Feelings of love, loss, change and continuity

The parents we spoke to had a range of emotional responses to their child’s coming out and social transition. All feelings are valid and there is no right way to feel. Some parents felt a sense of loss for their son or daughter, and went through a period they described as a type of ‘grief’ or ‘bereavement.’ Others expected to feel bereaved, sometimes because other people around them thought they were going through loss, but in fact, they did not feel that way. Some parents never expected to feel bereaved and found it quite offensive when people referred to a sense of loss/grief. They recognised their child was still the same person and did not feel a sense of loss. For some, like Josie, Ali and Georgina, the experience meant they got to know their child better. As Josie explained: ‘You havent lost your child, its just, you know more about them than you did before.’

Possible feelings of bereavement and loss

Some people did not feel bereaved themselves or had these feelings only briefly but said they understood that others might feel this way. Josie described her feelings of being bereaved as ‘really bad and really stupid as well,’ because she felt it was not a ‘real’ loss. She said: ‘lots of parents have lost a child. We are really lucky, our child didnt go anywhere.’ For Josie, she said ‘you cant understand why you even felt like that, so it passes.’

Lesley did not experience grief herself but she talked about how for some parents feeling sad, grieving and anger can come up. She felt it was important to acknowledge that it is okay to have these feelings. For Mel, who is a step mum of a trans girl, her stepdaughter was ‘always who she is now’, but she understood how that was different for her husband, who experienced feelings of loss for his son.

Lesley talked about how it is important to acknowledge that it is okay to feel sad, bereaved, or angry.

Mel understood her husband’s feelings of loss for his son, even if she recognised her stepdaughter was always the person she is now.

For parents who felt bereaved, it could at times be difficult to look after their own emotional needs as well as the needs of their family. Lisa described how difficult it was to manage her son’s transition whilst making sure her other children were also supported and how that left no space for a grieving process she felt she needed. She felt it was both ‘really exciting’ to ‘get to know’ her son but this was also ‘tied in with the loss of my daughter.’

Lisa talked about feelings of loss for her “little girl” and the excitement of getting to know her son.

Josie talked about how people can feel bereaved and how these feelings pass with time.

Change and continuity

Many people, instead of feeling a sense of loss or having ongoing feelings of loss, emphasised that their child continued to be their child even as changes in their lives took place. For Ali, the recognition that her child was the same person as before also came with knowing that ‘I love her. Nothing would change that.’ Ross felt he could not relate to parents who felt bereaved. He said he ‘couldn’t get his head around’ the fact that some people felt they lost their child, when for him it was ‘still exactly the same child.’

Ross talked about not being able to relate to other parents’ feelings of bereavement.

Kate expected to feel bereaved and was surprised when she didn’t. She thought she ‘would feel more of a loss’ than she actually did also because people around her thought that what she was going through must be ‘awful’. She recognised her son was still the same person, but one who was now also happier than before his social transition.

Kate expected to feel grief but instead recognised her son was still the same person.

Ali and Georgina also described how it could be difficult to realise that they perhaps had not known their child as well as they thought before they expressed their gender identity. They described how any feelings of loss were already in the past, and felt their trans or gender diverse child was a gain.

When Georgina’s son made the decision to present to the world as who he was, she understood a change was about to take place and this felt really strange.

Remembering the past, imagining the future

Sometimes feelings of loss would come up for parents when they looked at pictures of their children from before the transition. D talked about feelings of loss that he experienced when he looked at old photographs of his ‘gorgeous daughter’ who is now his ‘wonderful son’. For Ali, old photos brought out a sense of loss that was not for the child she had, but for the fact that she missed out on a big part of her daughter’s life before she transitioned. She talked about how she wished she could have done more to help her daughter sooner.

D experienced feelings of loss when looking at old photos of his child.

Ali didn’t understand people’s feelings of bereavement but did feel she missed a big part of her daughter’s life before the transition.

For others, like Richard, feelings of loss were more about losing the future he had imagined for his child.

Richard described the fear of losing his son as ‘imagined future’ without him.

Also thinking about the future, D worried that ‘you’re not gonna have any grandchildren’, or at least not in the way that he had anticipated. Learn more about what people said about the different ways their young person imagined having a family in the future and what parents and carers thought about fertility preservation options for young trans and gender diverse people.

Mel thought her partner initially felt he had lost a son which was tied up with ‘the idea of what having a son means and what it represents and all that stuff. Having a name passed down the line and your genes.’ For her husband, it could take some time to process some of these feelings and, as Mel said, to see his daughter ‘was only ever the person that she is now.’

You can also find out more about the way people have made sense of their child’s gender identity and transition.

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