Marlo Mack produces How to Be a Girl, a podcast about life with her transgender daughter “M.”
Through stories on everything from what it was like when other mums at school found out a girl in class had a penis to how she told her child she may not ever be a biological mother, Marlo (not her real name) gives listeners a glimpse into their world.
Here’s how she parents.
Name: Marlo Mack
Location: Seattle, Washington
Job: Radio producer, podcaster
Family: Daughter M. (10), fiancé B.
Tell us a little bit about your family and your career.
I’ve been a single mama since my daughter was three years old. I’m lucky to be co-parenting quite amicably with her dad. (I’m also about to get remarried, so my daughter will be acquiring a stepdad soon.) I work as a public radio producer.
Did life happen mostly as planned or were there surprises?
Surprises? Hell yes. When my child was born, I thought she was a boy, and we raised her as a boy until she told us, not long after she learned to combine words into sentences, that we had it wrong. She was a girl.
After about a year of trying to convince her otherwise (“Why can’t you just be a boy who loves pink and wears dresses?”), I realised I wasn’t going to win that battle – and that the battle was hurting my kid. Since age four, she’s been living happily as a girl, and has never wavered in her identity. Since I work as a radio producer and am a long-time audiophile, I had been recording her since she was a baby, thinking it would be nice to have some audio “mementos” of her childhood.
When my child started saying “he” was actually “she”, I kept on recording. Our conversations eventually turned into a podcast about our life together, called “How to Be a Girl,” which tells stories from our life and explores the mysterious world of gender that all of us humans are navigating everyday, whether we realise it or not.
(If you're curious about our story, you can check out this little animation I made that documents my daughter's transition.)
Take us through your morning routine. What are your best tricks for getting out the door?
Unfortunately, I'm not a morning person, and my daughter seems to have inherited my night-owl genes along with my seasonal allergies and thin hair. (Sorry, honey!) So mornings are tough. My "trick" is to get as much as possible done the night before, when my night-mind is on deck and I can manage difficult tasks like selecting matching socks.
Before we go to bed, I pack her lunch, lay out my clothes, and get her to pick out her outfit for the following day. Then all we have to do in the morning is wake up and get dressed, and I drink coffee while she nibbles sleepily on a bagel. You'd think that this simple routine would mean that we'd be on time for school, but the truth is that we're still late about 50 per cent of the time. I've just learned to accept that.
How much outside help do you get as a parent? Who or what can't you live without?
I'm really lucky to be co-parenting with my child's dad, who has her nearly half the time. I'm not sure how I'd manage on my own without some time off. The dirty little secret (shhh!) about sharing custody is that I actually get more free time than any of my married friends who have kids. Of course, I miss my daughter a lot when she's with her dad, but it's also the only time I get a break: When she's with me, it's ALL me.
There's no one to send to the store for milk or for medicine when she wakes up coughing at midnight. I have to admit that the early days of single momhood were rough. I don't miss those long evenings home alone with a four-year-old who didn't understand that Mum needed five minutes to herself after working all day. Now that my daughter is older, it's heaps easier.
Plus I have a new partner in my life (we'll be moving in with him soon), so those lonely evenings should soon be a thing of the past.
M's self portrait at age 4.
What are the gadgets, apps, charts or tools you rely on?
I'm as dependent on my iPhone as everyone else is. The thing that really saves me is it to set alarms to remind me about stuff that I need to do but am sure I'll forget. ("Pay mortgage!" "Permission slip!" "MILK!") I really hate the sound of the alarms - even the pretty sounds startle me - but it seems to be the only fail-safe way for me to keep track of Every. Freakin. Thing.
My ageing mum-brain just isn't up to it. I also love my Kindle. It's the kind that you can only use for downloading and reading books. When my daughter asks for more screen time, I hand it to her and say "Read!" and feel like I'm not a shitty parent.
Has becoming a parent changed the way you work?
I think it's made me more efficient. In my pre-kid life, time was plentiful; now it's scarce and precious. I can't let work projects stretch out until late in the evening, or take long lunches, because they charge $20 a minute if you're late for daycare pick up. And if I find myself with a few free hours, it's like Christmas: A rare and magical gift just for me! However shall I use it? (And what the hell did I do with all those vast stretches of free time before I became a parent?)
How do you involve your kid in your work?
I interview my daughter a lot for the podcast, and ask for her ideas about what topics we should cover. I want her to feel a sense of control and ownership of it, and I think she does. She seems really proud of the podcast, and likes the idea that we are helping other people by sharing our story.
As she gets older, it would be fun if she decided to take the reins and create some audio stories on her own. But for now, she's more interested in Legos than podcasts.
What does your evening routine like?
She builds something awesome out of Legos while I make dinner. We sit and eat, I ask her about her day and try to just be cool and listen and hope to get some actual information out of her. Sometimes we do "two roses and a thorn," where each person says two good things that happened during the day and one bad thing. Usually we don't finish but it starts a good conversation. Then it's bath, snack, and stories in bed.
What do you want your kid to learn from your example?
I want to show my daughter that passion and hard work can lead to creating something you are proud of. She sees me working hard on my podcast on evenings and weekends (I have a regular day job during the week), and she knows that I've had some success with it and feel really good about it. I like to think this is a good thing for her to witness.
I also really hope she learns to stay silly, not take herself too seriously, and be kind to herself. I'm not great at these things (except maybe the silly part), but I'm trying.
What's the hardest part about being a parent?
Knowing my child will suffer, because she's trans and also because she's human, and I won't be able to fix it for her.
What would you like people to know about transgender children?
One: She's pretty much just like every other kid out there. She goes to school, plays with her friends, begs me for more screen time, loves candy and hates spinach. She's totally typical and (like all humans) totally unique. And being transgender is just one detail among the thousand other details that define her.
Two: Being a transgender kid is hard. Most weeks we don't talk about it, because she's far too busy with school and play dates and piano lessons and Legos. But it sneaks in around the edges all the time, and I realise that it's never far from her consciousness: A question mark hangs over every new friendship ("Will she still like me if she knows?").
Public bathrooms make her anxious. ("What if someone looks under the stall door?") Getting dressed can be a minefield ("Do these pants hide everything?") And we haven't even hit puberty yet.
The one thing I would tell other parents with a transgender child:
Your child will be who they will be. Nothing you do or say (or don't do or don't say) will "make" your child transgender (or not transgender) if that's not who they are. Once I realised that, I was able to let go and just let my child be who she needed to be.
It won't be easy, but it will be OK. Just keep loving and listening. And get some support.