Raising Teenagers

Today I’m going to talk about some of the unique challenges of raising 12 teenagers together. In writing this blog, I am not going to give any pointers, I do not consider myself an expert by any stretch of the imagination, and the real truth is that I have never attempted to raise teenagers in my own home. I simply want to talk about the fact that there are 12 teenagers living together, trying to figure out life together, and trying to do it with 2 people (Jess and I) who cannot truly empathize with the struggles that they face on a daily basis. Luckily, we have some wonderful House Moms who truly take care of these children and do the vast majority of raising them. I just want to write about some of the things that I have noticed, many of which I am sure I will get to deal with firsthand in just a few short years with Sophie! This is the list:

  1. They are moody.
  2. They are both awkward and completely self-assured almost simultaneously.
  3. They love to stir up drama.
  4. They are fun and hilarious.
  5. They each have an incredible set of unique gifts and talents that are just beginning to take shape.
  6. Sometimes they need to be treated like adults and sometimes like children…It is a fine line.
  7. They try to be really cool, but it is really fun when those walls come down.
  8. They like to pretend like they don’t need you…Until nobody else is looking.
  9. They still love to play basketball with me!
  10. I wouldn’t trade any of them for anything in the world.

There is a true challenge in raising teenagers like this because not only are there 12 of them living together, but they were very much who they are before we ever knew them. What I mean is that when you raise a child from birth, you have a chance to help shape the person they become. When a child comes to you as a toddler it presents a few more challenges but nothing that cannot be overcome. However, the older a child gets prior to being in your care, the less chance you have to impact that very important developmental time in their lives. Think about it, we met Herbison, Gueline, Dada, Woodly, Kervinson, Apolon, Tony, and Misthafa when they were already 10 years old or older, and we did not start really providing care for them and getting to truly know them until they were teenagers! This raises a whole different challenge.

While that last paragraph describes a challenge for us and our other caregivers, it must also be very challenging for our kids. It took them years to truly trust us and there are some who still try to keep us out as much as possible. They have been hurt and abandoned by adults who were supposed to protect them, so why should they trust us or their house moms after just a few short years?  We have seen marked improvement in this area from most of our older kids, but the issues still exist. Jess talked a little about Apolon in the last blog, but those same stories could be told about each one of our 12 older children. They have slowly opened up to us and started trusting us. I’m pretty sure, within the last 3 months most of them actually believe we are coming back to Haiti when we leave for America and this is a huge step in the right direction.

There is one final aspect of raising teenagers like we are raising them that I imagine is common to all parents of teenagers but may be a little magnified for us. We all know that the teenage years are some of the most selfish/self-focused years of anyone’s life. Teenagers want (they say need but they mean want) very specific things like specific shoes, clothes, food, and gadgets. They want to look a certain way and have things that they believe will make others think they are cool. We all did it when we were younger, and any of us who have teenagers know exactly what I am talking about. The problem is that when they do not get what they want, they can be very ungrateful…They can be brats. And while we are all like this to a certain extent, it is very much a teenager trait. They do not get how hard we work to make money, they have not quite learned responsibility and the value of a dollar, and most of all they have not begun to form the types of relationships that make them think outside of themselves. It is normal. Here is why I say it is a little magnified for us here…Because we know where our children come from. That is sad and difficult to say, but we know that they come from nothing. We know that they used to not even eat on a consistent basis much less complain about what they were eating. This is difficult for me to write because this type of thinking is my error. I should not want my children to remember where they came from but to know they are cared for now! I should know that when they complain or are ungrateful that I should correct them while knowing that every other parent of every other teenager in the world is doing the same thing. But sometimes, more often than I should, I think something like this, “How could Herbison possibly be ungrateful for this, does he not remember what his life used to be like.” The truth is that is unfair to him (and you could replace his name with any other ATN child) and I have to fight those thoughts. I don’t want them to remember the very real struggles they faced on a daily basis, I want them to be comfortable where they are.

A couple of friends of ours have recently helped me see this more clearly on different trips that they have taken down to visit the kids. The first is one of our good friends and board member Chase Covington. We were talking about how the kids complain about this food or that food and how annoying it was, and Chase said that we should be thankful for those complaints. His point was that this was probably the first time in their lives that they could act like a child should act and complain about a meal here or there (kind of like I did growing up on soup and sandwich night or when we had spaghetti). Then, more recently, another one of our good friends and advisory team member Karen Whalen came down on a trip last month. One of the nights we were sitting around talking with all of the older boys when one of them said something that he shouldn’t have and then got an attitude about it (luckily it was in Creole so only Jess and I knew what he said). I laid into him pretty good and had a long talk with him about how to act with company, etc. After the kids left, Karen said something along the lines of, he is just being a teenage boy (she has a teenage boy currently so I trust her judgement) and she was right. He does not understand that he should act a certain way when we have teams here because that’s not his concern and it absolutely should not be. Should I have gotten onto him? Absolutely!  He acted in a way he shouldn’t have acted. But I was so glad to get the reminder that he was just a teenager being a teenager and I should be incredibly thankful for that.

The bottom line…Please pray for us! We are doing the very best we can caring for these kids (and they will not be kids for much longer) and helping them to become men and women of GOD. and we covet your prayers for wisdom on how to do this. I know we make a ton of mistakes and so do they and those mistakes can be compounded because of the culture and language barrier that exists. But way more important than our mistakes or our successes is the trust and ultimately love that exists between us. I can honestly say that we really love each one of these kids, and I truly believe that they love us back.

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