What no one tells you about parenting a nonbinary child

That headline I just wrote is somewhat misleading. The truth is, no one tells you ANYTHING about parenting a nonbinary child.

Oh sure, if you go searching, you may find a helpful article or two about raising a nonbinary kiddo: this one was particularly good.

But really, being openly nonbinary or having openly nonbinary kids is still such a relatively new phenomenon that most of us are just feeling our way along in the dark as we go.

Still, if I had to come up with a list of things that no one tells you, and that we’ve learned from parenting our amazing nonbinary kiddo, it would be predominantly positive.

Here are my top three:

  1. Being nonbinary means opting out of gender – and that can be a very good thing.

Girls are subjected to so many unrealistic expectations in this world: Be nice. Act like a lady. Wear feminine clothes. Grow your hair long, or at least have a cute feminine short style. Smile and be pretty. Shave your legs and underarms. Giggle and act cute around boys. Be quiet. Don’t be bossy. Paint your nails, or at least your toes.

Boys are subjected to certain unfair societal expectations, too: Be tough. Don’t ever cry. Do sports. Play hard. Lead. Don’t ever do or say anything that could be construed as girly. It’s okay to break, hurt things or be cruel because “boys will be boys.” Just don’t show any emotions that could be seen as weak.

But when a child declares themself to be nonbinary, it’s like they free themself from all of the above crap. Z no longer has to conform to any of the familiar rules for girls – and neither do they have to suddenly check the other boxes, because they’re not a boy. Getting rid of the binary means getting rid of the accompanying baggage.

Fortunately, the patriarchy hasn’t quite come up with a box yet that nonbinary kiddos have to fit into (other than denying that they even exist or refusing to give them healthcare, which of course is problematic). Now, Z is pretty much free to wear what they want and dance to their own tune. That’s perfect because that’s pretty much what they’ve done all along. Being nonbinary can be very freeing in this way.

2. Being nonbinary often means having to find your own path.

What public bathroom does one use when one bathroom has a boy on it, the other has a girl on it and you don’t fit either description? This can be a tricky one and it’s something Z has had to figure out on their own.

On our recent spring break trip, Z began using the family bathroom at most airports and national parks because it provides a nice alternative to the gendered bathrooms – and, as hubby noted, the family bathroom is often cleaner than the typical men’s or ladies’ room.

Where that isn’t an option, as is the case at their elementary school, Z continues to use the girls room since that’s where they have always gone. It’s not a perfect fit, but since it’s already a habit, it will do for now. Side note: schools should have non-gendered or unisex bathrooms available, too.

Another area of life that we are currently navigating is pre-teen sleepovers. While Z has long enjoyed having sleepovers with friends, we recognize that coming out as nonbinary does change that dynamic a bit. Most pre-teen parents would not feel comfortable with the idea of a co-ed sleepover, so does that mean Z should stop having sleepovers with their predominantly female friends?

To be completely candid, I’ve never been 100% comfortable with sleepovers anyway. I didn’t like them for myself as a kid, and I don’t really like them for my offspring either. It feels like there are too many opportunities for less-than ideal behavior during overnighters, not to mention the fact that no one gets enough sleep which sets us up for a lousy next day. That said, I certainly don’t want to ban sleepovers, because they’re part of childhood. I guess bottom line, I’m fine with occasional sleepovers for birthday parties but on the whole would rather stick to gender-neutral playdates and “sleepunders.”

3. Being nonbinary means there are fewer role models – but THEY are definitely out there.

We know that representation is important for all kids, and that’s certainly true for nonbinary ones. That said, we don’t know personally anyone yet in our local community who is a thriving nonbinary adult. Fortunately, we’ve been able to line up a nonbinary counselor for Z starting later this month, which I am absolutely thrilled about.

We are fans of several nonbinary folks in the entertainment industry (another good link here). We also have found good online resources ranging from the nonbinary community on Reddit to a thriving nonbinary presence on TikTok (a huge influence on our little enby).

In addition, I follow a few exemplary nonbinary individuals on Instagram, most notably actor and activist Jeffrey Marsh who is a literal angel in human form. Anytime I’m down or feeling anxious about our little enby – or anything at all – I can look to Jeffrey’s videos for the equivalent of a warm hug from a wise, knowledgeable and fabulous friend.

Bottom line: being nonbinary is not for the faint of heart, but our youngling is strong, confident and brave.

Do I still worry about our kiddo out in the world, which can be so cruel sometimes? Of course I do. But honestly, I’d worry about them if they were a girl, too. This way, I do think they are free some of the baggage that goes along with being a girl in our society – so maybe that’s a positive thing overall.

If you’re parenting a nonbinary child yourself, what are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned so far? As always, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below or over on Facebook.

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About the author

Proud and loving midlife mama. Lucky and devoted wife. Dog, cat and snake mom. Travel nut. Natural born writer. PR and social media pro by day - tattoo doula by night.

Comments

  1. This is great and such positive information. Thanks for sharing! This is a new suitcase to unpack for me–not as a parent, just as an ally, but I’m learning. I appreciate your candor and willingness to enlighten others.

    I don’t know what kind of music Z enjoys, but the family music groups Ants on a Log and Alphabet Rockers are both very inclusive in their music lyrics. One of the artists from AoaL (Julie Be) is also enby. They compiled a whole album of music for trans/NB kids: https://www.npr.org/2020/08/13/901747509/a-new-childrens-album-celebrates-kids-who-identify-as-transgender-and-nonbinary

    I would love to see you make this an ongoing post theme!

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