By Sylvie Griffiths
I had my first child back in 2005, and, in all of the lessons I learned in that year of firsts, I realized that parenting is a balancing act.
Balancing multiple relationships: kids, significant other, friends and co-workers—all simultaneously. Balancing working or staying at home with your child or your spouse staying home. Balancing self-care while being an involved and active parent. I didn’t always find that balance, but I learned who I am and what I can do when motivated by my four kids.
I’m not the person I am today without being a mom. That role is so much of my identity. My kids inspire me. They challenge me. They teach me so much every day. Although I dream of them as happy and healthy adults, I’ve never really focused specifically on what I see in their future. I want them to live happy and healthy lives.
In their journey to adulthood, I’ve seen many changes in my four kids. The biggest change that our family has experienced so far has been the baby coming out as transgender: My baby girl was actually my youngest son. The name his father and I agreed on—a feminine flower title—is no longer spoken out of respect for his true identity. The name he goes by now, he gave himself after coming out to me face-to-face, with his sister sitting nearby for support.
My son told me that he and his sister had watched Jazz Jennings videos and that he wanted to be called Jake because he was really a boy. Just like that. “Mom, I am a transgender boy,” my little dude revealed to me one day at home.
His revelation that day impacted us all in so many positive ways. My children are remarkably close, and their strong bond is a daily source of pride for me. An announcement such as the one Jake made, when he was six and a half years old, could definitely cause all kinds of feelings. I never felt sadness that my daughter was “gone” or “dead” in some way, but that can be a natural reaction. I never felt like my daughter died or went away forever, I just felt that my love transferred right over from my daughter to my son.
When our family found out our youngest was transgender, I looked online for resources. Initially, I found a total of three books on Amazon about transgender children. Only three books, which I ordered immediately. I’m thankful that I’m part of the LGBTQ community through being a hairdresser for more than two decades and working in HIV care in 2017; my circle is diverse and inclusive, and they gave me so much positive support and information regarding Jake.
I’ve written about my family for years. I feel that writing about our little dude can help others understand these amazing people who know who they are when the world tells them otherwise. He has said aloud, “Mom, I am in the wrong body,” and he has shown us all what it means to be brave. He is aware of my writing, and I am respectful of his privacy and anonymity; this will be prioritized as he sees fit as he grows up.
Before he came out to me, my baby had extreme mood swings, frustrations and fears that I could not quite figure out. There is a reason everyone says hindsight is 20/20; I revisit conversations and situations in my mind and find that there were plenty of signs that I missed over the years.
Asking for increasingly shorter haircuts. Wearing masculine or tomboy-type clothing. Asking me constantly about life with a heightened focus on gender: He would say things like “I want to play football, but boys do that right?” A beach trip where I insisted he wear an adorable bikini a friend bought him for summer revealed a child who was suffering from extreme anxiety. A child who was visibly upset and sick to his stomach wearing girl clothing because that was not who he was inside. The chat he had with my best friend on that beach day involved a discussion about his fears about puberty and developing breasts.
Within a week or so, he and his sister sat me down to tell me that my daughter was actually my son.
The day at the beach made me feel like such a terrible parent. I did not know that I was causing my child such discomfort and anxiety from wearing a girl’s swimsuit verses the shorts and shirt he begged me to wear that day. I’ve asked him for forgiveness many times, and many parents, while navigating raising a transgender child, will need to do this. Parents are still only human, after all, but I try to be a parent who is open enough to tell my kids I didn’t handle something in the best way when I miss the mark.
I cannot tell you in words how much my family and friends love Jake. He is a sweet, magical child. His energy and loving nature are evident to anyone he comes into contact with. My daughter’s father and his fiancée immediately gave us their son’s hand-me-downs when Jake began to live his authentic life and needed an entirely new wardrobe. My other children never seemed jealous of the extra attention that those first few months into Jake’s transition garnered the baby in our family. The magic of this all is never lost on me or our family.
I see such a huge difference in Jake when I look at his confidence, happiness, lower anxiety and overall well-being. My daughter was a happy girl, but she was hiding so much before Jake was born. And my son picked out his own name, Jake, to honor a very close family friend who had recently died when he came out as transgender. I’ve had major life changes over the last few years since my son introduced his authentic self to his family. I worry about him and how this world will treat him. I worry about us all right now, honestly. But to see a child tell his parents to their face that he was really a boy has inspired me to live my most authentic life.
Sylvie Griffiths is the proud mother of four, whose eclectic interests include hairdressing, horror movies, mental health, advocacy and writing. She holds a B.S. in Behavioral Healthcare and an MBA.
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