I cried for most of the cold, January day when my son Leo came out as transgender.
I didn’t know what I was crying about, exactly. At that time, I didn’t what it meant for Leo to be transgender. It was a word I barely understood and would have to look up to even comprehend what Leo’s Facebook post was about. All I knew was that something had changed. Life as I knew it when I woke that morning, before I read that post, was over.
I found myself crying often in those first days, weeks, and months. I cried in the shower and in my car as I drove to and from work. Sometimes it was a Facebook “On This Day” memory that would trigger the sadness. Other times it was a random song on the radio. Often it was for no reason that I could make sense of. The tears just flowed until they stopped.
In early May I found myself sitting in my therapists office talking about Mother’s Day. For the first time in twenty-two years I was feeling anxious about the upcoming holiday. I wasn’t really in the mood for celebrating and I didn’t know how to approach the day.
My role as mother hadn’t changed, but I was no longer the mother of a son and a daughter and I was still feeling some way about that.
I tried to explain all this to my therapist. She patiently listened to me ramble on and on until I felt I was talking in circles. Then, she looked at me and said, “What you are feeling is grief.” I looked away from her and stared out her window across the parking lot at the top of the nearest tree. I felt my voice catch in my throat as I replied. “I don’t understand how that’s possible. No one has died.” The tears poured down my face before I finished speaking.
I may not have understood it rationally in that moment, but my body was miles ahead of me. As we sat and talked it through, I began to see how the events of the previous four months made sense under the umbrella of grief.
Grief is about endings, which I’ve written about here, and as I moved through that first year and the next, I learned where that grief stemmed from and how to name it.
The first thing you have to do to move forward is to name what you are grieving.
For me, it was the hopes and dreams I had of having a daughter. Being the only girl in a family of five, I first grieved the loss of having a sister. Then, I dreamed of having a daughter one day. When my son came out as transgender, I had to grieve that dream and the hopes and dreams that came along with it.
It’s not easy to name what you are grieving right away, nor is it easy to let go of those hopes and dreams. It’s a process and it takes time. In the meantime, you can still support your child by loving them the way you always have, and using their new name and pronouns. By helping them to choose a new wardrobe. By learning what you can about what it means to be a transgender person.
In the meantime, you also need to care for yourself. That means working through your emotions and allowing yourself to feel whatever it is that you are feeling.
The best way to do this is away from your child.
It may mean that you need to leave the house when you are feeling emotional. Go for a walk or take a drive. If you are under the care of a trained professional, you may to increase your appointments for a period of time.
If it is not possible to leave your house, you may need to go into another room. Or turn your back and busy yourself with a task until you recover. I found that doing dishes was helpful because the sound of the water helps to mask any noise you might make while crying. The shower is a good place to release emotions because you are alone with the door closed and have the sound of the water to cover your crying.
Sometimes, the tears just come. A song comes on the radio or a TV commercial tugs as your heart strings. What do you do in those instances? Let the emotions flow, and don’t apologize for them. No one needs to know what is making you sad. And if your child asks, you can always say it was the song or the commercial that made you sad. You shouldn’t grieve in front of your child. This puts a burden on them that they don’t need to carry.
If your child no longer lives at home, you do not need to share with them how you are feeling.
They may ask you, as they try to gauge how coming out has impacted you. The struggles you are going through and the emotions you are experiencing are part of your journey, not theirs. The important thing to do is to not lie to your child. You can tell them you are working through some things right now. Or that you have been learning what it means to be transgender so you can better support them. You could tell them that you are still processing how you feel and are taking one day at a time (notice how that doesn’t give away a whole lot but still answers the question).
What you want to avoid saying are things like it’s really hard and I’m struggling. Or I’m sad all the time. You don’t want to tell them that you miss having a son or a daughter. While all of those things may be exactly how you are feeling, that puts a lot of undue weight on your child. Now you’ve taken your pain and turned it into guilt that your child shouldn’t have to carry. They haven’t done anything wrong by coming out as transgender and they shouldn’t feel guilty about it.
If you are having a hard time with your emotions, reach out to someone who can help you. Maybe it’s a fiend or a loved one. Or maybe it’s a trained professional who can work with you to move forward. They can help support you so that you can support your child.