Dealing With An Empty Nest

Dear Sara,

I have been a single parent for ten years since my husband passed away. I have worked hard to see that my three boys have had everything they needed. The oldest is twenty-two and has taken a job in another state. The middle boy got a scholarship to college, in-state but another town. The youngest is a senior this year and hasn’t decided what to do. I feel like they are abandoning me. I don’t know how to live my life without them to take care of. I don’t feel like I have done my job but that I am losing my family. How can I cope with all of this?

Dear Gloria,

You have taken care of everyone else for ten years or more. Surely there were times when you wished for a break. Have you dreamed of things you would like to do? Get involved with things that you enjoy. Do you like to dance or play cards? Maybe you need a volunteer job so that you feel useful. It’s time to make a life that you want that doesn’t include taking care of your boys. You have been a good Mom. Your boys will probably get married one day and bring your grandchildren to take care of. Until then find ways to enjoy your life without the responsibilities for now.

I Need My Grandson’s Help

My dear Sara,

I have been meaning to write to you for some time. My grandson lives with me because his Mom is dead and his Dad is in prison for embezzlement. I have given my grandson driving lessons and he is now able to drive my car. He has taken charge of the keys to the car. This seems to be his key to freedom as he now comes and goes as he pleases. I can’t drive anymore and he was supposed to take me to appointments and such. I am still dependent on friends and cabs. How do I get my grandson to drive me as necessary?

Dear Louise,

Your grandson is taking advantage of the situation. If he won’t give you back the car keys then you need to take more drastic action. Maybe you could have the car towed to a place far enough away that your grandson can’t walk to retrieve it and then negotiate with him on how often he can drive your car and what his duties are to you. You also need to have the keys in your possession so he can’t have use of the car without your permission. If he can’t follow the rules let him know that you will sell the car.

Good luck,

Teenage Daughter Is Acting Out

Dear Sara,

My daughter has been suspended from school three times for not going to detention when she was supposed to. She failed several classes and can’t get along with her teachers. She can do the work but just refuses to do it. She said that she gets mad when somebody orders her around. She’s sixteen now and I was hoping that she would grow up a little bit and be more cooperative. What can her father and I do to make her improve her behavior?

At home make sure there are consequences for not doing her school work like not getting to go out on weekends and rewards when she is cooperative. If she behaves she can have something that she wants like driving lessons or new clothes. These things are dependent on having good grades and being cooperative in school. Be consistent and keep in touch with her teachers to make sure she is doing her work.

It sounds like you need to try some family therapy to get to the bottom of your daughter’s behavior. She might also benefit from some group therapy with teens with similar problems.

Getting Step Children To Warm Up

Dear Sara,

I am twenty-nine years old and dating a man in his thirties. He has a daughter who is ten years old and she really doesn’t like me. I don’t go to their house often but when I do she starts yelling at me to go away and says that her mother is coming back. This has happened three times now and although I care about her Dad I’m not sure I could handle this kind of behavior. She spends her summers with her Mom but her school year with her Dad. He said he has tried to explain to her that he and her Mom aren’t ever going to live together again. Is there anything I can do to make her like me?

This little girl has been caught in the middle of her parents’ breakup and she is having a really difficult time adjusting to it. If you care about her father and want to continue the relationship, you might want to keep your contact with his daughter to small steps for a while so she has time to get used to you. If you can find something the two of you have in common like a TV show or activity, you might use that to engage her. Her Dad has to set the rules so that she is required to at least polite to you but don’t expect too much from her. Try to be patient and give her time to adjust.

Temper Tantrum Problems

Dear Sara,

My son is four years old and has been having temper tantrums since he was about two years old. He lies on the floor and kicks and screams and sometimes bangs he head until he gets his way. This can go on ten minutes or more. How can I get him to stop doing this? It gets bad enough that I fear for his safety. Please help.

Dear Misty,

Your son is doing what works for him. He has found out that if he keeps on long enough and makes you scared enough, that you will eventually give in and let him have his way. He is not only getting his way but he is getting your attention as well. Children crave attention even if it is negative attention.

Your plan needs to be to give your son attention when he is behaving like you want him to behave and ignore the temper tantrums. He may very well escalate his behavior. Your goal is to remain calm and ignore his tantrum. This behavior has worked for your son in the past so he won’t be quick to give it up. When he finally calms down (without being rewarded by your attention or getting his way) make sure that he gets attention for his positive behavior like helping you or being cooperative in some way. Your son has gotten his way by having tantrums for two years so it will take a while for him to get the idea that they don’t work anymore. Don’t give up.

Is My Daughter Anorexic?

Dear Sara,

My daughter is seventeen and a senior in high school. She has a boyfriend who is a freshman in college. They have been dating about a year. Her boyfriend came to me and told me in confidence that he thinks that my daughter has anorexia. I’ll admit that she has lost weight and is very thin but I didn’t think of her as unhealthy. What kinds of things do I need to look for and what can I do if I feel that she has this problem?

Dear Kevin,

You might want to start with a weigh-in for your daughter to determine just how much weight she has lost. If she has lost 25% of her original body weight (if she weighed 120lbs and went down to 90lbs) then she may have a problem with anorexia. I have heard of girls who wore several layers of clothing to hide their weight loss. Check to see if she still “feels fat” even though she is very thin. Girls with this problem often have a distorted view of how they look (thanks to the media).

If you determine that your daughter has a problem, she will probably need psychiatric help and if the problem is severe she may need to be hospitalized for a while to help her gain some weight and begin to see her body image in a different way. Sometimes outpatient family therapy is recommended to change family communication patterns. Your daughter may be trying to exert control over her environment by controlling her eating behavior.
Anorexia needs to be taken seriously since it can be life-threatening if it goes on too long.

Good luck,

Kids Don’t Play With Their Toys

Dear Sara,

I have two preschoolers and way too many toys. Both sets of grandparents are very generous so every occasion brings more toys. I try to keep them organized and pick up every day but the kids just seem to drag them out and then don’t play with them. What can I do to keep down the chaos?

Dear Jennifer,

What might work is to have two or three sets of toys that you rotate. If you have storage space like an attic or garage, store some of these toys away for a while. When you get out a new box of toys these will be new and interesting for your children. If you find that there are things that they really aren’t interested in then pack some things up and give them to the local Good Will. You have more than you need and they can put the money earned toward creating jobs for people who need employment.

You might also start a college fund for your kids and ask the grandparents to cut back on the gifts of toys and donate to your children’s education. I know that they enjoy seeing your children open their presents but children often don’t appreciate their gifts when they have too many.

Son’s Girlfriend Is A Bully

Dear Sara,

My sixteen-year-old son is dating a girl who is really mean to him. She calls him to come over and then leaves before he gets there. He has heard from his friends that she is dating someone else but he still calls her and helps her with her homework (does it for her!). For some reason or another, he still thinks she has feelings for him. How can I make him see that this girl is just using him?

Dear Holly,

This isn’t something that is in your control. Your son likes this girl enough that he is unwilling to see obvious signs that she is using him. He will probably hang in there until she does something that will let him see what is going on. Your son sounds like a nice young man and he will be hurt when the relationship ends but at his age he will learn something from the relationship and move on to the next one. Hopefully he will pick someone who cares about him next time.

Problems At School

Dear Sara,

My youngest son, age six, is having problems with his teacher at school. I don’t have any problem getting him to cooperate at home so I don’t understand what is going on. His teacher has called me to say that he is a behavior problem. I plan to have a meeting with her soon but I really can’t understand his behavior. What can I do to help the situation?

Dear Amy,

Often time children behave in such a way as suits their purpose. You have to ask yourself why your son would behave differently with his teacher. What is he trying to accomplish? Since he is the youngest in the family does he get lots of help from you and his siblings? It may be that his teacher expects him to behave more independently (which is good for him) and he is reacting to this. By acting helpless at home he may have conditioned his family to do things for him that he can very well do for himself.

When you have the conference with his teacher, try to determine where the problem really is. If you find that he is struggling with the school work and feeling frustrated because he can’t keep up, try helping him at home so that he can feel more competent. Sometimes a little extra help is that is needed to help him keep up with his peers. It ‘s possible that he could have some learning or attention problems that you can’t see at home. If his teacher thinks this is a possibility then have your son evaluated. He may need some extra help or medication.

Old Enough To Babysit?

Dear Sara,

My daughter is twelve years old and wants to babysit. She has a younger brother and sister (five and seven) and sometimes watches them for a few hours. She thinks that she should be allowed to go to other people’s houses at night to babysit. I’m not so sure. How do I determine when she’s ready to babysit?

Dear Judy,

There is a big variation in the ages that girls mature. Your daughter may be mature in some areas but not in others. If you trust her with her brother and sister for a period of time then she must be fairly mature. There are some things to think about though. When she is at someone else’s house she may not be as familiar with things she needs to know, like where the first aid supplies are or how to locate the exits. She may also not have close neighbors that she can call on.

I would suggest that she take the Red Cross babysitters class. This will increase her knowledge and give her some hands-on experience. When you think that your daughter is ready (and you know her capabilities best) let her start in your neighborhood with families that she knows fairly well and see how she manages. Be around to support her if she needs advice. I hope everything works out well for her.