Family Relationships: Insta-Daddy
Last month we took in our 16-year-old niece, and while we have a good relationship, the thing I'm most concerned about is how to deal with her mood swings and volatile emotions. In all honesty, I have no idea what I'm doing.
Here's what I've learned so far: My niece (like most women, I suspect) dislikes any implication that her feelings are a result of "hormones." It feels invalidating. I also find that she needs two things when she's feeling emotional: lots of space and a sense that I am available. I try to give her both by staying matter-of-fact, not overly "clingy," but consciously making an effort to be present if she needs me.
None of this is easy. My niece has been through a lot in the last few years, and the transition would have been difficult for her under the best of circumstances. It's already pretty emotionally loaded because she feels rejected by her mom. Still, it's a challenge when a simple question like, "Did you eat breakfast yet?" triggers a flood of tears.
She's also a typical teenage chatterbox, and so we let her talk. Sometimes she feels that she has to tell us something right now. Even if it isn't necessarily pertinent or important to us, she seems to feel more a part of the family when she can share. That has helped her moods a lot.
This is all so new and strange for me. I have raised three boys on my own for many years now, so this has been a "man's house" for a long time. Maybe if she had been here more as a younger girl, and we had all understood just how different women are, the whole situation might be easier. Or maybe not. Teenage girls are an entirely different species than little girls or grown women. Even my women friends tell me that.
I love this girl, and I feel sorry for her. She's making a huge change in her life at the worst possible time—a cross-country move from a very bad situation, right at that awful age between childhood and adulthood. She needs my help to bridge that gap in her family relationships. I just hope I can help her.