My name is Ziva and I’m a mentor for a twelve-year-old girl named Eliana. Eliana has a complicated family situation. Her mother suffers from alcoholism. She has a sibling with developmental disabilities who requires a lot of care and attention from her father. As the eldest child, she takes care of her other siblings and often pitches in to help with her sibling who has developmental disabilities as well. In school, she has been bullied and forced to do homework for other students.
But, when I first met her, Eliana didn’t say that her family situation was stressful. We spoke about how she got her younger siblings prepared in the morning for school, and helped them get there on time. At night she made sure that they were fed and had done their homework before putting them in for bed. She didn’t think any of these things were difficult. Even though I could see that things at home and school were tough for her, she never wanted to tell me. Eliana would say “that’s what a big sister does.” She felt that she needed to be strong for her family and that meant that she “could not be a kid anymore”. I wondered, how can I show Eliana that it’s alright to be upset or frustrated. I wanted her to know that the relationships with the people she loves and cares about would still be there, even if she were upset sometimes.
One day when I came to pick her up, Eliana showed me that she had gotten a hoverboard for her birthday from her grandmother. The excitement on her face was palpable. She wanted to show me how it worked and how much fun it was. As we were playing, she asked me if I wanted to try it out. I was thrilled because I had never used a hoverboard before and I ended up breaking it by accident! Imagine how angry a twelve-year-old girl would be if their new favorite toy broke. Eliana didn’t say a word. I started to apologize and told her that I would either fix it or get her a new one. I explained to her that even though it was an accident, I was responsible and so I would take care of it. Something changed in Eliana in that moment, she saw that I was also accountable in our relationship. Ever since then, Eliana has been noticing when she wants or needs something from me.
She now sees that relationships are a two-way street.