Dear Carolyn: I work as a guidance counselor. Because of extenuating circumstances, I took in a 17-year-old boy to live with our family. He is a good kid who got bullied and had a terrible home life, and I think of him as another son.
My actual children have started to resent him. If he helps around the house, they loudly complain that he's sucking up; if he gets better grades, they get hostile and jealous. Last summer he worked several jobs, and after a long heart-to-heart he finally confessed it was so he could earn enough money to move out when he turns 18.
This breaks my heart. My husband tells me I should just let it go, but I'm so angry and disappointed in my children. How can I approach this?
Disappointed: This is heartbreaking, and I’d be so disappointed, too.
What about a counterintuitive approach, though: Instead of focusing on your disappointment, would it make sense to send more love your children’s way? If they’re just feeling threatened and acting out, then some focused one-on-one attention could help alleviate that.
It could also, in time, either soften their view of their foster brother or open their minds to your message of acceptance. People tend to be more compassionate when not feeling personally aggrieved. And those who feel secure, in turn, are more likely to embrace inclusion as a way to enrich their own lives, not just others’.
During this more-attention phase, focus on listening. Your kids might see a side of the boy you don’t. Not to suggest he’s manipulating you — I have no idea — but instead that he’s also capable of complex, difficult, adolescent feelings. And maybe some of that is coming out only for their eyes and ears, not yours.
And of course it’s possible your kids are as simply at fault exactly as you think they are.
There’s just a lot of room for this to be more complicated than you realize. Hard to go wrong with a listen-first approach.
Re: Disappointed: It sounds to me like a good family counselor is needed ASAP. If the kids are treating their foster brother so badly, there must be something going on that a therapist could sort out. It would be sad if the boy who was bullied and had a terrible home life also got pressured to leave the stable home that he was lucky enough to find.
— Longtime Foster Sibling
Longtime Foster Sibling: Good suggestion, thanks.
Re: Disappointed: I survived the aftereffects of an abusive childhood thanks to foster-care-like relationships. Each time, I was unable to have a positive relationship with the children — they resented my relationship with their mothers. They took great pains to make this clear to me alone, never their mother.
The power of love is an amazing thing. It transformed me, even at the small doses I received, even with the resentment and slights that came with it. I hope the letter writer will find comfort in the long view, that her foster son will benefit from her care in ways no one can foresee right now. I thank her so much for what she, and many other women, do for kids who don't have loving families of their own.
Anonymous: Beautiful, thank you.