Teenager coming to live with us....help please!(25 Posts)
My husband's mother died about 6 weeks ago, leaving 2 daughters, one aged 12 and the other is 14 without a legal guardian. The family relationship is very dysfunctional and we have had very limited contact with them over the past 10 years.
After much consideration and involvement from social services, it's been decided that the 14 year old will come and live with us and the 12 year old will live with another brother who has children close to her in age.
I have a 3 week old baby so the timing is not ideal, and have absolutely no experience with teenagers. She arrives Saturday and I was hoping you could give me some advice. How do I build a relationship with her? What do teenagers like to do? How should we treat her in terms of rules/discipline/rewards? Any advice is really welcome.
Are the girls having any support from ss or counsellor? Allow the 14yo her own space, bring some possessions and sentimental items. Try not to let her have electrical items in her room , encourage her to spend time in a communal setting. Will she be able to see her sister, maybe have her to stay or visit.
for you and for her.
Most of us with teens have had 13 years of parenting before we come to this and even then it can be challenging. 14 year old girls are often at a particularly tricky stage.
Can I suggest that you also post this in fostering and adoption?
I agree about her own space. Her own room with her things from home and a say in decor would be a nice start.
I wouldn't start off by laying down the law over things like chores and untidiness. These can be annoying but are insignificant compared to the rest going on in her life.
A good book to read is Get Out of My Life - But First Take Me and Alex Into Town.
Oh how tragic! poor girls
Do you have any relationship with the girl at all or will it really be like her coming to live with strangers?
I think the thing to remember is that as well as being a teenage girl, she is a person first and foremost and I think putting yourself in her shoes is probably the main thing.
will she be nearby old friends? is she a socializing teen or a quiet one? despite what people would have you believe, not all teens are out hanging out with friends and constantly pushing boundaries, or locked in a cess pit of a bedroom listening to dismal music and being on electronic devices. Before you need any rules etc you need to make her feel welcome and work out what kind of person she is and then decide what boundaries you need.
I'd be prepared for things not to go smoothly - being bereaved as a young adult/teen must be the absolute worst time - especially if you are effectively orphaned.
One thing that is working for my teenage boys is for us to always be genuinely pleased to see them when either we or they come into the house - regardless of what else has happened. Like us all, they need to know that they are loved and wanted and whilst they may get a bollocking 10 minutes later for something, they know that we are always there for them and we want them to be with us. It does seem to set a nicer tone for the rest of the time spent together.
I think at this stage she needs a bereavement counsellor.
remember she'll be torn apart from her sister so will you allow her sister to stay over and will she be allowed to stay with her sister?
try to find out her likes and dislikes. she may be interested in the baby she may not be. you could if all goes well in a few months have a free (or reduced rate babysitter).
is there a father in the mix?
remember it'll be school holidays but depending how far she has moved it's probably vital she stays in touch with her friends etc.
Thanks everyone...your responses are much appreciated.
I will post in fostering as well.
I have no relationship at all with them and my husband has only seen them twice in 10 years and had a couple of phone calls so we are essentially strangers.
She is nowhere near her old friends and I have no idea what she likes to do, will try and find out.
Her sister will be living a good 5hrs away but we will make sure holidays are spent together and they Skype all the time.
They haven't seen their dad in many years, he's said he wants to get to know them so we will start that slowly with the help of social services. They will also help with bereavement counselling.
It's so daunting, I don't want to get it wrong!
Don't worry, there isn't a right or a wrong at this stage - the fact that you are hoping to get it right though is a positive thing.
At 14 she will be able to cope with an honest discussion with you all about how you are hoping that she will feel welcome and that you all need to get to know each other and keep the communication open. I've found the car a useful place to have discussions that may feel a bit awkward as you don't need to look each other in the eye if that helps. She will be painfully aware that at this stage she has very few adults in her life that love her, including yourselves....yet. This will make her vulnerable to manipulation from exploitative people on-line or that she encounters irl.
She may be angry and rebellious, she may be cowed and upset - you wont have any idea until you meet her and get to know her.
She may be very interested in the baby which might be a good thing as it can be a good ice breaker
My eldest was 8 when we adopted her.
Have a think about what you really think is non negotiable, and stick to that from day 1. Anything else can be introduced later if needed.
e.g. Violence and swearing and rudeness and destruction of property.
Things to think about where you may want to find out what her current 'norm' is and how you want your household to be:
- electronics in room at night time (bad idea I think)
- level of help around the house
- expectations for sociability
- school work when next term
- pocket money / allowances
- freedom to come and go
Maybe she would like to choose some stuff for her new bedroom, or needs some clothes for the summer?
I think as you don't know her, and don't know her personality, it is going to be tough. This is a big thing you are doing. I think you will need a lot of support, so make sure you ask for it.
Communication and flexibility will be the key I think.
I think talk to her, tell her directly that the pair of you have no experience of looking after teenagers and if she wants/needs anything, to please tell you and you can all work together.
My sister's friend moved in with us when she was 11 under similar circumstances. Different in that we'd known her for 4 years, but that meant the change after her father died was very noticeable (she had been sweet and laid back but became quite volatile for about a year). I don't think my parents knew what they were getting into and made some blunders (thinking it would be fine for her to sleep in my sister's room as she had when a guest which backfired - this was many years ago and social services were quite hands off and they just made it up as they went along) but it worked out in the end.
I'd just say if she's quite explosive after an initial very polite honeymoon period don't take it personally or assume that's "the real" her!
I would hope she might feel grateful as I assume the alternative was a care home, so you might not initially have any aggression or anger but I suspect that will come out as she feels more settled. She is going to be very angry with life for taking her mum and sister away and no doubt scared of having to start again with strangers at home and strangers at school. God I can't imagine, that poor poor girl
That is a really sad situation that the two sisters are being split up after the trauma of losing their mother.
Is there no way they can stay together?
Are these girls your dh's half sisters?
Oh, poor thing. Try to allow her to settle in in her own time, leave some food in her room so that if she doesn't want to come down for meals she doesn't have to, and let her know she can always talk to you at any time. Set down some rules and let her ease in gradually. You could have a set time to turn off the wifi and then she won't be up all hours. Maybe let her hang a picture of her family in her bedroom?
Why don't you look for youth group/summer camps and try those? You could try to do a 'game night' as a family to get to know one another, and make it clear that you don't want to try and replace her mother.
Also, don't wear yourself out, OP! You have done a wonderful thing, and having a month old baby myself I know how exhausting it can be. Make sure you have an hour or so to yourself in the evening- I admire you and your DHso much for your kindness .
My goodness those poor, poor girls. I have a 14 year old boy and a 12 year old girl and in the situation you describe they would be absolutely devastated, especially at being separated from the one remaining family member with whom they actually have a proper relationship.
In your position I agree with other posters that the bereavement, separation from her sister and unheaval to her life is far more significant than her actual age at the moment.
Things that I think would help are:
Her own room, decorated as she choses, with her own things in. If she doesn't bring them with her then let her chose her own duvet cover etc.
She will probably want to keep in touch with friends and her sister on line so give her time and space to do that.
Try and arrange for her sister to come and stay as soon as possible, they must both be feeling very alone. Can you arrange her room so that there is space for regular sleepovers, especially in the holidays.
Teenagers can be very emotional and she will probably be even more so than usual. Make allowances until life settles down for her a bit. She is likely to be feeling scared, upset and angry, the safer she feels with you the more she is likely to express this.
I agree that the baby could really help. Girls this age usually love babies. Let her build a strong relationship with the baby. I think that it could really help all of you.
Hold off on rules for the moment but thank and praise her for the behaviour you would like to see. Let her hear you say things like, "it's such a help having X here, I don't know how I'd ever manage to have a shower in the morning without someone sensible to keep an eye on the baby." Etc, so she feels valued and secure. Notice when the baby smiles at her and point out how much the baby likes/loves her.
You are both doing a really lovely thing, so
Random thought, but it might be worth when giving her a 'tour of the house' to point out a draw in the bathroom with Sanpro in, I couldn't imagine being that age and having to ask a stranger for Sanpro
Might be worth trying to involve her as much as possible over summer, if she's willing, 'what do you fancy for dinner?' Kinda thing, it might help you get to know her
How very sad for you all
My advice would be first - don't think of teenagers as a different species. Most of them are just as lovely as children and adults.
Treat this poor kid like you would any other grieving visitor in your house - in that you take the cue from her. She may want to talk - so listen, or she may not - so give her space. She may be extremely angry at the world (and you) and kick out in physical or emotional ways against you - so understand it's not personal and develop a thick skin. Or she may react by turning her grief in on herself - so keep a close eye on her well-being.
As for rules and boundaries, she has lost everything, all security, all stability, everything she knows. So, I think some very straightforward, clear rules may actually be helpful to her. I'd suggest you agree with your dh some very basic agreements that you will both stick to and reinforce (such as what are your coming home times, mealtime expectations, bedtimes, use of phones, wifi, pocket money) and explain to her simply. Then expect to reinforce calmly over and over again. Make it a fact not a rule e.g.Don't say You're not allowed to swear instead say We don't swear in this house.
I know someone who was in almost exactly the same situation as you except the child she took on was a boy (also 14, also separated from a sibling). I think it's fair to say they had some very rocky patches for a year or two
or four but he did become a lovely integrated member of her family, a proper sibling to her dcs and he is now doing extremely well at uni.
good luck to you all
Wouldn't it be possible to keep them together? They have lost their mum now they loose each other? Although I am sure you will all be making sure they will have loads of contact. My brother and sister and I were split and I think it was worst than loosing my parents. People always underestimate the sibling bond especially social workers, most of them don't know how to do a sibling attachment assessment. I am so sorry this has happened to you all and just wanted to offer a personal perspective which I hope has not come across to harshly
I wonder whether there might be a youth group in your area for bereaved teens? It might her to make some friends once she has settled a bit with you.
Also, do oyu know where she will be going to school in September? Id there a school Councillor, or someone who might be able to help her settle there. Perhaps she could visit the school before she actually starts. Is there someway of introducing her to some of the kids before term begins?
If she has any hobbies/sporting interests/clubs perhaps you could find something local for her to join.
The time of year means that most things will have shut down for 6 weeks, but maybe in a few months she might be feeling a bit more up to things.
If the living arrangements have not been of her choosing, she might feel very resentful so acknowledge her feelings about that and the wider situation as valid and reasonable. Tell her you know this won't be easy and give her ways to communicate with you that aren't face to face. She may feel more able to let you know what she needs or feels by text or on social media.
In terms of social media, you need rules that keep her safe. With DD1 who is now 18, the rule was that she could have social media accounts but I had to have to password and be able to access them at any time. I didn't assert that right often but I needed to know I could find out what was going on if I was worried. Also she was only allowed to link with or friend people close to her in age who she knew personally or from her school.
Speak to parents of other teens in your area, especially from the same school and find out what social media they are most likely to be using and get familiar with it.
Ask her specifically if there are any family routines or traditions she wants to carry on. Did they always have fish and chips on Fridays, special treats in the school holidays or celebrate birthdays in a particular way?
You might not want to put a tv in her bedroom but it might be nice to give her a DVD player in there and a big pile of cushions on her bed so she can make herself comfortable.
Tell her explicitly what she does and doesn't need to ask for, e.g. she can always just help herself to drinks, fruit, particular snacks but you'd rather she check before cooking a meal.
Show her how to use the washing machine in case she'd rather wash her own clothes and tell her where to put them and when if she'd like you to wash them for her. Maybe you could get the washing powder she's used to in advance. Even your own clothes smelling different must be hard in the early days.
Don't invite people around for a while after she moves in and don't expect her to want to sit and talk to any visitors. If someone does turn up, give her clear permission to say hello then withdraw to her room if she'd prefer to.
Be open and honest with her about needing her to guide you. Tell her you're learning as you go along and that you know you will probably make mistakes but you will learn from them and it will get easier in time.
Thank you all for some really great advice, and things I'd not even thought of, really appreciate the advice. No-one I know has teenagers or older children.
They are DH's half sisters, we tried to keep them together but a whole load of issues do with to space, work patterns, financial situations ect meant neither brother was deemed able to care for both. We will make sure they see each other as much as we can but I know it's not ideal. The alternative was they went into care which would have probably separated them anyway. All of the other siblings grew up in and out of care and really didn't want that to happen.
We have applied for a school place, social services have helped with that so apparently she is in with a pretty good chance of getting first choice school.
It's going to be a tough few months I think!
I'm not sure how much advice I really have but several months ago now my 13 year old sister (half technically) came to live with Me, my husband and our 6 month old at the time baby after my mum died, she had to move a few hours away from all her friends, lost her step dad as he's no longer involved and her step brother as a result. It was a huge change for her! We did initial things like taking her to the cinema to bond more, took her food shopping with us (was a battle to get her to tell us what she liked!) and watched a lot films with her while she settled in. we just tried to get a routine in place as soon as possible and didn't let her get away with the little things around the house, so she was in school quickly which was a great help and the little things like bed times, no food upstairs, helping with little household chores and having her own pocket money we got done quickly as it helped us establish with her what we expected and what we were willing to give, I think it allowed her to settle in a little faster. The bigger behaviour issues we give more leeway on as she's still grieving obviously. It's been a huge learning curve, still is! The first and hardest lessons so learnt with a teenager was not to take anything personally! Those first few weeks every tiny strop, every face pulled, every time she thought we weren't cool we took it like it was our best friend behaving that way out of the blue, once we realised its just part of being a teenager and no matter what we do she's always gona disagree with something (it's like a compulsion for her!) life got a lot easier!
I can't think of much useful to say but I just want to add if you have any questions feel free to ask! The first few nights I was constantly txting my friend with stupid questions like 'what time do we send her to bed' 'can she take paracetamol at her age' 'is 7 hot chocolates in a day too many??' So don't feel bad if you feel clueless!
I agree with Alb about establishing house rules from day one.
After a short time, I would make it clear that, as part of the family, she needs to contribute to the chores around the house but I think I'd allow her to choose which she'd rather do and give her a chance to change if she wants to later on. My DDs don't actually have much in the way of specific tasks apart from looking after their own pets
and DD2 is responsible for ensuring a plentiful supply of toilet roll in the bathroom. They just tend to muck in where it's needed. At the moment they are both doing loads because I've hurt my back but when DD1 was revising for exams, she did very little. That give and take works really well for us but you may need to try different strategies to find what works for you.
Don't cut her too much slack. Make sure she knows you are in this for the long haul so need her to behave like a family member, not a guest. This should help her to feel more secure. She will probably push the boundaries so keep them minimal but clear, consistent and fair. Again, this will help her to feel more secure.
Asking questions can often work better than laying down rules. E.g. if she does have 7 hot chocolates in a day, ask her if she thinks that's a good idea, what might happen if she carries on and what she thinks would be a good limit for the longer term. That way she is setting her own boundaries and may feel less resentful and more motivated to keep to them. It also gives her some leeway for a bit of self-indulgence while she is grieving without feeling she is going to get into conflict with you.
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