On this week's 'Parenting' segment on the Moncrieff show, one listener sought advice about her child who has recently come out as non-binary.
Joanna Fortune, psychotherapist specialising in Child & Adult Psychotherapy, joined Moncrieff to answer this and other listeners' questions.
"My 10-year-old has decided that they are non-binary and is insistent that we address them with the proper pronouns. In theory I really have no issue with this at all but I’m finding myself irritated and a little unsure about my daughter's decision if I’m honest.
"My problem with it is that there was absolutely no indication prior to her announcement that they were uncomfortable with their gender or that they were unhappy in any major way. I’m pretty confident my daughter wasn’t even aware of the whole gender identification issue until a few kids in her class started talking about it and telling her they were non-binary.
"I feel like kids at this age are highly susceptible when it comes to how they interact with their peers and that my daughter may just be taking this stance because it seems “cool”.
"How do I dissuade her from this potentially socially damaging course of action (if in fact she is not non-binary), without making her think that I am intolerant to the idea should she decide later in life when she is better equipped to make a decision? Any advice would be greatly appreciated."
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“I’m even aware of the struggle in this for the parents to use the they/them pronouns throughout the letter. I think this is a journey, just as it is a journey for young people, it’s a journey for parents too. And parents are allowed to stumble with this as they find their feet. Because it’s kind of uncharted territory as a parent as well. It’s not like to get a script when this happens in your parenting. ‘Here’s what you do and say.’
“So be aware that some of this uncertainty and confusion is yours, not theirs. And it’s okay but own that as yours. Your question and your wondering. Because what our children need from us is to hear, feel and see that we love them, that we support them, that we want them to be safe, well, kind and happy. And that is the best response you can give, regardless of what is presented to you.
“I would say with this situation, let them lead. And your position is, ‘Okay, this is new for me and I’m going to apologise in advance if I get this wrong but I am learning and my question to you is, “How can I support you with this?”’
“And just keep that open space because I always think asking casual, non-threatening questions and holding a space for change, one way or the other, is a healthy approach. But as I was listening to you read that out, this whole thing about, ‘What’s motivating my child in this?’ I wondered about that need for there to be motivation because in that this parent is making an inference. The inference is that your child is being motivated by their peer group and a desire to be cool, or to fit in.
“And you know what? At ten-years-old, those desires are absolutely within typical developmental range. It is a priority at that stage of middle childhood to fit in with your peer group, to be accepted, to be cool. So I’m not looking at that and going, ‘That’s unusual.’ That’s quite a normal healthy thing as well.
“But when you’re making an inference… inferences by nature are prone to error. As soon as we’re inferring, we might be right and we might be wrong. So we have to hold that position of curiosity and being open to being wrong, being open to being surprised.
“So I think if you stay with that and talk with your young person, tell them that you are learning more, that you are also curious about this. Simply invite them if they have a narrative, they may simply say to you, ‘I don’t know, it just is’ - and believe that… Don’t judge, whatever they say. I mean so many of us enjoy judging, don’t we?
“So if they say to you, ‘Oh, it’s just this thing that I read and it made sense to me.’ Don’t go, ‘Well, that doesn’t sound valid.’ You’re not going to jump in with any of that. You’re going to say, ‘Okay, we’re going to hold a space for questioning and exploring this.’
“But I think no matter what our children bring to us, if what we model in response is, ‘I want you safe, well, kind and happy. And I’m here to support you in any way that I can. That will stand to you and your young person.’”
Main image: School children make their way to the classroom. Picture by: Arne Dedert/DPA