My Youngest Child Came Out: Am I Strong Enough for This?

In the past nine months, my youngest child has been dealing with a chronic illness, wants to see a therapist, told us that he is asexual, is non-binary, uses they/them pronouns, and now wants to be known as Petunia. (Instead of their given name).

I have tried to be a supportive parent but I struggle with what to say. (Twenty20 @kytawillets)

If a friend had told me this was happening with their kid a year ago, I would have tried to be supportive but might have thought, “Wow, that is crazy!” I might even have chuckled a bit.

As much as I would like to pretend this is another family, it is mine. And even though I love my youngest child dearly, I don’t really “get it.” I want to help, but I don’t know how. I want to fix it, but…the tools I have are inadequate.

Our older three kids were the kind of teens that made you feel like you did parenting pretty well for the most part. They didn’t all follow the “traditional path” of college, marriage, and kids but have done what makes them happy, are fiscally and socially responsible, and generally make this world a better place.

This one is tougher. When they became physically ill last fall we were fortunate to find the cause of the auto immune disorder they suffered from, and have started a treatment plan. Hopefully, the course of treatment and some additional specialists we consult this summer will help as well.

Joe first told us that he was asexual

Before this illness started, Joe had told us that he was asexual and I would like to think our family responded pretty well. Even his 70 something grandparents looked it up and were accepting. I was a little sad that he would not find a life partner but wanted Joe to be happy.

A couple months later he got sick. We spent a lot of time together going to and from the doctor. He was not able to go to school but did work with a homebound teacher and was able to get some of the school work completed. On the way to yet another specialist, Joe told me that he wanted to see a therapist, that he is non-binary and uses they/them pronouns.

This was a little tougher.

I found a therapist and made an appointment. Joe said that I had ignored their mental health concerns until now. When we did the initial intake meeting, Joe said that they had felt sad and anxious for the past 4 or 5 years. about Mom guilt.

Joe announced that he was not our son, but our child

My husband was upset when Joe said “I am not your son. I am your child.” I got a little more caught up in “what others will think” than I would like to admit or in debating what to say when I call to make Joe and appointment and they say, “he.”

When a neighbor asked how “he” was feeling, was it idle chit-chat? Or was it an opportunity to show my child, “I’ve got your back!” Or even a chance to educate others. Was I too afraid of societal norms? Or did idle chit-chat with neighbors or medical people not matter?

And then came the kicker. Initially I was glad that Joe had a pretty gender neutral name. Then, Joe wrote me a letter saying that they are now going to be called Petunia. (With a beautiful picture of a petunia.) They have still not shared this with the rest of the family.

I am trying to be a supportive parent but this is challenging

I have tried to be supportive. I want be supportive. Part of me wants to be an authoritarian parent and say “cut it out…your name is Joe.” However, they are 16 and I really don’t like to parent that way.

Part of me is honored that they come to me first with each new bit of info and that they feel comfortable telling me about their struggles. But, I have to admit that I struggle with what to say. I fear that I am saying or doing the wrong thing, and I fear societal repercussions for them.

Part of me just wants peace, to not be “that family,” but the better part of me wants to support and help my kid. I just wish I had a playbook or the right tools.

The author of this post wishes to remain anonymous.

More Great Reading:

Here are 7 Ways to Support Your Bisexual or Gay Teen

About Grown and Flown

Mary Dell Harrington and Lisa (Endlich) Heffernan are the co-founders of Grown and Flown the #1 site for parents of teens, college students and young adults, reaching millions of parents every month. They are writers (Lisa is a New York Times bestselling author), moms, wives and friends. They started the Grown and Flown Parents Facebook Group and are co-authors of Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults (Flatiron Books) now in paperback.

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