Menu

What it’s really like to raise a transgender child

A month before Ryan turned three, we once again broke the sac that contained her and celebrated her birth.

What it’s really like to raise a transgender child

There is a lot of noise coming from the other room, but it's happy noise, the sound of children playing, laughing, and talking in broken conversations that only make sense to 3-year-olds. I peek around the corner to see what my twins are up to and watch Ryan tackle Ben. I wait for Ben's reaction, and walk away when he starts to giggle. They're fine.

Ben was quiet in utero, in terms of movement. His twin was not. Ryan was restless, seemingly fighting for space, or perhaps looking for it. When my partner's water broke at 36 weeks, it was Ben who entered our world first.

Ryan would have been right behind, but for about 30 seconds his heartbeat could not be found. The monitor had been bumped off during the commotion of Ben's birth, so once the room started to breathe again, the doctor broke the second sac so that Ryan could be born.

For nearly three years, Ben and Ryan were our sons. They were the baby bros to their big sister, our first child. Two boys born into a house with two moms and a sister, they balanced the hormone levels a bit. We were relieved they would have each other, have their matching male statuses to lean on in a house already filled with females.

We quickly realized our boys were very different babies with very distinct personalities. Ben was and is the easier twin and our easiest child. He has always been more content and quicker to smile.

Ryan, on the other hand, has been the child who has challenged us the most. His restlessness in utero translated into a baby who was not easily comforted, who always seemed to need something we weren't providing. Our love was strong, but our previous experience as parents seemed weak.

In the early stages of getting to know our twins, as we were finding ways to connect with them individually, we noticed the unmistakable bond they already had with each other. They don't know themselves without the other. And in some cases, when I or my partner (or both of us) were busy taking care of their then toddler sister, all they had was each other.

They would babble to each other from their cribs when we couldn't rush in to get them after they woke. They would stare and giggle at the other when seated on a blanket full of toys, entertained more by each other than the toys at their feet. They would feed each other food from their trays, sitting side by side, heart by heart.

"Ben, Benny! Look! A firetruck!" Ryan points to the truck at an oncoming intersection as we make our way to Costco.

"Where?" Ben asks.

I tell him to look on Ryan's side. When riding in the van, the two of them are always observing and sharing their findings with each other. To help them see the object, we locate it by determining whose side it is on: Ben's side or Ryan's side.

"It's on her side?" Ben can't find the truck.

"Yup. You'll see it in a second," I tell him as I drive by the intersection where the firetruck is parked.

When Ryan was an infant, there were many times we didn't know what to do or how to make him feel better. As he got older, the independence of crawling and walking eased some frustration. Words helped, too. Ryan just wanted to be understood, and we were doing our best to understand.

Ryan's gravitation toward his big sister's clothing at 18 months told us he liked dresses and pink and purple. Ryan's desire for long hair made us regret cutting all of his long curls off before he turned two. A few months later, Ryan's declaration of being a girl made us question his motivation for saying so.

Perhaps he loved his big sister so much he wanted to be just like her. Maybe he thought he had to be a girl to wear dresses, to play with princesses, and to grow long hair. We didn't care that he was a boy who liked 'girl' things and told him so. But he cared. He was not a boy who liked dresses; he was a girl who liked dresses.

We skirted around gender by no longer referring to Ryan as a boy. We called him our kid, not boy or girl, and we lived a few months in a land of neutrality.

His moodiness, anxiety, and sadness told us we needed to do more. We were loving our child, but not validating who he really was and who she needs to be.

After a lot of research and consultations with our pediatrician, and with Ryan's unwavering wishes, we began the process of socially transitioning him from a male to a female. A month before Ryan turned three, we once again broke the sac that contained her and celebrated her birth.

This new Ryan was happier than the first, she became easier to please and more relaxed. Our new understanding came with acceptance and support, and our internal struggles with saying good-bye to what we thought was going to be were overshadowed by the confidence and joy radiating from our daughter.

Our twins are now a boy/girl set, and we have two daughters instead of one. Our family's dynamics have changed, and sometimes I miss having the bros, but I worry more about the impact Ryan's transition will have on Ben.

Ben is not just the only boy in the house. He is now the twin brother to a transgender twin sister. His identity was changed, too, and when Ryan pulls away to stand alone as a girl, or to search for more ways to solidify her identity as a female, I worry about their bond.

Ryan was home sick from school one day, and when my partner picked up Ben, the teachers said he had a good day, but missed Ryan. "She's my best friend," he had told the teacher.

I realized the bond has always been there and always will be. Ryan has been pushing and pulling her way to get where she needs to be from the beginning. And Ben has always been next to her, seemingly not bothered by her restlessness or aware of her differences.

In this case, what we're looking for is not on Ben's side or on Ryan's. This love they have for each other is just there, waiting behind doors, peeking around corners, hidden in simple gestures, and shared in conversations only they can understand.

I have been waiting for Ben's reaction, but I now know it's okay to walk away. They are fine.

This is how we’re defining success this school year

Hint: It's not related to grades.

In the ever-moving lives of parents and children, opportunities to slow down and reflect on priorities can be hard to come by. But a new school year scheduled to begin in the midst of a global pandemic offers the chance to reflect on how we should all think about measures of success. For both parents and kids, that may mean putting a fresh emphasis on optimism, creativity and curiosity.

Throughout recent decades, "school success" became entangled with "academic achievement," with cases of anxiety among school children dramatically increasing in the past few generations. Then, almost overnight, the American school system was turned on its head in the spring of 2020. As we look ahead to a new school year that will look like no year past, more is being asked of teachers, students and parents, such as acclimating to distance learning, collaborating with peers from afar and aiming to maintain consistency with schooling amidst general instability due to COVID.

Despite the inherent challenges, there is also an overdue opportunity to redefine success during the school year by finding fresh ways to keep students and their parents involved in the learning process.

"I always encourage my son to try at least one difficult thing every school year," says Arushi Garg, parenting blogger and mom of a 4-year-old. "This challenges him but also allows me to remind him to be optimistic! Lots of things in life are hard, and it's important we learn to be positive during difficult times. Fostering a sense of optimism allows kids to push beyond what they thought possible, like biking without training wheels or reading above their grade level."

Here are a few mantras to keep in mind this school year:

Quality learning matters more than quantifying learning

After focusing on standardized measures of academic success for so long, the learning environment this next school year may involve more independent, remote learning. Some parents are considering this an exciting opportunity for their children to assume a bigger role in what they are learning—and parents are also getting on board by supporting their children's education with engaging, positive learning materials like Highlights Magazine.

As a working mom, Garg also appreciates that Highlights Magazine can help engage her son while she's also working. She says, "He sits next to me and solves puzzles in the magazine or practices his writing from the workbook."

Keep an open mind as "school" looks different

Whether children are of preschool age or in the midst of high school, "going to school" is bound to look different this year. Naturally, this may require some adjustment as kids become accustomed to new guidelines. Although many parents may wish to shelter our kids from challenges, others believe optimism can be fostered through adversity when everyone is committed to adapting to new experiences.

"Honestly, I am yet to figure out when I will be comfortable sending [my son] back [to school]," says Garg. In the meantime, she's helping her son remain connected with friends who also read Highlights Magazine by encouraging the kids to talk about what they are learning on video calls.

Follow children's cues about what interests them

For Garg, her biggest hope for this school year is that her son will create "success" for himself by embracing new learning possibilities with positivity.

"Encouraging my son to try new things has given him a chance to prove that he can do anything," she says. "He takes his previous success as an example now and feels he can fail multiple times before he succeeds."

There's no denying that this school year will be far from the norm. But, perhaps, we can create a new, better way of defining our children's success in school because of it.

This article was sponsored by Highlights. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Our Partners

This oil completely changed my skin this summer

And I'm never going back to lotion.

For all the sweating and swimming I do in the summer, it seems illogical for my skin to be as parched as ever. But your mid-thirties (and 2020 in general) don't really seem to follow any rule book, so here we are.

A couple of months ago, I was on the lookout for a moisturizer that would not only keep my legs from looking like an ashy mess, but also truly nourish and benefit my skin. I've developed a deep interest in skin care for my face over the past few years and decided it's high time to extend that degree of consideration to the rest of my body. (After all, there's more of it, right?)

It's not that I'm too concerned with aging, but let's be real. If there's something that can be done to slow the Wrinkle Express, I'm going to give it a go. I also wanted to find something natural that wouldn't turn into a goopy mess the second I started sweating.

Enter: Esker's Firming Body Oil.

Keep reading Show less
popular

20 baby names to set your child up for success

What do Jacqueline, Morgan, Madison and Parker all have in common?

They say picking a baby name is an art, not a science. But when it comes to figuring out which baby names have been linked to successful futures, there has actually been some scientific work on the subject.

Keep reading Show less
News