Dear Emuna,

My teenage son claims that none of his friends have plans for the summer and that he just wants to “chill” with them. Every suggestion I make – whether about camp, work, further education or even organized sports – is met with scorn and disinterest. Should I just let him hang out with his friends or should I insist on a plan?

A Mom Who Likes Routine

Dear Mom Who’s About to be Thrown Off Her Routine,

I fell for that argument once (even though I should have known better) and it was a disaster. Children, even or especially, teenage ones, need structure. It takes a very few days of vacation before the boredom hits. At best, their summer is unproductive. At worst, they have too much time on their hands and they get involved in, God forbid, inappropriate and damaging activities. Almost as bad, they just make their mothers completely crazy!

So yes, you must insist on some type of plan. I recommend that you and your son sit down with a calendar and map out his days. Help him discover his interests and aptitudes (a productive exercise anyway) and direct him towards activities that seem suited to his unique interests and strengths. Be open and flexible in terms of activities (within appropriate parameters of course) yet be rigid about the need for a daily schedule.

It’s a question of survival – his and yours.

Comparison to Daughters’ Friends

Dear Emuna,

My adolescent daughter is frequently telling me wonderful stories about her friends’ parents and her friends’ lives. I’m glad that she has good friends and I’m glad they have loving parents and rich lives. But every time she raves about yet another wonderful occurrence at her friend’s home, I feel upset and hurt. It always makes me think she would prefer them for parents and it gets in the way of our closeness. Can you help me please?

Insecure Mom

Dear Insecure Mom,

I am sure that you are completely misinterpreting your daughter’s comments and, inadvertently, as you suggest, damaging your relationship with her in the process. She is not criticizing you. She is not expressing a preference for any other parents or family. She is simply sharing her thoughts and her pleasure with you. She is possibly speaking in an unfiltered way because she feels safe and loved and it would never occur to her how you could be misinterpreting her words. She would be shocked to discover that she is hurting you and she would probably clam up and stop sharing which is certainly not a desirable outcome.

This is your issue, not your daughter’s. Let go of it now before you do irreversible damage and step back and take pleasure in the fact that your adolescent daughter still wants to talk to you. Many don’t.

Religions & Politics & In-Laws

Dear Emuna,

My husband and I have been married for 20 years. We have a very good marriage and I feel loved and taken care of. The (almost) only thing we ever fight about is my parents. My husband doesn’t like them. Their values and political leanings are the diametric opposite of his and they always get into tense verbal altercations. It makes their visits unpleasant and infrequent. This is hard on me because I am close to my parents. Yet I’m loyal to my husband. I feel stuck in between that proverbial rock and hard place.

Dear Stuck,

You are definitely in a tough situation, one over which you seemingly have little control. Sometimes it must feel like you are the “monkey in the middle” being tossed between the two sides. Your challenge is to maintain your calm and show each side that you love them. Both are afraid of losing you and both need reassurance. If you give your parents and your husband lots of love and caring rather than expressing your frustration with their annoying and childish behavior, I think they will both come around.

It seems unfair that you, the one who isn’t acting up, should bear the burden of behaving extra patiently and warmly but I’m afraid that’s the reality. Even if, God forbid, you’re not successful, you’ll feel better about yourself and be a better person for having tried.

Of course, there is also the option of asking your husband to try to avoid certain topics of conversation. Even if he is chomping at the bit, you can ask him to keep his mouth shut as a kindness to you. I am a little hesitant about this path for two reasons. One is that you are putting the burden of maintaining the peace all on your husband and if he is unsuccessful you may end up resentful of him or blaming him. Additionally, if your husband is like other men I know with this personality type, asking him to avoid these topics is like asking a bull not to charge when it sees red. These “conversations” are like breathing to some. So it depends. If you think your husband is receptive and able, you could certainly ask him to help but I still think that ultimately the work will be yours. Good luck!