Dear LetterBalm: Because both his parents work, my seven-year-old grandson has been in our care since he was six months old. His grandfather and I love having him with us, and now that he is in school, we pick him up every day and he spends afternoons with us until his folks come and get him before dinner. We’ve become very close. We just found out that my son and daughter-in-law are getting a divorce. The boy is very angry and doesn’t want to see us. But we will still need to care for him, under the divorce agreement. How can we reassure him and make him feel better?
–Caregiving Nana and Grandpop
Pity the little guy. His world is caving in, and he’s scared and taking out his anger on those he knows who love him so much they won’t fight back. You and your husband must be extra patient and kind now. Ms. L.B. advises that you don’t let him throw tantrums and be disrespectful, but do understand that he feels his world is uncertain now. Presumably, his mom or dad has informed his school that there are significant changes on the homefront that might precipitate some acting out in class. Do urge them to have a sit-down with their son’s teachers. In the meantime, say this to your grandson as appropriate:
- Omari, your grandpop and I understand that things are changing at home for you. Your mommy and daddy are separating and this is scary. It’s grownup stuff and sometimes you cry about it.
- We understand this, and we want you to know that this doesn’t change how much we love you.
- We know that sometimes you want to be by yourself here and that sometimes you’re angry at us, and that’s O.K., too.
- If you ever want to talk to us about anything, you know we’ll always be ready to listen because you’re our special grandson.
Dear LetterBalm: My boyfriend turned 16 almost a year ago and decided to get healthy. Since then, he’s been obsessed with diet and exercise. He’s in the gym and exercise room when he’s not in classes, and he’s a fanatic about what he eats. He won’t eat his mother’s food, and he won’t sit down with his family at dinner. He eats celery sticks, a hard-boiled egg, and complains that it’s too much. He’s gotten really skinny – not like a runner’s body, but like a starving man. All he talks about is food and exercise. Our friends are really bored with him. I’m really worried. I think my boyfriend is anorexic, and I don’t know what to do about it. I brought it up once, and he said that only girls get anorexia.
–Eating Me Up
Your boyfriend is mistaken. Between 10% and 20% of eating disorders are experienced by men. It does, indeed, sound like your boyfriend is anorexic. He’s risking a host of problems, including loss of teeth and muscle (and hair, if he’s vain). Extreme anorexia can result in organ failure and death. Ms. L.B. often advocates intervention; this is one of those times. You need to speak up, loud and clear. First, talk with your boyfriend. If he won’t listen, talk to a responsible adult – his parents, your parents, your school guidance counselor, a coach who knows him, a member of the clergy, a parent of his good friend – until somebody listens and undertakes to advocate for him. Anorexia is difficult to cure because it has both physical and psychological roots in control and self-image. Start with some research online, and have a confidential talk with your boyfriend. Don’t be deterred if he gets angry or defensive:
Orson, let’s talk about your health regimen. Baby, it’s not a health regimen. You’re not healthy. You’re too thin; you look like a starving man. All you talk about is food and exercise, and you won’t even eat a normal meal at home or out with me and our friends. I know you think it’s none of my business, but I’m really worried about you. You’re killing yourself because you’re anorexic. You say that boys don’t get anorexia, but that’s not true – ten to twenty percent of these victims are male. If you don’t talk with your parents and see your doctor right away, I’m going to talk with any responsible adult I can. I have to help you, Baby. You’re in trouble, and I care about you, even if you get angry at me.
Dear LetterBalm: I have a 15-year-old daughter. She’s a good kid, but I’ve noticed that when she’s with her friends, they all use bad language. They call one another “bitch” and “ho” and “skank” and worse. I don’t think it’s productive to call them on their language when they’re all together because it would embarrass my daughter and just make them roll their eyes. When I mention it to her later, my daughter says they don’t mean anything by it, that everybody does it, even when they text. She says it’s just modern slang and gives me her own eyeroll. How can I make her see that this is a rude and nasty habit, even if everyone does it?
These days, teens hear coarse language so often the words don’t have any negative connotation. But even though it seems normal, it doesn’t make it O.K. You may not be able to change the world, but you can educate your daughter, one step at a time. Ms. L.B. says if she is able to think before she speaks, she’s helping to bring civility back to the world of high school. When you and she are together casually and she’s in a receptive mood (no cell activity would be helpful), try this:
Leah, I know you think I’m making too much of this, but I need to tell you something about bad words. Even though they’re used everywhere today, it doesn’t make it right. The word “bitch” was used in the past to keep a strong woman from expressing her opinions and seeking her rights. And “skank” and “ho” are derogatory words for women, especially prostitutes. I don’t think you intend to demean women, but that’s how it comes across. Maybe you might consider taking responsibility for what you say, even if your friends don’t. I know you won’t judge others who use bad language. If you make a private pact with yourself not to use those words you’re quietly fighting the good fight.