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Not a fairytale

answered 04:32 PM EST, Mon January 09, 2012
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My niece lives with me. She is 14 and her parents were killed in a car crash 4 years ago. I was happy at the time to take her in and raise her as my own but I must admit that it has been a lot more difficult than I thought it would be.

She is now having a lot of behavior issues at school. She is hanging with a very bad crowd and she is experimenting with smoking and drugs and drinking. She was caught shoplifting before Christmas and the police brought her home a month before that suspecting her of an act of vandalism that they couldn’t prove she committed.

I have 2 kids of my own aged 8 and 11. I am worried that she is a bad influence for them.

Because she is older I have higher expectations for my niece than for my children but she interprets that as a double standard, as if she is Cinderella and we are the mean family that makes her work while we play. She thinks we treat her differently than we do the other kids but it really just isn’t true.

I am not sure what to do with her and I am thinking about some type of boarding school for kids with conduct problems. If she was my own kid I think this would be an easy decision to make. She needs an intervention and she needs it now and the path she is on right now in this home and at this school with these friends she has is not a good one at all.

But since she already feels on some level that she isn’t a real part of our family I am worried that she will feel like we are sending her away because we don’t want her anymore and that instead of making things better, this is going to cause her to get worse.
She has had a really hard time and I want her to succeed in life. I also really do love her like one of my own. How do I get her out of this bad situation she is in without making her feel like we are pushing her away?

Rachel Starck Says...

You have a big heart to have taken her in, and to care as much as you do.  What a big impact on your own children and family!  This is a very challenging and complicated situation for all of you.  First, do you have a good counselor for yourself?  And secondly, is she willing to see a counselor or therapist?  Sending her away may very well be perceived as abandonment, and given her previous huge loss, this won't be helpful.  She is at a developmental age where it is normal to begin pushing away from parent figures, testing limits in new and dangerous ways, trying to be more independent, while at the same time very much needing you to be there. 

Do you feel that she has grieved her parents?  Is she open in communicating her feelings about loosing them? I suggest pursuing professional counseling for each of you as well as family sessions prior to making the decision to send her to boarding school.

Your question: "how do I get her out of this bad situation...w/o making her feel like we are pushing her away?"  got my attention too.  You may not have the power to "get her out of this situation".  You can provide tools, support and opportunity for her to grow and heal, but you can not make her feel or do anything.  She has to decide to make changes.  And you and your childrens father will have to decide what your limits are for you and your children.  You must also take care of yourselves in order to be of help to her.

I sincerely hope you get help from a professional counselor with experience with teens experiencing grief and loss!

Very best wishes, Rachel


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Page last updated Jan 09, 2012

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