Ministering Cross-Culturally, or…

How to take care of your teenage grandchildren! 

In preparation for our church mission trip to Cambodia, I have been studying the how-to’s of ministering cross-culturally. I have learned that if we are to be truly effective in serving others, we must first understand their culture and be willing, to a certain degree, to accept their way of doing things. It is important to not pre-judge and make assumptions solely because they do things differently than we do. This does not make them wrong. This does not make them less than us.

Well who would have thought that this new knowledge could be so instrumental in caring for my two grandchildren, ages 12 and 14. As I flew across the country, I made plans for the week ahead. I wondered, how can I make this a good outcome for all concerned? In visits past, my approach to the kids has not always been received that well, and I wanted to do better. It dawned on me that I simply needed to follow the steps of ministering cross-culturally!

In the spirit of helping all grandparents out there, I want to share some of what I learned:

Getting Up in the Morning: Believe it or not, the 14-year old has to catch a 6:30 am bus and the 12-year old, a 7:15 am bus! Really? Who is in charge? I mean, really, are they trying to destroy perfectly decent parents? This was not going to be pretty, and I knew it!

Well this is what I did: Instead of yelling at the top of my lungs: JON! DANIELLE! IT’S 6:00 O’CLOCK!!! TIME TO GET UP!! HURRY! HURRY, OR YOU’RE GOING TO MISS YOUR BUS! I casually poured a cup of coffee, and looked up ‘teen music’ on Pandora and set my laptop up on the kitchen counter, and turned it up so the sounds would travel to their bedrooms. Done. They both arrived in the kitchen, sat down at the counter, staring at Beyoncé on the computer screen and ate their cereal with about a minute to spare. B R E A T H E!

Dress Code: In the land of teenagers today, the rules are different. The kids are allowed to wear just about anything they choose. After careful consideration, I figured the best tactic here was to just keep my big mouth shut; no communication whatsoever, other than PRAISE when they arrived at the kitchen counter fully clothed. So when Danielle arrived in short shorts and a teensy top, I bit my lip, smiled and told her that she looked very nice and that her hairdo was so pretty. (She did look pretty. It’s just that when I was a kid, girls were not allowed to wear pants, let alone shorts! I know you’re with me on this, but it falls on deaf ears, right?) When Jon walked out in shorts, a wrinkled tee-shirt and tennis shoes with long, red shoe strings trailing behind him, I said, cleverly, “Good morning Jon!” (I watched Jon as he walked to the bus stop, certain that he would trip over his shoe laces and readied myself to race up the street and rush him to urgent care, but low and behold he made it all the way to the bus stop, where he stopped, leaned over and tied his shoes. Again, it’s a different culture. Be open to your differences.

Cleaning Your Room:  Now, helping a teen to clean their room, or even discussing this chore, requires advanced training in cross-cultural ministering. Be very careful here. In fact, I suggest that you don’t even attempt this with your grandson. It’s fruitless, and you will find things that scare you and it will undoubtedly end up in an argument. Granddaughters are another matter. They LIKE to clean their rooms with your help. Sort of. Some highlights:

“Dani, why don’t we put that little throw rug on top of the huge stain on the carpet?” “Oh Grandma, you can’t put a rug on top of another rug!” she said, looking at me like I came from another planet!

“Grandma, I don’t like the comforter. I think we should just take it off.”  I said (without thinking), “But that will look ugly. There will just be sheets and it won’t be pretty.” The look of disappointment clearly communicated to me that I was in a foreign land and truly did not see what she saw. B R E A T H E… I suggested that we take the comforter and fold it neatly and place it at the foot of the bed. She agreed. For some reason, this compromise broke through the barriers of unknown territory. We both relaxed and admired our handiwork.

Bed Time: I’m sorry. I have not had enough training in this department. When in doubt, announce the bed time hour once and then pray. Praying works in most cultures.

Finish Your Homework: OK, now on this one I’m completely stumped! Each day, no exceptions, the kids walked in the door, sat down at the table and did their homework. I never had to say anything! I know! I don’t get it either! My daughter tells me that she started that habit when they were small, and it stuck! Go figure! (She must have had a wonderful role model! Ha!)


Happy Ending: Every now and then, something happens or something is said, to remind us that we are all from the same planet. My precious granddaughter and I took a walk in the woods. We waded in the river and searched for cool (as in “groovy”) stones. We lay on a towel, shoulder to shoulder, and stared up at the canopy of trees above us. “Grandma, isn’t this a beautiful day?” “Yes, sweetheart, it sure is.” And in that moment I knew that I had done my job well. For once, I had let go of all the old tapes in my head. That long, and ancient list of rights and wrongs. I did my best to accept our differences; to speak her language. And in doing so, we were both able to enjoy each other – and to love each other, unconditionally.

To Jon and Dani, With all my love, Grandma  September 2014





About susansplace

Widowed in 2012, I am a mother and grandmother. Born in San Francisco, I now live in the town I grew up in: Mill Valley, California. I love nature photography. Just an amateur but that's OK! My goal: world peace. Got any ideas?
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Ministering Cross-Culturally, or…

  1. bodyworkspt says:

    I am so grateful for you, I have a hard time finding the words for it. You gave me such a gift, by being here, but mostly by being YOU, here. You being here, to be the mom, let me detach from the usual responsibilities (getting up at 6:00 a.m every day being one) and do some important work for my own healing. That is just not possible without a mom to be the mom for a little while. I love you so much and am so lucky that you love me so much and that you were able to tolerate the short shorts. Good job! 🙂 ❤

  2. Jan says:

    Great advice you have given as we head out to babysit next week with our 3 little ones while the parents are in China. No doubt, this will all be applicable to us too.

  3. susansplace says:

    I think what I have learned is that it is time to let go. To relax with some of the strict rules that existed when we were kids. Or, at least, when I was a kid. To give my grandkids a chance to be them and to show me life in 2014, not 1955! I think parents have it harder these days, primarily due to the children’s exposure to the world via TV, the internet, etc. And I have to applaud those parents for doing the very best job they can do.

  4. soundhealher says:

    Beautiful! Way to honor your grandchildren and your self. They will always cherish you and your connection!

  5. Barb says:

    Thanks Sue. I am doing this in November and I will approach it differently also. We think of you so often and hope all is well.

    Make it a great day, Barb


  6. Bev Swain says:

    Sue…. Your parents would be SOOOO PROUD of you!!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s