Addicts tend to find enablers, part the infinity

By Amy Dickinson

October 21, 2014

Dear Amy: My adult daughter, 23, suffered a bout of severe alcohol dependency two years ago. She went through rehab successfully, and today she remains sober. She is under the care of a psychiatrist who only adjusts her various medications.

In going off alcohol, however, she turned to food and has become truly obese.

While she recognizes the problem, she will not or cannot do anything about it on her own.

She is with a long-term boyfriend who enables her eating disorder.

We have brought up the issue, gently, on two occasions, but she says she is working on it.

My wife and I are concerned about her physical and mental health, but we do not know what to do. If you have any advice on how we might help this wonderful young woman, we would be most grateful. 

— Discouraged

Dear Discouraged: It sounds as if you have been very supportive and successful in urging your daughter toward recovery. However, it is her responsibility to do the hard work to stay sober and manage her health.

Addicts have a tendency to find enablers. At 23, your daughter may not yet have the maturity to fully understand her own motivations, but she must take responsibility for her actions. If she says she’s working on her weight issues, then you should believe her. Some of her meds may be triggering her weight gain; urge her to get a medical checkup.

I hope she is participating in regular group recovery meetings; support meetings should be a part of her life for the foreseeable future.

And — speaking of meetings — you and your wife need to get yourselves to Al-Anon. Like all concerned loved ones, you are searching for something to “do” regarding your daughter’s addiction. Ultimately, you cannot “do” your daughter into wellness. Through Al-Anon you will learn to support her sobriety, point her toward help when she asks for it, and understand and accept your own limitations.

Sisters are rolling in the dough — and not in a good way

By Amy Dickinson

October 20, 2014

Dear Amy: My sister asked me to purchase a frozen cheesecake, cookies or pretzel dough from my nephew for his school fundraiser.

I told her that I would send a donation directly to the program because I was not interested in the items.

My sister pushed the frozen cookies, and I told her that I did not want to be bullied into purchasing an item that I did not want. She told me that my nephew did not want a donation; he wanted 10 orders so he could win a watch.

She also stated that she would tell my nephew that I was on a special diet and could not order anything (which is not true).

My mother called and asked to place an order (in my name) to ease the tension. I said, “No, I will give a donation and purchase the watch for the boy.”

I wanted to directly invest in my nephew, so I sent a letter and donation to his school.

Any advice? I’m interested in your opinion. — Irritated

Dear Irritated: You are not only irritated, you are irritating. You come by it naturally, however — because your whole family seems to be persistently thorny. I understand your larger point, but here’s a parallel version of the drama as it might have gone, scripted by yours truly:

Sister: I’d like you to purchase some frozen dough from “Buddy” for his school’s fundraiser.

You: Why don’t you have him give me a call? I’d like to hear about it.

(Buddy calls and gives his pitch)

You: Well, I don’t want baked goods, Buddy, but I’ll tell you what: How about I order one dozen pretzels, and when they come in I’ll pass them along to you to share with your Boy Scout troop?

Your mother has absolutely no role to play in this drama. She should not waste her star power on such petty matters.

See how easy things are when everybody plays their part?

Friday night lights, Dryden NY homecoming game.

Friday night lights, Dryden NY homecoming game.

The Brady Bunch never had to deal with ex-spouses…

By Amy Dickinson

October 17, 2014

Dear Amy: I have been dating a father of three children for about six months now. I love him and his children, and I am moving in with him this month. I really want to

be involved in his children’s lives and have us become a family. I get along with his kids, and I feel like they have accepted me.

I can’t help feeling a little left out when it comes to certain things that are between him and his children, though. He has nightly routines that he goes through with his kids, and I would like to be a part of that, but I’m not sure if that’s overstepping my bounds.

There are PTA meetings that I would like to attend, but he goes with the kids’ mother (understandably).

I’m not sure how to approach these subjects or even if I have a right to ask to be a part of them. I know some matters are complicated because his relationship with his ex is rocky and although she may act civil at meetings with me, he usually gets angry calls afterward. What would you suggest? Eager to Succeed

Dear Eager: My main suggestion is for you to slow down. Slow way, way down. Integrating your life with this dad and his children should be a process that happens in stages. Your eagerness to dive into these child-centered routines will backfire unless the children more or less welcome you. After six months of dating you don’t become an instant family. You should be patient and mature while everyone (including you) finds their way.

It is challenging to conduct a gradual integration while you are living in the household, and it is somewhat confusing for kids if you move in without getting married. There is an implied impermanence to living together that children perceive, even if they don’t express it.

Talk to your partner about this now. Realize that at the outset, your best role is to be your guy’s advocate, sounding board and helpmate.

He should make an effort to fold you into some of these routines and you two should develop new child-centered rituals together. Eventually, you will move into a co-parenting role as you take on more practical chores, such as picking the kids up after school and cooking meals together. Don’t dive into PTA meetings until his ex has a chance to adjust to your presence in the household, but do attend all games and after-school events to cheer on the kids.

Take a 15 second break and drive down my road with me. #ahhhh #upstatenyautumn #askamy

Is it Ok for the little darlings to amuse themselves with technology during a grownup party?

By Amy Dickinson

October 10, 2014

Dear Amy: Scenario: Grandsons, 7 and 5, at a restaurant or a party with no other children to talk to and nowhere for them to play.

They are not at this age interested in adult conversation.

Is it wrong for them to amuse themselves playing on an iPad?

My oldest son (not their father) thinks they should not be playing with their iPad. He thinks they should sit still and talk to the adults. — Wondering Grandma

Dear Grandma: Scenario: Judgmental but loving uncle pulls out all the stops to introduce his nephews to the wonders of adult fun by engaging them in conversation, introducing them to other adults and basically bridging the extreme gap between their world and his.

Ten minutes later he’ll be ready for his second cocktail and reaching for the iPad.

I gather that this son does not have children. And I wonder if he would be so judgy if the boys brought along a shoe box of small plastic dinosaurs, books or a deck of Old Maid cards with which to amuse themselves (as mine used to do before technology was available to the masses).

It might be the iPad itself that causes your son such pain. Many people see this technology as in and of itself a bad thing, when the technology simply enables a greater variety of amusement than a child could carry in a suitcase.

In this case, all of the adults should engage with the kids at the beginning of the event, making sure they help themselves to food and a kid-friendly drink. If the boys want to hang out, listening to the adults talk and/or interacting, then they should be encouraged to do so. But these kids are simply too young to engage for very long, and they should be excused from having to.

This awkwardness also seems to be a great argument for getting a sitter. One valuable lesson of childhood is that some experiences are only for adults.

The view from the end of our driveway. Seriously- I took this through the windshield of my car. #nofilter

The view from the end of our driveway. Seriously- I took this through the windshield of my car. #nofilter

What’s the antidote for long-married “friends without benefits?”


By Amy Dickinson

October 3, 2014

Dear Amy: I have been married for more than 20 years to a very nice man who is a good father. We generally get along, but we don’t have much of a romantic relationship.

It has always been this way (at least since early dating). He works hard and is devoted to both his career and children, but I feel like our relationship is not that important.

For the past few years we have spent very little time together as a couple. I feel very lonely and can’t seem to find any comfort with him. We have been to marriage counseling, but our issues were never resolved (at least to my satisfaction).

I feel like we are friends but not lovers. As I get older, I wonder what will become of us and how I will deal with the loneliness as our children move away. Do you have any advice?

— Friends without benefits

Dear Friends: Thoughtful parents and partners try to keep the relationship fires stoked during the kids’ younger years by having date nights, going away together occasionally and overall putting the marriage at the center of the family.

In your counseling sessions, are you only looking for ways for him to change? Are there things you could do differently to try to inspire a shift in your marriage (and other relationships), thus easing your loneliness?

To enjoy a companionable togetherness, you two have to spend time together. Simply put, you have more to talk about when you’ve done things together. Traveling, hiking, bike riding, going to concerts or working on a home project together are all positive places to start.

Meanwhile, you should definitely continue with professional counseling on your own.

#tbt Too cool for school. Reading with Emily and “Baby” on Jane’s porch. Summer, 1991

#tbt Too cool for school. Reading with Emily and “Baby” on Jane’s porch. Summer, 1991

Should you lie about your firing offense in a job interview?


by Amy Dickinson

October 3, 2014

Dear Amy: I was recently fired from my job for chronic tardiness. I’ve worked at this business for four years, and though I knew my lateness was seen as a problem by my boss, it was still a surprise to be fired.

Now that I’m back in the job market, I’m wondering if I need to make mention of my previous tardiness in new applications.

I ask because my mother, who has been privy to this whole mess, thinks that I should mention it and explain that I have “learned my lesson” — especially when applying to a different branch of my former company, which would have direct access to my evaluations.

I think explaining my “lesson learned” is for job interviews when/if it comes up — not on job applications where I am trying to highlight my best side. What say you? 

— Ann*

Dear Ann: When applying for a new job in another department of the company that recently dismissed you for cause, I’d say that your “best side” is your sheer audacity.

So use it. With your former company, lead with your lesson on your cover note: “You will see that I formerly worked in X department and that I was dismissed for chronic tardiness. The reason I am applying for a job in your department is because I love this company. I’m great at what I do. I’ve learned an important lesson, and I’d like a second chance to prove myself.”

For jobs in other companies, I agree that you should not lead with this, but definitely be prepared to discuss it if you are fortunate enough to get to the interview stage.

I have to add that if you were chronically late, knew it was a problem, and yet were still surprised by your firing — you have more personal work to do.

What’s the right age to tell kids about the “facts of life?”

By Amy Dickinson

October 1, 2014

Dear Amy: What is the right age to tell a girl about her period and the “facts of life”? My daughter just entered the fifth grade (she is 10).

Many of her friends have started to develop (she has not).

I was always told to answer a child’s questions when they ask, but she has not asked any! I believe sex ed is part of the curriculum in the coming year and I want her to know everything from me before she learns it in school.

We have a wonderful, close relationship but I could use some help about how to get this conversation started. 

— Just Wondering in Colorado

Dear Just Wondering: A child who has never had the experience of frank and open conversations about her body with a parent will not ask about these things — because she simply doesn’t know what to ask about, and she doesn’t know how to initiate this sort of inquiry with you.

She is at a good age to learn about the changes in her own body and what these changes mean in terms of her physical development (as a girl) and emotional development (as a person).

Girls generally receive lessons and material about the “facts of life” in fifth grade (ask her teacher); if she is lucky this will be accompanied by a written pamphlet and also some hygiene products. We grown women sometimes look back on this awkward school lesson and material with a sort of bemused fondness, but it is extremely valuable because it encourages a girl to take ownership of the process. Many girls find this quite exciting — and this is the attitude to encourage at home.

I highly recommend the book I have given to all of my daughters: “The Care and Keeping of You: The Body Book for Younger Girls” by Valorie Schaefer (American Girl, 2012). This is a book to look at and talk about together. Your daughter will keep it by her bedside and refer to it privately too.

Teen’s tantrums sicken family

By Amy Dickinson

September 29, 2014

DEAR AMY: My 87-year-old husband suffered a life-threatening medical problem. Two of our granddaughters — ages 22 and 17 — visited his hospital room. When he inquired about the 17-year-old’s school performance, she melted down — crying and yelling, “You always put pressure on me!” — and ran from his room.

Her older sister tried to calm her and encourage her back into the room. It was fairly upsetting for my husband and, in my view, inappropriate behaviour.

It is now months later, and the teen refuses to make contact with us. Although a discussion and apology would be nice, at this point we would be happy for contact and a conversation.

I am troubled by the parents, who have essentially thrown up their hands: “It is what it is.”

They continue to have low expectations for this child. She has had tantrums all her life, and there have never been consequences attached to these episodes.

We have cordial relationships with our other grandchildren and their parents, but the elephant in the room is the unacceptable behaviour of the 17-year-old.

My husband would like to write off this grandchild. I don’t want to, and I see the behaviour of this child as stemming from some conflicts between our son and his wife.

Our older grandchildren have been wonderful and are also concerned with how spoiled their sister is. What do you advise?

- Very Disappointed

DEAR DISAPPOINTED: I agree with you that this child’s behaviour was atrocious. I also agree (somewhat) with your husband, although I interpret his suggestion about “writing off” this child as basically letting things lie until she can find a way to work her way back into the fold.

A huge consequence of her behaviour is that people don’t feel good about her, and she likely doesn’t feel good about herself.

Do not ignore the entire family because of what this girl has done. Focus your attention on the people who are behaving well.

She sounds like a very high-strung and challenging person. I don’t know if you’ve ever had an obnoxious teen on your hands, but it can be pretty hellish for everyone.

Your attitude should be, “She behaved very badly, but she is young and foolish — and life is too short to wallow in these bad feelings.”

It’s cider time.

It’s cider time.

When Grannie divorces, how to deal with awkward questions?

By Amy Dickinson

September 26, 2014

DEAR AMY: I am 65; my husband is 67. We have been married for 13 years. Now we are divorcing. He will be leaving our state after the divorce, when he retires, and won’t be returning.

My husband has been a step-papa to my grandchildren. The older grandchildren will understand his absence and why. My concern is that my three-year-old granddaughter continues to ask us, “Where is Papa Danny?”

How do I and her parents explain the divorce and that he will no longer be in her life? He rarely participated in family visits anyway (he’s that way even with his own side of his family), however my sweet granddaughter still will wonder and ask where he is and why she doesn’t see him anymore.

Because of certain circumstances we have agreed not to contact each other’s family members.

Can you please give us your advice?

— Divorcing Grandmother

DEAR GRANDMOTHER: Tell the truth, and do so in a way that is age appropriate and neutral (ideally “Papa Danny” would talk to all of the kids before he moves). When she asks, you should say, “Papa Danny moved away because we’re not married any more. Now he lives in a new house in (name the town).

If she asks, “Will I see him?” you should say, “I don’t think so, because he moved away and I don’t think he’ll visit us. But you’ll see me just like always because I live here. I’m staying in my old house and you’re going to come visit me, just like always.”

Answer any questions she asks, and if you don’t know the answer, say so honestly. If she acts sad, prompt her to talk to you and express herself. Give her positive physical and emotional affection. Offer her lots of lap time while you two read together.

For young children, the great treasure of having grandparents in their lives is the feeling the child has that they are with someone who is both wise and older than the hills and the stars. You may be feeling personally unsure or off kilter, but in the eyes of your grandkids, you can make the world whole. Be like that for her.

How to recover from an affair? Start with an apology

By Amy Dickinson

September 20, 2014

Dear Amy: My husband of 34 years had an affair with a co-worker, lasting for a year. He has had at least one other affair that I know of. With the aid of a therapist, I confronted him, and he said the whole affair was a terrible idea, and that he wanted our marriage to stay together. He agreed to cut communication with the woman. She moved away.

A year later, after working hard (on my end) to try to repair the marriage, I found out that the two of them had been having long weekly phone calls that my husband had gone to great lengths to conceal. I said that if he felt compelled to continue the calls, I would leave the marriage.

Fast forward another year. The calls continued in spite of repeated pledges by my husband that they were not occurring. I confronted the scarlet woman and told her to cut it out, or I’d spill the beans to her husband.

She did.

Here’s the problem: My husband has never apologized for his actions. He says if he is warm and loving, that should be enough for me, and I should get over these events.

My husband is pleasant enough but is hardly warm and loving. He continues to have multiple phone numbers and multiple e-mails in his name. I’m not accusing him of romancing women, but I feel insecure. If I try to bring up our relationship, my husband refuses to talk because he says all I do is tell him that he is a horrible person (that is not true). He refuses to talk with a therapist.

Any hope here? — Saddened

Dear Saddened: I do have hope — mainly for you. Your marriage? Not so much. Your husband seems determined to deny you the healing and intimacy you desire. Catching him, catching him again and being proactive in driving off his mistress is pretty exhausting. You are expending all of the effort to keep your marriage going. He is passively letting you.

"Pleasant enough" isn’t a very high standard in a spouse. "Pleasant enough" is the ultimate standard you set for your dental hygienist, not your husband.

You need to value yourself more. An apology is not the MOST your husband can give to you; it is the very LEAST he can offer. And he is not even willing to do that. Reread your letter to me. Continue with your therapy. And then do what you want to do.