Look out! Choosing a Babysitter for the Transgender Child

Finding someone you can trust with your child is challenging for all parents. When you are a single parent in a new country with work-related travel, it’s even harder. When your child is transgender, it adds another layer of concern. Oh, and there’s a pandemic, too!  Bessie Phyffer shares her experience navigating the ups and downs of finding the right sitter.

 

OPPAS VOOR HET TRANSGENDER KIND 

As a single working mom, I obsessively assess the use of my time. What is the priority today? I need to work as hard and smart as possible in order to create opportunities for my child’s future - to put food on the table and to provide safety and security in a mad world. That’s love right? But what of attention, affection, homework, quality time, and creating special memories for when I’m gone? Doing my best for my child means sacrificing time together. It means I need help in the form of a childminder. In our case, not just any childminder, a special kind.

We moved to this beautiful city from South Africa on 17 Jan 2020, the year of COVID-19. Before this pandemic and I’m sure after as well, I am required to travel a lot for work. Mostly quick overnights, but sometimes when the customer or conference is further afield, trips can be up to two weeks. Being a single mother living abroad, there isn’t any ‘Dad’s weekend’, or ‘Gran is helping out’. In South Africa I enrolled my child, Angel, in after-school day care and employed a nursery school assistant teacher from Angel's school as a part time Au Pair.

There are many things to arrange when relocating internationally, but a priority was finding suitable childcare for Angel before the move. I did some research of course. But it’s all so confusing. BSO (Buitenschoolse Opvang, i.e. After Care) versus au pairs, versus gasteouders and oppassers. It seemed that for our circumstances, we needed an Oppasser (babysitter) for Angel.

Oppasser! Loaded Meaning in Afrikaans.

The word itself represents both sides of my challenge! Afrikaans, an official language in South Africa and one I speak fluently, is a simplified version of Dutch that originated with the early 19th century Dutch settlers’ attempts to communicate with the other inhabitants of the Cape of Good Hope (Cape Town). As such the vocabulary is very similar. When I saw ‘oppas’ for the first time it brought back childhood memories of the ominous signs during Apartheid: Pasop vir die hond! (Beware of the Dog!) on the gates of white people’s residences. Fierce rottweilers, bull terriers, and boerboels trained to attack ‘the blacks’.

Pasop’ means to ‘be careful of’, whereas ‘oppas’ is closer to, ‘take care of’. Very different words, same root. The connotation stuck with me throughout my search for the right Oppasser.  

Navigating the Challenges

This only added to my anxiety stemming from the fact that my son has wanted to be a girl from the age of two. Today I use the pronouns they, them, or their to refer to my child. It can be confusing, I know. It has been a long journey to acceptance that this is indeed our journey. Any loving parent wants the safest, least painful life for their children. Being gay myself, I have no judgment of people with differences. I would love Angel no matter what.

Angel presents as a girl and by that I mean they wear girl’s clothes, including dresses. Their hair is currently in a bob style and when it comes time for a trim emotions run high about how much is coming off. Angel walks, talks and sits like a girl. Naturally.

Angel has taught me so much about being brave and comfortable in your own skin. They boldly take on the world knowing from experience that not everybody understands and people can be hurtful toward people who are different.

I know that anyone, even Oppassers, can have prejudice against gender-nonconforming children. So here were my additional must haves:

  • Acceptance toward LGBT+ children and parents
  • Strong awareness of gender stereotyping
  • A strong personality to be in public with a transgender child who might draw attention
  • The maturity and skills to deal with discriminatory behaviour
  • Sensitivity toward a transgender child’s mental health, what they need in terms of support 

Any traumatic event in a child’s life can affect the quality of the rest of their lives. We all know this. Therefore, especially for Angel, the quest for the right Oppasser was a serious one. I chose someone while still in South Africa, and while she was great personally, she wasn't great pragmatically. So, I found myself back at square one ...

Whether your child has ADHD, has special needs, is gender non-conforming, is different in some other way or falls well within the range of ‘normal’; you would not be doing your job as a parent, if you didn’t PAS OP VOOR DIE OPPASSER!

 

The Process 

Square One: Look for Someone

A mom from school suggested I try a website where you can book Oppassers. You pay a membership fee and browse their profiles. You create your profile and they browse families in need of their service. Either can make contact and book a shift. No interview, no long-term commitment and no contract. I’m not going to lie, I was horrified. How is this safe? You have to understand the Netherlands and South Africa are light years apart in terms of personal safety.  I remember signing up, with that ‘OPPAS’ screaming at me from the screen: “Be Careful!” “I know!” I screamed back as I saved my profile:

“Hi, my name is Elizabeth, an expat from South Africa. I'm a single mom of a 7-year-old boy.
Some knowledge of the Steiner (Vrije School) method of education would be a plus.
My child loves girls' things and wants to be a girl, so an open-minded attitude is a must.
I have a very varied schedule and need to travel from time to time, usually a one or two nights’ stay away.”

You can’t imagine how long it took me to write that. Do I say outright that my child is Transgender to weed out anyone who might have an issue with that? Or am I making them, us vulnerable to abuse? It may be the Netherlands, but there are still incidences of violence against the queer community reported in the news. Most likely there are many more unreported incidents.

Pronouns are a minefield. I refer to them as a boy in the profile to avoid confusion of how many children I’m talking about.  I’m very careful not to use their name and not to identify their school or our address. I don’t post any pictures of them on social media, but I chose to put a picture of the both of us on this profile. Very generic and non-descript.

I don’t know if the amount of interest was average or not, but it was overwhelming to me. I laboured hours over the profiles, trying to read people’s souls through the pixels. ‘Would she/he damage my child?’ I read and re-read every profile and every sentence in the message. I get more from words than pictures.

Square Two: My Interview

Before I can leave someone with Angel, I have to meet them and explain to them face to face exactly what I mean when I say, ‘he wants to be a girl’. I have to read their body language, measure their pause, watch for the signs. 

Square Three: Angel's Interview

Angel has to meet the prospect and, in the end, give a thumbs up or down. That sounds very permissive as a parent, but their instincts are spot on and they the one who has to spend time with this person.

Square Four: A Trial Session

I’ll go out shopping nearby. We see how it goes and then hopefully, finally we get to Square Five.

Square Five: Babysitting

An actual babysitting ‘event’ occurs. This feels like internet dating, except the stakes are higher.

Post-COVID19

We were just starting to form relationships and settling into this new way, when all of the sudden mid-March the world was turned upside down and inside out with Coronavirus and the ensuing ‘Intelligent Lockdown’.

Once the ‘new normal’ and my travel requirements reveal themselves I will need to update that profile and start over. Not entirely, as Square One is sorted. I’m also comfortable with the rest of the squares now. My experiences with the Oppassers have been so positive. Which gender Angel chooses to present as has, thus far, been a NON-issue. There are a few, but the online agency I chose is easy to use, well maintained and well moderated. It took me a while to see, but it is very well thought out in terms of safety. In saying that, this is the real world and there will always be malice, prejudice and predators.

Whether your child has ADHD, has special needs, is gender non-conforming, is different in some other way or falls well within the range of ‘normal’; you would not be doing your job as a parent, if you didn’t PAS OP VOOR DIE OPPASSER!

 


Resources:

Members of the Amsterdam Mamas community seeking additional support while raising a transgender child, please visit the links below:

Transvisie Amsterdam (support to transgender people, their partners and parents, parents of gender dysphoric children and relevant others, such as their families, brothers and sisters.)

TransAmsterdam

TransGender Amsterdam

COC Amsterdam


Bessie Phyffer was raised in a rural South Africa, and moved on to big city life to pursue her passions, living in Cape Town, Johannesburg, and New York. On a leisure trip she fell in love with Amsterdam and in January 2020 Bessie and her young child moved from South Africa to the Netherlands. They live in Zuid and spend their time trying to learn Dutch, trying to ride bikes, navigating public transport, and generally adapting to their new way of life. 

Related articles:

News and weekly events listings

Contact

About us

Welcome to the largest and fastest growing parenting community in the city. Bringing you everything you need, to be the family that you want.

Amsterdam Mamas is a volunteer-run foundation providing information and support to international parents in Amsterdam and the surrounding regions.