Dear LetterBalm: Now that the weather is getting warmer, my 10-year-old son is anticipating riding his bike more. But he and I are at odds because he’s adamant that he won’t wear a helmet. He says only motorcyclists wear helmets, that he’ll look like a dork on a bicycle and kids will laugh at him. I’ve told him that he won’t be allowed to ride his bike until he wears a helmet every time. But I hate to be the mean mom. How can I talk to him to convince him that it’s actually cool to wear a helmet when you’re riding your bike?
Good for you that you’re stepping up and taking a stand as a parent. Bike safety has a no-nonsense tradeoff a 10-year-old can understand: Observe the rules and you can ride your bike. But Ms. L.B. thinks you should use this as a teachable moment. You can use the helmet issue to remind your son to stand up for himself in the face of peer pressure. So what if his friends talk trash about his helmet? He has to learn to think for himself and develop confidence. Besides, he can always tell his friends that he’s in good company because helmets are good enough for soldiers, police officers, fighter pilots and baseball and football players. Talk to your son alone when he’s not distracted by video games or an annoying sibling:
Aaron, we’ve been having some disagreements about your wearing a helmet every time you ride your bike. I know you don’t want your friends making fun of you and thinking you’re a dork. I think you should look at other people who wear helmets: soldiers, fighter pilots, police officers, firefighters, and lots of athletes like skiers and baseball and football players. They’re pretty brave and strong, and they don’t worry about what other people think. Honey, this isn’t the only time you’re going to have to stand up to other people. There will be lots of times. I hope you’ll be brave and strong, too, and stick up for yourself. How about we go to a bike shop and get you fitted for a helmet? I’ll bet the people there are very cool about bike safety. With their help, you can choose a great helmet and decorate it, too.
Dear LetterBalm: My husband of 10 years is the keeper of our finances, and I’ve found out we owe thousands of dollars in back taxes. Over the years, he under-reported our income. I’m so mad at him – he’s made things difficult for our family. I’m also mad at myself that I didn’t pay more attention to our money and just let him manage everything. He’s apologized, and we’ve engaged a financial planner/manager to advise us. The problem is my mother who never liked my husband and is criticizing him unmercifully. She’s told the whole family about our situation and won’t stop hammering him, really abusively. I need to resolve this fast. Help!
–Wife of a Tax Cheat
Your story is a cautionary tale of how women shouldn’t leave everything to their husbands and should insist on an active role in family finances and investments. Take a deep breath and stop blaming yourself – you and your husband have made up, and you are rectifying the tax problem and putting your house in order. Since this is tax filing deadline day, Ms. L.B. will gift you with her favorite money mantra: Don’t discuss financial matters with anyone who isn’t involved. If you hadn’t told your mother about your tax difficulties, you and your husband would be spared her vindictive judgment. Resolve to keep private matters private, O.K.? In the meantime, have a confidential talk with mom, just the two of you over a cup of coffee:
Mother, you’ve been pretty vocal about our tax difficulties lately, and the whole family knows. Herman made a mistake and we’re rectifying it with expert help, so you needn’t concern yourself with this anymore. But there is something I must say: I want you to stop criticizing Herman. Just stop. It’s hurtful, cruel and unfair, and after being married to Herman and loving him more than ever, rather pointless, don’t you think? I realize I never should have said anything to you about our taxes in the first place, and you can rest assured I won’t be discussing our private matters in the future.
Dear LetterBalm: My husband’s parents have treated his older brother like royalty all his life. As a kid, he got expensive toys and trips. They’ve bought him cars and gifts over the years and paid his entire college bill – he never even had to earn pocket money. In recent years, they’ve given him many thousands of dollars when he’s overextended and paid the mortgage on his house. My husband, on the other hand, has never gotten gifts, money or help for anything, including college and our home. His parents say he’s dependable and doesn’t need their help. He tries to be cool with all this, but I can tell the preferential treatment hurts him. (Therapy has helped him a lot.) I can’t say anything to his folks, but I think my husband needs to talk with them about making plans for his brother after they die. I’m worried we’ll be liable for bailing him out, since he’s accustomed to having his family handle his screw-ups. How can I approach my husband?
–Married to the Reliable One
You’re wise to consider life for your favored brother-in-law after his parents pass on. But before you do that, consider the emotional damage your in-laws have inflicted on both of their sons. Their older one has never learned accountability and may suffer real self-esteem issues, and their younger one harbors legitimate animosity at being regarded as second-best (parental recognition about being the responsible one who doesn’t need their help, notwithstanding). Ms. L.B. hopes you and your husband have adopted techniques that help you deal with his family. It’s good that counseling is helping your husband work through all these issues. Talk gently and confidentially to him thusly:
Eliot, the way your folks have favored Dexter over you over the years is something that troubles both of us. Frankly, I don’t know how you don’t hate them. Your therapy has been fantastic in helping you cope. But now I want to raise a new issue. Dexter is so dependent on them, we know he can’t take care of himself financially. I think you have to approach your parents to make legal provisions for Dexter after they pass on. You might talk with our lawyer first about what kinds of arrangement makes the most sense – maybe a trust with monthly income – so you can offer a suggestion. I have no doubt you’ll be gentle with your folks and not tell them how they’ve damaged their kids. To motivate them, you might tell them you know they wouldn’t want Dexter to be without help after they’re gone. Goodness knows, it would be an absolute nightmare if you and I had to be financially responsible for Dexter or if he constantly came to us for help. Does this sound like a good idea?