DR. WALLACE: My father and mother got divorced two years ago. They are both good parents and even though I live with my mom, my dad does keep in touch, and he stays active in my life.
I’m 18 and a senior in high school this year and I play two sports. My father attends as many of my games and matches as he can, which is great. But there’s a problem with this. He got remarried almost a year ago and even though my dad is 44, his new wife is 28! Even worse, she looks to be about 23 years old to anyone who does not know her.
The good news is that she’s very calm and mature for her age and she’s always been super nice to me. She has a good job, she’s responsible and she’s always friendly and easygoing in any conversation I’ve had with her. The same is true with other conversations she’s had with anyone else in my presence.
She came with my father to one of my sports events last week, and one of my teammates thought she was my older sister! I was caught off guard and mumbled that she was a family friend. My teammate never followed up any further, so I didn’t say anything more.
Now I’m worried that she’ll appear again with my dad at one of my future games. What can I do about this? Should I ask my father not to bring her? — Uncomfortable About Her Age, via email
UNCOMFORTABLE ABOUT HER AGE: Your stepmother may or may not attend any more of your sports events during this school year. My advice would be to not say anything at all to your father about this at all. If you ask him to keep her away, this may be quite poorly received. I’m sure he’s proud of her and he cares deeply for her since she’s his wife now.
I would therefore advise you to think about how you will explain her presence if and when she shows up at one of your future events. I would not advise lying about her. Simply state who she is in respect to your father and say “she looks younger than her actual age,” which you know is true.
And as for your teammate that asked you the original question about her, simply say that you were caught off guard by the question (quite true) and that she’s a family friend and more these days due to their marriage. I trust your teammate will understand that you found their innocent question awkward.
HE SOMETIMES MAKES ME CRY
DR. WALLACE: I’m 15 years old and I do not live with my parents. Instead, I live with my aunt and uncle, but it is kind of lonely since they don’t have any children of their own.
The reason I’m living with them is because my parents were involved in a terrible automobile accident over the winter holidays last year in which my mother passed away and my father became severely disabled. I visit my father occasionally in the home he is living in, but I’m not sure if he knows who I am or not. It’s a sad situation, but I’ve done my best to deal with it by keeping busy at school. Fortunately, I have many good friends at school who keep me busy and who help me study whenever we have a big paper or test coming up.
My aunt is my mother’s sister, and she’s a really sweet lady. Her husband, however, is nice most of the time, but if I do something wrong or forget something like taking out the trash, he’ll occasionally yell at me. Most of the time I can handle it, but last week he was a little meaner than usual, so I started crying. Then he had the nerve to tell me that a teenage girl’s tears are not going to cause him to let the chores slide out of sympathy.
My aunt took me to my room, got me to calm down and apologized for my uncle. She said his job is stressful and that he barks at me occasionally, but that he does not really mean anything by it. Well, it seems harsh to me all the same and I don’t see why he should take his work stress out on me.
Is it normal for an uncle to scold a niece like this? I know he’s not my father but he kind of makes rules and gives out punishments like he is one. — A Scolded Niece, via email
A SCOLDED NIECE: This may seem counterintuitive, but one day when your uncle is in a good mood, perhaps on a weekend when he has not worked that day, seek a time to speak with him alone together. I feel that if you approach him directly this way, your chances will be good to get your point across in a quite effective and hopefully symbiotic way.
First tell him how much you appreciate that he and your aunt have given you a home to live in. Mention how much you miss your parents, given that you have lost one and the other one has suffered a quite debilitating injury. Tell him that you seek to do your best in his household, but that you are human and therefore not perfect. Mention to him how much you wish to have a good, friendly and respectful relationship with him and how much it hurts you when he yells at you.
Explain that you are never trying to get out of doing chores at all. In fact, ask him if there are any other things you could help with at home on weekends, for example. This will drive home the point to him that you are not afraid of helping and that in fact, you’ll volunteer to do more if needed.
This should soften his perspective and hopefully open his eyes to how things look and feel from your point of view.
I feel that your uncle has lived his whole life without a child in his home, so he does not have experience in this regard. Of course, this is no excuse for his yelling, but it might explain a possible source of his outbursts. Seek to engage him in conversations more, not less. Don’t hide from him or stay out of sight; rather, try to find out his hobbies, interests and preferences in case you can participate in any fun activities with him, such as growing a vegetable garden or enjoying a sports event with him that he likes. Ask your aunt about his hobbies and interests and go from there. Get her advice on this topic too.
Over time I trust you and your uncle can develop a closer and more respectful relationship with each other. It will take time but will quite likely be very much worth the effort.
Dr. Robert Wallace welcomes questions from readers. Although he is unable to reply to all of them individually, he will answer as many as possible in this column. Email him at [email protected] To find out more about Dr. Robert Wallace and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.