Q: After the sudden death of my brother and his wife, I'm the brand-new guardian of my 13-year-old nephew. We're both in therapy to adjust to the changes, and he's is in grief counseling with some other kids, too.
I LOVE my nephew, but I'm 29 and hadn't planned on being a parent. I don't have many caretaking skills other than the love I lavish on my dog. I'm so worried about damaging him or hurting him at this really tough point in his life. (Plus he's in middle school. His life is awful now.)
Can you recommend anything I can read? We always had more of a mischievous, sibling dynamic when my brother was alive, and the new dynamic in our relationship is causing growing pains and sulking, with him telling me that he hates his life.
A: I am so sorry, for both of you. That you guys have a loving history is the good news, and it will carry you through if you both trust it. The best resource I can recommend, if available in your area, is Parent Encouragement Program (PEPparent.org). Your nephew's pediatrician likely can recommend local programs.
A good book that is slightly off-point for the traumatic adjustment is Best Friends, Worst Enemies: Understanding the Social Lives of Children by Michael Thompson, Catherine O'Neill-Grace and Lawrence J. Cohen. It's a great primer on learning not to try to fix everything, but instead just to understand — and to recognize when to step in.
Consider some activity that allows you to revert to your mischievous sibling dynamic. Your stepping in is nothing short of heroic. To quote the AdoptUSKids ad campaign, "You don't have to be perfect to be a perfect parent."