How Grandparents Can Be There For Their Queer Children and Grandchildren
LGBTQ+ families need strong support and grandparents can make all the difference. Here are simple ways grandparents can show support for their queer children's families.
I came out as a lesbian to my family when I was 15 years old. The way they found out was not ideal: My grandmother read a love note to my first girlfriend, a note I'd dropped running out of the door when I was late for school.
Although I felt lighter and knew that who I was wasn't a mistake, I was afraid. I didn't know what they would say or how they'd react to something I'd known about myself since I began middle school.
After I came out, my grandparents began a kind of grieving process for the granddaughter they had to now let go of. But I'm happy to say my family did not try to change me or shame me. They did not pack my bags and force me out of the only home I'd ever known. While I wouldn't say they are ecstatic that I am a lesbian, my grandparents have shown me love, compassion, and respect. They have since done the same for my wife and family-and it's made all the difference in how my kids are growing up.
Research has shown the benefits of kids having a strong bond with grandparents, including fewer emotional and behavioral problems, better mental health, and higher levels of self-esteem. This bond can have a paramount impact on kids in LGBTQ+ families who typically need a strong village to support them.
Yet older generations have statistically had a harder time accepting LGBTQ+ families. It's time to be a part of the change. If your child identifies as LGBTQ+ and is raising a family, or you're a grandparent to a queer child, there are so many ways you can show them love and support.
Here are some simple ways grandparents and even great-grandparents can better support their queer kids' families and help children grow up feeling proud and surrounded by love.
"Education and experience are important in verbally and non-verbally communicating your unconditional love and support of your family member," says Kendra Kubala, M.A., Psy.D., a psychologist who specializes in trauma and is licensed in Pennsylvania and New York. Dr. Kubala suggests grandparents learn appropriate and sensitive language and remove gender stereotypes from activities. For example, manicures, facials, and a class on how to safely use power tools do not have to be gender exclusive.
Express Unconditional Love
No matter how young grandkids are, you can spark conversations about the unconditional love a grandparent has for their grandchildren. "Focus on what words/behaviors/traits define 'love' to you and have a conversation with your grandchildren about what 'love' looks and feels like to them," advises Dr. Kubala. You can do this through fun activities like having a young child draw where they feel love in their body and what color it is. "Aside from directly saying how they feel, the quiet communication of nonverbal acceptance and commitment, speaks volumes to a child who is navigating relationships and self-esteem," adds Dr. Kubala.
Head to local Pride and LGBTQ+ events together. Being part of the advocacy shows your grandchildren their queer family matters and deserves equal rights. And be present for other important events like celebrating Grandparents Day at their school or cheering them on at their sports games and sixth grade graduation.
Put family photos up around your house. Every effort to be supportive, no matter how small, will only help your family build a stronger bond. Even if talking about your child's family is challenging, let the photos be a conversation starter for relatives and your friends alike.
Use the Right Words
"With some straight older grandparents, homophobia sometimes shows up in subtle, passive-aggressive ways," says Joe Belisle, a queer parent in Connecticut raising a 12-year-old with his husband David Vintinner.
Choosing the right words shows support. "It's important for grandparents to say things like, 'This is Mary and Alice's daughter, Elizabeth' when introducing the family to others for the first time," says Belisle, who is also the coordinator and lead adult facilitator for the Kids In Crisis LGBTQ+ youth group. "Don't be vague, Grandparents. Words matter."
Same goes for whatever name your grandchild calls their parent(s)-respect that name and use it as well.
Make Sure to Listen
For my own grandparents, it was not easy for them to understand what in-vitro fertilization (IVF) was and how that fit into our collective lives as family, but they listened to me throughout my pregnancy. Even after the babies were born, they gave me all of the unsolicited advice any grandparent would. Listening when your own children or grandchildren express their experiences is essential when it comes to showing support.
Aside from listening, pay attention to your nonverbal communication too. "Facial expressions, tone, and body language can say a lot," says Dr. Kubala. "Be thoughtful in how you are communicating." Don't appear physically closed off or disinterested and try to make it a point to make appropriate eye contact. Children notice a lot more than you might think.
The Bottom Line
As grandparents supporting your queer kids' children, you have the opportunity to live out loud with your queer kids. Your grandchildren are depending on you to listen, show up, and be their grandparent unconditionally.