When I gave birth to my first child I was given so many free samples, gift bags and coupons for everything baby related under the sun. I believe it was the gift bag from my lamaze teacher that included a poem titled “Children Learn What They Live.” A beautiful poem written by Dorothy Law Nolte in 1954 for a weekly family column in the Torrance Herald. I was so fascinated by the words in this poem, I framed it and hung it in the nursery. Years later I pasted it onto the inside cover of my daughter’s baby book. I never wanted to forget those words. This was my first child and she was perfect. I wanted to do everything right.
Too many of the transgender folks that I know have little to no relationship with their children after coming out. Being a mother of three, this truly breaks my heart. My wife and I have three girls. Only our youngest, you could say, was accepting overnight. Her greatest fear was that our marriage would not survive transition and we would split up. Not that her dad was really a woman, but that her family unit would change. Our other two girls had a transition of their own. They learned, listened, talked, cried, and went to family therapy sessions with us. They became part of my wife’s transition, instead of protesting it, and their relationships flourished. For me it was beautiful to witness.
Not all intimate relationships will survive transition for many different reasons. But, when children are involved I believe it is up to the cisgender parent to help cultivate the relationship their children have with the parent who is transitioning. I fully understand if the relationship is not right for you but never forget that they helped you to bring those children into the world. The same rules for divorce should apply in this situation. It is never ok to speak badly about the other parent and tell your children that their other parent is bad, evil, or call them names. Any child psychologist will tell you that it is one of the worst things that you could do to your children.
"JUST BECAUSE YOU AND YOUR TRANSGENDER PARTNER DECIDE TO GO YOUR SEPARATE WAYS, IT DOES NOT MEAN THAT IT IS OK FOR YOU TO PROJECT YOUR FEELINGS ABOUT THE SITUATION ONTO YOUR CHILDREN."
Just because you and your transgender partner decide to go your separate ways, it does not mean that it is ok for you to project your feelings about the situation onto your children. Instead, what you should be a support system for your children. Let them know that their other parent loves them and values the relationship that they have with your children. Get them into therapy or a support group for families and allies of transgender folks. Help the relationship to grow instead of pouring gasoline on the fire. Coming out to your family, friends, and coworkers as transgender is a tremendously difficult thing to do and almost all transgender people lose close family or friends. I think that losing the relationship that they had with their children is a crime.
Simply stated, relationships are like the plants in our garden. They need to be fed with nutrients, they require water on a daily basis, and sunlight to grow to their full potential. Give your children the opportunity to learn about what it means to be transgender. Check in with them daily to see how they are adapting to this change in their lives, and be the light that you hope they will be one day in the world.
(I suggest reading the poem “Children Learn What They Live" and letting those words run around in your head.)
Children Learn What They Live
By Dorothy Law Nolte, Ph.D.
If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.
If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.
If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.
If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.
If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.
If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.
If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.
If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.
Copyright © 1972 by Dorothy Law Nolte