Being the mom of a gender-bending son (a “sparkly boy”, as we lovingly call it in our family) is lonely. Few are openly walking this path — often out of fear for their children and/or themselves — so it is near impossible to find a group of people — or even one other local family — who allow their sons to sparkle when, where, and how they so choose. This means there’s little opportunity to share insights, experience, guidance, or support.
As there’s little community for us, I offer this: my tips for raising a sparkly son. Take or leave what you will. Apply it as your heart sees fit for your life and your child. I simply extend efforts that have proven invaluable to us as suggestions for other parents seeking guidance.
Tip #1: Accept with no exceptions. “Mommy loves you always, no matter what, and more than you will ever know.” This is a constant reminder in our home since my children were but moments old. My children know that they are unendingly, unconditionally, and unabashedly loved no matter what they do, no matter who they love, no matter who they become. This goes for my hyper-competitive daughter, my sparkly middle son, and my rough-and-tumble marshmallow-centered youngest son. I practice acceptance so that they learn and see the habit. We read about acceptance. We discuss accepting others and self. Acceptance is a part of our family culture. They know that, in our home, grades will never be as important as being a kind human.
Tip#2: Talk about it. We talk about gender identity, gender norms, sexuality, and inclusion. We read kids books about kindness and inclusion. We peruse inclusive history books that note the contributions of individuals from all backgrounds and walks of life. We discuss my sparkly son’s gender-bending interests within and outside of the family. It is not presented as shameful or something to be hidden. We are open and fully accepting of his tendencies, thus outwardly and inwardly establishing the unwavering expectation that others should follow suit. We give it voice. We honor it. We recognize it. We establish the norm by presenting our own.
Tip #3: Be the biggest supporter. Show no fear. Show no shame. Be as proud of your sparkly son as you would be of any of your children. Be steadfast in your stance to allow him to sparkle when, where, and how he chooses. Be strong. Be lovingly fierce. Be determined to make this a world where future children and families shouldn’t even have to question whether it is safe or acceptable to allow their children to be true-to-self. Never give him reason to doubt your loving position as his greatest ally.
Tip #4: Communicate with the school. Out your family. It’s scary, but it’s the best and most valuable step you can take. Be brave. Schedule a meeting with your son’s principal and make sure the school will be a safe, supportive space for your child and establish firm steps for handling fallout. Meet with his teachers before each school year, being clear about your son’s tendencies, your family’s stance on those inclinations, and your expectations for classroom management as well as requesting open communication between school and home. Meet with any of your other children’s teachers to give them a heads-up on the sibling situation, as classrooms are not vacuums; your son’s sparkle will affect your other child(ren) in some way at some point. Communicate openly with fellow parents so that they know what discussions to initiate at home, and open yourself up as a resource to any of their questions. Establish a relationship between your child(ren) and the school counselor, just in case (there’s zero harm or risk in doing this… pure benefit.) It’s better to communicate clearly, establish expectations, and offer everyone a chance to succeed, rather than reactively putting out potentially avoidable fires. Plus, if your son is happily sparkling everywhere, it’s really not a secret anyway.
Tip #5: Be realistic. As much as we would like our fellow humans to be open, accepting, kind individuals, that’s not always going to be the case. It’s not our job to shelter or change our children in light of potential unkindness. Instead, we must help our children assess, prepare for, and address possible risks. So, before your son wears a pink tiara to the playground or a Rapunzel dress for Halloween, have a loving talk with him. Tell him that, though it’s not ok to do so, some people may react to his ensemble choice negatively. Tell him that he should only seek friends who are kind to him and love him, but that he should be prepared in case someone is unkind. Discuss how he would react and respond to such a situation. Really talk it through. Empower him. Remind him that his interests are ok and that he shouldn’t hide who he is simply because someone might possibly maybe be unfriendly. Guide him through this journey while reassuring him that he is loved, supported, and absolutely beautiful as he is.
Tip #6: Be creative. Think outside of the box… your son is! Right now, there’s a counterculture movement that celebrates females who buck the norm and dive into S.T.E.M., who reign in sports, or who rebuke stereotypical femininity. Males are not quite as empowered to shed their own gender norms yet. So you may find dinosaur hoodies and airplane t-shirts in the girls clothing section, but you’d be hard-pressed to encounter princess pajamas or unicorn flip-flops in the boys section. So, take your child’s lead and stop caring about labels and categories and gender sections. Dig in and shop the girls section. Scan the famous Olympic figure skater, Johnny Weir’s Instagram for outfit inspiration. Turn to tunics, shirtdresses, sequined tops, jeggings, kilts, and unisex-cut shimmery accessories. Be bold. Be resourceful. Make it fun.
Tip #7: Do not bend, so he will not break. Whether it’s family not accepting your son’s interests, classmates making unkind remarks, teachers not meeting the bar for classroom management, strangers being intolerant, or even your spouse having doubts, do not allow your son see you falter. Do not give him reason to doubt his right to be who he is. Do not let a whisper slip into his mind that he is not supported, not accepted, or that he is somehow lesser. Do not feed or create self-doubt (or, worse yet, self-loathing), and don’t let anyone else do it either. We all know the terrible, gut-wrenching statistics on self-harm for kids, teens, and adults who are not supported in their gender and sexuality journeys. Don’t let your child be one of those statistics! If you are iron-strong in your support of your child, if you lovingly yet firmly demand that others honor him for who he is, if you openly rebuke unkindness and intolerance, your child will hold that strength within himself. Give him no reason to doubt himself.
We are a rare breed, we moms to sparkly boys, and we are forced in love to navigate an uncharted, lonely path. But on we plod on because love matters most.
You can do this, and so can your son. Know that every victory and every struggle is worthwhile. When you are on the side of love, you are on the right side. And this, my fellow mama, is most definitely a journey of love.
Keep loving. Keep fighting. Keep listening to your mama heart.
You are not alone.