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How to Handle Tough Family Topics

Let's face it, no family is perfect. From sibling feuds to marriage dilemmas, our relationship expert Dr. Janet is here to help solve your toughest family issues.

Q. My 15-year-old daughter has met a boy she wants to date, but my husband forbids it. He?s afraid she?ll end up a teen parent like he did, but I trust her. I?ve tried talking to him about it and he won?t budge. What should I do?

A. One of the greatest gifts that parents can give their kids-and each other-is a united front regarding rules. Before the two of you talk to your daughter, talk to each other. Take a few minutes to understand your feelings about teen dating without judgment. Talk about your experiences as teens (which you may want to share with your daughter later), review how old you both were, discuss what your own parents' attitudes were, and try to understand the origin of your rules. Then pick an appropriate dating age for your daughter, tell her and stick to it. Even if you agree to disagree as individuals, support each other and hold mutual values as parents. This conflict isn't just about your daughter's maturity. It's also about your maturity as a couple. Good luck.

Q. My father wasn't the best dad and I have a lot of resentment toward him. We don't speak, but I need some closure and want to make sure he's all right. Is it wrong to bring up the past while his health is declining?

A. It's never wrong to explore a relationship with a parent. Start by asking your father whether he feels up to discussing emotional issues. If he does, mention an event that led to your current feelings. Perhaps a miscommunication resulted in conflict. You might say, "Dad, I know we haven't spoken in a while, but it's important to me that we discuss...? Stay focused on what you need to understand (your feelings and his) and what you want to convey (the impact the event had on you). Focus on a desire to improve communication. If your dad doesn't feel up to a talk, write a letter. Read it, recognize your emotions and consider mailing it. Understand that an open conversation with your father, whether he's healthy or ill, is a critical step toward your ability to release painful memories and move on. Good luck.

Q. My connection with my mom has been pretty nonexistent since we had a falling-out when I was 18. She brags about my successes to friends but doesn't return my calls. How can I repair whatever is broken?

A. Now may be the time to arrange a meeting over coffee or a bite to eat. Keep your invite simple but indicate you've missed her company and would like to reconnect. When you're together, speak from the heart about the falling-out in an effort to understand and be understood. You might say, "Mom, can we discuss our relationship? Why do you think we don't talk?" Just remember: You want to move forward, not rehash the past. State how you'd like your relationship to be, and consider what you both need to do to make that happen. Prepare yourself for hurtful words, but stay focused on the process of repair over time. Good luck