Dear Dr. Debbie,
Our family is considering hosting a foreign exchange student for the coming school year. Our daughter’s friend did it last year and recommends the experience. My question is, considering we still have ongoing struggles to get our almost 16-year-old to eat vegetables and keep her room in order, what is my role in enforcing house rules with a long-term guest?
Prospective Host Mom
Dear P. H.M.,
In my limited experience with exchange students these programs seem to be very selective. So rather than adding behavior issues to your household you’re very likely to get someone who will be a good example for your daughter.
Our family fell into being a host family when our daughter befriended a girl from Germany who, after a few months of spending many weekends at our house, asked if she could move in. Her original host family only had sons. Our brilliant would-be exchange daughter suggested that my daughter and I come to her host family’s home for a dinner as a way to warm them up to the idea. That did the trick. She was a perfect big sister for our perfectly imperfect teenager. We happily volunteered the next year for a two-week stay for one of a group of students from France and unexpectedly ended up with a boy. This was a pleasant experience too. I got to brush up on my French and my husband had someone who appreciated his sports interests.
Your role falls somewhere between “Host” and “Mom.” Take advantage of the peer pressure that naturally occurs between teen-age friends to find opportunities for your guest to model the behavior lacking in your daughter. An exchange student should be involved in family activities including chores and meals, so as a Mom, you set times and parameters regarding room cleaning and veggies for the household. As a Host, you will be gracious about accommodating your guest’s needs and preferences so as to help her to feel welcome. For example, if bedroom cleaning is supposed to happen on Saturday mornings at your house, use Friday’s dinnertime to ask your guest if she’d like to use the laundry machines before or after breakfast. Likewise get her to help with the shopping list and meal planning and welcome her in the kitchen. As a Mom, you don’t ask whether veggies will be on the menu, but which veggies she prefers. If she jumps in with enthusiasm to plan and prepare them, your daughter very well may follow suit. As I’ve said many times there are so many vegetables from all over the world at the grocery store, and so many ways to prepare them. With your encouragement, and help from the internet, the girls can experiment to their stomachs’ content to find solutions for your daughter’s veggie avoidance.
Your daughter needs to be on board with having a “sister” for ten months. Get her commitment for doing her part to make it a rewarding experience for everyone – including pleasant family mealtimes and a tidy room. Hopefully your exchange daughter will share the responsibility for making it so!
What do you think? Email your comments or questions to Dr. Debbie at editor[at]chesapeakefamily.com.