A couple years ago, friends of mine had their first baby. Shortly afterwards, they visited. For the first time in knowing this couple, I saw sheer defeat in their eyes. Eventually, these looks dissipated into the joyful and positive faces of two amazing parents. But the memory stuck with me. Here were two strong, capable adults who seemed completely broken by this adorable blob of an infant they had created.
I went through my own version of this transition this fall. Boundaries were tested, authority was established, and I’m finding strength within myself that I never knew I had.
It’s one thing to say you’re going to do something, it’s another to do it. Being a “Stand-in-Mom” turns out to be a lot harder than I imagined. I never understood or appreciated the luxuries I had as a single individual.
Granted, Dominic is sixteen years old. He showers himself (when strongly encouraged), he can be left alone, he can make food, and is relatively low-maintenance in the grand scheme of child raising. Yet, if you have no experience taking care of another human being, these things can be incredibly overwhelming. Here’s what I’ve learned.
Setting Boundaries is Crucial.
Whether it’s consistent bedtimes, limited computer use, or weekly chore lists, a manageable system for daily life is vital. I have found that if the kitchen isn’t cleaned every night, then it quickly snowballs into a serious to-do.
Having grown up in near poverty without strong and structured role models, I value these lessons like gold. Everything must have a place. The house should be guest ready within a 10 minute clean-up session. If the rules are not followed daily, then the laundry, dishes, and chores become overwhelming.
There Is No Such Thing As A Grateful Teenager.
Being a teenager is so weird. Teens are half adults. They understand dirty jokes, have maybe had a job or two, but are completely incapable of planning ahead or understanding their own privilege in not having to pay rent. As someone who lived on their own when they were 16, I fully understand why teenagers believe that they can take care of themselves. As adults, we know there is no way a young person can DO IT WELL. Hence, me dropping out of high school in lieu of missing rent.
That’s my job as a Stand-in-Mom: to remind my roommate to brush his teeth each morning, to have consequences when he doesn’t plan ahead, and to not take his attitude personally (this is a really hard one). It’s all much easier said than done. I watched my siblings go through the foster care process, and I know it’s common for foster parents to feel hurt by their lack of gratefulness and appreciation. What gets me through those days and moments is reminding myself that it has nothing to do with me.
Lastly, As a Parent You Have To Walk Your Talk
My challenge over the next couple of weeks is to combat eating out. We go to sign class right after football practice every Thursday. Fridays are game days, which are often out of town. For the first few weeks, we ate out more than I’m comfortable with. I don’t want Dominic to think that just because life is busy we can’t be organized enough to make sandwiches on the go. They are healthier and cheaper.
Being a good example is so crucial for teenagers. I find that if I don’t make my bed, he doesn’t make his bed. If I want wine with dinner, he wants a root beer. I have to keep reminding myself that he is watching everything I do, every hour of the day, and that I have become the ultimate role model. It’s a lot of pressure.
There are a bajillion more things I’ve learned form this experience, but for today, we’ll leave it here.
Any of you parents out there have suggestions of what has and hasn’t worked in parenting your teenage boys? Are any of you former foster youths? I’d love to have you share your experiences.