Friday, June 11, 2004

Sister needs support for new endeavor


Families today

By T. Berry Brazelton and Joshua Sparrow

My sister has taken on the challenge of raising one of my brother's son's (age 13) along with her only daughter (age 12). This leaves one girl, 7, and one boy, 4, behind with their mother (my brother's ex-wife).

This boy was failing every subject and in danger of inner-city gangs. When he went to live with my sister four months ago, he pushed everyone's buttons as he settled into a new home, new school and new environment. Now he's passing every class but one and has things to talk about.

However, the situation is taking a toll on my sister and her family. I know her daughter feels slighted because her mom has to do so much for her cousin: meeting with teachers, helping him study, teaching him right from wrong, etc.

The worst part: He may go back to his mother for the next school year - losing everything he learned.

What can I do to help the situation? What books might help guide us?

Your sister is indeed braving a tough situation. It sounds as if she has accomplished a great deal, though at a cost. It's great that you want to help, but your sister may have a tough time accepting unsolicited advice from you.

Instead, try to simply be there for her and her family, helping them out in small, tangible ways that show you care. Perhaps then she will ask for your guidance.

Maybe you can take your niece out regularly so she can unload. Listen, but try not to take sides. Let her know that she's involved - as much as her mother is - in giving her cousin a caring, supportive environment. Tell her you know that this is costing her and her mother a lot.

She may need reassurance that her "selfish" feelings are understandable. Then, she may be more able to take pride in the contribution she is making.

It sounds as if the 13-year-old is pulling himself together, but it will take time and lots of loving patience. I hope his parents can learn from seeing how much he's been able to reorganize in the environment your sister has provided. It is more likely, though, that they'll feel defensive.

You may need to help them forgive themselves for their troubles so that they can bear to face the results. It's a lot easier to face a painful past if there is hope for the future.

Contact Dr. T. Berry Brazelton and Dr. Joshua Sparrow by mail: c/o the New York Times Syndication Sales Corp., 122 E. 42nd St., New York, N.Y. 10168;

E-mail: nytsyn-families@nytimes.com.




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