We need to talk. I know we’ve probably not met and we’ve never said word one to each other online because I filter the hell out of my Facebook and you probably don’t go to Tumblr because it’s incomprehensible and I usually don’t get into it on those comment threads. But you need to hear this.
So, I adore your kids, okay? They’re amazing. They are bright sparks in a hard world. They’re looking around at a society that is far stranger than the one I grew up in, and let me tell you, Oregon in the 80’s and 90’s was pretty dang strange. And they’re trying to figure out who they are and where they fit.
These are kids who have loving hearts, who genuinely want to make the world a better place, and find their place in it. They want to make things better for poor people and children, and they want to help keep people safe and they genuinely want to do the right thing just as soon as they can figure out exactly what that is.
I need you to stop breaking them.
In my world, rule number one is “Mama loves you.” Not, “Mama loves you if you go to college and marry a nice person of the opposite sex and dress like people expect you to and get a job that is socially approved with sufficient status.” Not, “Mama loves you if you go to the right church and wait until marriage to have sex.”
Just, “Mama loves you.”
Here are things that don’t matter when it comes to rule number one:
- The clothes someone wears
- Who they love
- What pronouns they use
- What sex acts they do, and with who
- What church they go to or don’t
- Whether or not they are gainfully employed
- Whether or not they go to college at all or finish in four years
- Whether they identify as the gender they were assigned at birth due to inny or outy bits
- Hair color
- Who their friends are
- Who they vote for
- Mistakes they make and trouble they get into
Now, I get having hopes and dreams for your child. I’ve got three children and I’ve poured my life into them for 23 years. I get having expectations and wanting to provide them with a solid start in this difficult world. But there’s a right way to do that and a wrong way. It’s one thing to help your kids understand your values. But if the value at the top of the list isn’t “Mama loves you” (or parental/quasiparental tag of choice), I’m sorry, the moment your child realizes that they can’t meet your ideal for them, there’s an awfully good chance they’re either going to break, or you’re going to lose them, or both.
You need to understand that you cannot stop a child from being gay, or trans, or bi, or nonbinary. It’s not about “how you raised them”, it just is. And the more you make them feel “wrong”, the less they’re going to care about doing right. The less you love them, the less they will feel lovable, and the more likely they’re going to go looking for that love in harmful places. You can’t make them gay, but you can make them broken.
I am losing count of the number of teenagers I have had in my house or in my inbox or chat talking about how they can’t tell their parents who they are because they are afraid. Kids who did tell you who they are, and you kicked them out, because “not under your roof.” Kids who struggle for years to get back to a healthy place where they place enough value on their own bodies and souls that they don’t go out doing the exact risky and scary stuff you’re afraid of because it doesn’t matter, they aren’t worth it, you told them so.
I spend a lot of time telling them how worth it they are. And they are. These are beautiful souls who, given a chance, will pour their whole selves into helping someone, into making a difference. They have so much to offer, but you make it all harder by teaching them that they don’t.
I love your kids, but it hurts me when they hurt, and I need you to stop breaking them. Stop worrying so much about their immortal souls and worry a lot more about their hearts. Stop worrying about what the neighbors will think, and start worrying about whether your child will survive.
So… stop asking your kids when they’re going to give you grandchildren. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. Stop asking them when they’re going to get married, because the last thing you want for them is for them to end up with a bad marriage for the sake of being married. Stop judging the work they’re doing, and the friends they have.
You can tell them it’s okay to stand up for themselves. And accept it if they stand up to you. Listen. Don’t get defensive.
You can tell them it’s okay for them to expect people to treat them well. And then you better treat them well.
You can tell them it’s important to try hard and do their best. But don’t tell them they have to be the best. Don’t make your love contingent on victory conditions. Some of the best people in this world never won anything.
You can say that you worry about risky behavior because you love them and you want them safe, but don’t you dare kick them out and make them even more unsafe.
Teach them that you value them, not that they are worthless.
You can even teach them about your religious beliefs, but don’t you dare put them in hell on earth just because someone told you they might go to hell someday. I’m fairly certain if Jesus exists, he judges people more harshly for cruelty to their children than he does for who they sleep with or whether they have tattoos, that was pretty clear in the bible I read. Jesus was all about embracing people society couldn’t stand. Try being more like that.
I love your kids. They’ve slept on my couch and they’ve lived in my house and they are always welcome here. But it would be a better world if they didn’t end up broken to begin with.
Rule number one. Please. I’m begging you. Make sure they know it. Tell them it doesn’t matter. Tell them you want to understand but you don’t need to understand in order to keep loving them. Tell them they deserve love, and happiness, and joy and all good things, and that you know that their path in life may not look like your path but you want to be a safe space for them to come home to. That you don’t have to agree about politics or religion or social issues or any of those things, that they’re still worthy of all that life can give them.
And if that little person you thought was a boy comes to you and says that she’s a girl, your response there is a life-and-death issue. Their future happiness and ability to survive adulthood depends on what you say to them. And if it’s anything other than, “I love you, let’s figure this out and find out what you need to make you happy,” you’re playing with fire, because the biggest difference in whether or not a trans kid survives (yes literally survives) their teen years and young adulthood is whether they get support and acceptance or not. Your attitude can literally kill them.
Rule number one. Mama loves you.
Because while I will always keep my home open for them, I’d rather they not need me. I’d rather not have to build them back up and explain to them how you forgot the important thing.
Rule number one.