This article is Part 5 of a five-part series for Grandparents on how to apply youth ministry skills in their work with their own grandchildren. You can view the previous articles in this series here: 1. Lead from Alongside, 2. Listen to Me, 3. Story Telling, 4. In Service.
My older granddaughter was about 11 and we were driving in the car when she asked out of the blue, “Grandma, how do you know if you might be lesbian?” My first thought was, “I didn’t even know what that word meant when I was your age and if I had, I sure wouldn’t have asked my grandmother about it!”
“Oh…,” I responded, “What makes you think that you might be lesbian?”
She replied, “I just don’t like boys.”
“So,” I proceeded, “what don’t you like about them?”
“They make me so mad.”
I didn’t say, “Honey, wait ‘til you get married!” Instead I just answered, “Well, I’m not sure that makes you lesbian but we can talk more about it if you would like to.”
She let it drop. So I did as well. (I raised it confidentially with my daughter, her mom. I let her know how I handled it and she encouraged me to continue.)
The next time we were in the car I asked her if she still thought she was lesbian. She said, “No, grandma…there’s this boy…and he doesn’t make me mad.”
I smiled. Not rushing in to “fix her problem” was the best response. Youth of all ages sometimes just need someone who isn’t in a rush, who has time to listen.
But the key lesson in this story is safety. I doubt my granddaughter would have ever raised the issue if we weren’t in the car. Because I was driving, she knew we wouldn’t have eye contact on this issue and that made the car a safe place. My youth work experience taught me the value of emotional safety so I knew better than to raise the issue again anywhere else but in the car. The car was already designated by her as a safe place to talk to grandma.
What are some other “safe” places besides a car?
- Walking – a side by side activity
- Evening often feels safer than daytime
- Lower lit spaces are safer than brightly lit ones
- Quiet is better than noisy
- An uninterrupted vs an active environment
Carmen Shaughnessy Johnson is a former youth minister, grandmother of three, and a regular speaker at Do It Grandly seminars. She lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.
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