When Your Child Has Problems

Jennifer Fitz has written a sane and compassionate post for Christian parents who think their children may be transgendered. She makes a distinction among three scenarios. 

First is the child who appears to have a mismatched identity, but is actually after something far simpler than sex reassignment surgery. For instance, a little boy who wants to wear a dress may actually just want to be dressed up, and will be happy to wear a snazzy vest and tie. A little girl who says she wishes she could be a boy scout may actually just be yearning for the action and excitement that's missing in her girl scout troop. These are, says Fitz, "not actually a sex thing."

The second category includes boys who don't fit in with the kind of boys he's familiar with, or girls who don't fit in with the kind of girls she's familiar with.  Fitz says, 

If you don’t fit in with all the guys or all the girls, and you do seem to fit in well with the “wrong” gender friends and family around you, it’s easy to have a passing thought of, 'I should have been born a ________.'

But again, this is not necessarily a case of being transgendered; it's could easily be a case of simply not having found the right people to hang around with. 

Third, Fitz discusses some basic guidelines for parents whose children really do experience "deep seated, undeniable sexual tendencies" which are disordered. It is rare, but it does happen; and parents need to know how to help in a loving way.

In each case, she emphasizes knowing the child himself, as a specific, knowable person, not as a problem This advice applies to situations that every single parent will face at some point, when their children run into some crisis or difficulty.  When a child begins to exhibit some behavior that is worrisome, it's easy to panic, to jump to conclusions, to apply adult-style significance to juvenile behavior, or to assume that we can make a diagnosis based on a single symptom or habit. 

Here's the basic idea, whether we're talking about a child who is actually fine, and just going through a phase, or a child who actually needs professional help:  remember that we're talking about a person, not a problem.

It seems like obvious advice, but when you're talking about your own actual son or daughter, it's not easy to be calm and rational. It's horribly easy to mentally catastrophize the situation, blaming yourself, wondering what the future will hold, wondering how many other things you may be wrong about, if you could be this surprised by your own flesh and blood. Why is she doing this? Why is he like that? Oh, I've read about people like this, oh no, oh no! 

But this approach is useless. It makes non-problems into catastrophes, it leads you to the wrong solution for medium-sized problems, and it signals to children who are just beginning to know themselves that what they are is A Problem. If your kid is doing something that worries or bothers you and you don't know what it means, don't leap to the most extreme conclusion first. There may be a simpler, more benign explanation or solution.  And even if there's not, it's much, much better to go slowly, talk privately to someone you admire and trust, and don't assume anything -- especially when you're upset. Sometimes parents are simply too close to the situation to see it clearly; so asking for outside perspective is not an admission that you don't know your child. It's proof that you want to help, which is your job.

And one more thing: Christians should not be afraid to look for professional help. It is true that there are an awful lot of bad ideas out there, but one of the blessings of the modern age is that the Church is busily developing ways to synthesize psychiatry and spiritual guidance, so we don't have to choose one or the other. It is not a display of weakness, or lack of faith, or lack of trust, to look for help from secular professionals. God gives us many tools; we don't want to be the guy who turned down all the helicopters and then drowned. Pray for guidance in finding the right kind of help, keep your eyes open, and make changes if something's not working; but do not dismiss secular therapy out of hand just because you're a religious person.

It's not that we shouldn't take our children's problems seriously. It's that we should take our children seriously, and focus on them, and not what we know -- or think we know, or fear -- about All The Problems Out There.  


NOTE: I'm going to follow Jen Fitz's lead and remind commenters that topics like this are delicate and can be very painful for some readers. Comments designed to wound or offend will be deleted without warning.