I hear a lot about my trans son that he’s too young to know about gender. Maybe if he were older, it would make sense. But at this age, he just can’t understand these things.
But isn’t that precisely the reason WHY it seems so obvious that a child would know about this if only they were experiencing it first hand?
I consider myself a pretty progressive person and even I was taken back by my son’s exclamations of being a boy on the inside. It shook me to the core. I was fearful of his future, scared I had no idea what to do in this situation and it gave me just another worry about how I could fuck my kids up unintentionally just because there is no handbook for this parenting thing.
My son was never exposed to anyone that is trans on any level he would be aware of. Gender identity is not something we openly discussed in our home until it became something he was wrestling with.
I think this contributed to my son’s confusion in the beginning because for him, he was feeling very different and couldn’t quite figure out why.
The words he used to explain how he was feeling to me included “mom, did you know in your heart that you’re a girl? Because in my heart…. I feel like a BOY”. And, “mom can God make mistakes? Because I think God made me a girl and he was WRONG.”
He used to ask me questions before expressing he is trans that applied to textbook gender stereotypes. I would be painting my nails and he would come up to me and ask, “hey mom, can boys paint their nails too?” And at the time I never really considered any of these questions could have a deeper meaning.
I always just assumed it was general curiosity about the differences between boys and girls. I would just remind him that boys can do girl things and girls can do boy things. You don’t have to act or be a certain way because you are a girl.
Looking back, these situations speak even more to the fact that his feelings are VERY real. Because if he was hearing me at all, the message was always that you don’t have to be a boy to do BOY things. Yet, he still felt the urge to change himself. To BE someone else.
Research shows that during development children start to become aware of gender around 18 months to 2 years. This means they recognize that boys and girls are different. Physically they look different.
According to this research supported article in The Conversation,
In infancy, children will start to show a preference for gender specific toys. “Trucks are for boys” “Dolls are for girls”.
By the age of three kids will point out gender stereotypes and verbalize them. They can also associate with their own gender.
And by 4 most kids have a sense of and are comfortable with THEIR gender.
So at the age of 5, a child should most definitely be able to comfortably identify as either a boy or a girl (according to research). But what if they don’t?
What if your child is questioning their gender?
If a child is not sure, not comfortable they may express their gender confusion in different ways. Some kids experience gender dysphoria which is flagged by distress. They feel locked in a body that doesn’t belong to them.
This happens markedly during puberty, but can happen anytime, really, kids will show serious upset about their bodies or their expression of gender. To a point where it is causing serious mental or physical anguish (or both).
But some kids aren’t greatly distressed at all. Those kids are just ready to be someone else. And considering the science behind it, why, as parents, should we wait for our kids to get to a dangerous pubescent age where the potential for them to experience gender dysphoria increases significantly?
If we can save our kids from any discomfort, hurt, or harm… isn’t that our ultimate goal as parents?
Consider the changes being made at a young age for a child. Really, it is just words. Making some adjustments to our language to make sure we appropriately refer to our child as their preferred gender and possibly a name change. But other than that, as parents of very young trans kids, that’s about all. And that’s about all for a number of years.
The hope would be, at that point, we would have given ourselves and our children time to live as their true selves, and time to be sure. To let them experience life as the person they feel like on the inside matching the outside and have an opportunity to decide if there is more they would like to do about this, later… years later.
Basically, according to the pros at the Human Rights Campaign, we are allowing my child to be who he needs in this moment and in the meantime, we are looking for signs. Signs this is forever before we make any major decisions regarding his body and mind.
He needs to be consistent, persistent, and insistent. If he waivers, if he questions, if he goes back and forth between the two…. that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s NOT trans, but it could mean he’s non-binary or gender fluid, or… he got it wrong.
My son has shown me nothing but consistency and insistence since he’s expressed his true feelings to me that he be referred to, recognized as, and treated like he was born a boy.
If he faltered, I might have concerns. But even then, I don’t think that allowing him to live the way he wants to live (as a boy rather than the girl he was born as) is DAMAGING. If anything, the message being sent is that he is loved, he is accepted, and he’s allowed to be whoever he feels he truly is on the inside. He doesn’t need permission to be HIMSELF.
So do I think 5 is too young for a child to understand their gender? The short answer is, I don’t know. At this age and with my kids with ALL.THINGS. in general, I can’t say I’m 100% certain of anything. Ever.
But, as someone who is raising a transgender child but never questioned my own gender, I say no. The professionals say, no. If someone asks me how he could possible know and understand any of this at his age, I typically respond with “at what age did you realize that you were a girl (or a boy)?” And most people don’t have an answer for that because the truth is, they have NEVER questioned their gender. It always just was.
In some ways, I think my child is far more aware of himself than I am at the age of 34. And for that, I feel proud to have raised an assertive, self-aware, and confident little dude. Wouldn’t any parent be proud of that?
If this article resonated with you here are a few others of my experiences raising a young trans child that you may want to check out:
When I was a newly single parent trying to navigate how to handle life with kids, but without a partner, I remember getting really annoyed, and frankly hurt, when I would see women complaining on social media about being a “single parent” because their husband was on a fishing trip. Or a work trip. Or whatever. He was gone for a short time and suddenly they understood what it was like to be a “single mom”.
But they didn’t. Their situation was temporary. Their partner is coming back (eventually). As a single mom, your situation is forever.
Or maybe not.
Maybe, sometime in the future, you will find someone new to share your life with. And then what? Are you not a “single mom” anymore?
Once I found a new partner and things started getting serious (meeting the kids, living together, and eventually engaged) I had been told by a handful of people that I should stop defining myself as a “single parent” as if I’m alone. I’m not a single parent anymore. I have someone.
And I get it. I understand someone who is TRULY single being annoyed by someone like me. A not-actually-single-single-mom. I would venture to guess that had I come across this situation during my new singleton life, I probably would have been vexed by someone bickering about being a single mom with a partner to share their life with.
But I am here to say, just because you are not “single” anymore, doesn’t mean you’re not exactly living like a single mom anymore either. Maybe just a different breed of single mom.
And here’s why…
I spent the better part of a year alone with my kids, working on my marriage (but apart) and then realizing it was ending, and going from having my kids all the time to most of the time to all of the time again.
I did the daily grind of ALL.THINGS.KIDS. every day, all day.
And then I met someone.
And eventually it moved to the next level. And things are great.
(Side note: Blending families, especially when you have kids from divorce, kids who have experienced a parent’s addiction and mental illness, kids who are already annoyed with their blood siblings and now have more kids around A LOT, is really fucking hard. It’s almost (dare I say) harder than keeping a marriage together when you’ve built your life, your family, together. But the difference is, now you have had the experience of hell that goes with breaking up your family. And so you’re either going to put in the work to make it last and be beneficial for everyone involved. Or you’re not.)
But regardless of how much work you put in or how “normal” you try to make your family, it’s just not the same. And it never will be.
And here is where I say, being in a new relationship doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not a single mom anymore. In some situations you might be more comfortable, you might have help, but in almost all cases you will never share the same type of relationship you had before, especially when it comes to your kids.
You can love someone’s kids as much as your own and they can love yours just the same, but your experiences with your kids that started from the first positive pee-stick aren’t shared like they were with someone else.
Your history with this new person starts years later. And eventually, the goal would get to a point where all of those “before” experiences are water under the bridge. But it’s going to be awhile before you get there.
And despite their ability and desire to help, there are just some things that they simply can’t do (or your kids won’t allow them to) that your previous spouse was able to step in and be a part of.
My kids are young, their needs are still ever draining on a parent. I still wipe butts, give baths, cut food into little bite sized pieces, make snacks, tie shoes, get them dressed, open juice boxes, (etc, etc, etc….)
Some of these things, sure, my partner can help with. But so could one of my friends if I needed it that bad, when I was single. Other things? Even if he wanted to, he just can’t.
Any sort of major parenting decisions we weigh as a team, yet…. he’s not their dad. He wasn’t there from the beginning and so oftentimes I find myself doing more explaining than discussing.
He can’t give my kids baths, tuck them in, kiss their boo-boos or do my daughter’s hair. They won’t allow him to. It might be never that he is the someone they feel comfortable with confiding in, so the burden of all of the heavy stuff weighs solely on me. Maybe in time that will change, but for now, it’s mine to bear.
Financially, his job in this family wasn’t to come in and support me and my kids. That’s my job. And they have their own dad. But what if their dad is not contributing like an active and responsible parent? It’s not his responsibility to pick up the slack, that load falls on me too.
If my kid does something I find super quirky and cute, I’ll share it with him. But the reaction I get isn’t the same because he wasn’t there years ago when my older child did something similar and we laughed and laughed.
And the moments that my kids have that used to be endearing reminders of their father, now are terrifying indicators that his genes are still alive and strong within them.
If one of my kids gets sick I’m the one who has to call in to work, not him.
If there are conferences, meetings at school, doctor’s appointments, dentist appointments, play dates to be made, birthday parties to plan… he will join in the fun, but he’s not taking care of those things for my children, and he shouldn’t have to. But that doesn’t mean having him around makes my life “easier” as I’ve been told it should.
The discipline is my job, and so is the explosive reaction I get if/when that discipline is met by an angry child. As much as he would like to step in and help sometimes, ultimately, it’s not his place.
So despite not technically being a “single mom” anymore, I find myself still feeling overwhelmed at times. Wishing I could get some help. Some support. And what’s strange is I have it, but it comes in a different form and not one I’m entirely used to (yet).
People don’t seem to understand that just because you have another adult in the house, all of your struggles and responsibilities as a single parent don’t vanish.
Everyone feels and experiences their situations differently. I am starting to think I shouldn’t have been so quick to feel stabby and wronged by the mom claiming to understand my life as a single mom because her husband was absent for a weekend on a business trip. Maybe she was feeling really alone.
Being a single mom, completely raising my kids ALONE was probably the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. Having someone around definitely helps make the days go by faster. I feel less overwhelmed, less tired, less lonely than I did when I was doing this thing all by myself.
I refuse to be a sanctimonious mom that claims I have the same life as a true single mom that is raising her kids completely solo. I’m not. At least not anymore. But as a mom who has done that before and lived to tell about it, I gotta be honest… the way I’m living now with a new partner is (some days) not that far off. Not yet. Maybe not ever.
Getting divorced sucks. It’s an all-around bad time for anyone that has to go through the ugly experience of court, lawyers, money talk, and the excruciating idea of dividing up time with your kids.
The legal jargon, structure, and rigidity of it alone is enough to make you sick. And that doesn’t include the emotional distress.
Divorcing someone you once loved hurts. Divorcing someone you no longer love because they are madly in love with themselves is in a whole new realm of torment. It’s debilitating, mind-blowing, crippling at times.
Any person with any empathy at all knows that literally no one wins in a divorce. Even the most amicable divorce brings hurt, grief, and pain. Your life as you know it is vastly different. Your home, your daily routine, EVERYTHING about your existence utterly changes. This is not a win in anyone’s book, except the narcissist.
Any potential threat to the narcissist’s self-esteem is perceived as a highly personal attack, even if your approach is civil. And to a narcissist, divorce is a sign of weakness, of failure. The ultimate ego bruiser.
Once the papers are filed, everything becomes a game to be won to the narcissist. And only they get to decide when it’s over. Every move they make is a calculated one and no issue is too ludicrous or too minute to raise hell over.
Nothing is off limits when the narcissist’s self-image is at stake. He will literally do whatever it takes to maintain the façade of the injured party, without shame or remorse. Even if it means sharing private, intimate details of your lives, or making you look like an unstable and incapable parent. If it were up to the narcissist, you would have no rights as a parent (or a human being, if they had it their way) at all. They may proclaim an intention of peace and amicability, but their goal is, without a doubt, to win.
Money unquestionably becomes insignificant. They will drain your accounts and any equity you might share, and when they are done they will move on to family and friends they can exploit for help because they can’t back down. Peace doesn’t fuel the narcissist.
In the end, you will have collectively wasted 70k fighting over an old, broken microwave.
And that’s just the beginning.
The narcissist will take every last ounce of energy they think you might have left and drag it through the mud, depicting you as a complete piece of shit. Be vigilant. Because no matter how the cards fall, this (whatever *this* is) is going to be your fault.
They will take every single thing you do and twist it into something it’s not just to paint a bigger picture of the monster they want to portray you as. Because surrender without complete destruction is just not an option for the narcissist.
And even though it’s a battle to the death of your sanity, it really doesn’t matter in the end if they actually win what they are fighting for. They have a plan to explain that away too. It won’t be because of their shotty tactics or inappropriateness. It will be because of the unjust court system, an unfair judge, or a “bad” lawyer. They will have a thought out and exceptionally detailed list of the “wrong-doings” that happened to them because a narcissist never accepts blame or responsibility. He’d rather take everyone he’s ever loved down with him than show any sign of feebleness or fault.
It won’t feel like a “win” to you either after the battle you’ve just fought to get out of a living hell. Even if you do walk away the “victor” in this relentless personal encounter with psychological warfare, you will have convinced yourself you don’t deserve it, because all along the narcissist has been telling you so.
And he’s not done yet.
Narcissists are amazing, manipulative story tellers. And they will tell their stories to anyone that will listen. Long after the show is over they will continue to spread their elaborate lies until they are fulfilled with enough sympathy or applause to fuel their vainness.
Lies and deceit are their playbook. You find yourself documenting EVERY.SINGLE.INTERACTION to back up the absurdity that’s become your reality because you’re sure no one will believe you when you tell them. And the narcissist has convinced you that you’re crazy, so you need reassurance. Someone to agree that this is not how things should be. Ever.
It’s really hard to talk to someone who can’t reason with logic. You continuously try to show them how out of control the entire situation is, but you’re wasting your breath. It’s useless. And to other people, it looks as though you’ve given up, or given in, but in reality, you’re just trying hard to save your sanity on the brink of what seems like a never-ending pandemonium.
Trying to stay quiet and be the “rational” one while all of this is going on might be harder than divorce itself. Because he will intentionally try to push you over the edge so he can justify his actions and build evidence to back up the picture he’s painted of you along the way.
The smallest lull in chaos might give you hope. You yearn so badly for things to calm down, finally get better. However, it’s an unfortunate truth that with a narcissist, things will never not be in complete mayhem because this is the bane of their existence. Without havoc, they can’t function. Can’t exist.
If they find that things have settled or that they have been “found out” they will seek out someone new to disrupt and dominate. Because they thrive on it.
Divorce is terrible. Nobody gets married thinking that one day this will all come to an end. It hurts enough all on its own. But when you’re divorcing a narcissist, hurt doesn’t even begin to describe it. It’s unimaginable, humiliating, and exhausting.
They are so in love with themselves that they simply can’t fathom the fact that someone doesn’t feel the same. The only way to come to terms with this is to completely self-destruct and carry their loved ones through the ruins. No matter the cost.
Divorcing a narcissist made up the worst year of my life, hands down. But it has to be said, I would do it all over again after truly seeing what he was capable of. I just might do things a little differently this time around.
When I was a little girl I had a dream. A dream of growing up and being free of the know-it-all but know-nothing-at-all dorky, embarrassing parents of my own. Little did I know I was on my way to becoming them….
I had visions of never having to share any of my shit with anyone ever again, playing whatever song I wanted in the car, or putting whatever the hell I wanted on the TV because I was a damn adult and I could do what I want. When I want.
It’s almost endearing to think how wrong I was.
If someone told me years ago I would be arguing with a toddler about how to put a sock on (I’m doing it all wrong, apparently). I would have laughed in their face. Adults have it all under control.
So many thing I did NOT see coming as an adolescent with aspirations as far as the eye can see. Such an idiot. The list of experiences with children that have hit me like a torrential downpour on a sunny day are literally endless and growing by the millisecond. You can still feel the sun on your skin but you’re suddenly soaking wet and wonder, “where the fuck did that come from??”
That’s basically the narrative of my life now.
If I would have been warned that no matter how much I protested, I would listen to the Frozen soundtrack OVER AND OVER AND OVER until my ears were bleeding just because it was a more pleasant emotional assault than screaming children, I would have said NO WAY. Not in my car.
Paw Patrol is the new Jersey Shore, in my house. I can sing the lyrics to pretty much every children’s animated show just by hearing the first note. And don’t even get me started on the viral shark family. I’m ready to do my own rendition including homicidal shark, no fucks given shark, and perpetually exhausted shark.
Who would have thought that as an adult my new life motto’s would be #getyourshoeson #thisisMINEDAMMIT #becauseIsaidso or #areyoukiddingme?
I quit a job as a server at a restaurant shortly after I found out I was pregnant with my first. I did a whole Half Baked eff-you exit pointing fingers and cursing the staff on my way out the door because I was about to be a mom and EVERYTHING would be different now.
The owners must have felt so smug with their little kids and parenting experience thinking “God bless her, she really has no clue”. I didn’t. Here we are, years later, and I’m an order taker, short-order cook, AND bus boy and I do it all for disdain. Or hugs…. If I’m lucky.
Getting anywhere on time is like a unicorn sighting. There is absolutely no speed my kids are capable of moving in other than sloth. Even on a good day when the sock isn’t tickling their foot and they were able to locate BOTH shoes quickly, it’s still an episode of Frazier (slow, boring, mildly humorous) getting to the car.
Showering used to be something I looked forward to. My daily release where I could feel renewed, fresh, clean. If I chose not to shower it was because I was being progressive and “hip”.
Not because I was unable to lock my kids into an episode of some mind-numbing cartoon long enough. Or I hadn’t put thought into charging the tablet to a percentage that would “babysit” my kids until I finished.
Now I have to plan my showers. If there is any part of my life that resembles a successful business executive, it is the way I schedule a shower. And that’s about it.
“Bedtime” used to happen for me after a night of dinner and drinks with friends. I would reminisce about the hilarious events that had unfolded while I brushed my teeth and set my alarm. Now, I haven’t used an alarm in eight years and doubt I’ll need one anytime soon considering my little refusers-of-sleep are up at the ass crack of dawn (or before) every.friggin.morning.
This includes the weekend. The time when I swore as a teenager when I “grew up” I would mosey around the house all day and lay in pajamas on rerun binges if I chose to, because adults have that option without someone hounding them to get up do something productive. Ha! Yeah, right. It’s almost cute how stupid I was in my visions of the future.
Bedtime has become a complete shit show charade of song and dance, stories, and endless excuses as to why it’s not that “time” yet. Begging for snacks and back rubs while someone sobs (usually me, sometimes them) because we are all exhausted and if they don’t go to bed soon I’M GOING TO LOSE MY SHIT.
Parenting is like a domestic partnership. Only you didn’t walk into it agreeing to share anything and everything from this day forth, till death do you part. You are forced to or all hell breaks loose.
This includes your belongings, your money, AND your sanity. What’s yours is theirs and what’s theirs is theirs. Forever and ever, Amen.
Honestly, I love my kids with every ounce of my being. I would be lost and devastated if anything changed in our family. But there are days where I wonder how I keep it all together. And that’s what chocolate and wine are for. Cheers.
You know that asshole. The one that thinks the rules of the pickup line don’t apply to her. The woman who doesn’t socialize and chat or catch up with other parents while waiting for the bell. The mom that doesn’t allow her kids to stay after school and play at the park with their friends.
The one who’s always in a hurry. The one who pulls in where you’re not supposed to and who’s kids are running and jumping into a moving vehicle because she didn’t get there on time to actually find a parking spot. Yeah, that asshole. Guilty as charged.
I’m the mom everyone hates at pickup, and frankly, I don’t even care. I have overheard myself being referred to as the “van lady” (as if there aren’t about 79 “van ladies” at an elementary school dismissal), and it was most definitely not a term of endearment.
But now that I have revealed myself, let me explain before everyone comes to my house with pitchforks and burns me at the stake. Because inside the “van lady’s” car, there was a story.
When my son started school I had three kids aged 5, 2, and 1. You know, the really “fun” ages. The ones where no one is sleeping, and one is always whining because they are hungry, tired, their sock seam is tickling their foot, or someone won’t stop “copying them”.
The same year my oldest began Kindergarten, my middle child started preschool and he was the type of child we all (as parents) hope we don’t have when we send them off to school. The child that wails and clings to your leg, that is in hysterics when you have to forcibly hand them over to a new teacher they barely know. The one you hear crying for you after the traumatizing hand-off while you sit in the hallway and pray they will get over this so you can leave and they can actually enjoy their time in school.
I would drop my son off at kindergarten and spend the ride to preschool fielding all of the fake illnesses by my very intelligent and manipulative preschooler in an attempt to stay home and then prep that child repeatedly that we were going, this was happening, and it was going to be okay.
But that wasn’t even the tip of the iceberg that was our home life at the time.
This was also around the period my marriage was falling apart. My ex was no longer living in the house and his absence was starting to spread to all aspects of our family lives. So… I’ll just say it, I was depressed. Life sucked.
I didn’t know it at the time, because I was so focused on taking each day at a time, but I was learning how to be a single mom.
During this time, our lives were upside down. Every day was a new struggle and between regular kid chaos there was court, attorneys, finances to figure out, and confused and sad kids to console. Friends and family that wanted in on the drama or explanations as to why things were coming to an end.
And me, living in hell with a soon-to-be ex who was sick and emotionally unwell. Spreading rumors like wildfire about my personal life to any and all that would listen while simultaneously harassing me as if constant contact and mental abuse and manipulation would force me into submission. It was an exhausting cycle and if I’m being honest, there were many late nights crying, had by all.
School pickup came every day faster than I expected. I spent the day trying to get affairs in order so I could put my focus on my kids when they came home from school without (hopefully) having to deal with my overwhelming emotions or any legalities.
I would try to get all the tears out while they were gone so I could plaster a smile on my face and pretend everything was okay for the rest of the day, and the school hours would fly by. I would look at the clock, run out the door, grab my kids and rush to do something, anything to keep all of our minds off of what had been going on at home. And then, we would go home to sleep and do it all again the next day.
I wish it were socially acceptable for me to unleash and explain to the parents that referred to me as the “van lady” that my life was an absolute shit show. That me and my kids had cried ourselves to sleep the night before because we were all hurting, struggling, and trying to come to terms with a completely new life none of us had expected. That trying to explain addiction and divorce to a child is damn near impossible, and incredibly heartbreaking.
We had been late because we woke up many times in the night scared, alone, and cuddled up together to fall back asleep. I had barely slept at all some nights because I was the only grown-up in the house and I had trouble killing a spider, who was going to protect us if someone broke in?
I wish I could explain that we were all trying. We all wanted so badly that year to just be “normal”, whatever the hell that is. Had it been reasonable to declare to the world what we had going on inside the “van” I would have shared that we were lonely. We were lost. That my poor kids’ mom was depressed, their dad was struggling with an addiction and their lives had been turned upside down. Divorce was a big deal, but for my family, it wasn’t just separate houses.
I am now trying to strike up conversation with parents during school pickup that have been builing relationships for years. Making “mom friends” is difficult enough as it is, but being the “van mom” and coming out of the woodwork trying to show everyone “hey look at us! I swear we are normal we just had a bad couple of years!” is just freakin pathetic.
Yet, here I am. Smile on my face, abiding by the rules of the pickup line and trying to get there early intentionally so that I can ACTUALLY interact with other parents. I’m just hoping by the end of the year when people are gossiping about me it’s because I’m socially awkward and say inappropriate things at the worst possible times. Legit complaints. And hopefully they will start calling me the “crazy lady” instead of the “van lady”. That’s got a better ring to it anyways, dontcha think?