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Helping your brother's child

answered 07:59 AM EST, Thu October 20, 2011
My wife and I have been the primary guardians of my brother’s daughter since he was 7. He is now 14. His father is not in the picture and his mother has struggled with alcohol for a long time, which is why she asked and we agreed to take over responsibility for Sean. He had a difficult early childhood.

We have 2 other kids and to be truthful we were happy to become his guardians. We have always loved him and we have always tried to treat him exactly as we have treated his two younger brothers. Sometimes this has been weird though. Our financial situation has changed considerably in the last few years, so our younger sons are now able to do things that he wasn’t able to do when he was their age, like play hockey on travelling teams and have better bicycles and etc. He of course is now able to do more expensive activities as well, such as snowboarding etc. but I worry he still thinks we may be favoring our boys…

This was never a problem or an issue in the household but lately he has started making roundabout or offhand comments about how he is not a ‘real’ member of the family and that he is on ‘the B list’ and that we had to take him in etc. Last week we had a problem when he was out past his curfew and when we tried asking him where he’d been and who he’d been with he got really defensive and angry and screamed at us that why should we care and that we were not his real parents and it was none of our business. When we tried to talk about it the next day he didn’t apologize but instead insisted that what he had said was true.
We are very upset that he feels like this. It is not how we feel at all.

How can we make him see that we have raised him because we love him and not because we were obligated too? I worry that he is falling in with a bad crowd, and if we lose our ability to communicate with him now we will have little influence over the choices he makes in the coming years. It’s like he is determined not to see the truth and to only believe this self pitying fiction he’s created in his head so he can do whatever he wants without worrying about we think!?

Dr. John Gorvin Says...

First I admire your efforts to help him and take responsibility for him. Don’t be too discouraged, as this is typical for adolescents in general from time to time, especially for those who have experienced what Sean has experienced. 


Be careful not to accuse him of lying or having too much self pity, as he is already feeling sensitive and vulnerable enough, and this may only further upset him and alienate him.


At his age he is becoming more sensitive to his lack of contact with his parents, and that is the origin of this, not anything you have done.  I would try to talk to him and reassure him he is valued equally, and perhaps school counselors can help send this message to him. 


You could also pursue having Sean attend individual counseling, and have family counseling together, to help keep the lines of communication open and understanding clear.


As all adolescents inevitably do, he may be testing your limits and loyalties, so patience and perseverance will help him see you will stick with him through the tough times (as you did when he was younger).  This will establish the basis for a good ongoing relationship and make any future tough times easier to manage. 


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Page last updated Oct 20, 2011

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