I'm sharing some sage advice and wise questions to ask yourself that I recently received from a local therapist and Professor at Saint Louis University, Katie Heiden-Rootes, PhD, LMFT. Her tips for how to handle conflict over the holidays was written with parents of transgender children in mind, however ALL parents could benefit from this advice when it comes to setting healthy boundaries for you and your children this holiday season.
You're allowed to do what - works - for - you (and your nuclear family)! It is 100% ok to invite who you want to invite and attend or not attend events. It is ok, more than ok, to not do things that feel unsafe or uncomfortable. Even if those events involve family members.
I hope you get something out of Dr. Heiden-Rootes' message below. I'd love to hear what you think or process with you any anticipated holiday drama in session this week too!
Parents have shared with me, when it comes to holidays and family gatherings, that they want to prioritize their trans child, however, it gets complicated for them. “Complicated” is usually a synonym for conflict. Whatever decision is made about what gatherings to go to, who to invite for over at Thanksgiving, how to share the news of a medical or social gender transition, and on and on will spark conflict with someone (including co-parents). Conflict, though, is where trust is forged in relationships and parents demonstrate their commitment to being a safe haven and secure base for their children. Conflict is a necessary good.
In a family therapy setting, if we were sitting together, this is where I would ask reflective questions to consider, in lieu of hard and fast advice. I’ve learned over the years that every trans person and family are different. This needs to be respected and considered. So I thought I’d offer you all reflective questions to spark conversation with yourself, your children, and your co-parent(s):
Who are you responsible to? (hint: the answer is NOT everyone)
Who is the most vulnerable person in this situation? (hint: consider age, resources, risk of harm to mental and emotional health; if your answer was not your trans child skip to #6)
What are the worst and best possible outcomes for each decision? (hint: ask your trans child, if age appropriate, to fill in this list too and make it silly and wild where possible)
What “worst possible outcome” can you best live with? What “worst possible outcome” can your child best live with? (ask them!)
Who are you most afraid to have conflict with? Why? (hint: previous experiences of being shamed and belittled when we express ourselves conditions us to avoid conflict, obey, and/or numb out)
As you sit with the discomfort of disappointing or angering your own parents or family members, how old do you feel right now? (yes, your inner child is alive and well and may still want to obey authority like mine does from time to time – resist!)
As you sit with the discomfort of disappointing or angering your own parents or family members, how would your best friend offer you comfort? (hint: cultivate self-compassion)
Dig deep into the bottom of your parent heart and gut and ask, what do my baby(ies) need from me right now? (hint: the answer is probably safe haven and secure base to be gender beautiful and autonomous humans)
Rarely do parents make decisions they feel 100% certain about. It will be no different this holiday season. However, as a parent my certainty does not come from right or perfect decision making. It comes from knowing I am actively seeking to create a safe haven and secure base for my child; and I am willing to feel the fire of conflict and tenderness of my inner child to get there.
Assistant Vice President
Division of Diversity and Innovative Community Engagement
School of Medicine, Family & Community Medicine
Medical Family Therapy Program
Transgender Health Collaborative at St. Louis University