Editor’s Note: Welcome to a special series from the Sutterlin Family. This month, the family continues the account of their experience hosting a German high school exchange student. Enjoy!
From the Sutterlin Family
One of the things that drew our attention to Sophie’s application for the exchange program was that she was an only child. We thought it would make her more interested in becoming a sibling, part of something larger. As we gathered a loaner bed and redesigned a 10 x 10 room to fit two teenage girls, we wondered what it would be like to parent a child who was not actually ours. Was this person a guest in our home or a member of our family? We decided that if we didn’t immediately extend ourselves completely and honestly, it wouldn’t work. So we insisted to both of our kids that Sophie would be treated as a sister and a third child; same expectations, same rewards, same consequences.
Living this out became a different story as we initially treated her as a guest while she grew comfortable. Sophie received a little more grace and lenience when it came to getting chores done or having certain privileges. Our kids knew the routines and expectations, but Sophie was new to our idiosyncrasies. We played to that, but she didn’t. What wore the newness off were Sophie’s reminders that we treat her as our own. It took about a month, but we eventually received the same eye rolls and sighs from all three kids, as we insisted they each do their part from folding clothes to setting tables to simply being quiet after bedtime.
Watching the kids interact was interesting. McKenna struggled for the adolescent alone time she once enjoyed. This struggle came out as melancholy and sometimes just plain rudeness. Sophie ended up consoling us more often than the other way around, explaining her understanding of McKenna which was quite accurate and deep. As they learned to live as sisters, we saw the results of late-night conversations turn into a mutual respect and unspoken language between them. Brogan had a much easier transition. To him, Sophie was one more playmate and a doting sister he hadn’t often experienced. We suspect their age difference lent to this, but Sophie also shared experiences with Brogan. She recruited him to be a child role in her school play, where they spent many hours and shared a surreal few weeks together acting with a troupe from the high school. By the time the holidays rolled around, it was clear that we were operating as a family.
I’ve been in America for five months now and experienced a different family life from what I was used to. Having siblings that live with me is very exciting, but it can also challenging at times. My host-sister, McKenna, and I were very close in the beginning. Everything was so new and there were so many things that we could do together. We had so many similarities. Of course, time passed and school started and there was less time to talk and do fun stuff together. I feel like that brought some tension and it didn’t really work that well between us for some time. We both realized that we can’t just ignore each other and now we are really working on talking to each other and caring about each other. I’ve learned a lot from being a sister. It can be hard to build up a relationship and to understand what she wants and how I can make her feel comfortable, but it’s worth it. I love my sister, I really do, and I think we are good siblings. We are a good family.
My relationship with my host-brother, Brogan, is pretty good too. I think it was much easier for him to adapt to having a new sister because he didn’t have to share a room with me. He can just play with me whenever he wants, while McKenna and I are much closer and have to deal with each other and each other’s moods all the time. He is very loving and we can always snuggle. Even though we don’t share as many hobbies, it’s always fun to have him around and play board games, Just Dance or to sing together.
It can also be challenging to stay close to my siblings while still having all those activities after school that keep me from being home and interacting with them. But I figured out that I have to use the time that I get with them to play or talk to them and not just entertain myself alone. To be a family where you have to share your parents and your time with siblings needs more work than I expected, but I love it and I love them even more!
Tags: family, playmate, school, Sophie's, Sutterlin