DEAR HARRIETTE: My mom was recently diagnosed with lung cancer. I am trying to stay strong for her, but each day it gets harder and harder. My mom and I have always been extremely close, and when she was diagnosed, I absolutely lost it. I can't imagine losing her; I don't think I will be able to cope. It scares me to the point where I get sick over the thought of it. My siblings are also devastated by the news, but they don't seem as upset as me. My mom keeps telling me to go out and do something fun for myself, but I just want to be with her all the time. How am I supposed to do something fun for myself when I know there is a chance I could be losing my mom in a couple of months? -- Depressed Daughter, Minneapolis
DEAR DEPRESSED DAUGHTER: Your mother needs you to get a handle on your emotions. Reality check: Your mother is alive NOW. She needs you NOW. She is fighting for her life NOW. Another reality check: All that is promised to us is the moment we are in -- nothing more. So, rather than becoming incapacitated about what may happen in the future, be fully present now. That means staying attentive to your mother while also paying attention to your own life. Your mother needs space, too. If she is encouraging you to go out and do something fun, the message is for you and for her. She has to deal with what she is facing without worrying about how you are handling it. Make the decision to do all that you can for your mother. This should include taking care of yourself. And invoke grace to help you along the way.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My parents were never married, but are no longer together. Soon after they separated, my dad got married to another woman whom I like and get along with. I think they are great together and make each other happy.
Recently, my dad has been hinting to me that my stepmom wants to have or adopt a child. I can't even begin to explain how against the idea I am. My dad is 56 years old with three grown children -- he should not be having another child at this point in his life! I know the push must be coming from my stepmom (she is significantly younger than my dad). How do I talk him out of this? -- Dad Too Old for Another Kid, Roanoke, Virginia
DEAR DAD TOO OLD FOR ANOTHER KID: This is your dad's decision. He has married a woman who wants children. It is natural for him and his wife to consider this seriously. This weighs heavily on his heart, I am sure. Stop trying to force his choices. Instead, tell him your concerns, and ask him if he has made a plan. Ask if he has created a will and other safety precautions in case this new child outlives him. Ask about what his plans are for you and your siblings. Do your best to be happy for him. He sacrificed a lot for you. Let him know you appreciate him and want him to be happy. You can tell him that you are worried about what it may all mean. Ask him to think it through very strategically before deciding.
DEAR HARRIETTE: Against my wishes, my preteen daughter watched an online show that is very graphic in terms of sexual assault, underage drinking and suicide. I only know that she watched it after looking at her online account, and I don't know if I should punish her or use this as a teachable moment. I'm sure sitting down with her mother to talk about these hard-hitting topics would be enough to make her squirm, but my husband thinks I should just take away access to the streaming service. How should I react to my daughter going behind my back? -- All Topics Welcome, Seattle
DEAR ALL TOPICS WELCOME: As the mother of a 13-year-old, I am well aware of the Netflix series "13 Reasons Why," which has garnered a tremendous amount of attention this year. My daughter told me about it, stating that she and her friends were watching it, and she thought I should, too. At about this same time, the entire school system -- public and private -- in New York City was asked to talk to students about the content of the series and to check in with students on how they were managing.
Without question, the subject matter is disturbing. Through dramatic narrative, suicide and the reasons leading up to it, including virtually every potential area of teenage exploration, are illustrated. Yes, some of the scenes and content are disturbing. I took it as a teachable moment. I watched the entire series, including the synopsis at the end, which is essential. I have since participated in ongoing dialogue with my daughter about it.
Her school had someone come in to talk to the students, which helped to a point. The challenge was that the professional had not yet watched the series when the conversation occurred, so he lost credibility.
For you, as a parent, do not shut the door on this. Watch the series -- every episode. Contemplate what you see and what it means to you as well as what you think it may mean for a preteen girl and her friends. Ask your daughter what she thought about the series. Find out how much she watched. Inquire as to what she and her friends are talking about related to the show. Ask if she knows of any students who use drugs, engage in sexual activity or have considered suicide. Do not press. Build a conversation with her. Do not punish her. Instead, let her know that you want her to check in with you before watching questionable content, meaning anything that isn't G or PG. The better you are at opening the door to communication, the better your chances are at building a rapport with your daughter that will help her weather the teenage years and its endless conflicts with strength and focus.
Harriette Cole is a life stylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to email@example.com or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106