As our children grow into the people they will be, so too do we grow into the parents we become. Alexis Barad-Cutler, the founder of Not Safe For Mom Group, found herself in that very situation when her youngest child, Gavi, expressed the need to be the “real Gavi” at 3-years-old.
In this episode Alexis shares her raw and powerful story of leaning in and learning how to support her gender noncomforming child in a way that makes them feel seen, accepted and loved. Whether you are finding yourself questioning how best to support your child through any type of adversity or you’re just curious to learn more about the topic of gender identity and how it can present in children, this is an episode centered on the universally relatable truth of one parent’s love.
Resources from the episode:
A new study shows that gender-non-comforming kids rarely change their minds about their identities (via The New York Times).
Because we know what it’s like to be the parent of a gender noncomforming kid and how important it is to nurture it. Picturing the opposite, like we were both crying because we’re like, God, can you imagine if we didn’t let Gavi be themselves? Like all the light would be gone.
Dr. Sarah (00:23):
This is our first podcast episode in the month of June. And I want to kick off Pride month by welcoming back a very special guest. Alexis Barad-Cutler is a journalist community builder and the founder of Not Safe For Mom Group. But beyond that, she’s a mom of two who like all moms just wants the best for her children. Alexis is here to share her personal journey, parenting a child who identifies as non-binary and has from a very early age. I hope her honest and powerful story can help other parents who may be going through something similar with their own child and to shine a light on a subject that many still struggle to fully understand. This is the account of one mother’s love. And while this story is hers and hers alone, the message of accepting and loving your child exactly as they are, is a universal principle. We can all strive to achieve in our parenting.
Dr. Sarah (01:17):
Hi, I’m Dr. Sarah Bren, a clinical psychologist and mom of two in this podcast. I’ve taken all of my clinical experience, current research on brain science and child psychology and the insights I’ve gained on my own parenting journey and distilled everything down into easy to understand and actionable parenting insights. So you can tune out the noise and tune into your own authentic parenting voice with confidence and calm. This is Securely Attached.
Dr. Sarah (01:50):
Hi Alexis. It’s so good to see you. I’m so happy. You’re here.
It’s so nice to see you again.
Dr. Sarah (01:55):
Thanks for coming back on.
Thanks for having me.
Dr. Sarah (01:58):
Yeah. how you doing?
Like slightly not okay.
Dr. Sarah (02:04):
Yeah. My littlest one is turning turned eight today. So I’m just like in a, like I’m all in my feelings. I went through all the pictures and the videos of them as a baby. And it was oh, it’s just crazy. It goes by so fast.
Dr. Sarah (02:20):
Yeah. Well happy birthday to them.
Dr. Sarah (02:24):
Oh, I wanna give you a hug through the screen right now. I know that feeling.
It’s hard. Yeah. Yeah. It just, you know, goes by so slow and then it goes by in a second. And next thing you know, they’re like saying the funniest things that, like, sound adult coming out of their mouths.
Dr. Sarah (02:41):
Yeah. My daughter just turned three last week while we all had COVID. It was the worst birthday ever. I feel so bad for her.
Oh, a COVID birthday.
Dr. Sarah (02:49):
We’re gonna redo it. But, she, yeah, I’m like, and I know three is different than eight, but it’s, it’s all relative. Right. You’re always looking at where they are now versus where they just were. And you’re like, when, when did that happen? Like she was 10 months old when the pandemic started. And in some ways I kind of feel like she’s still a baby and she’s not at all.
It’s like, you didn’t have those markers, the landmarks to, you know, mark the passage of time. So it just kind of happened in a continuum on the, you know, during COVID. So it must be so hard with the babies, the COVID babies that are now COVID toddlers.
Dr. Sarah (03:28):
Yeah. It’s surreal.
Yeah. Cuz like when, when I was a mom to a baby turning, you know, one, two and three, there were, I was just looking through all my pictures and there are milestones of every year, you know, it’s like, here’s the holiday picture? Here’s the springtime picture. Like we kind of know what to capture so that we would be able to look back on it. But during COVID there was like nothing, there was no family, barbecue, you know, the typical birthdays it was it must be a strange like time warp for you.
Dr. Sarah (04:03):
It really feels, it feels like warp in that it’s like sometimes super extra slow and then sometimes super extra sped up. And it’s all kind of a blur. It feels like a, I don’t know, I don’t know quantum physics, but I imagine there’s an explanation for it somewhere in that.
The parallel universe.
Dr. Sarah (04:22):
Where there isn’t COVID and people are just having regular life.
Dr. Sarah (04:26):
Is that exist somewhere? Wouldn’t that be, whoa, mind melt.
Gavi said, my littlest one, said to me, Well you just don’t know what’s happening outside of our universe. There could be a whole other universe. And I was like, oh God. Yeah, that’s true. I’m so myopic.
Dr. Sarah (04:48):
So you’re here in the podcast today to talk a little bit about Gavi.
Yes. I would love to talk about Gavi, especially since it’s their birthday. And I can do this episode in honor of that.
Dr. Sarah (05:01):
Yeah. Happy birthday Gavi.
Thank you. Happy birthday to moms also.
Dr. Sarah (05:06):
On the birthday it’s like you wake up and you think about where was I at this moment eight years ago? Where was I at this moment? And 8:30 is when they were born. So I just kept on like looking at the clock waiting. I’m like up. And this is when I had my stomach cut open.
Dr. Sarah (05:23):
Yeah. But I I’ve wanted to come on here today to to talk about my one lived experience, which is not, everyone’s lived experience and I am not an expert in gender identity. I am only the somewhat expert in my child’s gender identity, but I still think that it helps for me to share the story so that other parents can have more of a curiosity about their children and the messages that their children are trying to bring to them. And then also have an understanding for the people in their life who are gender noncomforming.
Dr. Sarah (06:06):
Cause we probably have more than we realize.
Yeah. Oh for sure.
Dr. Sarah (06:11):
In our lives.
Yes. Yes. There’s a lot of people that just haven’t that weren’t allowed to express their identities or just didn’t feel like it would be okay. And I know my sister is a therapist for queer community and also the polyamorous community. So, you know, marginalized folks. And what I learned from her is, I mean, I learned so much she’s 26. So you know, the young people they teach you and she really helped me understand what was going on with Gavi. Because she was showing her identity too, like in her twenties and her whole life, she had been just like this really feminine little girl, quiet, shy. And then in her twenties, like realized she wanted to be more androgynous realized she was attracted to women and men. And just had this more expansive view of herself that she’s, she would’ve been terrified to have as a younger person living in my family, which was not open to that at all. So I feel like, you know, that generation is so lucky because they’re given, they’re given the, the possibility that maybe things aren’t what you thought this whole time, or maybe you had heard this voice in your head that you couldn’t acknowledge it, but now there’s a little bit more openness in society and the world for gender noncomforming folks. And yeah, I think that we’ll see more and more of this and it’s not because our generation of parents are permissive and like trying to be weird. It’s just, that’s how people are. And they’re finally feeling okay in themselves to express it.
Dr. Sarah (08:04):
Yes. I think that’s such a really important point because I think that’s a really big misconception that people have because we are seeing more kids talking about this now. And so a lot of people see that and say, it’s just a kid thing right now. It’s just a fad. It’s just the trend. And that’s not to say that every child who talks about it or thinks about it or is curious about it is going to ultimately identify as gender nonconforming. But I think that it’s very, very true that it’s not because there’s more of it right now. It’s because there’s always been, and now it’s safe to express.
Exactly. There was a study that I, I will not be able to quote like exactly. But recently I saw that there, it was the first scientific study where they tracked kids who were gender noncomforming from the ages of three to maybe like nine. And in almost every case, a person who had, you know, expressed a, you know, non-binary identity or trans identity as a child maintained that identity like six years after that. So it wasn’t, you know, oh, this is a phase it’s like, they know who they are, people know who they are and are usually consistent once they’ve made that I guess, announcement to the world or themselves even.
Dr. Sarah (09:41):
Yeah. I’ll try to find a link to that article. You, you have it, right. I can put it in the show notes because I think it’s very important to actually let people read this stuff for themselves. So people feel like they’re informed consumers of this information because how often do you get, like, when you’re like sitting in a conversation with somebody about anything and you’re like, I know this isn’t, I know that I have opinions about this, but it always feels so much more, I feel so much more confident and assured in my, in my beliefs, when I actually can like site sources. And feel like there’s a much more efficient or not efficient, but effective conversation that comes out of that. So for people who wanna educate themselves about what the science is showing us there are really good resources. And we can link some in the show notes.
Yeah. That’d be awesome.
Dr. Sarah (10:29):
But so tell us a little bit about Gavi.
Okay. they are okay. So when they were little, they only expressed an interest in what people would say are girl things. And you know, my, their brother had all the, you know, the trucks and and you know, superhero figures and those kinds of stuff. But Gavi did not gravitate towards that at all. And loved dolls and baby carriages. And I didn’t really think anything of it like that. It was weird. I just was like, we are told to play with certain gendered items. And so that’s what we play with. But they would, they were exposed to things in preschool, you know, the baby corner the dress up corner and that’s, that’s what they wanted to do. But I really like, I didn’t know anything about, I don’t even know if I knew the word non-binary I just was like, okay, this is what they like so I’m gonna, as a mother, you want your kid to be happy, right? So like, you want Barbies instead of trucks I’ll get you Barbies. And but it was pretty consistent. It was like Barbies and my little ponies and art and sparkles and bows, you know, like all that stuff. But the thing about Gavi is like a lot of people don’t once they meet Gavi, they don’t question who they are because they’re just they’re so themselves, they’re so confident. Like I wish I had the confidence of my child, just this assuredness of knowing who they are and like having a presence in a room everybody’s friends with them, you know, they’re just really friendly and happy. And opinionated. So I gave you like a little bit, a dip into the story, but I don’t wanna go too far into the history yet, but who they are now is an expressive just like fun to know magical creature.
Dr. Sarah (12:52):
And do you, like, at what point did you feel like there’s, there’s something that has to be addressed here? There’s something that either is going to become an issue for them. If it’s not made open and safe, if people are gonna start to be confused and give them questions that I wanna protect them from or help them process, like how much did you think about Gavi in relationship to their environment?
Oh yeah. Well, okay. So I live in Brooklyn and people are like, oh, Brooklyn, it must be so accepting. But like I live in Brooklyn Heights, you know? And it’s, it’s kind of like the upper west side, you know. People are open and liberal, but they’re still, it’s not like there are kids running around in dresses all over the place and it’s not an extremely diverse, it’s a place it’s mainly white people. And so when Gavi, the thing that happened first was that they wanted me to make everything into a dress and we didn’t have any dresses in the house. We just had scarves, you know, the little baby scarves that you like throw in front of their faces and, and they’d say, okay, give me a dress, I’m a queen. You know, there’s a lot of Frozen. And my husband was kind of like, we’re not buying Gavi a dress. And I was like, okay I guess not then. So, you know, that first push was like internally, like in the family. And I mean, my husband has come like a huge, like, he’s the biggest defender of Gavi now. But at the time we both really weren’t educated. And so I didn’t buy any dresses, but they were persistent. Gavi was persistent about asking me to make them into a queen and make them draw them with long hair and draw the real Gavi they would say. And I’d say, what’s the real Gavi. And they’d say, well, they have long, well, at the time the pronouns were, he has long hair and he’s wearing a dress and he has a crown. And so, you know, those were some early markers, but I wasn’t concerned until they wanted to start dressing that way outside of the house.
Dr. Sarah (15:09):
And how old was Gavi when, when they were saying the real Gavi, for example?
Like three, three or four. Yeah. The real Gavi was always this version of Gavi. That was a like princess girl. And they, there was this one time where their babysitter called me and said we have an issue. And I was like, okay, what is it? And she said Gavi is crying hysterically. They hate the way they look and they’re looking in the mirror and saying, why don’t I have long hair? Why, why do I look like this? I, I wanna look more like, and then was referencing like Barbie proportions. But I think it was a limited understanding, but what they were really saying is like, this doesn’t match how I see myself. They were tearing at their own skin. And I was heartbroken. And my babysitter’s idea was, well, you know, these don’t, if these clothes don’t feel like they reflect you, who you are. And like, if the way your hair looks doesn’t reflect who you are. Do you wanna maybe ask your mom if you could pick out some clothes and and Gavi said, yes. So, you know, I told that to my husband. I think that was a real turning point cuz no parent wants to see their kids suffer or have dysmorphia. So he took Gavi, I guess. Yeah. Gavi must have been four, to to go buy some clothes and picked out some dresses. And like some long sweatshirts, like from Uniqlo. They have kind of androgynous clothing, which is really nice. And that was, that was really, really big. That was a huge moment for us. But before that when we did allow them to experiment with wearing like a princess dress outside of our house, we got a lot of pushback from the community. People would ask why, why is that boy wearing a dress? Um nannies, especially they would yell at me and be like, why are you letting him dress like that? And and it was uncomfortable and I felt sad for Gavi everywhere, everywhere they went, it was questioned other kids pointing, like not what people thought we must have. You know, I think people, when I talk to them about the journey with Gavi, they assume that like, oh, it must have been easy cuz you’re in Brooklyn or like, you know, well you’re you’re so you know this stuff so well. And I’m well, no like this was a long time ago for me. Like I didn’t, I didn’t know a lot. I just knew that like I didn’t wanna inhibit their self expression as long as it was safe. Like if my kid was like, I wanna go out naked, I’d be like, no, you can’t.
Dr. Sarah (18:20):
Right. You have healthy, appropriate boundaries. Right. You’re still in charge of keeping them safe and healthy and clean and all that stuff. It’s interesting. Cuz like, you know, we were talking about the birth birthdays being both the birth of the child and the birth of the mother. And it makes me think like when you have a child that is different in any way than what we are sort of prepared for in the mainstream fantasy of parenthood and childhood, as that child grows into who they are, you, the parent are also growing into the parent of who they are, right. Alongside them. Like there’s this, like as Gavi is starting to figure out how to communicate to themself and to you that this is my experience. You also are learning to be a parent of a child who’s having that experience. And it’s no one teaches parents how to do this.
Dr. Sarah (19:21):
Of almost every parent who’s got a child who’s gender noncomforming or in any way has this like different experience. A lot of them are figuring this out for the like on their own. Like they’re reinventing the wheel, they’re doing it completely in isolation and like from scratch each time.
Yeah. And I think once you get to the point of like your family accepting your child for who they are, it gets easier. And so I understand how damaging it is when people aren’t supported by their families, when a child isn’t supported by their parents you need a network of support around you in order to make this work. You know? And like when we went to Disney world for the first time with my parents, it was, I think that’s when we bought the first princess dress. And I had just had this feeling in my, like inside me that like we needed to get a dress because they would just go to friend’s houses and sit for the entire visit in a little girl’s closet, putting on all the dresses. And then once they had the dress on, they would walk around with this like, I don’t know. It was like, they were so happy, so proud. They would float around and twirl in the dress. And it was like a different version of them. And I wanted to make them feel that way all the time. You know? Why wouldn’t you want your kid to feel happy and free all the time? Yeah. As long as it’s appropriate. So we, we got this dress and it was like one of the best days of their life. They were, my mom was like, oh, I can’t believe you’re letting, like she was embarrassed. But then even she saw like, guess he likes the dress, you know. She’s like, I see what you mean. Like, and and Gavi and I had lots of conversations too, about how the outside world will perceive them. There was one day where they were afraid to wear like a tutu type skirt out of the house. And I said, well, let’s just experiment with how it feels. Just walking one block in the skirt. I will be right there with you. Anybody says anything that you don’t feel comfortable answering, I’m there to answer. I’m supporting you. And I want you to try doing this thing that you wanna do without worrying about what’s gonna happen, cuz I’m there to catch you. And we did that. We walked,uwe walked a couple blocks actually in the skirt. And and then I think when we got to the playground, they took it off. But you know, it was like those baby steps into the world of self-expression.
Dr. Sarah (22:19):
Which is amazing because I think parents might feel scared of that part. Right. like how much do I participate in supporting and even facilitating this because at some point, just like any child of ours, no matter what they’re going through, that’s scared of something that we know deep down they wanna try. You know, whether it’s participating in an activity, you know, I, you know, my son wants to play tee-ball but the first day, he’s been talking about it forever. But the first day of tee-ball we get there and he was scared and he didn’t wanna do it, but I knew he wanted to. And so I wanted to support pushing him a little bit. That doesn’t mean that tee-ball is my agenda.
Dr. Sarah (23:10):
Right. And so I think we have to be prepared as parents to understand that like supporting your child and doing something that they wanna do and making it your thing, like, you know, like I think that people will. I just hear people in the back of their mind being like, well then you made him go down, you’re pushing this and it’s, it’s such a difference, right? Like, you know, Gavi, you know, you spend so much time, you know, this person and you know, what their wish is and their dream is and what feels right. Them. And you also can see when your child is scared to try that thing and you support them through taking that step in that direction. That’s support. That’s not persuasion. And I think that that is a really important distinction.
I also think it’s preposterous to assume that like, as a parent, you want your kid’s life to be slightly harder. Like, oh yeah, I’m gonna dress my kid up in all these like girly clothes and throw them to the wolves and see what happens. That’s so fun and progressive like, no, like I know that Gavi’s life is gonna be harder because of who they are. I don’t want their life to be harder. So I’m doing everything I can to make it, you know, make them comfortable in their own skin. That’s my number one wish for both of my children. But it’s not, yeah. It’s not my agenda to like, oh good. We need, I would love this child to be different cuz that’s cool. Different’s hard. That’s the harder path.
Dr. Sarah (24:52):
Absolutely. And I think it’s very brave as a parent to be willing to support them on that path. The way that you just like that description of you walking him, preparing him for the walk down the block, like gave me goosebumps. Like it made me emotional because it’s, that’s love.
And the shift in pronouns came when they were six and we were it was during COVID and we were getting pizza and just like hanging out, eating the pizza and their brother was like joking around with them. And I don’t, they said something like, you’re gonna be a boy vampire when you’re older, their brother said. And then Gavi just goes, I’m not a boy or a girl, I’m non-binary and my, and I’m a, they call me they. And I have it on video. I’m glad I have it on video. So people can’t be like, did you make them this way? You know. No. And I was floored because I I’d never even heard them say the word non-binary I didn’t even know that they knew about pronouns. But it makes sense that they did because I was reading books to both my kids about being gender noncomforming for the past couple of years. And you could, you know, you read a picture book to a kid and they might only notice the first time. Oh, look, there’s a rainbow, you know, but then like six months later, they’re like, oh, that person looks sad. You know, what they’re ready to take in. They’ll take in, you don’t read a kid, a book and suddenly they’re like, guess I’m gay, you know, and I’m saying this stuff that sounds obvious to you and me, but it’s not.
Dr. Sarah (26:53):
No, it’s not.
It’s really not.
Dr. Sarah (26:55):
As, I mean, I’ve worked with the LGBTQ community for a long time. I’ve had patients who have transitioned while working with me, I’ve had patients who I’ve worked with who had already transitioned and were living their lives as trans individuals for many years before we started working together. And so I’m familiar with a lot of these stories, but I also am very aware that it’s not even, even people who are listening to this and they’re like, I support this. Like I, without question, there’s a lot of sort of curiosity around it and confusion. And just generally, like, you don’t really know until you speak to a human being, who’s lived this experience. It’s very hard to really understand what it’s like, which is why I think it’s so valuable for you to share this story because it’s like, like you said, anyone who knows Gavi, that’s just, they just know that’s who that person is because they can feel it, you know. And they could feel their conviction and their sense of self come through. And so I think unless you’ve had the opportunity to have a conversation with someone who, who lives this experience, it’s very hard to really understand.
The coolest thing is that the people who are so open and ready to take it in are their peers, children are just like accepting and you’ll find no greater defenders of Gavi’s pronouns than the 25 other kids in their class. Like if someone doesn’t say they like three kids will chime in and be like, actually their pronouns, are they/them? And you know, for a long time, I worried that school was not going to be a good environment for them. And I would say like, so what do people call you in school? Do they say they? And Gavi still swears that they never even say they/them, they just say Gavi. But it’s not true because I’ve heard it. And I think, I think it’s funny that they’re not paying attention to like, did you get it right? Did you get it right? Cuz that’s not Gavi’s agenda to catch people. Getting it wrong. They just wanna feel accepted. And the whole class is like just such wonderful cheerleaders.
Dr. Sarah (29:22):
Oh, that’s so good to hear. Cuz I think, I mean it’s and it also speaks to this idea that like the, the fear and the, and the, you know, negative feelings about this, the judgment about it is an adult construct.
Dr. Sarah (29:39):
And it’s taught to kids. It’s not coming from kids. And it’s similarly just like one’s identity isn’t really taught, you know. It’s that, you can’t, kids don’t make this stuff up. They just don’t, that’s a sophisticated thing that most young, young kids aren’t really capable of. Like that kind of like false presentation of oneself to create something that’s not true. Like a young, like a three year old when a three year old says the real Gavi. That’s what that child’s experience is. They’re just not at a developmentally cognitive place where they can like invent that. Kids just are who they are. And the young kids in, in their class being supportive. That’s who they are. They want closeness, they want affiliation, they want connection. That’s what kids want. And they are able to connect in that way without judging one another, because they’ve just not, they haven’t learned to do that. And I think judgment comes from fear and that’s is because we’re taught to fear something.
It also really helps when you have a teacher who is supportive too. And their teacher is just so loving. Like she just loves the kids. She loves Gavi and she just is, she wanted to do whatever she could to make the classroom feel safe. So, but she wasn’t, she didn’t know anything about this. She’d never used they/them pronouns before. So it was hard and it was a learning curve for her, but she did it. And there’s no, they don’t teach about non-gender conformity until I think fifth grade, which I think is ridiculous. Like your kids have to be a certain age in order to learn about this stuff. But so they had no library of books. And this is a, this is a, like a nice school in a fancy neighborhood. It’s public school, but still, you know, like active PTA and lots of money. But there’s no like the teachers don’t have a collection of books about this. So I brought the books and then Gavi would read them to the class because the teacher facilitated that and then Gavi would fill in the blanks of like whatever they felt needed to be explained. But that’s really, I’m really lucky that she is so she’s so on it.
Dr. Sarah (32:19):
It’s really, really special and it sounds like it wasn’t because she was like, oh, I have background in this and I know this. It was just an openness to learn about it. Right. And I think that’s where most people can be. Right? You don’t have to be someone who’s has tons of experience with, you know, having really, you know, being in this world, you can just be open to it and be willing to learn about it. And it, that makes me think about how that window of openness is closing in certain places right now. And it’s really scary.
Oh yeah. Don’t go to Florida.
Dr. Sarah (32:57):
Right? It’s really, it’s, it’s hard because for me, what I see come out of this, the political moves to silence this stuff and censor this stuff it’s going to hurt kids. It is hurting kids.
People are gonna die. That’s what’s gonna happen is like kids are going to kill themselves. Like the pain of holding this in is just so great to be denied who you are, is a heartbreaking, painful experience.
Dr. Sarah (33:34):
It is. And we already know that rates of depression, anxiety, self harm, suicidality is higher in this population, significantly. And it was more so, you know, a bit ago. You start to see a decline in it. And I can’t imagine that’s not correlated to the accepted and the openness and the, you know, seeing role models in media and, you know, television and sports being open about these stories. And then to censor it, we are just gonna go backwards. And it’s so scary because I don’t think anyone in this world wants to see kids thinking about killing themselves. That’s that is one of the most heartbreaking thoughts to any parent to any person.
Yeah. I mean, that really hit my husband and I very profoundly when we were you know, when the, don’t say gay law came around in Florida, we just, because we know what it’s like to be the parent of a, a gender noncomforming kid and how important it is to nurture it. Picturing the opposite. Like we were both crying because we’re like, God, can you imagine if we didn’t let Gavi be themselves? Like, can you just imagine, like all the light would be gone? You know, I just it’s just, I don’t even know what to say. It’s beyond horrible.
Dr. Sarah (35:15):
What do you think? I mean, to parents out there who have children who are gender noncomforming or are identified with a marginalized community of any kind, like, what do you, what would you want them to know that you learned?
I always say to remain curious. And also don’t, you can’t really rush to a judgment, like, you know, your kid singing Frozen doesn’t necessarily give you any insight into their future gender identity, but when they’re consistent and persistent, right. There’s like the consistency, the persistency of the identity that they’re, that they’re identifying with. That’s a good marker that like this, this is a real thing and it’s here to stay. And so when you start to notice that and pay attention, then you wanna help your kid by like, and yourself get some books. There’s some great picture books. I’m gonna recommend some in the show notes. But the picture books taught me a lot. You know, I used to work in children’s books. I was a children’s book editor for like a decade. And I realized, one of the things I learned in being an editor was that children’s books are for parents. They’re for us to learn how to talk to our kids.
Dr. Sarah (36:41):
That is so true.
So you don’t have to pick up like seven novels or, you know, seven books about this topic. You, you could also just start at the very beginning with people. Who’ve done a great job of making it super simple.
Dr. Sarah (36:58):
It is simple.
Dr. Sarah (37:00):
Yeah. Simple’s better. Simple’s so much better.
But you know, it’s still, you’re still gonna have a hard time. Like there are still family members that just don’t even try with the pronouns. They don’t even try. And I’ll say it like over and over again and they’ll still be like, he, he, he, he. And so I’m like, they, they, they, like over and over. It’s one thing, like if you’re a friend of mine and you’re like, oh yeah, I’m sorry. I’m just like, I’m so bad with this. And I’m gonna really try It’s another, if you’re like, grandma and you can’t ever get it. Right. Like that that’s offensive to me.
Dr. Sarah (37:45):
Yeah. I can understand that. Cause there’s there’s a unwillingness to actively shift the mind to like learn the new thing to internalize it. And sometimes that unwillingness is unconscious. It’s not necessarily…
Yeah, I don’t think it’s on purpose.
Dr. Sarah (38:04):
Like act of defiance of your, you know, what’s happening. It’s it’s many, many, many years of education in a different direction that has to be like unlearned, but we kind of have to make it conscious to make that conscious effort to say like, I have to do this work. To like, change the way I conceptualize this human being.
And then like, you know, now that they’re getting older, there’s talk of like crushes, right. Like who do you have a crush on? Who do you love? Who are you in love with? And from the beginning of that conversation, there was like, you know, first they were, they had a crush on a girl in their class, and then later they were like, I’m asking this boy to be my Valentine and their brother Julian is just amazing. Was like, Ooh, you know, like, it’s just like any other crush that you would have yours just is on a boy. And we didn’t label it, anything. We were just like, how’s your Valentine? And then Julian would tease Gavi about it. Just the way you would tease someone about any crush. And then like, I guess like a month ago they were like, we were talking about who are they gonna marry when they’re older? And they said, well, I don’t know, like maybe a boy or maybe a girl, I guess that makes me bisexual. And it was just funny to see this like eight year old, have the word sex as part of their identity. But I was just like, oh, I can’t wait to find out. You know, can’t wait to meet that person. And that’s it.
Dr. Sarah (39:57):
Yeah. And I think that’s a kind of awesome permission to give parents to like, you don’t have to dive into that.
Dr. Sarah (40:05):
You can just say, oh, how wonderful. I can’t wait to find out too. And like, sometimes I think parents are like, what am I supposed to say in these moments? Oftentimes nothing. Like the, just say, I see you, I hear what you’re saying. Don’t have an opinion or a solution or a suggestion or a question, you know. We can just be there.
And I’m also like open to all kinds of shifts, right? Like there are times when they express themselves more like a boy. And I’m not gonna be like, remember you like wearing dresses. Like there are different ways that people express their identity and it’s not all wrapped into gender. Right. And they’ll so then I notice like it’s shifted from an outward appearance to the way that they moved and a little bit in their voice and, you know, drawing girl characters when they did their art. Unfortunately I have noticed some reluctance to like fully be who they wanna be. Like, there’s some things that they say, I just want this to be my own. Like, I don’t want anyone to know about this. This is just something for me. And that makes me really sad that they’re now closing down some parts of their expression because they’re aware of how it appears on the outside. Which I knew would happen as they got older.
Dr. Sarah (41:55):
Yeah. And I do think it’s obviously so complicated. But I also think at this age, there is a developmental appropriateness to just that too. Like whether you’re gender non-conforming or gender conforming, we get self-conscious at this age. We start to worry what people will think of us. We wanna be liked and popular. And so there’s even like for topics unrelated to gender, there are things that we then start to get self-conscious about and wanna hide from people and wanna keep private and fear others’ judgments. And I think it’s probably more pronounced for a child like Gavi, because this person also seems really attuned, really plugged.
Very plugged in.
Dr. Sarah (42:45):
Just in who they are. You know which means they’re gonna perceive the judgment of others, more astutely. And it’s gonna be on their radar more. My hope is that with the continued support and the continued safety that they’ll get there when they’re ready.
Yeah. Me too. Definitely.
Dr. Sarah (43:14):
And it sounds like you’re creating the safest space you can for them. And it will never be perfectly safe.
No, no. It’s the world. And you know what? That’s good because you know, if, if I only was like, everyone’s gonna love you. Like, no matter what you do, you just be yourself, go out there. It’s great. People are nice. Like that would be not a great message because the world is the world. Like there are people who will judge you. And like, I don’t want that to come as a shock and surprise, like, it’s good to have adversity.
Dr. Sarah (43:55):
I mean, it’s part of live.
It toughens your skin.
Dr. Sarah (43:58):
I think we all will have it. So how we deal with it is the most important part. Like being like communicating to our kids that like, this is the world can be painful and hard and we can survive that. Like that sort of acknowledgement and communication of confidence that sort of, we can do this, you can do this. You’re a strong person. And kind of like that walk down the sidewalk, like, and I’ll be right here for what you can’t handle. And I think that’s parenthood, like that’s, that’s what parenting is. Parenting is communicating to our kids. I see you. I hear you. I validate your experience. It’s real, whatever it is. And I’m right here. And when it’s hard, we’re gonna get through this together.
And then to add to that, it’s also okay. If it’s hard and it’s okay for you to be uncomfortable, and this is for any kid. Yeah. It’s the hardest thing for me as a parent to allow a moment of unhappiness for my children. But what I’ve learned from therapists is like, no, they need to learn to be okay with not being okay. Because then what are you gonna do? Like, they’re gonna always rely on you to regulate them. You know? So if you need a moment, if you need a couple minutes in your room alone to get through whatever you’re going through, instead of like screaming or punching me, you need to go into your room and and I don’t have to make it better. I don’t have to give you the extra iPad time or make your brother turn off the show that you didn’t like, like you can be unhappy. And that’s okay. That’s the hardest thing for me as a parent.
Dr. Sarah (45:56):
Ugh. I think for every parent it’s really hard. It’s really hard. We wanna give, give the thing that fixes it right away. But I think like, to your point, like it’s okay to not give the thing, it’s okay not to fix it. Cuz we can’t fix everything. And we don’t want our children to become dependent on our fixing all of their pain. Because we’re not always gonna be there to fix the pain and they need to learn, I can survive pain. I’m a whole person that can get through to the other side and I’ll be okay. And they do that by experiencing it and having us be there to support them emotionally while it’s happening and afterwards and process it. But we can’t snowplow and bulldoze and whatever other parenting…
Dr. Sarah (46:46):
Tricks that people rely on a little too much. But, and I think this is a really important, like the fact that we’re, our conversation got more and more and more like ubiquitous. Like these are truths, doesn’t matter what is happening in your child’s life, what their identity is, what their neuro makeup is like, whether they have a neuro divergent brain or a neurotypical brain, it doesn’t matter if they have a mental health issue or they don’t, it doesn’t matter if they’ve experienced trauma or loss, or it doesn’t matter. This is just true for all human beings. We need to learn, to be resilient we need to learn that we are seen safe and also can survive pain and can survive difficult feelings. And that we don’t avoid them or fear them or feel like we can’t handle them.
One last thing. I do wanna say is something I remember reading that really like, I’ve never forgotten is that when your kid comes to you or when you have a child who is different in any way nonconforming in some way, like all the things you just listed, you don’t say, I love you no matter what, because the no matter what implies that some that different is bad. Or like the thing that they are is, like, I still love you even though you make mistakes, like that, like right. You just say, I love you, period.
Dr. Sarah (48:15):
Yes. I think that is a hugely powerful shift. If that is the one thing people take away from this podcast to use in their life. Cuz we’ve all said that I love you even though, or I love you in spite of, or I love you no matter what I’ve said that to my kids.
Oh, yeah me too.
Dr. Sarah (48:36):
And to remember, to just be able to say, I love you. You don’t have to follow it up with anything. So that’s this whole like less is more. Oftentimes less is more.
Dr. Sarah (48:48):
Thank you so much for being on and coming and talking to us about this.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to do that. I think it’s so important that you’re highlighting this on your podcast and in your practice. And the more we talk about it, the better it’ll be for everybody.
Dr. Sarah (49:04):
Agreed, agreed, and happy birthday.
Dr. Sarah (49:10):
I hope that you guys have a wonderful day and we’ll talk soon.
Okay. Thank you.
Dr. Sarah (49:22):Building resilience is something. All children can benefit from how most adults can benefit from strengthening their resilience as well. The more we practice it, the stronger it gets. And that’s why I created a guide to help you make some simple and easy changes in your interactions with your child to help build their distress tolerance, growth mindset, and resilience. In my free guide, Fostering Resilience From Birth, I’ll teach you four pillars of building resilience that are already a hundred percent within your control and will help you to understand the impact that implementing these simple behaviors could have on your child’s development. If you wanna understand the building blocks of resilience so you can help your child tolerate distress, develop a growth mindset and increase self-esteem and resilience, check out this free guide. Go to my website, drsarahbren.com and click on the resources tab to download. That’s drsarahbren.com. Or you can DM me the word “resilience” @drsarahbren on Instagram and I’ll send it right to you. Thanks for listening. And don’t be a stranger.
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