Grandparents under threat: Either support transgender grandchild or be cut offWritten by Focus on the Family
Question: Our grandson is being supported by his parents (our daughter and son-in-law) to “transition” to a girl. They say that if we don't call him by his new female name, they'll cut us out of their lives. We don't know where this is coming from or what to do. How do we show them love without abandoning our Christian values?
That’s a heavy burden for any heart – and even more so for loving grandparents concerned for their children and grandchildren. Like you, we believe that God created two sexes, male and female, and that he has a design for our sexuality. And so the cultural deception that transgenderism is “fact” – and that we all must support the lie “or else” – is deeply troubling. (You might hear transgender interchanged with gender dysphoria and gender identity disorder.)
The truth is that transgenderism is a belief system with no basis in objective science or medical reality. But we realize that you’re not looking for information about transgenderism as much as you want to know how to navigate a delicate situation. You want to find the balance between upholding God’s truth and sharing his love. You might even wonder if you’ll be forced to choose between your biblical convictions and your family.
Be encouraged: What you’re facing isn’t simple, but we don’t believe your decision has to come down to either/or – either Christ or your family. We’re glad to offer practical suggestions as you decide the best way to move forward. And it’s our hope that you’ll be strengthened in mind and soul as we cover several thoughts:
- Watch for what may be below the surface
- Offer a humble response
- Remember that there’s a difference between comfort and conscience
- How to handle the request to call your grandson by a female name
- Consider the unique role you play as grandparents
- What to do if you’re cut off
- Find help for yourself
Watch for what may be below the surface
Nothing is more important than open communication, especially when it comes to questions about sexuality and gender identity. So before doing anything else, calmly and respectfully ask your daughter and son-in-law if they can explain what led to their child’s decision.
It’s possible that your grandson is actively pursuing a transgender label while his parents somewhat passively support him. Or, perhaps your daughter and son-in-law are more actively championing the decision while your grandson is in a phase of doubt (doubt that would benefit from slow, gentle and inquisitive guidance).
Why does the distinction matter? Because how you respond will be based, in part, on whether your grandson is in the driver’s seat or his parents are promoting the choice.
Is your grandson actively pursuing a transgender label?
We don’t know how old your grandson is. But we want to note that some experts in this field of counselling have observed a type of rapid onset social contagion for self-labeling as “trans” during the tween or teen years. In short, peer pressure. Often, social and peer influences are powerful motivators during these developmental stages – in addition to the fact that struggles between parent and child usually become more complex.
Consequently, many parents are at a loss to know how to counteract negative influences and connect with their child, and so they choose the ill-informed path of least resistance. Yes, it’s an unwise parenting move, but they might not want to swim upstream against the power of culture or their child’s strong will.
On the other hand, children aren’t always, or entirely, misled by peer motivations. Some kids genuinely struggle with a persistent presentation of gender confusion (especially those with a much earlier onset). In those cases, sincere but uninformed parents often do everything they can to ease their child’s distress, including going along with the struggle rather than gently intervening and wisely redirecting.
Are your daughter and son-in-law promoting the decision?
At times, through passive or politically correct professional approaches, transgenderism can be imposed on children when they’re toddlers or in elementary school. If parents don’t have a solid foundation in God’s truth, they’re likely to blindly follow cultural views – which, in today’s world, can mean actively encouraging transgender behaviour.
Whatever the reason behind your grandson’s decision, you can humbly hold to God’s good design as you consider your family’s demand.
Offer a humble response
You know that God created your grandson to be male; you know it’s not possible for him to be female. But you can also admit that even experts don’t know all the factors related to transgenderism (for example, family dynamics, environmental influences and outside stressors) – so you don’t have all the answers either.
Treat your family tenderly instead of assuming they’re simply rebelling against God. Remind yourselves that if your daughter, son-in-law, and grandson don’t yet know Christ as Saviour and Lord, they can’t be expected to have a biblical worldview. And even if they do profess Christ, you can acknowledge that growing in faith takes time – and that only the Holy Spirit can open your family’s eyes to see the unchangeable glory of God’s design.
The most hopeful scenario is that you still have a connection with your kids, even if they support the transition of your grandson (whether it’s at their prompting or his). In that case, extend compassion and offer an alternate perspective.
Say something like, We want to be in this with you and talk about it even though we can’t endorse it. We found some info that might help all of us. Would you be open to learning more together? (Check out the resources at the end of this article.)
Or, as you’ve discovered, they might take an aggressive stance and tell you that you can’t be part of their lives if you don’t participate in your grandson’s choice. Yes, that’s a terrifying threat – but don’t let your kids corner you on those terms.
Say something like, You're asking us to violate our integrity and conscience. What if we said you'd have to do “xyz” to stay in a relationship with us? How would you feel? It's a two-way street: We recognize your right to parent and we're not trying to step on your toes. All we ask is that you allow us to have connection with you, which we truly treasure. Please don't cut us off because we're honest about our values and concerns.
Even then, however, do your best not to lock yourselves into an either/or position. You don’t want to be so unyielding about God’s truth that you forget your children and grandchild are created in God’s image, are objects of His unfailing love, and are in need of his saving grace – as are we all. You can look for middle ground.
Remember that there’s a difference between comfort and conscience
As Christians, we should place a high priority on positive relationships with our loved ones. To do that, we have to find consistent ways of expressing our love even when we disagree with someone’s behaviour. This is where an important truth comes into play: Love and approval are not always the same thing.
Consider Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well. He chose to ignore all social barriers so he could show his love and concern for her. He guided the discussion in such a way that she eventually came to see her sexual compromise for what it was: sin to be recognized, confessed and turned away from.
Christ’s actions there teach us something about the difference between comfort and conscience. As a first-century Jewish man, it wasn’t entirely convenient for him to talk to this Samaritan woman. In a very real sense, Jesus had to step outside of his comfort zone to communicate God’s love. Yet, in the process, he never violated his conscience or the divine standard of righteousness – and he never said anything that could be interpreted as an endorsement of sin.
So, how does that lesson play out in what you face?
How to handle the request to call your grandson by a female name
The question of whether to use a name and pronouns different from your grandson’s biological sex is difficult. This is one of those issues that doesn’t have a clear-cut biblical answer, and so every believer needs to be “fully convinced in his own mind” (Romans 14:5).
From our perspective, though, the important thing is to preserve your connection with your children and grandson. And that’s where we get into comfort versus conscience – again, that love doesn’t always mean approval.
The request to call your grandson by a female name and use female pronouns might be uncomfortable, but you might still choose to comply, with some extra prayerful consideration and conditions. Why? Because to stay connected with your daughter, son-in-law, and grandson is not an endorsement of their decision. You may intentionally decide to stay in a tenuous position – to be uncomfortable while you also intercede in prayer for them.
We can’t say for sure what conclusion is best for you given your family’s unique dynamics as well as your personal convictions surrounding the matter. But using a different name or pronouns in a limited way could help maintain a conversational connection for the sake of the larger, loving influence you aim for. You’d be doing your part to sustain the relational bridge. (In response to your family’s request, then, you could give them a one-time explanation. Something along the lines of, Here's what we are and are not willing to do … This is what our participation does and doesn't mean …)
However, you may also feel no alternative but to bear witness to the truth about your grandson’s God-created design, as difficult as that may be. You simply may not be able, in good conscience, to call your grandson by a female name or pronouns, in which case you’ll need to be diligent in prayer and leave the outcome in God’s hands.
No matter what you decide, know that you will always play a critical role as grandparents.
Consider the unique role you play as grandparents
Grandparents often feel responsible for their grandchildren’s behaviour, and sometimes that’s because of anxiety that they fell short as parents. If that’s you, we urge you to be gracious to yourselves. There is no single formula for parenting that guarantees hoped-for, dreamed-for, or prepared-for future outcomes.
The reality is that you have released your daughter into adulthood. She's the accountable one here. While you can always stay humble about relational strains of the past and areas you may still wish to improve, you don’t need to assume guilt or shame for how things are turning out. In addition, there are legal and emotional limits to how much you can or should intervene; you don’t want to break the sacred bond between your children and their child.
(Note: We're talking here about a safe family environment. But if you believe there is abuse or neglect involved, then you must get help even if that means legal action. For guidance, reach out to our professional counsellors.)
When you disagree with what’s happening, when you feel godly sorrow over the actions of your children and grandson, turn to the Lord.
- Ask Him to make you a beacon of extravagant grace.
- Stay exceedingly compassionate but also stay firm about the unchanging principle of God’s created design (male and female). That means you shouldn’t overreact or be harsh in how you express your values. Instead, model truth in love even when your children and grandson lay down the gauntlet.
- Draw wisdom from Jesus’ story about the prodigal son. The father pleaded with his son, but he didn’t manipulate. Rather, he watched for his son to come home and then embraced his return. In the same way, you can voice your care and concern, but you can’t force change. Be faithful in waiting.
- Ask the Lord for creativity about how to unoffensively affirm your grandson in his masculinity – and how best to come alongside your daughter and son-in-law in their felt parenting needs.
God has given you a heart for your family, and he’ll help you. He’ll help you to remain steadfast in love. To be a pillar of truth. To offer a legacy of confident faith. And to be a living witness that life in all its sweet and bitter dimensions is fleeting, so we must choose to spend our days wisely.
What to do if you’re cut off
If your daughter and son-in-law do cut you out of their lives – for whatever reason – you can find strength to face the challenging reality that it’s simply out of your control, at least for the time being. Still, we won’t deny that the wound of such separation would be deep, and you’d need to work through the pain in healthy ways.
- Surrender to God in prayer and watch for a future where hearts may soften. There’s always a chance that the relationship will change someday. In the meantime, remind yourselves that God is patient and redemptive. He welcomes all of us when we turn toward his love and will.
- Remember who you are in Christ. Don’t let your personal worth be defined by your children’s or grandchildren’s acceptance or rejection. Guard your own hearts so that you don’t become bitter.
- Talk to your pastor or a professional counsellor.
Above all, remember that God loves you, your children, and your grandson. He sees your confusion and heartache, and he cares about your future. May his peace and wisdom sustain you.
Find help for yourself
Would you let us speak with you about your heartfelt needs and next steps? Our professional counsellors would welcome the chance to hear your story and talk with you in more detail. Call us for a free, over-the-phone consultation. They can also suggest referrals to qualified Christian counsellors in your area.
© 2020 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. Originally published at FocusOnTheFamily.com.
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