I need your advice

One thing I’ve been thinking about over the last couple of years is just what the heck is going to happen to T’s nieces.

They’re charming and reasonably bright, but they’ve got a tough cycle to break out of. This decade will be the one that determines whether they bypass young pregnancy and getting sucked into the welfare lifestyle. Having a kid at 16 isn’t the end of the world of course, but it’s a very difficult thing to work around, especially with a background like theirs. (And I get the overwhelming feeling that abortion is frowned upon in their family.)

Now the older one is in high school, T agrees it’s time to really keep an eye on her and try to set her up on a good path. I told him I’m totally happy to do whatever I can – I’m just not sure what that is.

The main concern is making sure she doesn’t fall through the cracks; that’s not to say she has a bad home life, because she is loved and cared for, but she is certainly lacking in a certain type of role model, surrounded by adults who don’t work and haven’t worked for years.

What do I do?

What do I talk to her about?

How do I talk to her about those things?

I guess the end goal is in getting her to think beyond school and about actual career paths – university even – and how to get there, and the importance of taking her studies seriously. This is so alien to me, because I grew up in the kind of environment where thinking about what you might want to be when you grew up was like thinking about what kind of guy you might marry. And I worked hard at school for the sake of achieving, if nothing else.

She and I are about 10 years apart, but things are so different. I grew up pre-Facebook and Snapchat, before even the most basic of cellphones had colour screens and cameras, when MSN and open internet chatrooms (do they still exist?) were the cutting edge. I was nerdy and academic, and while she’s not dumb, she’s certainly not a nerd. I was gawky and mousy and she’s cute, if not model material, and knows it. And our family environments are POLES apart – you can’t even imagine.

I’ve been considering joining a mentoring scheme for teenage girls (though I haven’t signed on yet – am unsure about the logistics involved and how difficult it would be to meet my commitment). And now I’m definitely in two minds about it. Maybe I should just be focusing my time/effort on her. Take care of business on your home patch first, and all that. But maybe mentoring someone else will also help me with her?

When they were younger they always came to me, were all over me everytime I visited, yammering away about anything and everything going on in their lives. Now they’re older and more self absorbed, I have to make the effort myself to connect with them.

But I’m totally out of my depth here. Help?

24 thoughts on “I need your advice

  • Reply save. spend. splurge. February 5, 2014 at 07:57

    Having no experience with this either, I’d just probably sit down with them (or take them out for ice cream) and ask them how things are going and what they plan on doing after high school, also what they enjoy doing.

    This is what my friend did with her husband’s sisters… She encouraged them to pursue their interests and tried to give examples of things and jobs they could do if they were to go into let’s say history. If they wrinkled their noses, she then suggested something similar to history like sociology or tried to figure out what else they could do with what they enjoyed doing.

  • Reply Amber February 5, 2014 at 09:00

    Just be there. Don’t try to lecture or tell them what the right choice in life is. But be there to listen when they need it and offer words of advice only when they ask for it. Take them out for ice cream. Go shopping. Have movie nights. Just spend time with them and you will be surprised how much you can influence them just by being there vs. sitting down and trying to have a serious chat right off the bat.

    • Reply eemusings February 5, 2014 at 11:12

      I definitely want to ease into it. Thank you for your thoughtful input!

  • Reply Clarisse @ Make Money Your Way February 5, 2014 at 10:29

    I married very young too, but I’m not pregnant at that time. Luckily I have a good parents that didn’t give up on me and I knew from the start that I will be a good mom to my six-year old daughter. Right now I observed that there are lots of young mothers out there especially these high-tech days.

  • Reply Tonya@Budget and the Beach February 5, 2014 at 10:29

    I agree with Amber, although it’s very hard for me to say exactly since I don’t have kids. I was a mentor though and the most important thing we were taught is to listen. Also if you are at all influential, lead by example, which I think you already are!

  • Reply Linda February 5, 2014 at 10:38

    I agree with Amber. Many of my cousins and step-sister/brothers ended up getting married young because of unplanned pregnancies. This has a huge impact on career prospects and earnings, as you already know.

    Just being there when they want to talk or have questions and being a visible model to them that they have other options besides having children at an early age and collecting public assistance does make a difference! Encourage them to think and ask questions, but also don’t emphasize that behavior as just university-focused.

    My sister and I are the anomalies in my family because we both work white collar jobs. Everyone else in our blue collar family has blue collar jobs. I’m a strong supporter of people going into trades or other skilled work that doesn’t necessarily require a university education. (Mainly because here people can get into so much crushing debt earning a degree, but I’m not sure it’s the same there.) Skilled trades do require critical thinking and literacy for licensing purposes, so encouraging them to see themselves as smart and strong serves many purposes.

    I don’t recall any specific people who were models in my life, but there must have been some because I was determined to get a uni degree and not get pregnant until I was absolutely sure I wanted to be. Somehow I had realized that there were other options than the paths my cousins and others close to me had taken.

    • Reply eemusings February 5, 2014 at 11:10

      I really appreciate everyone’s feedback!

      Fortunately student debt isn’t really a big issue here. No one in their family has gone to university, though. T and I can’t think of any trades the girls would go into (they’re definitely not the kind to become, say mechanics or electricians), so while I don’t think uni is for everyone, I think it is *likely* to be a good option for them.

  • Reply Jennifer February 5, 2014 at 11:11

    try and just casually chat to her about her future and ‘plans’ – maybe suggest that everything is possible and she shouldn’t ever write anything off because she doesn’t think she has the ability or the support from family/friends.

  • Reply Cassie February 5, 2014 at 11:54

    Take them out for lunch. Ask them what’s going on in their lives. Ask them about their dreams and aspirations. If they’re living in an environment that thinking about your future career isn’t the norm, just asking them what they’re interested in and what they’d like to do with their life might be enough to get the ball rolling. Do it again and again and again. If they ask for help or say they’re not sure where to start, help point them towards resources that might be useful. If you know of a summer job that would be a good fit, put in a good word for them. If you happen to come across something that fits their interests, get it for them or refer them to it, and tell them you were thinking of them. If you’re going to a event that they might find interesting, bring them with you. I think as adults we sometimes overthink things (though this absolutely requires thought and acknowledgement), when really engagement can be an extremely powerful tool.

  • Reply Broke Millennial February 5, 2014 at 15:06

    Like many others I’d say just being there as a positive role model who she knows loves her unconditionally is such a huge help. Make sure she knows she’s more than a pretty young woman and that she has potential to be successful. It’s really beautiful that you’re emotionally invested in this way.

  • Reply Nell @ The Million Dollar Diva February 5, 2014 at 15:28

    I agree with what a lot of people have said about just being there for her. When I was growing up my Mum had a lot of friends who had only had boys or no kids at all. So I sort of became a surrogate daughter for some of them. I remember being taken out for ice cream and shopping trips (not to buy things, just to hang out).

    Even though these women were my Mum’s age, these adventures felt so much more grown up than if I had gone out with my Mum, because they just let me talk and didn’t lecture or pass judgement. And it felt good to know that there were other women I could talk to besides my Mum.

    I’m still really close with some of my Mum’s friends as an adult, and I think that is definitely due in part to the time I spent with them as a teenager.

    So I’d suggest, just ask her out to go shopping or the movies. Talk to her like an equal and show her that she can trust you and you’ll listen. It’ll help.

  • Reply cantaloupe February 6, 2014 at 01:18

    Seriously just spend time with her. After spending enough time with my students, they somehow think it’s cool to talk to me about whatever ridiculous boring stuff is on their minds and I don’t even know how to shut it off. So you know, just be present. And cool, but obviously you’ll do that naturally. (Cool to them means letting them talk and being open to their ideas, no matter how ridiculous. Like when they write a haiku about weed, you can tell them “no no,” as long as you add “not school appropriate.” Because it doesn’t condone the drug or offer any opinion, really, beyond telling them that in this environment it isn’t appropriate. And if you don’t understand something she references, ask about it. Teens love to be superior and act like experts on shit, even if it’s something stupid like the newest game. (Which is Flappy Bird, if you wanted to know.))

    • Reply eemusings February 6, 2014 at 21:55

      Okay, so I’ve never heard of Flappy Bird. Just Googled it 😛

      I remember – well – the acting superior thing. /cringe

      SO glad you weighed in since you work so closely with teens -thank you!

  • Reply Michelle @fitisthenewpoor February 6, 2014 at 04:26

    I have a 12 year old niece who looks much, much older (try 17 or 18). Because she has developed so quickly, I’ve seen many older men hit on her or try to ask her out. It’s creepy and sick.

    But really, there is nothing you can do. Sometimes even the best and most prepared teens will fall prey to an accident. As a teacher, I always had one or two “shocker” pregnancies happen.

    Be supportive. Be fun. And do not be afraid to be concerned either.

  • Reply Firstgenamerican.vom February 6, 2014 at 04:28

    I was one of these girls and I broke the cycle. The best thing that ever happened to me at that age is getting put on the pill by a planned parenthood clinic. This is a confidential place you can go for medical services where you don’t need parental consent to get looked at. Guys are very good at convincing girls not to use condoms and even if you do use protection of that sort, it’s good to have a backup. This may not sit well with the religious folk or their parents but helping the girls with that stuff will be huge. It’s naive to think abstinence will work as there are a lot of reasons kids start having sex that early in life from that demographic, especially girls with single parent households. I was looking for a father figure (not that I knew that at the time but in hindsight, that was what it was all about). I can honestly say that pregnancy would have totally derailed everything I was able to achieve. There is just no way I would have been able to put my studies first with a kid in the mix. I worked crazy hours during my uni years. There is no way I could have done that and raise a kid…or if I did, they would have been really messed up from neglect.

    Being a positive role model is also important. Just knowing there are people out there with good lives gives teens hope that they can crawl out of the poverty cycle. Without that, you don’t know any better and think this life you were born into is the only option.

  • Reply anna February 6, 2014 at 09:09

    I think that’s really kind that both of you are looking out for her. I agree with the others in just being there for her, whether it’s actually getting together or the random texts that make her aware someone out there cares. Do they have college campus tours in her area? Maybe seeing actual colleges can help her think and visualize of longer term goals?

  • Reply Stephany February 6, 2014 at 09:26

    I have two cousins who were in the same boat as your nieces are. They didn’t have a great home life and though they were super, super, super smart, once high school hit, they got involved in the party scene. And one of my cousins ended up getting pregnant at 16 and the other one dropping out of high school. It just breaks my heart, because they could have had these AMAZING futures and now they’re both almost 19, not going to college, and working minimum wage jobs. And it breaks my heart. I’m still trying to be there for them. (I’m definitely trying to build a stronger relationship with my cousin who had a baby because she’s had a rough time of it, as expected.)

    I would just second what everyone else is saying. They need a friend, really. They need someone they can go to to talk about GIRL STUFF with and will give them advice. Take them out to the movies, or for ice cream, or coffee, or anything. Just set aside time each week to get to know them and talk TO them (not at them, kids that age are mostly talked AT). They want a friend, someone they can talk to.

    I think it’s awesome you want to step out and help these girls through the most tumultuous times in their lives. Wading the waters of high school is SO difficult, even for the most well-adjusted kids.

  • Reply SP February 6, 2014 at 18:18

    I have no advice, but I do want to say i think you are awesome for putting such thought into this and making yourself available as a mentor / friend / role model.

  • Reply Sense February 6, 2014 at 20:10

    Oh, how I get this desire.

    My two cousins are much younger than me (18 and 20) and grew up where I did, where people just don’t have the same opportunities as in more affluent areas. Their parents, my aunt and uncle, did not go to college. My aunt works very hard cleaning houses for a living, my uncle doesn’t do anything. They live in a very old 2 bedroom trailer on some rented land, and they are straight up PO’. They ate whatever they could grow, basically. People from my hometown usually graduate high school (or get their GED), marry their sweethearts, and start having babies right away. A trailer is commonly the choice for a starter home.

    While they were growing up, I was still in college, went away to grad school, and then (and now) live far away, so I was not around much to be an example to them. But when I do visit home (once or twice a year), I have always made it a habit of taking them out on their own for ‘cousin time.’ Away from the parents, and doing fun stuff that they normally couldn’t afford, like going to the beach (it is 2.5 hrs away and cost a lot in gas!), the amusement park, or just hanging out at the mall. During these trips, we’d just talk about whatever was going on in their lives, and I tried to offer a different perspective, other possibilities, and a more, say…liberal view of the world (hometown is insanely religious and conservative). And I’d answer questions: No, I don’t get scared traveling. No, plane rides are more boring than frightening. Yes, I love my job. Yes, of course I think Miley Cyrus is ridiculous and a terrible role model for kids.

    My uncle often thanked me for talking to them about my life in college, or grad school, or just ‘away’ from our hometown.

    My older cousin is really interested in English, writing, murder and very dark mysteries, and would write little stories and attempts novels. (Recently our cousin outing involved going to an Edgar Allan Poe exhibit.) I did whatever I could to encourage that, and she would come talk to me at family gatherings and shyly show me her most recent writing. Eventually she started emailing me her stuff. I am just there to be supportive, never critical. I think that is important, being very open to and accepting of their thoughts. You can gently steer by saying what YOU would do in certain situations.

    My younger cousin dropped out of high school, got his GED, and is really into his band. He writes silly songs all the time, and I get that my job is to just listen and encourage and laugh.

    I think that you’ll find that they are more than willing to share everything with you if you prove trustworthy, open, and pretty chill. You’re not a stranger, but you’re not a parent. You’re closer to their age and can relate to them on so many more levels. Try starting with pop culture and working your way out from there: what’s bugging them about their friends (believe me, there is ALWAYS drama), who’s doing what lately that they’re scared to do, how their home life is (if you are brave).

    My example doesn’t seem to have inspired them to leave where we’re from, but at least my older cousin is taking online college classes for her English and business degrees and hasn’t popped out a kid yet? It is impossible to know what affect, if any, I had on them, but I did my best to answer their questions and show them that there is a different kind of life.

    I agree with the above–just being around as an example to show them that there ARE other options is huge. I never knew anyone with a PhD growing up (my mom has her Master’s, though), so until grad school I always sort of thought it was unattainable by people like me. You can be what you see.

    • Reply eemusings February 6, 2014 at 20:36

      “You can be what you see.” Love.

      Thank you, x1000. Pop culture, friendships… I think I can do this.

  • Reply Poor Student February 7, 2014 at 03:23

    I have a similar situation with a younger cousin of mine and I just spend a lot of time with him. Even being together once a week is really helpful and I’ve seen him take on some new interests.

  • Reply Sally @ TinyApartmentDesign February 10, 2014 at 11:24

    I’m flying to see my niece and nephews for somewhat similar reasons. I want to be good role models for them, but because we don’t get to see them as often as I would like, I worry that we are drifting apart. Hopefully just being there, being myself and as open and honest as possible will open them up. I worry about them but remember that worrying does them no good- it’s sharing funny stories, opening their mind to new ideas and new stuff that they don’t see in their daily life that will do them a world of good.

  • Reply Untemplater February 11, 2014 at 18:13

    I totally understand how the relationship dynamic changes with age. My cousins are like this. They were so easy to play with and hang around when they were younger. Now that they’re pre and mid teens, they’re a lot more withdrawn and self absorbed and harder to talk to.

    Maybe you can help your nieces discuss colleges, internships, and job skills. But you’ll probably also need to plan activities with them that aren’t only focused on education and career stuff to restrengthen your relationship and get them more comfortable opening up.

  • Reply La Tejana @ Debt Free Tejana February 13, 2014 at 13:08

    Best Aunt of the Year Award right here! How close do you live to her? Try and hang out with her 2x a month if you can… just take her out to the movies, dinner, go to her sports or plays (if she does extracurriculars) so that you can start to build a relationship with her. The more time you spend with her, the more she’ll see your lifestyle and will be open to speaking with you about hers!

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