Helping an Orphan Grow Up Well

A friend of mine told me that, while reading my book this week, she had a random idea come to her about how to help her 15 year-old goddaughter who is an orphan. As she told me her idea, I was blown away by her wisdom. It’s the kind of story that I find deeply inspiring.

Her goddaughter — let’s call her Heather — has had an incredibly difficult childhood. Heather’s father abandoned her at a very young age. Nobody knows where he is. Her mother was a drug addict who spent years in prison, then died in her late 30’s of cancer. She probably could have survived the cancer if she had followed her treatments, but her drug addiction disabled her from caring for herself.

Heather, now 15, has been an orphan for a few years. She lives in an apartment with her older sister and her cousins. Due to her circumstances, Heather is very independent. She can take care of herself, to say the least. Because her older sister works long hours, she goes to school and does her homework on her own. She stays out of trouble. She doesn’t mess around with boys or drugs. In fact, she is a cheerleader and has plenty of good friends, the kind who stay out of trouble as well. She’s a really good kid, by all accounts, but her grades are pretty low, and she lacks direction about her future.

Still, my friend is concerned about her goddaughter. She made some big mistakes back in high school which made her life very difficult as a young adult. So, she wants to help Heather make the best of her life. While reading Critical Connection, she had a new idea pop into her mind about how to communicate with Heather.

My friend sat Heather down and told her that she loves her and respects her independence, strength, and maturity. This affirmed her connection as a mother figure. Then she asked Heather, “What sort of goals and boundaries do you think good parents would set for you? In other words, if you had some really good parents, what do you think they would tell you right now?” Heather responded with some vague answers about getting good grades, staying out of trouble, and going to college.

Then my friend said, “I love you like a daughter, so I’m gonna go ahead and give you some motherly advice. You know I’ve had some failures and some pretty bad things happen to me, so this ain’t cheap advice.” From there she told Heather that C’s are not good enough because she is way smarter than that. She said that boys will take advantage of her because she is pretty and has a great personality, so watch out for the charming ones especially. She told Heather to start thinking about a career and consider some local colleges or some other advanced training because a good job has to be earned nowadays.

As my friend told me about Heather and what she was doing for her, I got chills — the good kind that make you feel alive. I said, “Do you have idea how much you empowered Heather? You gave her love, showed her respect for who she is, and then gave her some great advice. All of that will make her feel strong, and I am sure she really HEARD your advice. You empowered her with what you said and how you said it.”

I am so proud of my friend for what she did and what she will continue to do with Heather. She is stepping into the gap for a strong yet still vulnerable young girl. It’s nothing short of heroic.

How can YOU empower a young person this week? Who needs some love and guidance? What could you do?

Author: Andy Kerckhoff

I'm a husband, father, teacher. I'm doing my best, wishing I could do better, and trying to help others to effectively lead kids through early adolescence.

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