How to help out a struggling teen with a complicated family situation
February 27, 2013 9:47 AM Subscribe
My 14-year-old niece is having trouble in school and has very few, if any, resources among her immediate family. Compounding the problem, her guardian is not family and seems to prioritize her own son's needs over hers. We want to help but we live a thousand miles away. What can we do?
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish to human relations (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The niece is my wife's brother's daughter. She lives in Oklahoma with my brother-in-law's ex-wife (who is not her mother) and her younger half-brother because neither of her parents can take care of her -- my brother-in-law drives a tractor-trailer and spends days or weeks at a time out of state; her mother and her current partner have a combined 11 children and can only afford to take care of two, so the rest live with extended family.
We were in town for a visit this weekend, and she seems to be struggling in school pretty badly. She's participating in the school band and doing okay, but she's also failing multiple classes and has already been held back once in a rural school district that's honestly pretty terrible, which doesn't bode well for her ability to succeed in a college environment. She has very little in the way of a support network that could help her build a life as a high school graduate or dropout - she has few friends and her family situation is a mess, as mentioned above.
Making matters worse, while it's great that the ex-wife was willing to keep taking care of her after the marriage broke up last year, she doesn't seem to be getting much help at home. We were in town for a visit this weekend and had to take her for an 8 PM shopping tip for science-project supplies because the ex-wife said she would take care of it and then forgot, two days in a row (we confirmed this). She goes to public school while her half-brother is in a superior private school. We've noticed some signs of preference outside of the school context too, like a Christmas present that we addressed to both kids ending up under the tree with just the brother's name on it. I can't resent my ex-sister-in-law for caring about her son, but it just doesn't seem like a good environment for my niece, even if it might be the best readily available one.
Ideally my brother-in-law would get a 9-to-5 job and take his daughter in, but that would require him to hold such a job for more than a few weeks without quitting in a huff over some affront to his dignity or personal independence. While it'd be great for him to suddenly learn how to be an employee, it's not too likely at this point.
We are a late-20s professional couple with no kids of our own. My wife is the only member of the family to graduate college and really wants to be a role model for her niece. But we can't be there physically on any kind of regular basis. How can we get more involved in her life? Skype calls? Regular letters? Wholesale adoption?