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Dear Alex,

I'm very nervous in writing here as I'm afraid to use the wrong words and cause trouble. My grandchild recently shared that she has “prefered pronouns" and wants to be referred to as “they”. I adore her, and I want to be supportive, but I am so confused about what this actually means. Help! 

~ Bewildered Grandparent | July 2, 2022

Dear Grandparent,

Thank you for asking this question.  They (your grandchild) has obviously chosen you as a safe and supportive person in their life. Your support and acceptance of this request will shape the future interactions they will have with others when sharing pronouns and identity markers moving forward.  

The best way to be supportive of your grandchild is to respect and honor their request. Now that you are aware of your grandchild’s preferred pronoun, make an effort to use it.  If you make a mistake, correct yourself without judgment. It might take some time to get used to using the pronoun they, as it’s not a familiar way of referring to your grandchild.

If you want to know why they identify as they,…ask them!  This is your chance to learn more about your grandchild and grow closer together. Try to keep an open mind and really hear what they are saying. You may have to change the way you were taught to think.  For example, there is a clear distinction between anatomy, gender, pronouns and sexual orientation.  While these four identifiers can be linked they don't necessarily need to be.  

Try not to pressure your grandchild into sharing their sexual orientation, this is non-related to pronouns or gender identity and it is for them to share with you when they are ready.  Remember, gender identity is how someone sees, expresses and understands their own self, and it can evolve and change with the individual as they change! Allow your grandchild to explore this fluidity as they establish their own identity. 

The conversation doesn’t have to be had in one sitting. Creating an ongoing open dialogue around this topic might open communication and insight across generations. Allowing the both of you to find common ground and respect for each other's beliefs and understandings.  You might be surprised by what you learn from them!

If you are having difficulty starting this conversation or need some guidance on how to approach them, please feel free to reach out.