Q. My two daughters-in-law favor their girls, giving over the raising of their sons to the fathers. I don't think the four boys get enough loving mother attention. I can't interfere, but could you write about favoritism?
A. Who says grandparents can't interfere? Just keep in mind that what you see as favoritism could be the mothers' feelings of inadequacy about raising boys. One-to-one, I'd tell each mom two or three things you think she's doing well. Then say something like, "I know it may be easier to hang out with your daughters, but I think Brian would benefit from more time with you." And to any daughters-in-law who may write me, obviously there are mean-spirited relatives out there. But the next time you bristle at unsolicited advice from the grandparents, remember that most likely they're motivated by how much they adore your children.
Q. I'm bilingual and my husband is not. The experts say that the best way to teach my 7-year-old daughter the language is for me to speak to her exclusively in Spanish and have my husband only use English. But we don't seem able to do that. Any ideas on something that does work?
A. In all honesty, my Spanish-American husband and I struggle with the same issue with our two sons! When I was pregnant with my first, I had dreams of these little bilingual babies. Then real life happened and my husband spoke mostly English (although he tells a slightly different story). I asked Karen Beeman, educational specialist from the Illinois Resource Center (thecenterweb.org/irc) for ideas. "You want everyone in the family to feel included," she says. "And you want your kids to value bilingualism." She suggests that when you are with your children alone, you speak Spanish to them so it's "your language." Then, also create moments with all of you where using Spanish is fun -- like bedtime stories or memory games. These strategies are more realistic, don't you think? Going with what makes sense for your family is the best advice -- something to keep in mind with any expert (me included).
Q. We've always encouraged our 14-year-old to be himself, but he has unusual interests such as building a 4-foot-tall Star Wars Death Star out of Legos. How can I encourage his individuality without setting him up to be ostracized by his peers?
A. Who's more anxious here, you or your son? Because if you're sheepishly explaining to guests why there's a Lego empire in the living room, it's time to check your own emotional baggage and leave your child alone. If he doesn't have at least one friend and he starts speaking like a Star Wars character, then you need to dig deeper -- without making him feel like a freak. Start off positively by asking him to share something new about his interest and then describe how you're worried about his isolation. If he has a hard time finding friends, take him where he can meet people he has a common bond with -- a Star Wars convention, for instance.
When Ariel Fox was 14 she had a terribly painful eighth-grade year, so she started a small business called Sticker Sisters from her bedroom. Twelve years later, she sells all kinds of girl-positive products, including "brave girl" Band-Aids, "girls can do anything" T-shirts and magnets, and "I'm so happy to be a girl" school supplies. And of course, there are also tons of great stickers.
Originally published in the February 2009 issue of Family Circle magazine.