Carolyn Hax: Unexpected parent wants crash course

April 24, 2014 

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

After the sudden death of my brother and his wife, I'm the brand-new guardian of my 13-year-old nephew. We're both in therapy to adjust to the changes and the kiddo is in grief counseling with some other kids his age too.

I LOVE my nephew but I'm 29 and hadn't planned on being a parent. I don't have many caretaking skills other than the love I lavish on my dog. I'm so worried about damaging him or hurting him at this really tough changing point in his life.

You always have great book recommendations - can you recommend anything I can read? I'd love any resources I can get my hands on. We always had more of a mischievous, sibling dynamic (pranks, goofing off, etc.) when my brother was alive, and the new dynamic in our relationship is causing growing pains and sulking, with him telling me that he hates his life. I get that he's a kid who is growing, and challenging authority is part of that, plus huge life changes, and before now, I was the one goading him to break rules, not keep them.

NEW GUARDIAN

I am so sorry, for both of you - such a stunning loss. That you guys have a loving history is the good news here, and it will carry you through if you both trust it.

The best resource I can recommend might not be available in your area, but I'll try: Parent Encouragement Program, or PEP, comes highly recommended (www.parentencouragement.org). Your nephew's pediatrician likely can recommend local programs.

A good book that is slightly off-point for the traumatic adjustment you're both making, but is bang on for middle-school agonies, is "Best Friends, Worst Enemies: Understanding the Social Lives of Children" by Michael Thompson, Catherine O'Neill-Grace and Lawrence J. Cohen. It's a great primer on learning not to try to fix everything, but instead just to understand - and to recognize when to step in.

Also, consider building into your routine some relief from walking the parental line - some activity you can do that allows you to revert to your mischievous sibling dynamic.

Email tellme@washpost.com. Chat online at 10 a.m. Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.

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