs. The parent is kneeling in front of the child, who has a backpack on. Parents of transgender children often find themselves grieving the relationship they feel they missed out on after their child comes out.

Grieving the Relationship You Feel You Missed Out On

parent support Jun 10, 2024

One thing parents of transgender children often express after their child comes out is grief over the relationship they feel they missed out on with their child as the younger version of their authentic gender. They may feel regret for all the experiences they could have had with their child specific to that gender that they didn't get to have together.


For example, if a parent thinks they have a son and learns they have a daughter, they may wish they could have had tea parties together, played dress up, or gone for mani/pedis. If they think they have a daughter and learn they have a son, they may wish they could have played catch, taught them how to fish, or gone camping.


Even if they had a great parent/child relationship, they are grieving the loss of what could have been.


At the same time, none of these activities are specific to children. It's never too late to have new experiences with your child, and showing an interest in them as their new gender may help strengthen your relationship. However, you want to ensure your child doesn't feel you are trying to re-write their childhood experience.


A few years ago, I wrote a blog post about being asked to share about my son when he was little in a writing workshop. And when the instructor, who knew I was the parent of a transgender child, asked me to be honest about the first thing I thought, I replied that I didn't know my son when he was a child.


Obviously, that wasn't true, and you can read the post here to discover why it's hard for parents of transgender children to share childhood stories of their children. But in that instant, when asked to answer that question, my first thought was that when my son was a child, he was a little girl. That was what we all thought, including my son, but that doesn't mean he wasn't still the same person he is now.


It does mean, however, that we had different experiences because we thought he was a girl than we would have if we had known he was a boy. And I say that, but I don't know how much of it is true. My son loves arts and crafts, and I'm sure that wouldn't have changed. He loved to watch movies, read, and be outside, which would still be the same. He had a passion for cooking that has continued into adulthood, and the only thing that may have been different, and who can tell, may have been his love for swirly dresses and stacks of jewelry.


Our children are the same people now as they were when they were little, and they are likely still interested in the same things.


You may feel you missed out on your child's childhood, but how similar is your child now to their childhood?Your sports-loving child who played catch, went fishing, and was on all the sports teams is probably an athletic adult who likes to watch sports with her girlfriends and wouldn't mind going to a ballgame with her dad. Likewise, your child who loved to play dress up and have tea parties probably still enjoys a trip to the outlet stores and a good movie marathon with mom. You may feel you missed out, but does your child?


More importantly, we should remember that experiences don't have a gender, and anyone can do anything that makes them happy.


I have a niece who plays golf, two more nieces who play hockey, and a nephew who loves to paint his nails and play spa. When I was growing up, I had to fight to play soccer in my town because only boys played recreational soccer, and they didn't want girls on their team. I love that my nieces and nephews are growing up in a society that allows them to be themselves and chase their passions, whatever that looks like.


Have a conversation with your child. Ask them if they feel they missed out on the kind of childhood experiences they would have had if they had come out as a young child. If the answer is yes, find out what types of activities they would have enjoyed doing them most. Then, if it's appropriate and they are willing, make a plan to do them together.


Be prepared, however, for the fact that your child may be perfectly okay with how their childhood transpired. They may not feel that they missed out on anything, and those feelings are specific to you. In that case, you will have to work through your emotions alone. A good therapist can help you process these feelings.



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