Guardianship, discipline, and growth
November 28, 2006 8:29 PM Subscribe
How do my wife and I give our 17 year-old ward (and, god, I hate that term) a happy environment while teaching her how to interact with people in acceptable ways?
A little more background - my wife and I, who are 30 and with no children of our own, became guardians of her 16 (now 17) year-old sister, Melanie, in August. Melanie lived with us through the summer to escape a neglectful situation and painful, ugly divorce, and we filed to become her permanent legal guardians after she was told she was no longer welcome at either parent's house.
She's a fantastic young woman - bright and caring and responsible - but in a situation in which she was being actively discouraged from academic, physical, social, and mental health. Before making the change permanent, we spoke to her many, many times about what it would mean - including things that were obvious (an urban high school with 2500 students is very different than a 40-student rural school) and some that may have been less so (we'll be acting less like fun-time-sister-and-brother-in-law and more like parents). She was genuinely excited for the chance at a new start - even telling us that she was "excited for someone to make me do my homework".
Our relationship has turned increasingly stressful over the last couple months, however. My wife and I feel like we're struggling with not only the regular teenage-girl stuff, but with the added stress of addressing behaviors that were a normal part of life while living with emotionally-abusive parents. At the same time, we have to continually remind her that we're not going to abandon her or stop loving her just because we don't approve of her behavior. Most of the books I've read on raising teenagers refer to relying on rules and expectations set up since early childhood - we not only didn't get that opportunity, we're working against people that instilled nearly the opposite.
To get to a more direct question, when Melanie tells me that I'm an "idiot" (complete with shaking head and squinty, rolling eyes) for suggesting that she practice a speech, how do I respond? My immediate response (based on the way I was raised), is to explain why that's an unacceptable way to treat anyone and talk to her about why she feels like it's OK to express herself that way. My wife says that makes me seem like a pushover, and that I need to get angry and stay angry until Melanie is ready to apologize. There has to be a middle ground, right? Something that incorporates adult reasoning and asserting authority in the way Melanie is used to seeing it?