“Blank Slate” Parenting

A big part of what I do is helping individuals explore their gender, assert their true gender identity, and help family members adjust to transitions that occur. In addition to this, I’m a big believer in changing our society’s understanding of gender so that we can pave an easier path for LGBT youth (and adults, for that matter!). In my presentations, I talk about Blank Slate Parenting as a way to point out parents really don’t know the gender and sexual orientation of their child until the child/teen is able to share it with them.  I also included this concept in my book, The Conscious Parent’s Guide to Gender IdentityHere is the excerpt:

“Blank slate” parenting is the ability for a parent to enter into parenthood without too many assumptions and expectations. This may sound difficult, but it is possible. Most parents enter into parenthood with some basic assumptions: their child is going to be cisgender (their gender identity “matches” their birth sex), gender conforming (their interests and expressions are in line with what most expect from their birth gender), and heterosexual. Considering that many children are not these things, these assumptions may be inaccurate and possibly detrimental for both the parent and the child. Unless a parent is having an intersex baby, the parent will likely find out they are having a natal male or a natal female, either during the pregnancy or when the baby is born. Once this is revealed, all sorts of associations are created! If the child is a natal male (born with male anatomy), the parents will likely assume the child will always identify as a boy and will engage in the “typical” interests and affinities of most boys. If the child is a natal female (born with female anatomy), the parents will assume that she will always identify as a girl and will engage in the “typical” interests and affinities of what society expects girls to be interested in. If the child is a natal female, parents often assume they will one day be interested in males. If the child is a natal male, parents often assume they will one day be interested in females.

Even if these assumptions are not explicitly stated, they will implicitly become the foundation of what your child understands is expected of them. Children have an inherent need to please their parents, so feeling “other than” what their parents expect can range from uncomfortable to downright scary. Anything other than what has been envisioned and assumed results in the parents needing to make a “shift” in what they had expected. The nature of the shift will depend on how tied the parents are to their expectations, and what this difference means to them personally, socially, and culturally.

What if, instead of adopting these basic assumptions, parents remained open to who or what their child is or will become? What if parents provided a blank canvas for their child to paint, rather than providing a paint-by-numbers template? What if society evolved to the extent that people understood the difference between sex and gender, and the knowledge that some people are simply born transgender? Imagine how much easier it would be if parents understood not to get too attached to the sex of their child at birth! What if parents learned to ask “Do you feel like a boy or a girl? Both? Or neither?” instead of telling the child who they are based on anatomy?

What if society at large acknowledged being gay/lesbian/bisexual as a natural way to be, a way of being that is just as valid and recognized as heterosexual? What if parents learned to say, “Do you like boys or girls? Both? Or neither?” instead of making assumptions of a heteronormative nature?

Parenting from a blank slate standpoint would essentially eliminate the “coming out” process. Children would be able to evolve and share as their identities developed. They would not have to hide parts of who they are for fear they might be disappointing their parents. They would not have to overcome the expectations/assumptions that were placed on them at birth. They would simply be their authentic selves, and parents would know these selves sooner rather than later.

Rather than making assumptions, ask questions, often and early, to help learn who your child is. The questions will serve two purposes: you will learn about your child, and your child will learn that there is a beautiful spectrum of human diversity, not just boxes in which one has to fit. In order to provide a blank slate for your child so that they can be free to display their authentic self, you must be mindful of your own projections and assumptions. Such things impede the ability of your child have an actual blank slate on which to create. Recognize your child is their own individual being, and that you are lucky to witness their true self unfold. Remain curious about how this little individual will turn out. Your message to your child, both implicitly and explicitly should always be: “Any way you are is OK.”

More tips for “blank slate” parenting:

  • Instead of assuming and then waiting for them to correct you, ask about who your child is.
  • Expose them to and talk about diversity: different family structures, identities, and communities.
  • Be aware of language. Avoid using the gender dichotomy like “boys and girls”. Try not to use strongly gendered language to refer to your child and others. Incorporate many gender-neutral phrases and expressions to allow more space for your child to decide how they relate to gender.

Excerpted from The Conscious Parent’s Guide to Gender Identity: A Mindful Approach to Embracing Your Child’s Authentic Self by Darlene Tando. Copyright © 2016 F+W Media, Inc.  Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved

This excerpt was also recently featured on the Mother.ly website here

Published in: on September 2, 2016 at 2:32 pm  Comments (14)  

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14 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. What an incredible therapist and writer you are. Your writing demonstrates soo much wisdom. i wasn’t brave enough to open my heart as a child but as an adult i have been to 4 therapists as an adult. i wish that these people were even 1/4 as wises and as you are i would be me 24/7 now. Soo grateful that you are you, helping caring, sharing, thank you.

    • Thank you so much! Trying to change the way everyone looks at gender so that it’s not so scary for gender-expansive or transgender people to open their hearts! I wish you well in your journey. 🙂

      • Please keep reaching out! You are wonderful!

  2. I just have to say thank you! Thank you for shedding light and inspiration on how to parent a gender expansive child.

  3. In the 50’s and 60’s, “blank slate” parenting meant that a child was believed to arrive wholly without personality or individuality, a tabula rasa upon which the parent was to inscribe correct values, gender roles, etc. There are still many people alive who were subjected to this style of parenting, and many are still in pain. I would like to see you choose a descriptive phrase for the sort of parenting you espouse that does not mean the opposite of what you recommend, if at all possible. Thanks for your consideration of this matter.

    Morgan Seaborn


    • How interesting! And such a good point. You are right, what I am trying to communicate is exactly the opposite of that, and therefore don’t want this to be associated with it. Too bad it’s already in the book. 😦 I need to be clear that this is to describe the parenting style, and not the child! One analogy I use in my presentation is that life is a “blank canvas” for them to paint, not a “paint by number”. I will try to use that more so instead of the blank slate verbiage. Thank you so much for your comment!

      • I see where M. Seaborne is coming from, but I think even though you use the “blank slate” verbiage, your point comes across clearly… That we need to allow children to freely express who they are over time, without parental controls, judgements, pre-conceived ideas about who they should be, how they should act, how they should present themselves etc… And we should always be open to change, because we are all constantly evolving, hopefully figuring out how to be the best version of our selves. And I think this should be applied to ALL areas of parenting, not just areas related to gender identity 🙂 🙂

      • Thank you, Christy! I agree, this should be applied to all areas of parenting. 🙂

  4. Amen!

  5. Darlene, it seems that so many younger couples are having these gender reveal parties all of a sudden. My extended family alone has had three or four in the past two years. One of which included a pink princess cake. It’s seems like bad timing for this new popular trend, and a bit silly I think. What are your thoughts?

    • I think it’s a great opportunity to have a conversation about gender vs. sex (see more in this blog post, where I actually reference such parties! https://darlenetandogenderblog.com/2011/09/10/gender-vs-sex/)
      Might be nice to clarify the sex is being revealed, not the gender. Also, while it’s ok to get excited thinking about what types of things having a natal male or a natal female may bring, it’s also important to keep in mind one never knows what their baby’s gender expression will be. You can gently comment on this, or model it by giving gender-neutral baby gifts, etc.

  6. Good morning,

    First of all, thanks for your social activity within the transgender collective and me.

    My name is María, founder of Translingerie, the first company aimed at designing underwear for trans, cross and drag people. We make and design garments that we seldom find due to the current society. We take care about we want and people want.

    Now we have many collections for transgender people. Our clothings are designed under a resistant fabric adaptable to any body shapes. A little innovative applique is also included so as to hold and keep the male member safe and enjoy freedom of movement.

    Why are we getting in touch with you? Because we are devoted to a small group of the society but that does not mean it is less important. Due to this fact we have to be selective in where do we include information about our activity. We would like to know whether you would put any link, comment or notice which redirects into our website, http://www.translingerie.com.

    All our workers are trans people, we want to help people with our underwear and help trans having a normal job out of prostitution.

    We would like to be in your Social media and sometimes you can put info about us, we can put a link to your web in our Social media if you like. We only want to help people to feel comfortable and happy in the daily life.

    We would like to apologise beforehand if you do not agree with our way of thinking, by contacting you or choose ways to promote us we only want help people to feel comfy.

    We request your understanding and do not hesitate to contact us.

    It would be very helpful for us to appear in your website or if you talk about us.

    We are looking forward to hearing from you soon.

    Maria M.

    • Wonderful! I will certainly refer you to my clients and if I get good feedback I will spread the word more widely! Thank you!

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