Dear Emuna,

I know it’s not the Jewish New Year but I am making my typical New Year’s resolution and going on a diet. I need to lose about 40 pounds to be at a healthy weight and this year I am really determined to succeed. My challenge is that there are a number of people in my family (my husband included) who don’t struggle with their weight. They can eat whatever they want and not gain a pound. Besides the fact that that is really aggravating, it winds up with them sabotaging my diet. They are always eating dessert and encouraging others to do so. They like me to cook fattening foods and sulk when I don’t. I really need their help but instead they are standing in my way. What do you suggest?

Overweight Mom

Dear Overweight Mom,

You may be surprised to learn that this is not such an uncommon problem. If it’s not family, it’s friends who sabotage a diet. Either they feel threatened or there’s something about the status quo that is psychologically satisfying to them (an unacknowledged feeling of superiority perhaps?) – I’m not sure, but family and friends are often hindrances rather than helps in this arena.

I think the focus should be on health – for everyone in the family. It doesn’t matter whether your metabolism allows you to eat more or less, there are still benefits to healthy eating and damage from not doing so. Everyone in your family should be taught to embrace exercise and a diet that is good for them. This is better for your husband and children in the long run.

You also need to sit everyone down for a talk and explain to them how difficult it is for you. People who have never had to diet don’t really understand the struggles of those who do. Explain to them how much their support means to you. After that, it would certainly be churlish of them to impede your efforts.

The Torah advocates taking care of the body. It is the house for our soul. If our body doesn’t function well, then we are inhibited in our ability to think, learn and grown. It is in our best interests physically and spiritually to maintain a healthy body. And it is your responsibility to teach this idea to your family. As with all parenting, setting an example is certainly the best way to communicate this!

Suddenly Passive Daughter

Dear Emuna,

My 14-year-old daughter is intelligent and cute-looking. She was a very lively and well-liked girl in grade school. This year she started a new high school and isn't making friends. She says the girls in school aren't her type, or are already in cliques. She is very shy and very passive, waiting for "life" to bring her friends and activities. She's also very afraid of everything – afraid to light a match or turn on the oven or call a girl to get together. She does almost nothing - no activities, no crafts, no baking, doesn't like to read. After she finishes her homework, she sometimes sits and just stares into space, or doodles on a paper for hours. I have suggested things for her and I (her mom) to do together, but she doesn't want to go anywhere at all. I know I should just leave her be, and that maybe some of this is "normal" teenage behavior, but I worry that it may be extreme, plus I feel bad for her, being so alone and doing nothing so much of the time. What do you think? Is there anything I can do?

Worried Mom

Dear Worried,

What you don’t mention is your daughter’s mood – is she lonely and unhappy or content to be by herself? Is she frustrated with her situation or at peace with it? Is she enjoying your company or resentful? Her emotional presentation should be a clue to you about how to react. Without meeting her, it is of course difficult to respond but your description of her behavior sounds like more than “normal” teenage behavior. It could be that it is just the adjustment to a new school and it will work itself out (you don’t mention where her old friends are – did you move? Was that a trauma? Why is she at a different school than them?). It could be an adolescent reaction but because it has so many components – fear, loneliness, passivity, emptiness – I would recommend professional help. You have nothing to lose. Worse comes to worse, the therapist says she’s fine and it’s just an adjustment process. But you won’t know without trying. Girls do change their behavior as adolescence hits and this could just be a reaction but it does sound a little extreme and I think help is called for.

Adolescent Daughter Driving Me Nuts

Dear Emuna,

My 17-year-old daughter is driving me completely nuts. Whatever I say to her is somehow infuriating and she is constantly mumbling under her breath. Part of me wants to stop her and make her tell me what she just said and the other half is afraid to hear! It’s very difficult to have a pleasant conversation and dinnertime has become a tense, stressful situation. I try to give my younger children attention but her bad mood and attitude contaminate the whole atmosphere. I need some advice quickly.

Mother of a Difficult Teen

Dear Mother of a Typical Teen,

Every adolescent is difficult (once in a while you have a friend whose child seems perfect and either they are lying (!) or very lucky) and you need to begin by accepting that as normal. That won’t eliminate the behavior but it could tone down the level of tension. You may be less frustrated once you recognize that your daughter, instead of being out to get you, is just acting her age! She is also not completely in control of her bad mood and you are better off ignoring it. Likewise with the muttered comments. I know how infuriating they are but just pretend she never said them. Even an aggressive comment said out loud to you in a fit of pique is probably better ignored; how much more so one uttered under her breath.

Adolescence is difficult for parents and for the adolescent also. Keep in the mind that she is engaging in an internal struggle over her desire and need to be independent and her desire and need to curl up in your lap and have you take care of everything for her. It’s a rough time and you need to behave like the adult and she muddles her way through. As I always tell parents of teenagers, the behavior is not personal – it’s her hormones and anxieties talking – so don’t turn it into a power struggle. Be calm and polite, ignore what you can, don’t lose your temper and shower her with love. The Torah warns us that we are going to have pain and challenges raising our children. I think you should pray that this mumbling is as bad as it gets!