Sense & Sensitivity

Sense & Sensitivity

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DEAR HARRIETTE: I believe that my parents are alcoholics. They drink just about every night, and often they drink excessively. I can always tell when they have had too much because they get loud and obnoxious. I have spoken to my mom about this many times when she is sober. She blows me off.

I hate that this is how they live. It makes me feel really uncomfortable if I'm around them after about 8 p.m. I don't live with them anymore, but I am close to them and do visit often. I'm beginning to think I should cut back on my visits. I hate being in the middle of their drunkenness. How can I get them to stop? I feel like I am losing my parents. -- Drunk Parents

DEAR DRUNK PARENTS: During a sober moment, ask your parents to sit down and talk to you. Be direct when you express your concern about their excessive drinking. Tell them how much you love them and how difficult it is for you to be around them when they are drunk. Beg them to curb their drinking.

But also put your foot down. Tell them you will not visit them when they are drunk because it is too hard for you to be a part of that. Chances are, they will be highly offended and defensive. Hold your ground. Give examples of their behavior if you need to. Being specific will limit the wiggle room they have to deflect.

Ultimately, though, you need to take care of yourself. You cannot control their behavior. You can choose to visit them earlier in the day. You can stay away for a bit so they can experience life without you in it. You should also go to Al-Anon, a 12-step program for people who have alcoholics in their lives and who are struggling with how to manage. Visit al-anon.org to find a meeting near you.

DEAR HARRIETTE: My boyfriend is overly protective of me. He wants me to dress modestly and to avert my eyes when boys pay attention to me. He says it is bad manners for a girl to wear dresses above the knee or to talk to other boys when you have a boyfriend. I started off liking this guy, but now it feels weird. This is my first time having a boyfriend, so I'm not sure how it should work, but this doesn't feel right. We go to the same school, so he is always around. I like the attention he gives me, but I feel uncomfortable about how he wants to control me. I'm a little afraid to speak up, because he is strong-willed. How can I be more assertive without losing him? -- Controlling Boyfriend

DEAR CONTROLLING BOYFRIEND: Your boyfriend is not exhibiting healthy behavior toward you. What you have described are red flags. I recommend that you end the relationship.

I know it's exciting to have a boyfriend, but this boy does not accept you for who you are. A good boyfriend will celebrate you and make you feel loved, not controlled.

If you are afraid that he may retaliate, speak to your parents and to your guidance counselor at school. It may help to have adults looking out for you as you separate from this young man. You have to be strong to counter his manipulativeness. You can do it. Just keeping telling yourself that you are worthy of being loved for who you are. You do not need to change to meet a boy's approval.

DEAR HARRIETTE: My daughter is dating a boy I do not like. She and my wife say they love him. I have not told them that I disapprove. I don't like the way he talks to her. And he is distracting her from her studies. She has worked so hard to do well in school, but ever since she started seeing this guy, her grades have been slipping. What can I say to get her to focus on her studies again? I'm worried she will ignore whatever I say. -- Desperate Dad

DEAR DESPERATE DAD: Talk to your wife first, and point out that your daughter's grades are slipping. Let her know that you are concerned about how your daughter is spending her time. Acknowledge that you believe your wife likes this young man. Point out that you don't want to be the bad guy, but you do want to sound the alarm before your daughter's life veers off track. Ask your wife to support you in talking to your daughter about paying closer attention to her schoolwork.

I recommend that you focus on her studies rather than the young man. Condemning him may make your daughter cling to him more. Instead, encourage her to reserve enough time to do her work. Suggest that she seems to be socializing a bit too much, and her schoolwork is suffering as a result.

Ideally, your daughter needs to come to the realization herself that this young man is a distraction to her. Your best bet is to keep your comments targeted to her schoolwork. When she thinks about what has been occupying her time, she may realize that she has to redirect some of her time and energy to bringing her grades up.

DEAR HARRIETTE: A family friend who used to spend lots of time with us basically disappeared a few years ago. Whenever we have invited her to come over, she has made some excuse and hasn't shown up. We finally got to see her this Easter.

I had a moment when just the two of us were in the kitchen talking, and I asked her what happened. At first, she didn't want to tell me, but then she said that my mother had said something hurtful to her, basically accusing her of being a taker when in reality she had been the generous one in the situation that was in question. She said she felt judged and hurt, so she walked away. I asked her if she would be able to forgive my mother, who is elderly and sometimes says the wrong thing. I told her how much we miss her and love her and want her to be part of the family again. Do you think I should tell my mother what happened? Should the rest of the family be told the truth? -- Welcome Back

DEAR WELCOME BACK: It's probably smart to tell key family members what happened so that they are sensitive to your friend if she does decide to come back into the fold. Tell your mother only if you think she will understand and be able to apologize. If she is at the age and state of mind that it may not sink in, let her be. Just do your best to make the family friend feel comfortable.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I recently started dating a man, and we go through the same trials and tribulations as any normal couple. However, none of my siblings approve of this relationship. He has not met my family yet, but I am anxious for when that day comes. My boyfriend strongly believes that he does not have to win over the approval of my siblings, and that my parents' opinion is what matters the most. His family bond is completely different than the bond I have with my family, so I can see where he is coming from. It is crucial to me that all of the people I love get along. How should I handle this situation? -- Us Vs. Him

DEAR US VS. HIM: You have challenges on both sides. Your siblings haven't met this man and have already judged him. He doesn't care to win them over. They are at odds before even giving each other a chance. Your job is to work on your family and on him to let both camps know what you want and need and to present to them ideas on how you can all get there.

With your family, invite them to trust you and to assume the positive about this man. Ask them to be welcoming of him when they do meet. Tell them enough things about him for them to feel at ease. You should also let them know that he comes from a different kind of family background, and it may take a while for him to engage in the ways that you and your family find natural.

With your boyfriend, introduce him to your parents first, as this is where he feels he has to be on good behavior. Let them get to know each other. Over time, make it clear to him that because of the way you grew up, your siblings are key to your life, too, and it is important to you for him to grow to know them. Introduce him to the rest of your family. Make it clear to him that you cannot have a future with a man who is not willing to embrace your whole family.

DEAR HARRIETTE: My family has lost the desire to go to church. We recently moved to a new home and have yet to find a church that suits us. The issue is that no one is making an effort to find a good option around us. I've explained my concerns before, but no one listens to me or is willing to help look for a new congregation. I am starting to believe that our lack of attendance is causing some spiritual instability within our home. How can I convince my family to take this more seriously? -- Go to Church

DEAR GO TO CHURCH: Since you are most concerned about establishing a new church home, why don't you take the lead? Start by talking to your former pastor, and ask him or her for recommendations. Your pastor may know churches in your new neighborhood or may have connections to the community that may be of value to you. Go online and look up churches in your denomination that are nearby, then take a drive by to see them. Spend the next month or so attending different church services to see what feels like a good fit. Always invite your family members to join you, but don't push. Once you find the one that you like most -- or even two from which to choose -- invite your family to join you to help make the decision. It may take a while for everyone to re-engage, but this process will get you to a decision.

Know that moving in and of itself can be stressful. Whatever spiritual instability you may be experiencing could be a result of that. Stay strong and keep your eyes open so that you notice what's going on with your family. Schedule weekly check-ins with them to see how the adjustment is unfolding for them.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I have been hanging out with a person of interest casually for six months. We agreed that we should start off slow and take time to get to know each other better. He often tells me about other partners he has dated, and he sometimes gets too specific for my liking. I try not to get frustrated because we are not in a relationship, but I often find it inappropriate being that we both clearly have feelings for each other. When I bring this to his attention, he argues, saying that he feels comfortable telling me everything about himself, being that I am now his friend. I am unsure how to feel about this. How should I move forward with this friendship? -- More Than Friends

DEAR MORE THAN FRIENDS: The danger of taking things too slowly in relationships is that you can slip into the "friend" label and get stuck there. If you like this man as more than a friend, now is the time to be crystal clear about that. This includes telling him what you want from the relationship. Among your stated desires should be that you don't want to hear about other women because you like him. You would like for the two of you to try being exclusive and taking your relationship seriously.

If you don't state exactly what you want, you don't create the opportunity to get it. If he doesn't agree, you will have to decide if you can accept just being his friend. At least you will know.

Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to askharriette@harriettecole.com or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106

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