Thursday, June 17, 2010

growing up is a painful process

molly mentioned recently how painful it is to watch your children wrestle their demons and come to terms with the world. i've found myself thinking about that quite a lot over the past couple of days. as you know, i have just the one rather spoiled perfectly lovely child. there are, however, two other almost-not-children-anymore in my life because husband has two daughters from a previous marriage. they're 18 and 15 and they come to our house every other weekend. they are adored 100% by their little sister, who gets the benefit of being both an only child and a little sister, and they seem to adore her back in equal measure. we're very lucky.

i'm fortunate to have escaped the drama i hear that other step-parents experience. i think because i never tried to be their mother. as i see it, they have a perfectly good mother of their own, so my role is something else. authority figure in our home, certainly, but more of a cool (in both senses) aunt than a parent. and that has worked very well for us. mostly because husband is very good at handling it and takes my side in matters of discipline. but there haven't really been matters of discipline, so that's helped it be a good situation now for more than a decade.

but even tho' they're not my children, they are an enduring presence in my life, so it's a bit hard watching them in their struggles. the older one has had a hard time with school. she switched gymnasiums and has repeated the first year. she seems to be doing better this time around, but there are signs of an inner struggle for her - she's gained weight and she's visibly lost confidence in the past year. instead of growing into a more capable young adult, she in many ways seems to have regressed a bit and needs more support rather than less. we're pushing her out on interrail this summer so she can experience getting along on her own (well, sort of, since she's going with a friend) a bit. we think it will be good for her.

the younger gets top grades in school, but lives like a vampire. not in dress, but in her habit of not being seen during daylight hours. she'll sleep 'til 3 in the afternoon and she doesn't seem to want to do any form of physical activity or anything other than watch television. her sisters shamed her into going outside on one occasion this weekend. sadly there was a downpour while she was out and she came back soaking wet since she was inappropriately dressed for the weather, but still, she did finally go outside. and her iPod didn't zap the hell out of her when she got soaked, so that was a plus. luckily for her vampire ways, the sun was behind clouds the whole time, so she didn't turn to dust.

what's worrying about the younger is that she doesn't seem to have any interests in any extracurricular activities (unless you count shoplifting, which isn't the healthiest of those and which she won't be doing again after getting done for eight counts of it a couple of months ago - or at least that's what we all hope). she was sent to dance as a child, but never really liked it the way her older sister did. she's tall, thin, willowly and beautiful (aside from some typical teenage incidents involving cheap hair color), so it's not that we think she needs to watch her weight, but we just worry that she doesn't have something she is into, something she burns for and is focused on. sabin has her horse. big sister has sports and dance, but middle sister doesn't have any visible interests.

when they come, i encourage creativity by providing materials and tools to support it - we've got loads of how-to-draw books, good pencils, fabric, sewing machine, stitching - everything you could want. and sabin and her oldest sister are often found sewing up monster dolls or designing costumes in sabin's top model books or building a shelter out of old boards and branches down by the lake. but it's difficult for us to pry middle sister away from the television and her facebook on sabin's computer.

i can appreciate that it's hard when you're a teenager to spend every other weekend away from your friends and your own everyday stuff. they have their own rooms at our house, but with the move, everything is still chaos. we've living out in the country and it must generally be rather "ew" for a teenager in her prime, especially one from a copenhagen suburb. but that's what's painful about watching it. the lack of engagement. i wonder what she'll remember when she looks back? will it be how she slept through it or how miserable she was, or will it be that they ran around outside and got soaking wet and came laughing in the door? it's hard being a teenager, but it's also hard to watch the process as a parent (or even as a cool aunt). you want to ease the bumps and blows that inevitably come of it.

i have different expectations for husband's daughters than i have for sabin (princeton undergrad and the danish olympic riding team are not too much to ask for her are they?), but i would love to see them discovering and then unfolding their talents and coming into their own. i see lots of young people both in real life and around here in the blogosphere who seem so much more mature and worldly and seem to be pursuing their passions, be it photography or art or rocket science or politics or whatever. i wonder what we can do to encourage that when it's only every other weekend we can exercise our influence. don't get me wrong, i'd go crazy if it was more often than that. and frankly we couldn't afford the grocery bill long term. but watching this process of becoming is, as molly said, a painful thing indeed.


inna karenina said...

oh my, I can so relate myself to both of the girls. I was rather unconfident, didn't really go out (hmm, I have always thought it wasn't my choice, but now I know it was, more or less), spent all my time reading, watching tv or at computer.. plus I was more or less feeling bad. and also spending every other weekend at my dad's place. we just didn't have own rooms (just one small for me and sister where we hardly fit together), or cool stepmother (or aunt, as you call) who would support our creativity or anyone who we would know expect dad and stepmother, so basically we had nothing to do there. so we stopped going there and nowadays see dad a few times a year and spend all the time discussing about weather.. Anyway, all that was just a few years ago. I hadn't any hobbies like sports, because nothing just seemed right and I was way too shy to start anything alone. But then I found photography, thanks to my sister, and everything changed. Finally I had something that I truly enjoyed, something, besides school, in which I felt like I might be able to become good at. And that was only a year ago. Some where along my photography journey I have got a lot more self confidence, and I have become a lot more mature in a way. Nowadays thanks to photography, I take walks daily and don't spend that much time only watching tv anymore.(oh well, so much more has happened too so photography must have been just one reason, but surely a significant) All it needed was just finding something that matters to me. I can believe how hard it must have been for my mom to watch my struggle. but to me it sounds like you are getting along with them very well. I wish I had had a cool stepmother who instead of whining how bad we treat dad (which wasn't true, I am sure about that) would have offered us something to do, a reason to go to visit them.

okay, it seems I am writing an extra long comment again, so I will stop before it becomes a book. haha.

julochka said...

wow, inna! i had no idea - i was actually thinking of you and your beautiful photography - you have such an eye and i have found myself wishing that k or m would be interested in photography too (k is showing signs - she's 18), because i could totally support that habit! :-) thank you so much for sharing this, it gives me loads of hope!

Lisa-Marie said...

I can relate more to 15 year old girl. I got very good marks at school, but i spent alot of my life either watching TV or reading books, and I wasn't very social. I turned out ok i think - lots of friends, lovely family and lots of interests. I think she'll be ok. The world is pretty tough on teenagers just now, she's probably just hiding a bit till she works out what her place is.

Shokoofeh said...

Wow I was thinking about Inna and her beautiful confidence in photography too when I read your words!
I am a bit older and those "not to know what's going on" years of mine seems a little far to me now. But I remember when once I was in high school I didn't get out of house for fifteen days! Things like this happen to everyone in some special ages but as Inna said the person in trouble doesn't feel it.
I myself became involved. Both in art and relationship. And both helped me a lot.

And I think you're a great "cool aunt"!
That's it! xo

mrs mediocrity said...

It is so hard to watch...whether they are your own or not. I also have 2 step-kids, a son and a daughter, they were never here all that often, they lived five hours away so it was more like holidays and a few weeks in the summer, and that was hard for them because they never had the time to forge other friendships, but we all managed, and our daughter is wonderful and doing well, and both our sons are giving us concern, although all three kids are officially grown, 23, 24, 26...the two boys just don't seem ready/able/willing to grow up, and sometimes I want scream. But hopefully, soon, they will get it together. But my point in the beginning was to say that they are all different, and they will find their own way and as much as you want to take their struggles on to protect them, you can't. They have to struggle through on their own, just like we did and find their own way, just like we did.
I think all you can do is what you are doing, and love them. And they will be fine.

In the Light of the Moon said...

I am not there yet with my own,my oldest is going into middle school this year and I know these upcomming years will be difficult.Right now all I can do is pray and enjoy the little time we have left during our summer break.Inside me heart,I understand this time is comming to a close.Teenager.EEEEEK!Warmest Regards,Cat

Molly said...

Urgh, I feel like my own teenage angst is still fresh in my mind and I know I'll just blink and have two teenage daughters of my own to deal with!
I was a horror - a real wannabe goth with inappropriate boyfriends etc - but I think I turned out pretty well regardless ...

Can I be honest and say I'm not so sure about MPC's new look ... ? A little template-y, not how I think of this space at all ...

Char said...

i'm so feeling this with my two nephews. if it's not a computer game then they are not interested, especially the older one. he's so smart that he doesn't have to study hard and i've tried explaining how that can build bad habits (from personal experience) for later in life.

anyway - i feel you. i have tried everything but mostly they're at that stage where it's way uncool to hang out with their mother and aunt.

Sammi said...

Despite feeling rather old, it wasn't that long ago since I was a teenager, and sometimes I think its as difficult to go through it as to watch it. You don't really want help from your parents, and you want to fit in with your friends (and you are always tired, even when you sleep til 3pm)... It's a funny few years when you're still cushioned from the real world by school, yet you're trying to discover yourself. It's lovely you encourage your step children and Sabin into things, my parents never really did that, but then when I was a teenager I would have probably gone the opposite way, although I wasn't quite into shop lifting!!!