Q: My husband and I have two great daughters, 13 and 10. Our younger daughter is active and athletic, while the older one has always been laid back. Her father would call it lazy, but she is extremely empathetic, gets along well with adults, is very intelligent and is a delight to be around. She likes reading, TV and the computer.
She also likes to be needed. She volunteered for the summer at an assisted living home when she was 11 and last summer she volunteered at a day camp for mentally impaired children.
She is overweight as well. She eats when she is bored or upset, doesn't like a lot of physical activity and is pretty disorganized. I try to work with her on weight and on organizational issues.
My husband is a worker; he exercises daily, and he doesn't see why everyone isn't like him. This leads him to make rather snide comments to her about her weight, her hair, her outfits and her inactivity.
I know his intentions are good, but these comments are causing a growing gulf between them.
If I support my husband, I feel bad for her, and if I support her, he gets mad and I feel disloyal to him. What can we do?
A: You can't pretend that you and your husband think alike because you don't.
Quietly tell your 13-year-old that her dad only wants the best for her, but that you think his approach is terrible. If she still can't deal with his attitude, you and your husband should see a therapist to find out if marital problems or childhood demons are making him so critical of his daughter.
You need to take your child to a nutritionist. And you should keep unhealthy foods and fattening snacks out of the house. These measures may seem excessive, but if one person in the family has a problem, everyone has it and must work together to correct it.
And now look for any emptiness in your daughter's life that she might be trying to fill up with food.
Not once did you mention the friends she has--or doesn't have--which are so important at this age. It's wonderful that your daughter has been a faithful volunteer but she shouldn't want to spend the rest of her free time with books, television and the computer.
How well your daughter learns to manage her weight will probably depend on how well she learns to balance her life and to reach out to children her own age.
You can help if you identify her talents and enroll her in an interesting program that builds on one of them, such as a class in cartooning or a Hands-On Science class, where she can meet other teenagers who like the same activities she likes. Or give her two tickets to a high school or college play or a basketball game, so she can ask a classmate and maybe make a friend. Shared interests are the basis of every good friendship.
Sometimes it takes very active parenting to bring a child along--as is described so well in "Parents as Mentors" (Prima, $14), by Sandra Burt and Linda Perlis.
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