how to change my mindset to enjoy homeschooling my cousin like I used to
June 23, 2015 12:48 PM   Subscribe

I homeschool my cousin once a week after work, and I am starting to resent it. How do I get over this feeling?

I work a full time job and my 12 year old cousin (let's call her A) has been living with our grandmother since August 2014. She sees her mother who is sick maybe once a month under supervision, and lives with her dad who is my uncle on weekends. I go to my grandmothers once a week and help my cousin with homework and usually stay for dinner. I spend around 3 or 4 hours there every time. I used to love it, and get along very well with my cousin. But she is very self centred and needs constant attention. Sometimes she barely says hello to me when I come to their place which I've told her upsets me as I come to help her. My grandmother, who I'm very close to, has become obsessed with my cousin and spends hours talking about her. She doesnt talk about anything else. My aunt who lives close by has four kids, similar ages to A ( I am the oldest cousin and am 24 years old, the rest of my cousins are much younger than me) but has never helped a single time. A has no friends at school because they say she is selfish. A is a lovely girl who has lots of love to give, but loves herself more than anyone else and has photos of herself all over the room. I tell her that she shows off a lot and she doesn't always need attention, that people will still love her and that I love her. I've told my grandmother that she talks too much about A and its making her selfish. It's also boring for me to have to hear so many things about her, when actually she's quite normal, there is nothing wrong with her, and my grandmother is dramatising the whole situation. She is good at school work also, and I'm mainly there to bond with her. My grandma pays me 40 dollars every time I go, even though I don't ask for the money. But I'm a busy person and I also have my own set of personal issues (my grandma never questions me about it or seems to care), and I'm really resenting going, especially after a long day at work. Also during holidays I always take her out somewhere fun, which is much better in my opinion and we seem to have a better time.
I'm thinking my options are:
-homeschooling her twice a month instead of four times a month
-not homeschooling at all and instead take her out occasionally to the cinema or something, once a month or so, plus see her at family gatherings
-suck it up and deal with it, because it's the right thing to do considering she is family
I have always been a giving person and do too much for people, and am trying to set boundaries. I am not sure what is harsh and what isn't, but I am the only perpendicular who is helping my grandmother raise A. My grandmother is quite healthy by the way and can still walk and lots of energy, but it is tiring for her.
What would you do if you were in my situation?
posted by akita to Human Relations (18 answers total)
Response by poster: The only person**
Also, not sure how to tell this to my grandmother who isn't the most open minded!
posted by akita at 12:51 PM on June 23, 2015

I have always been a giving person and do too much for people, and am trying to set boundaries = this is a great opportunity to practice! Tell Grandma weekly sessions are off, but you're happy to do something fun once a month. At $40 a pop, Grandma would be able to find someone else to help A with her homework.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:56 PM on June 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

I just want to clarify, and I'm sorry if I missed something: you say "homeschool," but then you say that A has no friends at school. Does A go to school, and you're tutoring her after school? I ask because "homeschool" means something different, at least to me, and I think I'd have a different take on it depending on whether A is actually homeschooled in the traditional sense of that word.
posted by holborne at 12:56 PM on June 23, 2015 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Sorry, she does to go to school, and I help her with homework after work. Before I began though, my grandmother did some research and asked some tutors how much they charge. It's very expensive in England and they charge around 40 dollars an hour
posted by akita at 1:00 PM on June 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think a better word is "tutor" rather than "homeschool" – but you say she's good at schoolwork, so it doesn't sound like she actually needs the extra support. You've made a good analysis in noticing that what she needs is attention – but not obsessive attention! – from someone younger than your grandmother and with more going on in her life. You can bring her that, but you need to set a few rules, like that she has to greet you when you arrive, and thank you when you leave, and so forth. Think of it as schooling her not in her textbook subjects but in how to behave around civilized human beings, because she's going to need that, especially as she gets into high school and beyond.
posted by zadcat at 1:01 PM on June 23, 2015 [21 favorites]

If she doesn't actually need the tutoring -- and it sounds like she doesn't -- drop it down to two times a month, and make those times count: take her out, do something fun, go to the park, exercise together, create a little book club and have fun reading the same book (let her choose) and discussing it, go for ice cream -- get creative. Maybe you can switch some or all of these to a weekend or a day when you have time to spend good, quality time with her. This sort of thing will build a strong relationship more than the tutoring.

If she does actually need the help, then perhaps drop your rigid schedule and vary it: a session of tutoring and then a time together out of the house.

Lastly, stop trying to correct or improve her attitude -- if you can accept her as she is right now (meaning, 12 years old!), you can model better behavior, better reactions to things. In short, be a 24-year-old around her and show her without words, what it's like to be more mature than she currently is.

Lastly, cut her a break. It's probably awful to have her mom sick and only see her dad on weekends. No matter how great the grandma is.
posted by BlahLaLa at 1:11 PM on June 23, 2015 [14 favorites]

She doesn't have parents who seem to truly want her. Her mom is too sick to see her. I don't think you should feel bad for disliking her attitude, but I think you're maybe trying to roll a boulder up a hill and getting frustrated that it's not a pebble. She has a ton of issues and likely needs a lot more support from professionals, as does your grandmother.

I suggest you try going somewhere fun once a week with her. If it's something where she can get social practice with you, she will benefit much more than she'll benefit from homework help.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 1:15 PM on June 23, 2015 [8 favorites]

I would dial back the tutoring and do that only as needed. Like if she's starting to struggle in a particular subject or has an important test coming up.

Change your relationship with your cousin from being transactional and work-focused to something that's actually fun for you both. She gets to know that a family member loves her and wants to spend time with her without having to be paid to do it, and you get to spend time with your cousin out of the context of your overbearing grandmother.

It'll be good for both of you.

She's a 12 year old girl. Take her out to things that will make her feel like a grown up equal, like getting brunch together just the two of you, or asking for her to help you find something cool to wear or read while out shopping.
posted by phunniemee at 1:16 PM on June 23, 2015 [6 favorites]

Kids her age, in the situation(s) she is in tend toward imbalance, like this abundance of selfishness. I mean god save any of us from having to meet our 12 year old selves. But it seems like she's in an especially difficult space, and just about the worst age for it. Adult level's of observation without any adult agency or experience to help her process.

I'd vote for more time out, more time 1 on 1. Save the tutoring for when she needs the help. Volunteer information about yourself to walk the conversation along. No 12 yo I've met is going to say "enough about me let's talk about your day"
posted by French Fry at 1:28 PM on June 23, 2015 [7 favorites]

Maybe you could change up your tutoring for life skills tutoring?

Things like "We can go anywhere you want to go, but you have to figure out how to take the bus to get there and plan how much money we need."

Or "Pick a country whose food you've never had and let's go try some."

Or "There's a cool classic Italian movie playing up at the weird theater up the street. Let's eat spaghetti and gelato and then go see it."

Or "Grandma could really use a new vacuum cleaner (toaster, hammer, whatever.) Let's go buy her one."

Or even "I'm having x problem at work (or with my friend or I have a crush on this person). What do you think I should do?" Not because a twelve year old is going to give you great advice, but because it will help her learn about you and your life and by extension what her life will be like in a few years and about the world.
posted by hydropsyche at 1:37 PM on June 23, 2015 [24 favorites]

I was in a similar situation when I was 12, living with my grandparents while my mom was not sick but embroiled in a terrifying personal and legal drama on the opposite side of the country, meanwhile my grandfather was imminently dying of cancer and I sometimes saw my horrible dad on the weekends. It was simply too much for me to cope with and I felt so alone. None of my friends could possibly begin to understand my life. I can only imagine how much it would have helped to have a kindly cousin take an interest in me.

It's surprisingly rare in life to be in a position to provide meaningful help to someone in their time of need. Often you want to help but don't have anything to offer. Or you're not close enough to the situation. Or you have something to offer but circumstances--work, family, finances--prevent you from being able to give it. But you're in a perfect position to help your cousin. I really do think you are morally obligated to help--because you can!--and you'll be glad that you did. It doesn't have to be tutoring, I think it would be better to go out and do something fun. Get to know her, and be patient with her faults. It's a really, really hard age for girls even without these extra problems.
posted by HotToddy at 1:41 PM on June 23, 2015 [13 favorites]

I agree that you should probably not do the tutoring, but instead, take her out a couple of times a month to do something fun like go to the movies or clothes shopping other things she likes to do. Having an adult but still young cousin who likes spending time with her will probably mean the world to her, and it will probably improve your relationship with her a lot; that alone will ultimately help her more than tutoring that you resent and she doesn't seem to need.
posted by holborne at 1:46 PM on June 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

So, it sounds like your grandmother is paying you to spend time with your cousin, whom she perceives as lonely, and the tutoring is just the official reason?
If so, you might as well drop the pretense in favour of regular fun "cousin time". Use it to practice things like making conversation - i.e. You both take turns asking each other about the things going on in your lives - and making decisions - like taking turns in deciding where you're going this time.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:48 PM on June 23, 2015

You're entitled to your feelings. You don't have to "get over" them.

You're also entitled to the $40. And it would be reasonable to suggest to your grandmother that she pay another tutor the same $40 if you'd like to retire from the tutoring gig.

That said, the ideas above about doing other activities with your cousin besides homework sound creative and promising for a better time for both of you.
posted by JimN2TAW at 1:52 PM on June 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm with everyone else, skip the tutoring, keep having time with her. But also: ask her. Next time you're there, make no plans and just chat with the grandmother for awhile about switching things up and then take the girl for a drive or a walk. Tell her that you think it might be more fun to do other things with your time together, that you're happy to help her with her schoolwork if she wants but see what interests her and listen to how she reacts. If she has a real lame attitude about it, suggest that you take a break for a couple weeks to think about it. I think you need to shake it up a bit, possibly including visits to this other aunt with the kids this girl's age -- her cousins? Make the plans and go visit. Talk with this aunt frankly as though you are one of this girl's caretakers (because you are) and see if there's something that can be arranged.

You are doing important work in this girl's life but see if you can find the thing that will make it fun for you and then do that!
posted by amanda at 1:53 PM on June 23, 2015 [5 favorites]

I agree with the advice to be more of a pal/mentor/big sister figure to your cousin rather than a tutor. Take her to a movie, or to get a manicure, or go birdwatching, or do some crafts - depending on your cousin's interests, there are a lot of possibilities.

Insisting on politeness (please, thank you, address you by name, etc.) and keeping boundaries around what you can do for your cousin, given your life constraints, is a good thing. But - her selfishness and friendlessness no doubt is because her life is in turmoil and her parents don't seem to be able to parent her: dad only sees her on the weekends (she must feel rejected!) and mom is so ill that visits with her have to be supervised. Your cousin needs all the caring adults she can get in her corner right now. Grandma might be obsessed with your cousin as a way of making up for the fact that her parents and aunt are unable or unwilling to be there for her.

BTW I hope your cousin is in some sort of therapy - I'm sure she needs it.

Good luck to both of you!
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 2:08 PM on June 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

Sounds like your grandma isn't really looking for educational time as much as bonding time. Could you suggest to her that you spend the time playing games or something else more fun? Even a trip to the movies (where you don't have to talk!) would be better and might be more what she needs given her family situation.
posted by Toddles at 5:32 PM on June 23, 2015

Response by poster: Thank you very much for the responses. I will talk to my grandma when I next see them, and let you know what happens. I would much rather take her out twice a month to special places so we can bond better. My grandma does use me as a tutor, makes me do spelling tests with her, reading, organising things, studying for her exams etc... I went to their place recently just to say hello and she asked me to help my cousin prepare for her maths test. She doesn't need this sort of help; I will talk to her about this. Thank you..
posted by akita at 11:05 AM on June 25, 2015

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