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Back to Center: Our son has secretly been in the process of gender transition

'We want to approach him in such a way that he’ll open up to us and not feel pushed away'

Sarah Perron, Certified Coach

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Sarah Perron, Certified Coach

Sarah Perron, Certified Coach

Sarah Perron, Certified Coach

Life Coach and Writer

Offering perspectives for personal realignment and empowerment.

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September 25, 2022

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03:41 AM

Back to Center: Our son has secretly been in the process of gender transition

The purpose of the “Back to Center” advice column is to provide perspectives for personal realignment and empowered living in the COVID era. Sarah encourages you to reach out to her with requests for advice about self-development and emotional and mental well-being in these complicated times. Please send your questions to advice@aflds.org. Anonymous and secure. Looking forward to hearing from you!

For all other inquiries, please direct your questions to info@aflds.org.

My wife and I are in shock over something that’s going on with our teenage son. I can’t believe the words I’m about to write to you…almost can’t find the words...We recently came to the realization that our son has secretly been in the process of gender transition to become a “girl.” 

We started noticing small things here and there, like differences in the way he would dress, things he would say when talking about himself. At first, we didn’t make much of it, but then one of his friends mentioned something recently that confirmed it for us. We were stunned. How could this happen? How in the world do we talk to our son about this?? We want to approach him in such a way that he’ll open up to us and not feel pushed away…but at the same time, our emotions are running so high that we’re afraid it could easily get ugly. How do we reach our son?

Wow, what a painful story. I’m so sorry to hear about how devastated you’re feeling over this situation with your son. I can tell that just sharing what’s going on was extremely difficult for you; I’m so glad you reached out even though it was hard. 

Your desire to create a safe space for your son to share his feelings and perspectives is so beautiful. Not every parent in this situation would be able to do what you’re doing. Rather than charging in with guns blazing over how wrong you feel his perspective is, you are taking a step back and considering how you can approach your son with love and sensitivity. This is an amazing thing.

I hear what you’re saying about the intensity of the emotions you and your wife are feeling. The anger, sadness, hurt, confusion and any other negative feelings that are running through you are all normal and all okay. Your son withheld his thoughts and feelings about his identity from you and is making choices you find deeply disturbing, and you only found out through others. How could you feel otherwise?

Before you even think about having a conversation with your son, I encourage you to find a way to release some of this negative emotion you’re feeling. What would you need to do to express and clear some of these feelings, or diffuse their intensity somewhat? Some possibilities might be talking with a trusted friend or professional, journaling, or art. Or maybe you need to go to a private place and scream and cry for a while, go for a run and just run until you can’t anymore, or hit a punching bag. Try to feel out what would be most effective for you. As I’ve heard it said before of difficult emotions, the only way to heal them is to feel them. 

When you’re ready, perhaps you and your wife can think together about how you want to show up in this conversation with your son. What do you want to say to him? What questions would you like to ask him? What do you want him to know about the way you’re feeling? How could you express yourselves truthfully but in a way that is respectful of him as a person and sensitive to the fact that he’s going through a difficult challenge of some kind? 

One very important question that you could consider between the two of you is: Why do you think your son wasn’t comfortable sharing his path with you before now? In what ways does your family operate that might have made it hard for him to want to open up? Please understand, I’m not at all suggesting that this is your fault. But also understand that this issue didn’t occur in isolation; it probably involves many factors from different elements of your son’s world, including your family’s home. Asking yourselves these difficult questions may help you understand your son better and give you clarity on how to improve things for your family going forward. 

When it’s time to talk, I encourage you to make it clear to your son that you are there to listen and want to understand where he’s coming from…that you and his mother love him so much, and that you want to give him a safe, non-judgmental space to share whatever he wants to. When you ask questions, try to do it in a curious, loving way, rather than with an accusatory tone. 

I don’t know what the outcome of this talk will be, or what your son’s path will look like going forward. What I do know is that if you help him understand that you are there for him and love him no matter what, even when you disagree, the relationship will likely be able to weather this storm in one way or another. Being there for your son doesn’t mean you have to compromise on your values or beliefs; it’s about how you decide to treat him as a person, as a member of your family, which is an identity that will never change. 

I hope this is helpful to you as you navigate this challenging time in your family. Wishing all of you healing and growth!

****

I’ve been wanting to reach out to someone for a while over some struggles I’m having, and I’m at the point now where I realize I can’t put it off any longer. I’ve been experiencing increasing levels of anxiety and depression over the last few years. 

It started when things were really bad with the pandemic, and even now that COVID has eased up, I’m still feeling it with all the complicated, ugly things that are going on in our society. I feel like the walls are closing in – people aren’t allowed to speak freely anymore, basic human rights are being taken away, American culture is becoming more corrupt all the time…Once upon a time, I relied on my faith and beliefs to support me and keep me going through the challenges of life, but that’s not working so well for me anymore. I feel like God is far away, and I don’t feel any hope for the future, or any meaning or purpose in my day-to-day life. 

I feel so bad about myself for feeling this way. I don’t want to live like this, but I’m not sure what to do or what can help me… 

Thank you for your message; I’m so glad you reached out! You’ve done a huge thing by acknowledging for yourself that something isn’t right within you and taking the step of expressing your need for some extra help and support, even though you’re not sure what that might look like.

The first thing I want to share with you is that you are not alone in this struggle. Anxiety and depression have been on the rise in America over the last few years. I mean, it has been a tough few years – so many things out of our control, so many dramatic changes happening rapidly, so much that seems new and strange coming to the forefront of our consciousness. Many report struggling with mental health crises, including people of faith. 

I hear you saying that you get down on yourself for feeling so low. In light of the extremely challenging times you are living in, I’m wondering what you could do to give yourself some more compassion around the difficult feelings you’re having. While we’re all coping with our difficulties in different ways, no one has the definitive manual on how to stay afloat during totalitarian times! I think most of us have had at least a few moments when we thought we were going to completely lose it. What you’re feeling is a challenge to be worked through, but it’s not something you need to judge yourself for. 

So, yes; if you feel in need of help, please do what you need to do to get it. I’d encourage you to explore different mental health support options. The important thing is to find a professional you feel you can trust and who understands what you’re going through. You mentioned being a person of faith, so if it feels important to you to find someone who identifies with that aspect of your life, be sure to look for that too. In the meantime, I can offer a few more thoughts here that I hope will feel supportive and helpful.

I’d like to suggest that while these times have been extremely difficult, you’ve had a hand in creating the negative personal reality you’re living in. How? Through your thoughts about your experiences and perceptions of the world. Our thoughts are where it all begins. We have a thought about something, and then a feeling about that thought, and actions we might decide to take or not take come from that feeling. 

I want you to become really conscious of the thoughts that go on in your mind throughout the course of the day. When you have a negative thought about your life or yourself, try to write it down. It’s okay that you’ve had the thought – again, do your best to suspend self-judgment. But realize that you now have a choice as to how long you are going to let that thought hang out inside of you. Instead of letting the thought grow and pull you downward, ask yourself what you can do to transform it to something positive. Say you have this thought: “Things are never going to get better.” One way you could transform it could be to replace that thought with this one: “Things are really hard right now, but this is temporary. I will get through this.” Or the negative thought that “God is far away from me” could become “God is still there, even if I can’t feel Him. He’s gotten me through tough times before, and He’s with me in this challenge too.” 

Write your new thoughts down, say them over and over to yourself, post them where you can see them regularly. If you don’t believe the new thoughts at first and feel like you’re just faking it, that’s okay. You’re in a process of creating a new reality for yourself, and you will find yourself believing the new thoughts more and more if you are committed to making this change within yourself. And then your new thoughts will lead to new, more positive feelings and actions. You have the power to positively change your perception of reality!

Finally, I encourage you to remember the power of prayer. Again, even if you don’t feel like praying or are not sure God is hearing you, pray anyway. Pour out all your anxiety and sadness to God, and ask for help with the process you are in. Simply continuing to pray is an act of faith, even if your faith feels shaky in general. With time, perseverance, and commitment to creating your new reality, I believe you will come back up again, regardless of what’s going on in the world around you. All the best!

****

A new family recently moved in next door to mine, and they happen to be, well, quite different from us. It’s a gay couple and their adopted daughter. I was really unhappy when I found out, mostly because I’m worried about the impact it could have on my young children. They’ve already started asking me questions like, “Why are there two daddies and no mommy?” 

I have no idea how to answer them in a way that is truthful but also sensitive to my kids’ level of understanding. I don’t want to lie to them, but I also don’t want to expose them to any ideas that they don’t need to know right now. Our neighbors’ lifestyle just goes completely against our family values, and I don’t know how to handle this situation that’s been put in our faces. Please help! I’d love some advice…

Thank you for writing in! I can hear how hard this new development in your neighborhood is feeling to you. It can be really difficult to feel you’ve had no choice about something that’s been (almost literally) tossed into your own backyard. I hope that I can offer some insights here that will be helpful as you navigate it.

I’ll start by sharing a perspective that is always helpful to me in challenging situations, when I can allow it to frame my experience. That is that everything that comes into my personal orbit in life is there for a reason, even the most seemingly undesirable of situations. Nothing is coincidental, and everything is there for me to learn and grow from. Thinking about life this way makes it much easier for me to accept things that are out of my control, and to feel more positive and creative as I approach challenges. So, what I want to ask you is: Why do you think this neighbor situation might be coming into your orbit? What is there for you to learn and grow from? What could you gain from this experience for yourself and your family?

As you think about how to discuss the situation with your children, remember that even though your neighbors’ lifestyle is completely out of your control, you can control the way you deal with it within your family. You get to decide where you want to put the focus in your discussions with the kids. The sense I get from your message is that you want to keep it truthful yet simple. One way to do that could be to minimize your explanations of the neighbors’ behavior – you don’t have to answer for them – and maximize your focus on what your family believes. For example, when your kids ask you why there are two daddies, you might offer the thought that that’s how some people choose to live, but your family believes that there should be one daddy and one mommy in a family, and here’s why…

With this approach, you’re not denigrating your neighbors in front of your children or having to figure out how to explain the topic of gay relationships in depth. It shifts the focus from sharing what you believe is wrong to what you believe is right and explaining that to your kids. This approach of saying “I don’t really know about them, but I know about us,” helps shape your kids’ understanding of their own values without having to get into the details of other people’s choices too much at this stage.

Remember that you don’t have to feel pressured to give any information to your children that you don’t want to put out there. You can trust that in your role as their mother, you know what they’re ready to handle, and what needs to wait. You can take it at the pace that feels appropriate for your family.

This could also be a great up-close opportunity for teaching your kids about how to treat others who are different from them. They don’t have to understand your neighbors’ behavior in order to treat them respectfully and kindly when they see them. You can choose to model that for them in your interactions with the neighbors. It’s a powerful lesson to learn at a young age, since the world is full of people who are not like us!

I hope these thoughts are helpful to you, and that you’ll be able to take charge of your family’s experience of this situation with positivity, creativity, and peace of mind!

****

I’ve recently come to recognize a struggle that’s growing within me, and it’s something I want to get help with. Here it is: I don’t know how to be generous anymore. I used to be a giver – I’d give monthly tithes to my church and donations to charities, make meals for people in my community who were sick or had a big life event like a new baby, and generally share what I had whenever I saw a need. But I’ve felt this desire to share shrink over the last few years as I’ve felt life become more uncertain. 

Now, I worry about whether the money I have will last – if I’ll continue to have the income I need. When I go grocery shopping, I wonder whether the food I’m buying will be enough for my family, or if there will come a time when we won’t have enough, so I should get all I can now. I feel hyper-focused on myself and my family, and the idea of sharing money or food with others scares me. I know generosity is such an important value, and I want to be generous again, but I feel like I don’t know how with the world as it is now…

Wow, thank you for sharing your struggle so honestly and openly. It takes courage to look within ourselves and admit there’s something off track with our values or practices, and also to want to change and to ask for help!

It seems to me that you are feeling the effects of the reality that the “powers that be” are working to create in the world right now. Scarcity is the word. They want to create a reality in which everything feels scarce: space, money, food, resources…a world where there isn’t enough to go around…a world where health is scarce too, and we have to shut down, isolate, and close up in order to be safe. It’s all about limitation, constriction, deprivation. Even if you don’t actively buy into this agenda, it’s almost like it’s in the air, and easy to absorb without realizing it.

It's really, really hard sometimes to open up your hand and give to someone else when you’re feeling unsure of whether you’ll have enough for yourself. But in my opinion, that is exactly the kind of action and attitude that will counter and ultimately defeat the current totalitarian agenda. 

How do we do this? By actively cultivating a generosity mindset to replace the scarcity mindset.

For people of faith, as I understand you to be, this starts with the understanding that everything we have comes from God. He is the source of our wealth, our food, and our possessions. These things we have are not limited, because He is not limited. If God could give us what we currently have, you can be sure He can give us even more. It’s all renewable. 

Moreover, there are promises in Scripture that if we joyfully and willingly give to others in the ways that God has laid out and take care of the needy and vulnerable among us, He’s going to bless us with more.  Giving is the way to abundance! It can feel counterintuitive to our human perception – this idea that giving away brings more – but that’s exactly what happens. As a person of faith, you already know that the mindset we have does not match up with that of the world. This is yet another way that we need to look at things differently, to go beyond what we can see with our eyes and trust what we’ve been promised. 

So, what would it take for you to trust? What would it take for you to loosen your grip on what you have, and open up your hand again? How can you dialogue with and release the fear within you that says, “I won’t have enough?” and move into a mindset that says, “I have everything I need, and when I give, more will come back”?

As you’re working on this, I encourage you to practice generosity in any way you can. It doesn’t have to involve money all the time. This could look like offering a warm smile to every person you meet, taking time to really listen deeply to another person, giving more hugs to your children, helping a coworker with a project they’re struggling with. It’s about going through your day with a spirit of generosity, an openness to all the different ways you can give to others. Consistently practicing small acts of generosity will mean that you are that generous person you feel you used to be and lost somewhere along the way, and your heart will continue to open to this way of being the more you do it.

As I mentioned above, I think that the power of generosity will win the day. The more of us that can move from a mindset of scarcity to generosity, from constriction to expansion, the more the world will heal and change for the better. We are fighting a spiritual battle, and we have to realize that real change for the world starts from within each of us. With God’s help, I believe we can do it!

****

Can you please help me get some clarity on something? So, my situation is that my husband and I both work full time, and we have two children with another one on the way. I can do my work from home, which is a big blessing, but I’m feeling very torn when it comes to my role in the family. What I’d really love to do, if it were possible, is stop working altogether and focus exclusively on my family and home. 

I work because we need the income – my husband’s job alone wouldn’t be enough to support us – but it leaves me feeling like I’m not doing anything well. I can’t focus entirely on my job because I’m also trying to take care of my family, and I can’t care for my family and home in the way I want to because I also have to work. And especially in these days, with so many negative influences coming toward my children all the time, I feel like I need to be with them now more than ever to help guide them toward the values my husband and I want to instill in them. 

Maybe it’s all the attacks on traditional family values these days that are bringing out this longing to go deeper with my family. I feel distracted, stuck, and spread too thin. I’m not sure what I want is even possible. What can I do?

Thank you so much for your question! I completely understand what you’re going through – it can be so challenging to strike the right balance between family and work responsibilities. It can feel like there’s never enough of you to go around, and that you’re being pulled in a million directions at once, often in the opposite direction of where you really want to be! And you’re so right – our kids really need us to be a positive guiding force in their lives these days, which takes time and presence. Let’s see what we can do to help bring you some clarity.

As I read your message, the thought that comes to me is that you seem to be wrestling with an all-or-nothing mentality. Perhaps you’re thinking that it has to be completely one way or the other: either you work full time, or you take care of your family full time…either you have two full-time incomes or one…either you pick one thing to do and do it well, or you can’t do anything well at all. 

As someone who naturally gravitates toward all-or-nothing thinking, I can tell you from my own personal experience that more often than not, this kind of mentality creates limitation, unreasonable expectations, and a set-up for feelings of failure. Most of the time, a more middle-of-the-road approach is healthier, more productive, and brings us more peace of mind.

I hear you saying that you feel you have to work to help support the family but are unhappy with how your full-time job takes you away from all the ways you want to care for them. With the understanding that being with and caring for your family is your top priority and desire, how could you possibly rearrange your work situation to be more conducive to focusing on that? I’m not talking about throwing out your job altogether; I’m talking about being creative within your current situation. Could you possibly change the specific hours you work or scale back to part-time? Could you look for a different job that doesn’t demand so much of your attention, so that you have more energy and focus for your family? You’ve done a powerful thing in determining your top priority for yourself; now, instead of feeling like “I have to do everything full-time all the time,” you can choose to make decisions that support your priority in a balanced way.

Another thought to consider is what you do with your children in the time you have together with them. Are you trying to take care of a million other things while you’re with them, or are you really present? Sometimes we think we need more, and more, and more time, with the thought that “there are never enough hours in the day,” but I think the case for many of us is simply that we need to deepen our focus with the time we have. When we do that, it feels like time expands, and we achieve far more and feel fulfilled in a way that we don’t when we’re multi-tasking like crazy! How might you compartmentalize your day a bit more, so that there are focused, relatively undistracted times for work, being with your children, and other household tasks?

Often, when we feel stuck on an issue in our lives, it’s not because there are no options; it’s because we think there’s only one option, and it’s one that doesn’t work. I encourage you to start thinking creatively about how you could arrange your responsibilities in a way that feels truer to who you are and what you want. If a feeling of limitation comes up as you’re thinking things through, challenge it and ask yourself if it’s really true or not. What could be a different way of looking at the situation that might open up new possibilities?

I hope you can find the balance that’s just right for you and wish you all the best as you continue your journey as a wife and mother who wants what’s best for her family!

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Sarah encourages you to reach out to her with requests for advice! Please send your questions to advice@aflds.org.  Anonymous and secure

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