The holidays—we want to enjoy them, but so often the pressure to produce picture perfect moments with family we haven’t seen in a long time can get in our way. This is especially true for parents of LGBTQIA teens. It is common for our elders or other family members to process our children’s changing identities at a slower pace, a dynamic which can put parents in a bind when making plans. Is it possible to keep the peace and celebrate together? How can we best support our teens in vulnerable moments when they may be seeing extended family for the first time since changing their look or their pronouns or their name? Are there traditions we may need to change in order to embrace our growing families?
Here are a few tips to help you navigate a potentially tricky time of year:
- Use the season to bring your teens into focus. The approach of the holiday season presents a natural opportunity to look back at the last year. Talk to your teens about how the year has been. Reflect together on what has changed since the last holiday season. Ask them which family traditions they are excited about. Find out if there are any gatherings that seem like they may be stressful in a new way.
- Assure your teens you will keep them safe. As parents our priority is the safety of our children. This means that our teens’ mental health is more important than other relatives’ discomfort. Talk with your teen about what this means specifically in your family. Set up time for a listening session; explain that you want to hear their thoughts about the holidays, and commit to listening only before problem solving. Reassure them again and again that it is your top job to keep them safe. According to the Trevor Project’s 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Mental Health fewer than 1 in 3 transgender and nonbinary youth reported that their home was gender-affirming. The holidays are a great time to solicit feedback on how your children are experiencing the culture of your family.
- Make a proactive plan for a peaceful holiday. Assure your teen that you are going to really think about how to address their concerns. Solutions might include following your child’s lead on who they want to be “out” with; setting boundaries with difficult family members; preparing responses for unsupportive comments; identifying safe family members in advance and asking them to run interference; or having a “safe word” for when your teen feels distressed. In some situations, your family may decide to bow out of an event or send one member of the family as a representative, while the rest stay behind to support your teen.
- Seek out ways to make your celebration affirming. Has your teen come out as trans or nonbinary? Something as simple as a personalized Menorah mug or a fun pride holiday ornament might make your teen feel celebrated and seen. Consider starting a new affirming tradition. We are lucky in the Bay Area to live in the heart and soul of American Queer community. Over the holidays there are many opportunities to take our teens out and introduce them to any of the many vibrant, engaged local organizations.
We know that the holidays can be a difficult time. If you or your child could benefit from counseling or support, please contact JFCS’ Center for Children and Youth at 1-888-927-0839 or contact us online.