Teenager Seeks Refuge, What Should I Do?

Question: “My husband and I got a call from a family that we go to church with last Saturday. They asked us if we would let their teenage daughter come stay with us for a while because she had gotten out of control the night before and kicked a hole in the wall because her parents had not let her go to a basketball game. She has been at our house now for 2 days. I have always thought that her parents were too controlling and now after hearing her side of the story, I am convinced that this family needs some major help. She is required to ask them (and most times gets a “no” answer) before she does even the smallest things, like making cookies in the kitchen, going for a walk, or hanging something on her bedroom wall. They listen in on her phone conversations with friends, and she feels like she has no “personal space.” Her dad is a very black and white person, and criticizes her a lot. She has recently gotten a boyfriend and I think that her normally over-protective parents have tightened down the screws even more. She also has a younger teenage sister who is bigger than her. The younger sister sometimes gets violent and has left the girls staying with me with a black-eye in the past. We have convinced the parents and the girl to get family counseling, but I’m worried that she will never want to go back home because she doesn’t feel safe or loved there. We are happy to let her stay at our house for a while, but we don’t have kids, and we live in a small house (900 square feet) with no extra room for her. She has been sleeping on an air-mattress in the living room. My husband and I usually have sex every day, but since she has been here, we haven’t had any sex because we are worried she would hear us and feel uncomfortable. I am worried that she will never go back home. On top of all of this, her dad holds a leadership position in the branch and my husband works with him in that capacity! How can we help this family to patch things up so we can have our house back???”

Answer: I appreciate your writing in. I know that this time must be difficult for you. I first want to applaud your willingness to help this young lady as it sounds like things are tumultous at home for her. Her parents sound as if they are upset and have had it with her and the daughter appears to be feeling pretty smothered by what she’d see as controlling parents.

I’ll first toss out a few dynamics that I can see from your post. First off, your husband and you are in a dual relationship with her family. Your husband agreed along with you to take this young lady in to give her and her parents a break from each other. Your husband is not just a friendly church member but also serves with this girls father in church. The fact is, if you are not careful here, the relationship between your husband and her peer in church service could also fall into major tension and conflict. I think that your being more clear and less worried about what her or her parents think can help you be most helpful to them and get her on her way and back in her home sooner.  I can imagine this must be hard for your husband as well in light of his role at church. Clearly her being there has impacted your sexual intimacy and functioning in your home with it being so small.  As it has impacted you, having her head home sooner than later will be best.

Here are my recommendations and thoughts. First of all, much of what you are aware of is from the teenager’s report. I am not insinuating that she is lying but you’ve only got half the story. Your husbands talking with her father would help to yield more of the truth. The family clearly needs family therapy. If half of what this young lady reports is true, she’ll clearly need to have the parents and her work through a bunch of things in order for harmony to prevail in the home. I’d also recommend that this girl’s younger sibling also get help for the violent outbursts that she get’s in as well. I would not let her be in your home for more than another day or two. You are trying to help, giving her a place to cool down and then head back home is about all you can do. Listening to and supporting her getting help is a key as well. Validating (not agreeing) with her is key to helping her feel heard and supported. Encourage her to speak to he parents and request help. Your husband’s telling them he feels they need a family counselor would be helpful and needful too. Additionally your being clear and direct with her family is key too. Don’t toss her under the bus by revealing all the details she gave you in her stories but do have your husband speak to her father about the situation and her needing to come back home this week.

Again, don’t worry so much about what this girl or her family things of you or your husband. If you really do in fact care about her and them you’ll love them enough to tell them the hard things. Telling her she has to go back home, telling the parents they need family therapy, etc. It’s hard, I know it is. As a neighbor and friend you can lift and help them grow by doing the difficult things. Focus on how this might help them and toss ideas about fearing that you’ll step on any toes. Best of luck in your journey, God bless you for helping them out and reaching out to them!