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Dear Dad,

Q: My daughter is twelve and seems to be having big problems at home and in school. She is moody and angry much of the time, and she refuses to sit down with us at the dinner table and share "family time". Her mother says she'll get over it. What should I do?

A. The pre-teen years are never the easiest, and children do have the right to privacy, but there is one detail in your description that really bothers me--your daughter's refusal to eat with the family. The question of body-image for young people is a sensitive one, and girls in particular can stop eating altogether in an attempt to fulfill their idea of beauty as it is defined in this culture. Please consider professional counseling for your daughter. Anorexia is a possibility here, and that needs to be dealt with immediately.

Q: I'm the father of a 2 1/2 year old boy. I am considered the "primary" parent in our home and shoulder most of the caretaking duties. My wife does help but mothering doesn't seem to come naturally for her and our son prefers to be with me even in those moments where a mommy's nurturing ability would seem to be preferred. How can I help her get better instincts in regard to tuning in to our child's needs without damaging her esteem as a woman and mom?

A. First, let's talk about you for a minute: You are not alone. As more women become involved in careers, more men are taking over primary caretaking duties, and the cliche that women automatically know how to raise kids is breaking down. Also, it is rare to find a couple where both people know how to nurture equally. (Fortunately, it seems that all a child really needs is one parent who can provide the warmth needed).
Some people know how to nurture. Some have to be taught. You sound like a man who knows how, so you can help you wife learn by nurturing her-and then talking to her about what you're doing and how you're doing it. My guess is that your wife had a difficult childhood in which she was treated coldly and few people gave her the support she needed. She is demonstrating learned behavior. But between your efforts--and professional help, if she is willing to try it--things should get much better.

Q: I am a divorced father. I have joint custody of my two children, but I find myself reluctant to spend much time with them. It is simply too painful for me to see them for a day or two and then have to let them go. Do you think it would be better if I stopped seeing them entirely? Or at least for a long period?

A. No. They need you. They probably feel as conflicted as you do. They will probably test your patience every chance they get during. visitation. Why? Because they want to see if you are going to leave them again. Over time, things will calm down. And if you have the courage and tenacity to stick with them, you will be rewarded a million times over in the years to come. Don't drop out now.

Q: I have a fifteen year-old son who thinks he knows everything. Frankly, he's obnoxious most of the time. Is there any cure for wiseass teen-age boys?

A: Not really. They do know everything, and they will tell you about it, even if you don't ask them. But think about this, Pops: In some areas, they know a lot more than you know. Maybe it's computers or sports or music or anthropology. If you seek out those things in which they are qualified, and if you ask them to teach you what they know, you will find your relationship with them changes. By showing them respect for what they know, you earn big points with them...even if they never show it.

Q: My kids watch the WWF on TV and then turn around and try to body slam each other in the living room. What can I do?

A: You can 1) Control their TV consumption or, 2) Buy mats for your living room floor.

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