Carolyn Hax: How to guide a teen through a difficult time


How do I help keep the kid calm and sane while we know her mom is basically cleansing her life of her? The kid is 16 and awesome.

Stepparent: No kid needs this at any age, obviously — but for a kid stuck with this outcome, you sound like just what she needs. Perfect attitude.

My only thought is that you lean into the suck: Don’t pretend with the kid that a bad thing isn’t happening or that it’s all okay. It probably will be, and maybe this will ultimately be better for her, but to jump there is invalidating. Acknowledge how hard this is and follow her emotional lead.

Also let her decide how to spend this day — unless you notice that she doesn’t seem to want to decide anything, in which case just take the reins gently and give her veto power. Maybe a movie, a hike to a pretty view; maybe shop for nice things for her room. It’s really an occasion to listen, read her signals, and react accordingly — and not say much unless she asks you to.

Dear Carolyn: I’m in the middle of a terrifying health scare. I don’t yet have a diagnosis, and everything is up in the air and awful right now. For the most part I’ve put others in charge of dealing with the concerned family members who have been calling and texting with questions. I’m conflict-avoidant and people-pleasing, and have had to work hard to teach myself to be honest rather than pretend all is well.

But one family member in particular feels deeply hurt and withdraws and spirals into her own anxiety and self-blame when she receives the lightest pushback. She is important to me, and I don’t want to hurt her — or, frankly, deal with the aftereffects of her anxiety spiral. So when she sent a series of stressed-out texts, I struggled with whether to say, “These kind of questions are really stressful for me, so please direct them to Other Family Member instead,” or just ignore it. What do you think?

(PSA: Don’t ask questions of a sick person in a scary situation. Send statements of love and support, or cute pictures of your dog.)

Scared: I’m sorry you’re having a scare.

I suggest you have Helper contact Anxious directly on your behalf, to say you noticed her texts but aren’t responding to anyone right now so you can focus on your health. Helper can also ask Anxious to direct things hereafter to Helper, at which point Helper will decide whether to get you involved.

This way you’re not ghosting Anxious, which tends to escalate things, but also not assuming the emotional labor of managing her anxiety for her.

If Anxious doesn’t comply, then don’t open the texts. Just mention to Helper that Anxious might need attention.

Fingers crossed for good news.



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