How a 15 year survives his great aunt!



In the previous post I shared the boundaries and conditions of my 15 year-old great nephew living in my home. In this post I’d like to share with you the outcome of him becoming part of my family.

If you are church leaders or you work with children who might be living with grandparents or other relatives, please share this post with them. If they just pick up a few ideas, it will help them and the child better acclimate to the situation.

Living in my home was going to be a real shock to his system

  • The first thing I did was to get him on a regular routine. I’d like to say get him back on his normal routine but like so many of these kids who have to live with someone besides the birth parent he didn’t have a “normal” routine. We had to create this new routine in my home.
  • I introduced him to what would be his room. I had cleaned it up, made the bed and explained that it was now “his” room. He was overwhelmed that he had his own room. He said, “I like how this feels.” That might seem strange to some of you, but many times when a child’s behaviors are out of control and his mind is overwhelmed with the extenuating circumstances a clutter free, organized, clean area helps the mind become organized on the inside. I told him I expected him to keep his room clean. I asked him if I needed to take a picture of the room so he could keep it this way. He assured me he would remember how it looked.
  • I explained that I would always let him know where I was and when I would return. I expected the same courtesy from him.
  • I told him we would be talking a lot. I explained I’d share my life with him and I expected the same in return.

I knew from the minute he entered my house that this was going to be a learning experience for him. I was going to be the teacher and help him change his behaviors. I entered the relationship with the “this is the way it’s going to be” attitude. I laid things out very clearly with the “Ten conditions”  of living in my home. I would expect nothing less.

Oh, I knew there were going to be challenges and he would falter occasionally but I choose to see these situations with humor. (I imagine that is what God does with me most of the time.) By seeing the humor I was able to keep a sane wit about me and keep my cool.

About that no smoking in my house rule– and not having company in the house when I wasn’t home

One day I drove into my driveway to discover several bikes, skateboards and scooters at the front door. Oh my goodness you could almost see the smoke trailing out the door and windows. I got out of my car real quiet and threw open the front door at the same time I shouted, “Hey anybody home?” The back door and side doors flew open as teenage boys scrambled outside. They grabbed their bikes, etc. and tore off down the street or took off running. I smiled real big. I think I had just given them the shock of their lives.

I opened the windows and waited patiently until my nephew came slinking back to the house. I greeted him with a smile.

He said, “Hey, Aunt Linda, it’s not my fault.”

Me, “Um excuse me? You are the only one of those boys that had a key. It doesn’t matter whose fault it is anyway. What matters is we have to get the smoke out of this house because it will affect my asthma.”

Him, “What do you mean? You have the windows open. Aren’t you going to yell at me and send me to my room?”

Me, “Uh no I’m not going to yell. There’s smoke embedded everywhere. If I send you to your room you won’t be able to help me vacuum the carpets. Dust all the furniture. Vacuum the drapes, the couch and love seat. You’ll need to collect all of the towels that are hanging in the bathrooms and all the rugs around the house and wash them.”

We spent the rest of Saturday cleaning. With him grumbling and me smiling I got a cleaned up house.

Can I go to the Salvation Army’s lock in?

As I entered the house one Friday evening my nephew came running downstairs asking if he could go to the Salvation Army’s lock in.

Me, “When is this lock in?”

Him, “Tonight. It starts in about an hour.”

Me, “Um, why are you even bothering to ask me. It’s not 24 hours in advance. You know that means it’s an automatic no.”

First the begging: “Please. I promise to be good. I’ll do anything you want me to do.” Then comes the, “I’ll be the only kid that’s not there. What will my friends think? Then he postured, “well, what if I had left you a note and I had just gone anyway?”

Me, “Oh, that wouldn’t have been a problem at all.”

Him, “You mean I could have gotten away with it?”

Me, “No. You see I would have come home, taken my coat off, taken my shoes off, thrown my keys on the counter in the kitchen where I would have read your note. I would have turned around, put my shoes back on, put my coat on, grabbed my keys and would have gone down to the Salvation Army’s lock in and asked Miss Janice to let me in to pick you up.

Him, “You know Miss Janice?”

Me, “I know everybody in this town! And I wouldn’t hesitate to call on them.”

The silent treatment

You might think this was the end of this situation but it wasn’t. He stomped upstairs to his room and stayed there the rest of the evening. Hey, that didn’t bother me. That meant I could watch whatever TV show I wanted to watch.

The next morning he came stomping down the stairs as I asked, “Do you want eggs or cereal for breakfast?” He turned his head away from me. I smiled. So this was the game he was going to play. Pretty soon I asked him something else and again all I saw was the back of his head. I continued on with my day playing some music and humming along.

Pretty soon he said, “Aunt Linda! You don’t get it. I’m giving you the silent treatment!”

To which I replied, “Nephew! You don’t get it. I like the silent treatment! Besides this way I can listen to classical music without you complaining.” Big smile on my face at this moment.

The adults in this child’s life

When you have a child live in another’s home, the adults have to be stronger, wiser and smarter than the kid. Many times, though, the adults revert to shouting and name calling with the attitude of “you better do what I tell you.”

When you read that I had a big smile it wasn’t because I was winning or one upping him, it wasn’t a game. This was serious business and I was sincerely enjoying my role in this young man’s life.

The other adults in this teen’s life added to his life. The director at the childcare facility where he was working took a special interest in him, as did the other teachers. He was genuinely a likable kid. When he showed up for work one day with a T shirt that had the word “sucks” on it, the director gave him a choice of sitting in the back room for three hours or turning the shirt inside out. She assured him he would not get paid sitting in the back room. He reluctantly chose to wear his shirt wrong side out.

The men in my single parent class at church surrounded him and loved him. They invited him over to shoot hoops. On Mother’s Day weekend they hosted a Mother’s Day breakfast and they required my nephew to bring a dish for the mothers.

This kid heard the word, “bummer” many times. Using “bummer” conveys empathy and sympathy but doesn’t take over the child’s problem. I was not in his life to solve his problems but to let him experience solving his own problems. “Bummer you forgot your lunch money. I bet you’ll be hungry after school. Bye, gotta run now.”

I’d like to say that everything was rosy. One night he came home stoned out of his mind. I didn’t say anything about him being stoned all evening. It was my birthday and we had a little family party.

When he went to bed and whatever he used was wearing off I went and tucked him in. I did it just like I would have if he’d been a little kid except after reading him a story, pulling up the covers around his neck and giving his forehead a kiss I said, “I need to tell you something. I know you were using this afternoon. You were high as a kite when you came home.” I put my hands on his face gently and continued with, “This time there will be no consequence but I want you to know that I trusted you and it hurts my heart that you betrayed that trust. If I need to start doing random drug testing I will. It’s your choice.”

Gradually over the months I watched this kid turn around. I was so proud of the hard work he was doing. He was funny, gentle and kind and he added a lot of joy to this old silver-haired great aunt.

Today as a young adult in his late twenties he is a hard working young man. Many miles separate us now but across the miles via Facebook I watch how hard he works and how he enjoys life and how he loves and treats his girlfriend and his children.

When you think about it God has brought all of us into His family if we choose to be in it. He  provides love, care, concern and He continually teaches us how to live. As Christian adults it’s up to us to pass this faith onto the next generation whether they are in our family, choose to live in our homes or are kids we love outside our families.

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