Well, the warm days of summer are drawing to a close with the third big national holiday. Another lovely reason for grilling and friends around the campfire. As she munches on family-recipe barbecued chicken this weekend, Ms. L.B. will ponder the meaning of labor and the satisfaction of work done well, no matter how humble. Look for LetterBalm to resume, philosophically, on Tuesday.
Dear LetterBalm: My daughter is 18 and going into her senior year of high school. She’s very bright – she’s taking several advance placement courses and has many activities, and we have every expectation she’ll get into a good college. She has a 19-year-old boyfriend neither my husband nor I can stand. He dropped out of school two years ago and is showing no signs of getting his GED. He works as an auto mechanic. This isn’t what sets our teeth on edge. He’s lazy, and they camp out at our house in her bedroom. Since she’s been with him, our daughter talks back to us and ignores her curfew and chores. My husband and I also think they’re having sex. What can we say to her to fix all this?
–Mom and Dad Cops
Something to fix it all? Nothing in the English language, or any other language, for that matter. Let’s review. You have a teenage daughter in the throes of lust who thinks her underachieving boyfriend is, well, adorable. She’s picked up bad habits. She has considerable leverage over her worried and disapproving parents, and she knows it. She’s itching for independence. You might try turning the tables on her with kindness. It’s difficult to do, but you and your husband may be able to wait her out. Ms. L.B. says, after all, one of life’s truths is that parents don’t like every one of their daughter’s boyfriends. The two of you might consider having a calm talk with her when Darling Boyfriend isn’t in the house, appealing to her maturity and your trust in her:
Ava, we wanted to tell you we’re proud that you’re going into senior year with several AP courses already under your belt. This is an important time for you, and we know you’ll have a strong year and line up acceptances at good schools because you’ve worked hard and you want this. We also wanted to reassure you that Dwayne is always welcome here, you know that. Just one thing, and we won’t belabor it: We trust you’re using birth control and protection because a pregnancy wouldn’t be good now. Nor would an STD. You’ve got a good head on your shoulders, you’re a mature person and you know what to do. You also know that backtalk, shirking chores and curfew infractions have to be dealt with because these are your responsibility. We love you, Ava, and we’re want you never to forget that we’re always proud of you.
Dear LetterBalm: I’m lucky to have a good rapport with my 14-year-old nephew. He’s bright and funny and he’s big on several team sports, especially baseball. I’m his biggest fan and try to catch his games when I can. Over the years, I’ve coached many kids’ teams, including soccer, lacrosse and baseball and I have to say my nephew is only an adequate player. But he thinks he’s good enough to play professional ball, and his parents egg him on. It’s complicated because his older cousin is on an AAA baseball team, has real promise as a first baseman, and the whole family talks about him a lot. How can I help my nephew realize that he may strike out on his dream? Should I even try?
This is quite straightforward. It’s one time when you need to button your lip. Neither your nephew nor his parents will appreciate the truth, no matter how gently offered and how much expertise you bring to the discussion. They’ll always resent you putting a damper on a boy’s dreams. They’ll always ask “what if.” And, what if, by some miracle, he does well enough to make a semi-pro team? Further, Ms. L.B. says, resist the urge to compare your nephew with his older cousin and stop talking about the older boy’s prowess, if you haven’t already done so. For now, offer noncommittal support and platitudes and offer to help him with particular techniques (baserunning, batting, pitching, accurate throws, etc.), mindful that if he tries out for the big leagues, reality will set in. Know also that you should call in a favor when that time comes, so a professional will take a look at him, at least:
- I have some free time, Jake. What do you say we set up some practice sessions?
- You’re doing better in baserunning/batting/fielding, Jake. Real improvement.
- Let me take a look at your glove/bat. You might need to re-condition it/you might need a different size/model.
- Oh, I don’t make comparisons between players because it’s unfair and discourages effort. So I won’t be talking about your cousin/nephew and how good or bad he is.
- You’re working very hard on your game, Jake, and I’m proud of you.