I think all parents upon holding their baby are overcome with the incredible potential that is inherent in a new life. I’ve seen a number of “pro-life” ads in my area recounting how “your baby might cure cancer.” Now I am not interested in debating the abortion issue, but it does name a very common outlook at the birth of a new baby. Yes, maybe your child will grow up and become a Nobel Prize winner in Medicine. Each person has a set of hopes for their child. This hope gives parents motivations to ensure their child receives the best education they can. A parent’s hopes for their child can serve as a valuable motivation to parents to build a quality of life which they hope will be the tools of success for their children. As my own children grow up I want them to observe those character traits and habits which have played a role in my own personal success.
We are all familiar with the dreams and excitement that comes with a new baby. We are aware of the huge responsibility having a child involves to be our best selves. We hope the sacrifices involved in raising a child find positive expression in the lives of our children. What we are less willing to talk about (and I understand why) is when children live lives radically off the script envisioned by their parents. I have thought about this considerably in the wake of coming out as transgender. My personal disclosure after years of hiding in the closet shocked my parents. They find it hard to process all of their hopes for their child suddenly radically shifted. I feel for them. It can’t be easy to have your child’s name change. It can’t be easy reconciling your experience of your child with discovering their underlying mental anguish of lifelong gender dysphoria. If you haven’t lived a life accepting of LGBT people, you have many fears about your child being wrong, making a “bad” choice, or being deviant.
I wish I knew how to comfort my parents. Coming out certainly wasn’t designed to crush them. It was a personal disclosure based in the truth about myself that I had been too afraid to tell before. And see that’s what isn’t told about having a baby. What truths about your child and their experience are the parents going to discover as life goes forward? Parents can have hopes of their baby curing cancer; but the truth might be that their child is going to have no math and science savvy, their child is going to be the hands on type. Or maybe instead of curing cancer, their child will be the one who dies of cancer. Or perhaps their child will someday take the life of another person.
Life has a huge who knew dimension to it. Hopes and dreams for children always have a contingency to them. Don’t all hopes and dreams have these contingencies? And while we are thinking about hopes and dreams for children, really those hopes had a drawback to them all along. Our child may have different dreams than we do. My children are not an extension of me, and I shouldn’t expect them to find what I find to be fun, fun. Children from birth on have their own personalities and interests. I might love swimming, I might share my excitement about the sport, but what my kid does with my interest in swimming really needs to be in their court.
I cannot base how I interact with my child on how closely they meet my dreams for them. I cannot choose my children’s religious, political, or philosophical outlook. I can’t control their attitudes or interests. My child will encounter situations I never foresaw for them. They might develop an addiction or get into legal trouble. My child might develop friendships or romances with people that I don’t particularly understand or enjoy being around. And all of these things which are outside of my control highlight how my love for my child needs to be truly unconditional.
As I encounter the difficulty my parents are having with my transition; I really wish I could better explain all of the amazing things in my life which they played a part in. They couldn’t control whether or not I turned out transgender; but their efforts on my behalf have given me many good things. I knew my parents cared deeply about me growing up. They had a stability to their home which made it a good place to live on many levels. They invested in my education. Someday I’m sure I am set for a round of Jeopardy. They encouraged me to pursue higher education; even though I am currently in school to be a hairstylist (a line of work that doesn’t require a masters degree) I am glad at the critical thinking skills and personal growth which occurred during my higher education. I know they played a big part in giving me that gift. And who knows, perhaps someday that education will be re-purposed?
The character my parents modeled remains a part of my life. I might not share their religious perspective, but I retain a strong sense caring for others, personal ethics, and vision. The hard work I saw from both my parents remains a value I apply to my everyday life. Their punctuality has proven an asset to me over and over again. Their love of children is something I too have. I enjoy being a parent very much.
While being transgender was certainly not on my parent’s dream list, and really they never had any control over that. (A consistant proportion of people are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender.) Their investments and hopes have paid off in my life. Their love that nurtured me when I was a child, has played a part in shaping the vibrant compassionate woman I am today. I want to give my children the best quality of life that I can for them. But my own story underlines how I can’t fall in love with any script surrounding my children’s lives. There is so much I have no control over. But no matter how my children’s lives unfold, I am always in control of how I interact with them and show them my love. No matter what happens, I want to love my kids, not the hopes and dreams I might have for them.