Like father, like daughter

Joey just returned from a four-day retreat.

My ex-husband caught our daughter sneaking her boyfriend into the house at night. Actually, our son told me what really happened: My 50-year-old ex-husband’s 30-year-old girlfriend screamed bloody murder when she went downstairs in the middle of the night and saw a teenage boy leaving my daughter’s room. I blame my ex-husband’s lousy parenting skills (and told him so), but how should I handle this situation?

If your ex-husband enjoys slumber parties with his girlfriend, your teenage daughter believes she deserves the same privileges. Sure, he can justify his behavior by pointing out that, as an adult, he is capable of handling the financial (as in pregnancy), emotional (heartbreak) or physical (sexually transmitted diseases) repercussions of a sexual relationship. But to most teenagers, the name for that kind of reasoning is hypocrisy. Teens pay more attention to behavior than to words, and they observe adults more closely than we imagine.

Your daughter wanted time alone with her guy (yeah, probably to have sex) and schemed to create it. If you plan to blame her for poor decision making, stop. How much education has she received from you or your ex about self-control?

Let’s move locations for a moment. You’re at the mall with your daughter and she finds a new pair of jeans she can’t live without. Her attitude has been pretty good lately and the jeans fit well, but you can’t afford them. Do you buy them anyway? Or invite her to wait and save the money herself? If you want a child to learn how to manage impulses, you must provide a strategy for developing patience and self-control. Your consistency helps her make smart choices. Remember, the portion of the brain reserved for decision making is still under construction in adolescents. They need help building the skills needed for adulthood.

Your daughter requires a tutorial in honesty. But first, make it safe for her to be truthful. Don’t judge. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by anything or anyone during the conversation, and don’t react to what she tells you. Stay calm. Be the face of love to her as you explain that truth creates trust. Tell her that you want to trust her again. Then, ask her to share her version of the story with you. Help her understand why her behavior was such a breach of trust. And ask your ex-husband to please consider reserving his slumber parties and dates for nights when his kids are not at his home.

I am dating a man who was happily married until his wife died unexpectedly. He is a great dad, and I can see a real future with him. He feels the same way. But there are pictures of his previous wife in every room of the house, including his bedroom. I want to ask him to put some of the photos away, but I don’t want to offend him or his kids. I did ask once, but he became defensive and said the kids need to remember their mother. Any ideas?

Accept your boyfriend’s former wife as part of the family and stop behaving as if she is competition. See her as a reminder to you that your boyfriend knows how to love and commit. These skills are essential for a healthy relationship, but are underdeveloped today in many adults. Your ability to love this man and his kids will be measured in part by your embrace of the woman they fear they will forget. If your boyfriend or the kids talk about her, listen deeply and encourage their storytelling. The photos will either be removed in time, or photos of you with the family will be added to the mix. Either way, it’s a blessing.

Meditation of the Week

“Everything popular is wrong,” wrote Oscar Wilde in <i>The Importance of Being Earnest</i>. What happens if you apply that wisdom to your spiritual life?