If you don’t have kids, then you understand that life is pretty much on your terms. You get up when you want. You eat when you want. You take a nap when you want. You go to bed when you want. And your house is pretty darn quiet unless you are making noise in it. But, I’ve come to learn that it all goes to shit when you have teenagers in the house.
I’m 37 and I don’t have kids, but my best friend has three of them – ages 13, 14, and 16. She lives on the other side of the country and her parents live in my city.
She sent her kids to her parents last week, but unfortunately a family death occurred where she lives and her parents had to fly home to her for just over a week – so she asked me to look after her kids until they get back.
She has always lived far away from me, so usually when we get together we make our time more about us than about the family. In other words, I haven’t been around her kids too much. Certainly not alone.
In any case, without hesitation I said I would look after them, but I was a little scared.
Okay, I was A LOT scared!
Here I Go…
My friend’s parents booked a flight the same morning of the death, so I had a 15-minute crash course around what to do with the kids as their grandparents tried to pack and catch their breath.
I acted like I was totally cool so that they could just focus on packing and getting out of the house, but I knew that I had no idea what I was doing.
Here’s what was going through my head:
- I don’t know what the kids can do or not do
- I don’t know what the kids eat or don’t eat
- I don’t know if they can really cook for themselves or not
- I don’t know if they even really want me to be here
- I don’t want the kids to be bored – do I have to do something with them every day?
- I have no idea what to do with them!
- And, I don’t know if they are going to listen to their ‘aunty’ who has hardly ever spent time with them.
Worse, I knew their irresponsible father was in town for a few days and that he would want to see the kids – and they would want to see him. I was worried about letting the kids go with them because – well, he’s irresponsible!
Stress On Top Of Stress For The First Few Days
The first full day proved to live up to my fears. Their father asked the kids to come see him even though their grandmother told him that he couldn’t have them until we were settled in. I was totally unaware of that, so I let him have them and ended up regretting it the minute I dropped it off. I just knew that something was wrong, and because I was stressed about it, I felt like I would be stressing out my friend and her parents at an already stressful time.
Without going into too many details – I was told to have them home early by the grandparents, and I upset their mother because – well, an ex-husband who is an idiot was purposely going against her wishes – and it ended up being a super stressful night.
At the end of the night, when the kids were dropped off, the father had the kids surround me and then asked me if he could see them more…after I had been told not to let him have them anymore.
The kids all stared at me in expectation, and I have never been so on the spot as I was then.
I took their father outside and fought with him about his lack of responsibility and compassion. And, I ticked off the kids as they tried to work through their feelings of wanting to see their father but having me humming and hawing because I wasn’t supposed to let them.
They all went downstairs and boycotted me! I felt like they were conspiring against me!
Everything worked out later that night. My friend and I agreed to just let him have his way for a few days because it would be easier on everyone, and when I told the kids they could see their dad they instantly were happy with me again.
I stayed awake for hours that night worrying that I was upsetting the kids, their parents, and their grandparents.
The next day I decided that I just needed to take control and make myself the boss for the week. That’s when everything started feeling a little better, but still – I knew having to deal with kids is a lot different than not having to deal with kids.
I Asked For Advice From Parents
After two days, the kids got a little more comfortable with me and they started doing their own thing – like leaving their dishes everywhere, eating a bunch of crap, and playing their music as loud as they could. That’s when I knew that I needed to be the adult in the house and make sure they didn’t get away with anything that they shouldn’t.
I sent out a request for some advice, and I got some that helped me become the person in charge that I needed to be.
The first bit of advice I got was from Phil:
Talk with them. Your rules will be different from the ones they had at home, and they will only know your rules if you tell them. Even then telling them won’t work. They need to understand the reasons for any differences. Teenagers only respond to reasoning.
Give them 1 on 1 time as well as group time. Also allow them to be together without you. Trust them (within reason).
I took that advice and started being more vocal with them about the rules. The two older ones responded well, but the youngest one pouted and complained through a lot of it.
So, I used Phil’s advice to explain my reasons to her – and that worked very well at getting her to do stuff that she REALLY didn’t want to do…but, I still had a lot of pouting and stomping going on.
The second bit of advice I had was from David.
Teenagers are hard-wired to test their boundaries. They will test them on you. Make sure you set those boundaries and stick to them. They might not at first want to accept your authority, and you might be shy to be too strict, since they are not your own children. But if you want them to follow any rules at all, you need to make sure to hold your ground from the start.
The truth is they are not my own and I didn’t want to be too ‘mean’, but I realized David was right. Holding my ground was important, and I found that even through the whining and silent treatment, they did what I wanted if I held my ground.
David also said:
You might want to make as few rules as possible. Many things don’t need to be rules, as much as “This is just the way we do things in this house”, like putting the toothpaste back in the drawer or leaving shoes on the entrance mat. If they seem to be having trouble with some of those ways of doing things, you might want to sit them down and ask if there is a better way that you can all agree upon. Giving them some say in such things recognizes that they are not little kids, and you’ll get their buy-in to follow through on whatever method is decided upon.
But the rules you do make, need to be clear and need to be enforced. Promised punishments need to be carried out. “If you leave here without permission, your iPod will be confiscated for a week,” needs to be implemented if they break the rule. If once you show that you’re all bluster, they’ll never listen to you again.
Ha! The youngest wanted to cook at one point and I told her that she would have to clean up. After she made a HUGE mess, I found out that she fully expected me to clean up. I enforced what she promised, and as she whined and complained, I told her that I would take away TV if she continued. It worked like a charm! She did her cleanup without a sound after that. (Maybe a few stomps and bangs, but no whining.)
Lastly, David said:
For me, the one top area to focus on would be respect. “You don’t talk to me with disrespect, as if it is a huge pain to be having to communicate with me, and you don’t swear in my presence. You respect me, and I’ll respect you. I’ll treat you the age you act, so act as grown up as you want to be treated.”
If all this seems a little harsh, you also have to be willing to show flexibility if something truly was not their fault or was beyond their control, because they are not kids anymore than they are adults yet.
Will all this work? Sometimes. 🙂
The advice that they are not kids anymore, but not really adults, really hit home. I had to put myself in their shoes, understand that what I know about life, respect, cleaning, etc., is not something they understand yet – and they are just trying to the best that they can do as not kids, but not adults.
It helped me be a little easier on the youngest one whose whole life shattered when she had to do the dishes after she made a mess.
The last bit of advice I got was from Greg:
First, children of any age should not be talked down too. They are much smarter than you think.
When working with children you must set expectations, one way to do that is have a conversation with them and ask how do you think a 13, 15, 16 year old should be have in this situation. What do “YOU” think would be over the line?
By having them participate in setting the ground work then if they go out of bounds you are just providing consequences for behavior they helped you decide was out of line.
Let them make their own choices for the most part and experience the natural consequences. If they stay up too late and wake up late, you leave them home without calling the school with an excuse. etc…
I am not saying let them make dangerous choices but let them experience the results of their decisions. You can simply ask them, how did staying up late work out for you? Let them tell you.
People (kids) gain wisdom from making mistakes. Don’t try and be overbearing or to protective.
Well, the kids have certainly made some mistakes. I hope they have learned from them.
Kids Get REALLY Comfortable With Me
After 7 days, the kids got very comfortable with me and started pushing the limits. Mostly the youngest one.
She talked back to me.
She TOLD me what she was doing instead of asking if she could do it.
She whined, complained, corrected me, went against my rules, never thanked me, and disrespected me over and over again until I thought my head was going to pop off.
In fact, my parents took us all out to Dairy Queen for supper, and I burst out crying while telling my mom everything that had happened. It was a little ridiculous.
Then, that night I put her to bed early – at 11 which isn’t really early. She asked why, and I told her because she had been arguing with me all day…and she stormed off saying, “This is the WORST VACATION EVER!”
Not too long later I found this note on her door.
Awww…how sweet – I got my first ‘I hate you’ note.
One of the boys ripped it up the following morning and told me not to listen to her crap. Lol. I thought that was pretty sweet of him.
Some Things I Learned
Taking care of teenagers is exhausting. That’s the biggest lesson I learned!
Kids constantly need answers to their questions. And they have a lot of questions.
I also learned that you can pretty much say anything and they will believe you. I find my 5-year-old niece argues with me more about what I say than the teenagers do. They just pretty much accept what I said as truth – which shows me how impressionable they are.
They constantly need help with stuff too. For instance, if something doesn’t work immediately, you are the first person they turn to. Or, if they get tea tree oil in their eyes, they come running down the stairs blindly screaming HELP ME AUNTY KARI instead of splashing water in their eyes.
And teenagers constantly need discipline. I don’t think I’ve ever had to be so authoritative in my life. Between their fights and my reminders of the rules, it has been constant. In fact, it’s like a never-ending intense drama show that you get put directly into.
Also, young teenagers seem to change their mind on a dime. The youngest one phoned her mom to tell her how bored she was and then when I took her out she complained that she wanted to go home – and complained and complained and complained. Maybe it is just that nothing seems good enough to her.
If you are babysitting young teenagers, remember that mom (or their direct caregiver) is their go-to person if things are not working out their way. Therefore, get on the same page as mom to avoid conflict.
For instance, when the youngest spent all her money in one day and was told that she wouldn’t be able to do anything for the rest of the week, she agreed with gusto. But when it came time to do something she wanted, and I said no, her mom was the first person she turned to. She told her mom she was bored and so her mom asked me to take her out.
Kids are smart. That’s another thing I learned.
Lastly, teenagers are moody and you have to deal with it like an adult. That’s the biggest problem I’ve had with the boys. Sometimes they won’t answer me when I ask them a question and sometimes they are my best friend. It all depends on their mood. The 13-year-old girl seems to be moody 23 hours a day.
In the end, there has been a lot of mumbling under the breath, dirty looks, sighs, stomping around, whining, a lot of ‘I’m bored’, and a few fights, but it has all worked out. I have almost two days left with them, and I’m sure a lot of drama will ensue today with the youngest one who still hasn’t come out of her room at 10:00, but I’m feeling a little more confident around teenagers.
Lastly, while I love my best friend’s kids, this experience solidified what I already know – I don’t want kids. I love my life where I can do what I want when I want and have as much quiet or noise as a I want. I may ask my friend to give her kids to me once in a while to act as a healthy reminder the next time I think it might be nice to have kids.