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Category Archives: The family

Laying the groundwork with young children to talk to them about choice

I’m sharing this for any other parents of younger children who might find it useful. My 4 year old is OBSESSED with pregnancy at the moment, has been for a good while. Discussions on how to talk to your children about abortion come up a lot in Parents for Choice.  I haven’t done that in detail yet with her though I have mentioned once or twice that sometimes people don’t want to stay pregnant.

Photo 2 pages of a children's book called What Makes a Baby, one page is the cover and the other is an inside spread illustration of embryo and foetal development at different stages.

What Makes a Baby children’s book

BUT what I am doing is being very careful in the language I use about pregnancy. I don’t tell her people have “a baby in their tummy”, we talk about people having baby seeds that are growing into babies. When they’ve finished growing into a baby they’re ready to be born. This book is great for a basic explanation of conception that suits all kinds of families (definitely not the case for the vast majority of pregnancy books which are obsessed with married straight white couples) but where it falls down for me is talking about a 5 week embryo as a baby, so I do some editorial reading with Ailbhe and talk about these as baby seeds until the 38 week one which is a baby. It works really well and makes sense to her, we’re growing a sunflower from a seed in our windowsill at the moment. She demanded her daddy read it to her the other day while I was at work and informed him they were all baby seeds up until the 38 week one!

I’m doing this because I don’t want to be trying to explain to a seven year old who’s asking me questions about abortion that actually a 7 week embryo or whatever it is isn’t actually a baby in someone’s tummy as I’ve been telling her all along and so that it won’t strike her as something as immediately shocking as I think it otherwise might. I’m posting in case it might help others in the same situation.

Ireland: Domestic Abusers Paradise

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Ireland: Domestic Abusers Paradise

Pink circles taryn pic

The following is a not-at-all comprehensive list of things that are not considered a crime in Ireland (if the person doing them to you is your partner or ex partner):

  • Refusing to get you medical attention when you need it
  • Deliberately embarking on a campaign of brainwashing to break you down and erode your self worth
  • Leaving you sick without food or water for more than 24 hours
  • Belittling and mocking you for your health issues
  • Stopping you from seeing your friends and/or family
  • Hacking into your accounts and spying on you
  • Trying to turn your children against you
  • Extorting money from you by coercion
  • Coming into your house without your permission
  • Going through your belongings
  • Leaving photographs of themselves in your bed
  • Sending abusive texts or emails
  • Using children to hurt/control you (by not attending to their needs when in their care, refusing to sign permission slips/passport applications/H.S.E forms etc)
  • Spreading malicious lies about you
  • Reading your texts and emails
  • Lurking round your property and looking through your back windows in the morning
  • Using jointly owned assets (property etc) as a means to control you
  • Not allowing you any money or taking all the money without your knowledge or permission
  • Sabotaging your contraception
  • Not allowing you to have an abortion if you want one
  • Neglecting the children when they are in his care
  • Not allowing you any time to yourself
  • Not allowing you to work
  • Making you keep a diary of what you do every minute of the day
  • Using their financial means and your lack of to control you
  • Deliberatley stripping you of your sense of identity
  • Threatening to take your children off you
  • Threatening to harm your children and or pets
  • Threatening to kill themselves in an effort to control you

All of the above examples I’ve taken from my own experience and those of the many women* I’ve supported after leaving abusive relationships. Many of these examples were cited in dealings with domestic abuse services and Gardai and the victim was told they had no case against the abuser. They are just some of the techniques used by abusive people to emotionally abuse others. I call it psychological torture, a brainwashing that happens over time that slowly but surely erodes the sense of self. This connection to the man’s needs creates a binding dynamic that makes it extra difficult for women to leave. Their victim’s sense of self is so eroded and they are so brainwashed into putting him first that even after leaving the most awful of relationships they are still thinking of and worried about the ‘poor’ man they’ve left. A lot of the work I do is helping women to reclaim their sense of self and to learn to put themselves and their needs first.

If you are a victim who has suffered emotional abuse constituting any of the above list (or other emotionally abusive actions), there are a few countries in the world that consider that treatment of you a crime. The U.K, France and Canada all consider emotional abuse to be a crime, as does the the U.N and domestic abuse service providers who work with abused women. Given the long term affects on the victim are the same regardless of the type of abuse perpetrated, why is it that most countries (including Ireland) only recognise the physical body as capable of being ‘abused’?

According to a U.N report on violence against women,

“Forty-three per cent of women in the 28 European Union Member States have experienced some form of psychological violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.”

43%. That is nearly half the female population of Europe that has been a victim of a type of abuse that is considered a criminal act in several first world countries and that is every bit as harmful to the victim as physical violence.

In Ireland, domestic abuse is not even seen as a crime, as Jane Ruffino points out in her excellent piece on the subject. A woman in Ireland whose partner or ex partner is doing any of the things on the list above has no legal recourse to get him to stop. Yet the list above contains actions that are considered warning signs if you are an expert in domestic abuse. And as we know, domestic abuse often ends only when the woman is dead.

Data on domestic abuse is not even collected in Ireland. Perhaps the Irish government thinks it can put it’s head in the sand as to the scale of the problem. That Gardai were grossly under reporting domestic abuse figures came to light when the Northern Irish Police released their report detailing more than 29,000 domestic abuse incidents. When this figure was compared with 3678 incidents reported by Gardai the same year people started to question the validity of the Irish figures. Since Ireland has nearly 3 times the population of Northern Ireland our figures should’ve looked more like 87,000. But then I suppose figures like that might require some kind of action on behalf of the Irish government.

According to the U.N less than 10% of women report physical, emotional or sexual crimes against them to the Police. If we are to assume that the Irish figures should be more like 87,000 and that that is representative of the 10% who report, we would be looking at 783,000 women in Ireland currently or previously being a victim of abuse (excluding child abuse). That roughly equals one sixth of the Irish population. Add that to the one in four who have been abused as a child and you have a country with a massive abuse problem. A country that doesn’t record domestic abuse figures and has a horrific history of covering up (and enabling even) child abuse.

As the government in Ireland seems disinterested in knowing how many of it’s citizens have been abused, perhaps some monetary figures would incentivise them to care. The link between metal health and trauma has been widely reported on, and the cost of mental health problems to the Irish economy is 3 billion a year. While some mental health problems are physiological, research shows that a lot of mental health problems stem from trauma. There are potentially 783,000 women in Ireland who have or are currently a victim of domestic abuse (excluding child abuse statistics). Some of these women have children who have also been exposed to if not abuse itself then the aftermath of experiencing abuse. These women have friends, family and work colleagues who will similarly be exposed and perhaps affected. That is a lot of potential mental health issues.

If we cared about abuse (if we cared about women) we might know what the actual figure of the economic cost of domestic abuse is. I’m not an economist, so I can only talk about the human cost. The human cost of living in a country that doesn’t view someone psychologically torturing you, denying you healthcare, tricking you into getting pregnant, threatening you, stalking you, lying about you or using your children against you as a crime worth prosecuting. A country that doesn’t even bother to collect data about the abuse you are receiving. And I have to ask, what kind of country accepts this behaviour as socially and legally justifiable?

NOTE ON ACTIONS: You can write to, phone or email your TD about the Domestic Violence Bill and ask for:

  • Domestic abuse to be made a criminal act.
  • Data to be collected by the Gardai on domestic abuse.
  • Emotional abuse to be included as a crime.
  • The name to be changed to ‘Domestic Abuse’ to encompass all types of abuse, including those that aren’t physical.

*I’m speaking of women in this piece as they are the most affected by domestic abuse and I have only worked with women survivors, however men can of course be victims of abuse as well.

CoParenting with an Abusive Ex

Domestic Abuse services are fantastic, I can’t think of enough good things to say about them and the people who work in the shelters and on helplines. One area where there are just about zero supports however is for after women leave an abusive relationship. Which is a time when women (and men who have been abused but I am going to speak of women here as they are the gender statistically abused much more) really are in need of supports. This is especially the case with women who have children. There is very little support available for a woman who has just left an abusive relationship. There is no extra financial help, so she must go through the same degrading experience applying for social welfare as everyone else. There are no free childminding services dedicated to helping vulnerable women out if they need to sit in the health service office awaiting their number to come up for emergency relief money, or if they need to go and look at flats or houses to move into. There are no parenting supports to help them to de-program their children from the cycle of abuse they have now been exposed to for however many years. And there is no guide to how to co-parent with someone who at the least hates you and at worst wants to kill you.

Many women are forced to co-parent with abusive exes and these men will pull out all the stops to attempt to continue to control and hurt the woman who has left them. I am going to outline here some of the common tactics they use when co-parenting and some strategies you can utilize in response.

  1. Setting their preferred narrative about the breakup/you. Anyone who you care about you should tell them the truth before he gets in with his lies. I have never not known an abusive person to try and set an untruthful narrative.  A common narrative is to try and make people question the woman’s mental health. Some even attempt to paint themselves as the victim.
  2. Attempting to discredit you to your kid’s school. When you leave go in and chat to the Principal and explain that you have left an abusive relationship. Make sure your kid’s teacher knows what is happening too. If you are not satisfied with the responses you get complain to the board of management of the school. It’s important that the school is aware of your child’s circumstances and that you don’t allow your ex to set the narrative.
  3. Attempting to turn your kids against you. They will do this in a variety of ways from the obvious and extreme (‘Your Mum’s a bitch’) to far more subtle ways. It’s a good idea to say to your kids that you are not with their dad anymore because you didn’t like how he was disrespectful to you. That is all you need to say. You don’t want to get into anything else with the kids, it would not be good for them or you. Let them know that it’s not kind to say mean things about people. Be sensitive to their needs when they come back from their dad’s and check in if they seem disturbed or upset. If they disclose that he said something awful about you make sure you take them to a counsellor or therapist so they can help your child and also to have it on record.
  4. Using the privileges that come with coparenting to control you. This could be anything from refusing to sign school or medical permission slips to neglecting their child’s clothing or other needs when they are in his care. I have seen abusive men who were not feeding their kids properly, who wouldn’t let their children shower, who sent their kids home in clothes that were too tight every time they had them – forcing the mother to constantly buy more, changed previous agreements regarding pick ups at the drop of a hat, refusing to sign for a special needs assessment, insisting on only picking kids up from the mother’s house, letting themselves into the mother’s house without her knowledge or consent, being aggressive and angry with the mother at every hand over, being rough with the children  during hand over, sending manipulative texts while they have the children “Xxxx is crying, they want you to come and pick them up.” etc. They will use anything they can to continue to control their ex partner, even using their own kids. The best thing to do ios to keep detailed records of all they do, try and get witnesses and get your kids as much support as is available/you can afford. Get your kids weekly counselling/therapy sessions and have everything their dad is doing that is harmful recorded by a professional. Judges usually don’t trust women and will only listen to professionals. Act as if you are preparing for a custody court battle, be constantly building your case against him with as much evidence as you can. That way if it does go to court you will have all the expert opinion and a paper trail of the imapact of his abuse on the children.
  5. He will try and physically see you as much as he can. He will use the kids to attempt to physically see you. It is a good idea to insist on written only communication (as that is accountable). Try and avoid seeing him if you can and never see him on your own under any circumstances. You are trying to cut off all his chances to be abusive.
  6. He may try and be the ‘fun’ parent and your kids might come back feeling resentful of you because your house doesn’t have all the fancy computer games/you don’t eat take out every night etc. He may deliberately be trying to paint you as the unfun parent, this is sometimes just to win them over, other times because he is looking to have full custody. All of these things are chances to teach empathy to your kids and to get them to understand why you make the choices you do. Be really wary if it seems like he is campaigning with them to win them over to move in with him full time. Try and teach your kids to be discerning and to be aware of people’s motivations, which is all good life learning anyway.
  7. He may try and threaten you with legal letters or with social services. Remember that he has a lot more to be worried about than you. This is another good reason to keep loads of records of all the awful stuff he does.
  8. He may send texts or emails to you that imply he is going to hurt himself and/or the children. Speak to the police and social services if he does this, especially if he does it while he has the kids. These kind of communications should be treated very seriously. He may be trying to control you but he may not be too. Call the police.
  9. He might stalk you. If he does call the police and get a barring order or whatever equivalent there is in your area. I have known abusive men who have climbed in open windows of their exes house, had spare keys made unbeknownst to their ex and let themselves into her house when she wan’t there, men who have left letters and photos in women’s beds. All not ok.
  10. He might be cyber spying on you. Change all your passwords. I’ve come across 3 tech-savvy abusive men in my time working with survivors. These men were reading all their exes communications on facebook and on their phones. One man had even installed hidden cameras in his exes house.

This is far from an exhaustive list but it outlines a lot of the common issues women the women I have worked with are dealing with.

Finally I would suggest getting as much counselling as possible to deal with the trauma you’ve been through. The stronger you are the better parent you’ll be and the more you will be able to be there for your kids. It is hard for them having a father who is role modelling an abusive mindset and who is interacting with them from this space and they will need a lot of help and support too.

I have written a survivors guide with a section on co-parenting strategies if you would like a copy email iampowerfulandstrong@gmail.com and I will reply with a copy attached.

Why We Need To Change Our Thinking on Bullying

I’ve been working with victims of domestic abuse for 6 years now. And during the course of this work I began to see a direct link between children who bully and adults who abuse. Many of the families I have worked with have had at least one child who has begun abusing the mother after she leaves an abusive relationship. These children have had abuse role modelled for them, and disrespect for their mother’s role modelled for them and it takes a lot of work to undo the dangerous ideas they hold.  The link between child bullies and adult abusers is a contentious subject, but an important one for us to consider as it affects so many of us and should be shaping the bullying policies of our schools and universities.

Children who grow up in abusive households are significantly more likely to grow up to become abusers themselves or to be abused. 1 in 3 women in the world will experience physical or sexual violence, most commonly from a partner, so we are talking about a huge portion of the population that is affected by these issues. And yet for women seeking help and support from domestic abuse services there is little help once they have left the relationship and even less support in supporting them to parent children who have been exposed to abuse. Thus the cycle of abuse starts up again, as many survivors of abuse don’t have the skills, energy, time or knowledge to undo the damage done to their children. These children are often abusive to their mother and sometimes to other kids in school. When I first started looking into this 6 years ago I couldn’t find any information, online or otherwise on child to parent abuse. Now though child to parent abuse awareness is spreading and it has in the last few years become an issue that is finally being talked about. Because bullying isn’t just something that happens at school. Lots of children who have grown up in abusive households bully their non abusive parent. Bullying needs to be looked at within a wider context. And it needs to be looked at alongside abuse.

People with abusive mindsets share two things. A core belief in inequality and a sense of entitlement. Bullies also share these two beliefs. In my head bullies and abusers are interchangeable terms. They both mean the same thing,  bully being a kid-friendly term for a child abuser, adult abusers getting called out for what they are.

The fortunate thing is that children are much easier to work with and less fixed in their ideas than adults. It is depressing that the world’s leading rehabilitation program for domestic abuse perpetrators has less than a 40% success rate, but this is probably because the main issue is that an abusive mindset is not a psychological problem within the abuser’s brain, but a cultural and societal problem. It is the result of the toxic masculinity created from being raised in a patriarchal society with rigid gender expectations and unhealthy beliefs about the value of women. And it is constantly reinforced by the media, by the options on supermarket shelves, by the fashion industry, by governments and more. It is everywhere we look. All aimed at controlling women and portraying them as inferior to men.

Studies have shown that the behaviour of abusive people is mostly deliberate. They actively choose to behave in a way that exerts domination and control over their partner, in order to get their needs and wants met. In other words, they KNOW what they are doing. Their actions are intentional.

I do not know anything about rehabilitating abusive adults. I do however know about helping children who have been taught by their abusive parent to be bullies. I know how to help their mothers to parent them in such a way that will guide them towards being respectful people. And much of the work I do with mothers and their children works equally well in a school setting.

I was on the committee that developed our primary school’s anti – bullying policy where we defined bullying as ‘an act with intent to harm’. Most school’s approach bullying as being repeated actions. I disagree with this. Bullying is the softer, kid-friendly word we use for abuse. One act of abuse is enough to call it abuse. One act of bullying is enough to call it bullying. Why do we diminish the experience of the victim by insisting that they be repeatedly abused before we will give the matter the level of importance that is requires? I see this as a gross negligence  of the hurt child, and further evidence of how as a society we protect abusers, at all costs. It seems preposterous that a child must be hurt repeatedly before we will take the incident/s seriously and call it for what it is. In what other area of life would this be the rule? “Oh you were only broken into once Mrs Smith, come back when you’ve been broken into again and then we’ll deem it a burglary.” “Someone put their penis in you without your consent? Well when it happens again that will be rape!”

Who does this ‘repeated actions’ definition of bullying help and support? Only the child doing the abusing (except not in the long run, as being indulged in your abuse of others is incredibly dangerous to all of us, no matter what our age). In my view the important and crucial part of defining bullying is ‘intent to harm’. This is where bullying links in with the adult abusive mindset. Both abusers and bullies are driven by a desire to cause intentional harm to others in order to have some need or want of theirs met.

The great thing is what with kids we can (most of the time) undo the toxic programming they have received from  their abusive parent. Of course there will be children who will bully who have not grown up with an abusive parent as well, and children will bully for a variety of reasons but bullying can be handled the same way regardless of why the child is bullying. The important thing is that they are not able to get away with it, that it is recognised for what it is and action is taken to stop it and support the victim. That cannot happen until we re-define what we consider bullying to be. We should be putting the victim’s needs at the centre and calling any act with intent to harm what it is – Bullying.

 

 

Masking a murderer: Alan Hawe and the myth of the “good man who snapped”

If there’s been one thing more infuriating this week than the media coverage of the Hawe murders, it’s the backlash against those of us who have objected to it. “We don’t know the whole story!” “Stop jumping to conclusions!” “What about the family?”

Well, true: we don’t know the whole story. But this is what we do know – or, at least, what has been published widely without contradiction:

  • Alan Hawe murdered his wife and three children with a knife and hatchet
  • Prior to this, he was not known to the mental health services
  • He left a note inside the house explaining why he did it
  • This note expressed his view that his family members couldn’t cope without him
  • He left another note on the door to warn the next visitor

So, in brief: we know he committed a brutal familicide with intent and deliberation, with no evidence that would support an insanity verdict had he survived to be prosecuted, and in the apparent belief that the lives of his wife and children were nothing without him.

What enables us to draw conclusions from this is its chilling similarity to a number of other murders we know of. There’s even a name for it: family annihilation. And there are studies of it, and those studies clearly indicate that family annihilators share certain characteristics (in addition to being overwhelmingly male): narcissism, a sense of personal ownership of his wife and children, and often a previous history of abusive behaviour. Toxic masculinity, you might call it. Given that Alan Hawe’s murders fit the pattern of family annihilators, it’s really not a great leap to expect that his personality will also turn out to have done so.

This is true even if Clodagh Hawe’s own family had no idea, as reports suggest. Let’s face it, you don’t get to hack four people to death and still be eulogised as a pillar of your community unless you’re pretty good at hiding things. And besides, that’s also part of the pattern. As the study linked above concludes:

the annihilation makes public what had often been a private reality – a reality masked to family, friends and neighbours who often thought that this man had been a ‘doting’ and ‘loving’ father and ‘dutiful’ husband.

It’s understandable why Clodagh’s close friends and family would want to cling to the belief that her husband was a good man who just snapped. If you’ve never seen a terrible side to someone you thought you knew well, it’s really hard to accept that that side exists. I get this. And learning about a side of him you never saw until it was too late? The guilt one must feel would be unimaginable. Could I have seen this coming? Could I have done something? At a time of unbearable trauma, perhaps the one thing that can give comfort to survivors is the thought that they, at least, had not failed their loved ones by failing to somehow prevent their deaths.

But for others, who had no such ties to the family, the reluctance to acknowledge the pattern is more puzzling. Why would they rather believe that this was just a one-off “tragedy” that could not have been foreseen? What comfort does it bring them to think that anyone – maybe even themselves or someone they love – could just “snap” one day and butcher their entire family?

No, we don’t have all the facts, and maybe we never will. But here’s one fact we can be absolutely certain of: Clodagh’s death was not unique. And for that reason, as much as we wish to be respectful to her family in their grief, we cannot simply accept the narrative of the “good man who snapped”. We must try to look behind the façade of the devoted family man, and map out the murderer beneath.  We must learn to recognise him, and more importantly, what made him. What makes all of them. If we persist in deluding ourselves that they just spring up spontaneously from nowhere, we will never learn how to ensure that they don’t. And the consequence will be a lot more Alan Hawes, and a lot more Clodaghs.

Rest in peace, Invisible Woman

Originally posted here by Linnea Dunne – republished with permission.

Five people die in Cavan, and in the days to come, Irish newspapers are full of questions. “Why did he do it?” asks one national daily, picturing a man and his three sons. “How could he kill those poor boys?” asks another.

It is almost immediately clear that the father, Mr Hawe, has stabbed the other four to death: the mother and the three sons. He has then killed himself. And in search for answers, we are told what an honourable man the murderer was: “a valuable member of the community”, “very committed” and “the most normal person you could meet”. Soon follow the calls for increased funding of mental health services.

Two days have passed since the tragic news broke, and today the Irish Times ran a front page reading “Wonderful children who will be missed by all who knew them”. “Killed in their pyjamas by father in frenzied attack,” goes one Independent headline alongside a photo of the boys. It is almost as if we’ve already forgotten: they were a family of five. Rest in peace, invisible mother.

The picture of the man who killed her, however, is becoming more multi-faceted by the day. Mr Hawe was “quiet and a real gentleman”, says one representative of the local council. His brother goes on to talk about his big passion, handball: he’d “won a number of titles”, “played from about eight years of age” and used to play “with his brother and his cousin”. A neighbour offers more praise: “He was the sole person who would do anything for anybody at any time of day or night. He was very obliging.”

It makes sense to draw the conclusion that the man must have been carrying some very dark, difficult secrets, that he must have been mentally tortured somehow. Why else would such a lovely man kill his wife and children before taking his own life? (There’s a study in here somewhere, comparing the reporting of events like this with the discourse surrounding abortion and mental health, with women being labelled murderers for ending pregnancies, stopping the growth of sometimes near-invisible clumps of cells, regardless how mentally tortured or suicidal they are.) But while a note found at the house suggests that Mr Hawe had been in “a vulnerable state of mind” at the time of the murders – and while I wholeheartedly agree with calls to end the stigma around mental illness – there is a different and important narrative for framing these events.

We hear about tragic killings like these every now and then. Nine times out of ten (I don’t have statistics, but my hunch is that the figure is far higher), the perpetrator is a man. Lots of people, men and women and non-binary people, struggle with mental illness, but it takes more than mental torture to brutally murder your own children. There is a patriarchal narrative that runs through this entire story, from the act itself to the reporting of it, and we need to allow ourselves to see it if we are to find a way to prevent similar events from happening again.

As Paul Gilligan of St. Patrick’s University Hopsital points out, killing a child requires a certain view of children, an idea that they must be controlled and managed and, in the case of murder suicides, that they cannot go on to live without the murderer. This ideal of control is part of the same patriarchal worldview that refuses to label domestic violence for what it is; that insists on publishing praise for a man who has just brutally murdered his wife and three children; that almost entirely omits the one woman from the story.

“Killed in their pyjamas by father in frenzied attack – before mother-in-law found note,” reads another headline. The narrative, of course, is from the viewpoint of the murderer: she was his mother-in-law. She was the children’s grandmother, the murdered woman’s mother. The murdered woman, then, is most often referred to as the murderer’s wife – relevant only as what she is in relation to the man who killed her. Her name is Clodagh.

A man murders four people in Cavan, and we are fed questions and statements of disbelief alongside praise of the murderer as a community man. On the front pages, we see the man and the three children he murdered. Two days in, Clodagh has all but become invisible. And you ask why feminists are so loud and angry?

Parenting a Gender Fluid Child/What to say to Douchey People

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Over the last 10 years I’ve seen a huge shift in the way gender is expressed in children. Where parents are less enforcing of gender binaries children are allowed the space to explore their own and other genders. I think this is a wonderful step forward for humanity. I long for a world free of toxic masculinity, (and toxic femininity), free of the strictly enforced gender binary system. a world where humans can just be humans, and can self identify in whatever way is comfortable and enjoyable for them.

I have a 6 year old son. He lives with me and 3 of his siblings 4 days a week and spends the other 3 with his dad. When he is at my house he likes to wear clothing traditionally associated with girls. I have no idea if this is a passing phase, if he is just a curious child exploring gender options or if he will grow up to be a transexual, or a drag queen (I should be so lucky!), or even if he may be transgender. I cannot know where his love of dressing up will go (if anywhere). So I treat him the same way, I don’t make a big deal out of any of it, I love him and support him and follow his lead at all times in this regard. I let him know the same message that I have been teaching him since he could understand me ‘It’s ok to be you. Live authentically. Be yourself. You are loved’. Last week he asked us to start calling him by a different name, a ‘girls’ name. All of my kids were fine with addressing him by his new name and using female pronouns. He has made it easy for us by saying that he wants to be addressed with the new name only when he is dressed as a girl.

Since then I have become more open about this to the people in our lives. The responses have been overwhelmingly supportive, bar a couple of people whom have come at me with some pretty awful stuff. These are people who would consider themselves to be fairly tolerant. So I wanted to address some of the objections that I’ve heard, as I suspect perhaps there are other parents out there in a similar situation to me, and it may be of some use to them (I hope).

  1. Why does he only do this at your house?                                                                                        I think he only does it at my house because he only has access to dresses, make up ect at my house. Also he feels comfortable to do it at my house. He used to wear nail polish to pre-school but the other kids made fun of him and now he refuses to wear it in public. He LOVES wearing nail polish and has loved it since he was a toddler. I believe he feels comfortable and safe and accepted in my house which is why he chooses to dress in a feminine way when he is with me.
  2. You  must be doing something to encourage him. That is irresponsible. Trans adults wouldn’t be that way if they’re parents hadn’t encouraged them when they were little. (Yes someone actually said that to me.)                                                                              I am encouraging him, this is true, but not in the way you think. I am encouraging his natural expression of himself. I am supporting him in the choices he makes for himself. I am not standing at his bedroom door suggesting he wears dresses or asking does he want me to do his make up. I follow his lead. I feel this is the responsible course of action. I want all of my children to feel supported in how they choose to express who they are. As for the idea that transgender children are a result of overly liberal parenting I can only say that science disagrees. Gender Dysphoria is the medical term. Look it up.
  3. This is a result of your hatred of men and masculinity.                                                             This would imply that trans people are part of an Evil Feminist  conspiracy to wipe men from the face of the earth. As far as I am aware, no such conspiracy exists. Also I love masculinity. I love (a lot of) men. I greatly dislike toxic masculinity. I was raped and abused by toxic masculinity. I see toxic masculinity as the poison of the modern age. It hurts everyone it touches, most especially the men who embody it. Just because I love equality doesn’t mean I hate men. I have so many beautiful, strong, caring, loving, heart-opened men in my life. I love them. I have 3 sons. I do not have a crazy agenda to try and turn my sons into women. Sigh.
  4. You are creating a drama about this when there doesn’t need to be one (ie. discourage this and it will all go away)                                                                                                                  I agree there doesn’t need to be a drama. It’s a 6 year old child who likes to dress up. It may never be more than that. What is the big deal? I will not discourage any of my children from pursuing their truth. I would consider that to be horrendous parenting. I don’t see any of it as being a big deal or a drama. No matter where this goes all I can deal with is what the present moment is offering – and that is a small child who likes to dress up, and that’s fine with me.
  5. Gender Fluid children just lack good strong male role models. (Yep, I know again, can you believe it. Someone actually said that to me.)                                                                    Oh dear, where to start with this one. Everything cannot be explained away with Freudian theory? Now I am no where near to being an expert on gender fluidity or Gender Dysphoria. I know shamefully little about the subjects. But I do know some gender fluid people (probably more than the person who said this to me) and I see them as harbingers of the future. People who are here to lead us and show us a way out of the strictly enforced gender binary system. I admire them their bravery and strength in being who they are in a world that very much would like them to sit in this box over here please and don’t get out. Second to this argument –  why is it that it is just the lack of male role models that concerns? Is there a study somewhere to show that children raised with ‘good male role models’ never grow up to be gender fluid? Can anyone point me to any evidence at all that would support this strange conclusion?
  6. He is just doing this to get attention from you. You mustn’t be playing boyish games with him enough. This is him reaching out to try and get your attention by doing things he thinks you like, like dressing up and make up.                                              There’s a lot to plough through here, firstly it is very sexist to assume that all I am into is clothes and make up. Make up would be very low on my list of interests and while I do like to get dressed up myself I have very little interest in talking about it, or dressing others. Most of the activities I do with my kids are things that ALL of us will enjoy, so we bake together, we go to the beach and build sand castles, we read stories, we make stories, we watch movies, we give each other foot massages, we make art (a lot of art), we play ball games and frisbee and do gardening. These are the things I do with my kids. These are the same activities I did with my older 4 children and none of them have magically turned into gender fluid or trans people  as a result. I do not think there is a logical correlation  between having a mum who doesn’t play much lego with you and choosing to wear dresses. Also the effort to apportion blame (on me) indicates a belief that there is something wrong with him dressing this way, which I do not agree with.
  7. He will end up socially ostracised and it will be your fault for encouraging him.             I believe that hiding what we truly are causes sickness and sometimes suicide. I do not want that for my children. I want them to live authentic lives, rich with love and support and ease. I know that the world hasn’t quite caught up with accepting everyone for who they are and so I try and teach my children resilience, for no one, not even the most privileged escape the inevitable cruelty of others. Emotional intelligence, resilience and self love are things I try and teach my kids, so that when someone is a douche to them they can handle it. It is the best I can do to prepare them for a sometimes cruel world. I also wouldn’t want friends for my kids who wanted them to be something they are not. I wish for true friends for my children, the kind of friend who sees exactly who they are and loves them for it and stands by them. If I had to choose for my kids between them hiding their  true selves to fit in and living authentically and getting shit for it – living authentically would win hands down everytime. 

 

Taryn De Vere is an eccentric dresser, a writer, mother of 5, a conscious relationship coach for Love With Ease Please http://www.lovewitheaseplease.com, a performance artist https://www.facebook.com/A-Chaotic-Embrace-113263035681066 , and a sex positive parenting educator https://www.facebook.com/sexpositiveparenting 

Photo by Eamonn Brown Photography