Raising a teenager is not an easy task. It is infinitely more difficult if the teenager joins a household at age 16, has the manners of a wolf pack, distrust and abandonment issues from a less than ideal childhood, and if the person doing the raising is actually a much older sister who seems a bit more like a step-mother than anything else. Perhaps it is the stress from this situation that is causing my aching bones and lack of sleep.
Two weeks ago Honey and I had a sit-down conversation with The Teenager. If he wants to live here, we have expectations. After a discussion and an agreement, I felt better. And then reality struck. I am caught wondering if The Teenager wants to be here or not. He could do the same thing that most of his siblings have done -- leave home at 15 or 16, struggle on his own for a number of years and finally find a path (or not find anything and still be a bit aimless at 25). Obviously I don't want that for him, but I can't make him choose a better path.
The Teenager is extremely rude all the time. Well, I shouldn't say that. His attitude has improved somewhat, but it is not anywhere close to acceptable. Last night was, perhaps, Honey's last straw. We sat down at the table for our once-a-week-everyone-eats-together-and-talks-like-adults dinner. The Teenager made it very clear that he did not want to be there at all, that having to sit at a table for 30 minutes was pure torture. He knows the reasoning behind the dinner and he agreed to participate as a member of this household...but apparently forgot that part of the agreement was so behave like an adult, which means no rudeness at the dinner table. I gave The Teenager his space and then went to talk with him later about the behavior. Needless to say, he believes he has a right to be rude because other people are. He has no empathy and it drives me nuts. (Let me pause to say I know that ability develops later in life, especially for boys, because of the way their brains develop and I know he buries any sense of empathy because he sees it as a sign of weakness and has some issues from growing up -- knowing those things does not, however, make this any easier.) Honey told him that being rude -- especially rude to me, since I work so hard to take care of this boy -- is completely unacceptable so he can shape up or get out. Honey is one of the few people The Teenager actually respects -- and the only person The Teenager has voluntarily apologized to -- so this may make a difference. But I don't know.
This is much different than dealing with difficult kids in a classroom. I am used to kids kicking and screaming and being a pain for several weeks until I win them over and then they are my kids for life. Of course I was not their mother, so that probably makes all the difference in the world. I can handle those kids. What makes this different? And why do I tolerate verbal abuse from this teenager that I would never tolerate in a classroom? Honey asked these questions and more. I don't have all the answers.
One answer: I don't like feeling like a failure. On my bad days, my cranky days, my depressed days I feel that way too often. And sadly, I think that's the way The Teenager views me. I am a failure in his mind because I have all of this education but no job. He doesn't see the to-do list that is a mile long every day, doesn't notice that I am constantly moving, always busy, and that the things that I do are meant to keep this house and family running. For a while, I was upset about this. Then I realized that he doesn't know what I do unless I tell him, so I've made a point of talking about what I do and why, about showing and telling what happens in a job search, about making the point of household chores clear. (This may or may not make a dent in the psyche of a teenage boy.)
None of this addresses my real concern: what is going to happen next? Honey is ready to say this Grand Experiment is not working and pull the plug, although we've agreed to give it a couple weeks. This thought is very hard for me. I am willing to do the work to raise a teenager and hope that it sets him on a better path for life, but I can't force him to make good decisions. And if he leaves to do his own thing I think that I'll be so disappointed and angry at my upbringing and family that led to this mess that I won't want to see anyone for a while...or ever. I wanted to give this boy a chance, but I know he has to want it for himself. And I am afraid that getting to him at 16 is just too late.