By Rosalind Wiseman
Q. A neighbor told me she saw my 16-year-old daughter smoking. My daughter denies it. Now I'm not sure who to believe.
A. Who has more incentive to lie in this situation? Your neighbor, who has overcome a major (though unspoken) rule that you don't interfere with other people's children, or your daughter, who has every reason to deny doing anything she knows you won't like? After your daughter has looked you in the eye and denied it, tell her, "Well either way I'm going to take this opportunity to be clear about my rules regarding smoking." Wait until she finishes rolling her eyes and sighing, and begin.
Q. I've been divorced for five years. My ex always gets the kids for Thanksgiving; I have them for Christmas. My 15-year-old son just told me that this year he wants to spend both holidays with his dad. I really want him with me at Christmas, but I don't want him to be resentful. Is there a way for everyone to have a happy holiday?
A. While hearing that from your son must have felt awful, you need to quiet your mind and ask yourself about his possible motivations. His reason may be as superficial as wanting to go to the house where he gets the most freedom or as simple as needing more time with his dad. Tell your son that while you're hurt, you want to discuss it. Agree on a time, and ask him to prepare his reasons -- "I don't know, I just want to" isn't good enough. If he isn't comfortable talking face-to-face, then he can write you a letter first. The most important thing is to overcome your feelings of rejection so you and your son can have a thoughtful and productive discussion.
Q. Two years ago we moved to a new neighborhood, and I still feel like an outsider. The moms here are very cliquish. How can I break in?
A. Parent cliques can be as bad, if not worse, than 7th-grade-girl cliques. Stop regarding them as a group and see if there's one member who seems genuine. Approach her by asking for advice, perhaps about a volunteer activity or an event at school, and go from there. Keep in mind that you don't have to break into any cliques -- that's why you graduated from high school -- and neither do your kids. This is the lesson you want your kids to learn.
Q. My mother-in-law sends out an annual holiday letter that mentions all of her grandchildren -- except my adopted son, who is developmentally delayed. He hasn't noticed yet but eventually he will. Is it okay to say something to her?
A. Of course someone should say something. What about your husband stepping up to the plate? Regardless of who does it, prepare before you speak to her so your resentment and desire to defend your son don't sabotage your ability to communicate effectively. Even though it's hard not to assume the worst, she could be excluding him because she's so uncomfortable about his disability she doesn't know what to write. Or she could be embarrassed to admit he's part of your family.
Either way, when you talk to her, be kind but direct. Tell her what you've noticed, that it's hurtful to you and harmful to her grandson, and could create problems between him and his cousins. Offer to help her write something about your son in her letter. If she says no, at least you've respectfully communicated your position.