Jazz Jennings' Mom Jeanette on Finding Power in Her Daughter's 'Resilience': 'I Gained My Strength from Her'

"We just had to be very, very tough back then. And you know what? It made things a lot better," Jeanette tells PEOPLE of parenting when her daughter came out as transgender at a young age

TLC stars Jazz and Jeanette Jennings
Photo: Jazz Jennings/instagram

Anyone who has followed Jazz Jennings' journey from a transgender teen to a self-possessed young woman on TLC's I Am Jazz has also watched Jazz's mother Jeanette Jennings stand strong for her family.

But Jeanette's own journey as a mom, wife and advocate for all transgender children began long before TLC cameras started rolling.

When Jazz first started expressing her gender identity in preschool, Jeanette tells PEOPLE she knew both she and Jazz were facing down a lifetime of questions and criticism.

According to Jeannette, Jazz's attitude even at such a young age was: "'I don't care. I have my friends at school that like me, and if anybody else has a problem with it, I'm OK with that.' This is like 4-year-old Jazz, so I gained my strength from her."

Even as the Jennings family was met with "stares" and "whispers," Jeanette affirms, "I gained a lot of confidence from her."

She explains, "I'm a people pleaser. I didn't want people to stare at me, but they were. And one mom made a comment like, 'Why do you let him dress like that?" And I said, 'Because that's what she wanted to wear today.' And that was the last time that mom spoke to me about that issue."

She recalls, "So we just had to be very, very tough back then. And you know what? It made things a lot better."

Jeanette Jennings and Jazz Jennings The Paley Honors: A Gala Tribute to the LGBTQ+ Achievements in Television, New York, USA - 15 May 2019
Kristina Bumphrey/StarPix/Shutterstock

When Jazz was 6 years old, Jeanette and a fellow mom started the Trans Kid Purple Rainbow Foundation to help raise awareness and increase acceptance for transgender children.

"We said, 'We need to do this. This is something that isn't out there,'" Jeanette says. "A lot of people don't know about transgender youth and when their kids are expressing themselves as the other gender. So we wanted to present something online where they could find us, go to ask questions and learn more and gain resources that could guide them into this world of being the parent of a trans kid or even find out: Is my kid transgender or not?"

And, while Jazz is now a 22-year-old Harvard student and self-proclaimed "badass bitch," Jeanette knows many parents are either just starting out or in the midst of helping their children affirm their gender identity.

She advises, "You have to listen to [your children], listen to their hearts, listen to what they say and definitely get professional help. Don't go by just what you see on TV or read in the newspaper. You have to take a child in if you think they're struggling with their identity in any way, shape or form, because you need professional guidance."

"And as a parent," she adds, "you just need to stay strong — think of your child and not yourself. Check your ego at the door, say, 'This is about my kid. What I want and what I need is not important. This little person's life is more important than what I think and feel. I need to listen to them because what they have to say is valid even though they're young.'"

Jazz Jennings' Mom Tearfully Recalls 'Putting Out Fires' Since Daughter's Pre-K Years and Encouraging Her to 'Be You'

Today Jeanette is still an advocate for transgender kids. Even when she's not speaking publicly at events like the TransAction | Equality Florida rally, she's speaking "one on one" with parents.

"Sometimes they need that extra loving care to just get on the phone with somebody else whose child is transgender," she explains. "So through the grapevine or through my foundation where people write letters to me, I will sit down and talk a parent through it."

She notes, "Sometimes the best source of information are other parents that are going through what you are going through. And that's what I try to do, bring people together and give one-on-one contact, extra loving care to these parents that just want to talk to another parent. I can provide that for them."

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I Am Jazz airs Tuesdays 10 p.m. ET on TLC.

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