Parents clash over who should discipline their children

Brownwood Bulletin
Jeanne Phillips

DEAR ABBY: I am a single father of three wonderful kids. When my wife and I separated, we agreed to 50/50 custody and a property settlement. Everything went smoothly. A year later I requested, and was granted, full custody of my children. Their mom has visitation, but that's it.

Shortly after my separation, I met a woman and we became good friends. I waited about a year before introducing her to my children because I wanted to make sure I knew her first.

Although we are not "officially" in a relationship, she has been more than willing to step in and help with the children. In a few instances she has disciplined them because of bad behaviors. It usually entails talking to them about what they did wrong and some sort of consequence -- loss of toys or privileges.

When they went to visit their mother and she heard about it, she wasn't happy. She called me very upset saying my friend had no right to discipline our kids. I see nothing wrong with it, but I am second-guessing myself. Some advice, please? -- CONCERNED DAD IN CALIFORNIA

DEAR CONCERNED DAD: If your lady friend's "discipline" ever went further than a talking-to, then their mother is right. Because you have primary custody of the children, YOU should be the parent who levies penalties if they misbehave and a punishment is warranted.

DEAR ABBY: I'm a very social person and part of a close-knit friend group, but my boyfriend is on the introverted side. Although he is sweet and thoughtful, he doesn't have many friends of his own, and he tends to enjoy independent hobbies.

Since learning that my friendships are very important to me, he has made a huge effort with my friends and their boyfriends. In the past, he invited them to movies, reached out and attempted to engage them in multiple ways.

I have watched from a distance, hoping they could forge a connection, but they ignore or avoid him, and he recently shared his worry that they don't like him. I don't blame him for thinking that, and I'm starting to feel sad for him and frustrated with my friends. At what point do I talk to them about this? Should I just let the relationships happen organically (if they happen)? Should I interfere at all? -- TORN IN TEXAS

DEAR TORN: You didn't mention how old you are, or how long you and your boyfriend have been involved. I do not think it would be interfering to ask your friends why they seem unwilling to accept him. Their answers might be enlightening.

At some ages, circles have formed and it's difficult to break in and gain acceptance. If there is something about your boyfriend that makes them uncomfortable, it would be better if you knew what it was. However, ultimately, he should socialize with you and these friends at his comfort level. You may also need to seek out new friends and cultivate relationships together as a couple.

DEAR ABBY: My father passed away a few months ago. My brother lives out of state, so emptying the house has been up to me. Shortly after the funeral, my adult son (the only grandchild) arrived and loaded his car with all the toilet paper, paper towels, light bulbs, cleaning products, etc. He did it without asking, so I promptly had the locks changed. When I asked him about it, he said, "Grandpa doesn't need the stuff anymore."

After months of packing (by myself), we are now down to the furniture, and my son wants everything. He feels he's entitled to it. Rather than select one or two pieces, he is "gimme, gimme, gimme" and sees nothing wrong with this attitude. I didn't raise him that way, but he is that way now. What should I do? -- GREEDY OUT WEST

DEAR GREEDY: Although at this point it's a little late, what you should do is finally say NO. Unless your father stated specifically -- in writing -- that your son should get everything, what he did is considered stealing.

DEAR ABBY: What the heck happens to men between the ages of 45 and 60? It seems the women they're after are all 15 to 20 years younger. I don't mean just for sex but for dating, love and marriage, too.

We middle-aged women are often overlooked because these middle-aged guys don't realize we are at our sexual peak and often hot as hell. And we're active in many interesting, fulfilling activities. By the time these men come to their senses, they are usually washed-up and impotent. Why is nature and society so cruel and unfair? How can I, as a sexy, active middle-aged woman, beat the odds? I do not intend to remain celibate and alone for the rest of my life. -- STILL FUN IN THE SOUTH

DEAR STILL FUN: You can't change other people, but you can change the way you react to them. A way to "beat the odds" would be to stop focusing solely on middle-aged guys and consider dating men a bit younger who appreciate what you have to offer. Even if it doesn't lead to marriage, you could have a lot of fun in the meantime.

DEAR ABBY: We have a friend who often comes to us for advice, but never seems to take it. She keeps making the same mistake over and over again. How do we get through to her? -- FRIENDS WHO CARE IN UTAH

DEAR FRIENDS: Candidly? Realize you can't get through to her because she's not really seeking advice. Rather than listening, she's venting. Because of the friendship, listen when she "dumps," but refrain from offering wisdom you know will be disregarded.

DEAR ABBY: A year ago, my husband and I bought our first home together. We love it and are excited to improve the house and the property.

One of our neighbors is an elderly woman who had previously assumed that part of our property belonged to her. Without conducting a survey, she planted several trees on what is, in fact, our land, and they have grown to block our views. She also erected an unpermitted fence that crosses onto our property. We have since pruned and/or removed a few of the trees.

This neighbor constantly engages us in protracted "discussions" in which she admonishes us for not having consulted her before making changes to our landscape. We have shown her the property maps, and she is coming to understand the boundaries. Still, every time she sees one of us outdoors, she chastises us, offers endless unsolicited "advice" and insists we include her in all decision-making regarding our yard. We now actively avoid her.

We would love nothing more than to be left in peace and for our interactions to be friendly, infrequent and brief. How do we get her to back off? -- STRESSED IN SAN FRANCISCO

DEAR STRESSED: You seem to be a nice young couple, but it may not be possible to make nice with this neighbor who made a serious attempt to appropriate your property. When she sees you outside, be polite but "busy." Tell her you have a lot to do and don't have time to talk.

If she continues to inject herself into decisions regarding your yard, make clear that they are yours alone to make. After that, if she still doesn't get the message, discuss with your lawyer whether sending her a letter on his/her letterhead would be appropriate to discourage the harassment.

P.S. It is very important to get her fence removed from your property if it hasn't already been done. Your lawyer can explain why.

DEAR ABBY: I started dating a man three months ago. He's a great guy and very caring. When he opened up to me recently about the trauma he received from his family while growing up, I encouraged him to seek therapy, which he has been doing.

A month ago, he began acting strangely. He was tired all the time and wouldn't really interact with me. He comes over but only to sleep and stopped texting me as often. He said he is severely depressed, and he thinks his therapy is doing more harm than good.

I have been pouring love, care, attention and food into this guy nonstop without getting anything back. I don't want to be yet another woman who leaves him, but I feel like I'm constantly setting myself on fire to keep this guy warm. He's no longer the person I started talking to a few months ago. Would it be wrong for me to cut my losses and leave? -- DOUBTING AND GUILTY

DEAR DOUBTING: Have other women left him because of his emotional problems? Your male friend is exhibiting signs of severe depression. Tell him that you are concerned about his mental state. While you're at it, suggest he consult another therapist, because this one doesn't seem to be helping, and you too are afraid the counseling may be making him worse.

You did the right thing when you suggested this man get help. You have only known him a short time, which is why you should not assume responsibility for his mental health. He appears to be in no position for a romance at this point, and this may not change for a long time. I do not recommend abruptly ending the friendship, but it is time to step back. You cannot fix what's going on with him. Only he can do that with help from someone who is qualified.