Ask Amy

Friday, May 22, 2009 at 1:53am
Amy Dickinson

DEAR AMY: I just found out that my oldest daughter, age 15, got a second piercing in her ear after I explicitly told her that I would not allow it for her birthday in January.

I am a recently widowed mother of three girls, ages 15, 13 and 11, and feel as though I'm on uncertain ground trying to enforce rules without backup.

I have not confronted her about the piercing, which took place this past weekend, but I'm wondering if this is a time to pick my battle, as they say.

Because I have clearly indicated that I am opposed to multiple piercings, it seems to me that she is looking for a fight.

My daughter has an abundance of privileges that can and will be revoked if I so choose.

A year ago she sneaked out of the house at 4 a.m. and was arrested by the police in an adjacent neighborhood; she has felt the effects of my mistrust ever since.

However, she is a gifted student with a wealth of friends; she just lacks direction or passion in her life.

Should I let the piercing go, even though I have said no?

— How Far Is Too Far?

DEAR HOW FAR: I agree with your judicious restraint on this, because you are right — this is exactly what picking your battles is all about.

You and your girls recently have suffered the loss of a husband and dad. You each will play out your internal drama in varying ways.

You should enlist your daughter's help in choosing an appropriate response to her infraction.

Speak with her one on one, preferably outside the home.

Open by saying, "I have a problem, and I'm wondering if you can help me with it. You see, I have a daughter who is the light of my life. I am so proud of her for so many reasons. But she recently did something she knows I didn't want her to do, and now I'm disappointed and thinking about what the consequence should be."

Tell your girl that you need her help to make the family work, but acknowledge that she needs you to be a strong parent too. Ask her why she disobeyed you in such an obvious way. Say, "You've got my attention, so let's talk."

Listen attentively to her, and negotiate a solution to this problem together. Let her suggest appropriate consequences, while you make the final decision.

Your next big job is to help your daughter be in the world in a way that she feels useful. She may feel rootless and depressed because of her loss; work with her to find a summer solution.

Your whole family would benefit from some grief counseling. Continue to talk — and listen. You'll learn a lot.

DEAR AMY: I am a woman in my 70s, although I'm told I don't look it.

I have a very negative reaction to being greeted as "young lady."

I feel it is patronizing and demeaning and makes me want to whack the person who says it.

I'm not the only one of my friends who feels this way.

I have asked a couple of people not to call me that, and they have replied that they thought it was flattering.

Not so!

What do you think?

— Jenny

DEAR JENNY: I completely agree with you. These remarks are made by people who seem to think that there is something "wrong" with being old.

Being old is not golden. Nor is it shameful or embarrassing or a condition in need of correction.

Age is simply a fact of life — and given the alternatives, I'll gladly take old age.

I give you permission to whack away at this patronizing remark and will hand you a virtual furled umbrella in order to do so.

DEAR AMY: Your advice to a mother-in-law worried about her daughter-in-law's very messy home was questionable, at best.

I have two lovely daughters-in-law and seven grandchildren who are happy, do well in school, activities, etc.

One daughter-in-law keeps a very messy, disorganized home. My son doesn't seem to mind. (I say "seem" because I never brought it up!)

In my opinion, there is a line you don't cross with daughters-in-law, and how they keep house is one of them. Their children, all teenagers, are surviving beautifully, and when I come in their home I just pretend I have blinders on and enjoy the family.

Expressing criticism under the guise of "wanting to help" doesn't help build healthy relationships.

— Judith

DEAR JUDITH: You are absolutely right. If a family is happy, healthy and functioning, a wise family member will don blinders and enjoy.

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