SAFE at School: Meet Jennifer Boudrye
Aug 16, 2022
Create a Safe Space for YOU
So You Can be a Safe Space for Your Child
Media messaging would have you believe that back-to-school is a time of jubilant celebration for parents. But for many, it is stressful, beyond hectic, and anxiety-producing. For parents of LGBTQ+ kiddos, there are unique concerns each new school year and the current political climate makes this year especially troubling for many.
We know that one of our most important jobs as a parent is keeping our children safe - physically and emotionally. We strive to do everything in our power to ensure that they have the best possible opportunities for success (however we measure it). But as parents of LGBTQ+ children, we worry about whether school - the classroom, the bathroom, the locker room, the sports field, the cafeteria, etc. - will be safe spaces for our LGBTQ+ kiddos.
We stay vigilant as school boards and local and state legislators debate our children's rights, perhaps even their existence. We show up at school and talk to teachers and administrators. We pay attention to what is being taught and try to stay on top of social media. Vast portions of our emotional and physical energy are devoted to worrying about our kids and working to give them all they need.
We are exhausted. And the school year hasn’t even started yet.
If you are reading this post, you have already qualified as a parent who cares deeply about your child. I believe you are doing all that you can to affirm and support your child. You are a parent, that is your identity. And it can be all-consuming.
To ensure you have the energy you need to fight the good fight, you need to create a safe space for YOU. You need and deserve a safe space just as much as your child does. And your child needs you to have a safe space to express “negative” feelings related to your parenting, so you don’t add your emotions to their already overloaded backpack of stress, feelings, and moods, (and hormones if your kid is an adolescent!).
Let’s make a safe space plan for you!
- Establish your safe space teams
Before school opens, take a physical and virtual tour to determine what you may encounter this year. Some areas to note:
- Identify and connect with supportive friends, especially those in the same school community. They will be there to provide help in real-time and may have awareness of things happening in the community and/or with your kiddo that might not be on your radar.
- Expand your circle of support through online & IRL LGBTQ+ parenting support groups. While your affirming school-based friends are truly valuable, it’s vital to have connections with parents who are experiencing life-alike issues. Having connections outside your school community may provide you with unique solutions.
- Consider working with an experienced and affirming parenting coach. While the hive mind can be very helpful, it can sometimes be overwhelming and you may need to connect with someone who is focused and dedicated to helping you with your unique set of circumstances. A parenting coach provides a judgment-free zone and expert perspective to support you in developing plans and taking action.
- Counselors or therapists can help you dig through your past to identify issues that may be contributing to challenges you are experiencing and help you manage and protect your mental health.
Create a self-care plan (and I don’t mean luxuriating in a bubble bath, but if that’s your thing definitely consider it a part of your plan). If you struggle to put yourself first sometimes, consider that making yourself a priority from time to time is positive modeling for your kids - they need to see and know you value yourself.
- Take a walk through the library and be sure to connect with the school librarian. I can assure you that most librarians are dedicated to creating safe spaces for all students. The books on the shelves and on display will give you an idea of the school culture.
- Read through all Policies & Handbooks - are there any that are concerning for your child? Do you feel confident that the consequences for bullying are clearly outlined? Is the language gender neutral? Do you know who is responsible for putting it together and how you can contact them if there are things that need to be clarified or edited?
- Ask the administration what types of professional development the staff will experience this year and who will do the training so you can determine any possible biases for any gender, sexuality, or diversity training.
- Find out about clubs, speakers, and field trips - will there be activities to meet your child’s needs and interests? Any that cause you specific concern? Will you be able to participate in planning or chaperoning?
- Look for evidence of inclusion and safe spaces - the makeup of the staff and signage to convey that the school has safe spaces easily accessible for your child.
- Connect with your child’s teacher(s) and set any necessary ground rules and boundaries.
Develop a routine of checking with your kid in a way that works for them and doesn’t create additional issues.
- Schedule a date with yourself during the first week of school (and every week thereafter!) to check in with yourself and consider how you are doing. It is possible to find the time - even 10 minutes in the shower or sitting in traffic.
- Accept that whatever you are feeling, it’s valid. Don’t try to justify or explain away anything that feels “negative” just accept that you are feeling feelings.
- If you realize at any time you are feeling overwhelmed or anxious try some grounding exercises and then check in with your safe-space team members.
- Monitor your own social media use. There is evidence of a correlation between social media use and mental health issues in adolescents. I suspect the same may be true for adults. Even if social media isn’t the cause, heavy use is certainly a time-suck and creates opportunities for exposure to negative messaging. Give yourself some screen-free time and replace it with something that brings you joy.
Have a plan for when issues do come up.
- Be curious, don’t jump to solve or give perspective. My favorite response when a child starts to complain, or I sense something is up is, “Tell me more about…”
- If they are open to it, brainstorm and role play problem-solving any issues they are experiencing. Empower them.
- Determine if the issue is urgent or not and if it’s vital or less important. Issues that are urgent and vital get your full attention first.
- Decide who to contact
- Know your rights, and your child’s rights
- Connect with your safe space people
- Develop your plan of action and get your child on board
- Go forward
- Here’s a matrix with examples that may help:
We are working towards a world where all LGBTQ+ children are safe in all spaces. While there is a great deal we cannot control, creating a safe space plan for you will go a long way to ensuring that you have the emotional energy you need to support your kiddo. The value of having even one supportive and affirming parent cannot be emphasized strongly enough - it can be literally lifesaving. Your child is truly blessed to have you, so you make sure that you can be there for them.
Don't forget to register for our SAFE at School event on Tuesday, September 13 at 5pm PT / 8pm ET! Click here to save your spot today!
About the Author
Jennifer Boudrye is the founder of Parent With Care, where she supports parents of LGBTQ+ youth through 1:1 and group coaching, workshops, and presentations. Jennifer is also a high school librarian, the former Director of Libraries for Washington DC Public Schools, a certified parent coach, a Safe Zone trained Gender & Sexuality Alliance (GSA) Faculty Advisor and the Director of Education for Equality Loudoun. Her work to support parents began in earnest in 1996 when she produced and hosted the, “Discovering Kids,” radio show in Wilmington DE. She has been providing vital information and resources to parents in various venues and formats ever since.
Boudrye lives in Northern Virginia and is the parent of 3 adult children, one of whom is bisexual, and the bonus parent to a transgender man who recently became a dad. She has unique personal experience, perspective, and understanding of parents of LGBTQ+ youth and the journey they take alongside their kids. When she’s not researching, writing, or coaching parents, Jennifer recharges by going to concerts (everything from 80’s favorites to indie folk to gospel), battling herself at boot camp, or mindlessly scrolling in search of the perfect house with gorgeous mountain views and a welcoming front porch swing.