Q.I am a single mom concerned about my daughter's behavior and my response to it.
She is nearly 13 and an honor roll student. She does her own laundry, makes her own lunches, sometimes microwaves her own dinner and isn't interested in drugs, alcohol, tattoos or piercing.
Although we don't have two family nights a week anymore, we often watch television or eat carryout together. On other evenings she entertains herself with TV, books, artistic projects and computer or video games, while I use the computer in the next room.
She seldom picks up her clutter and her projects, however, and about once a week we have a big fight, followed by a long lecture from me. She also gets moody at times and often sulks or whines when told to do her chores, and even then she needs many reminders.
I know that she is angry -- although she won't admit it -- and she has much to be angry about.
She loved being home by herself for 45-90 minutes until I got back from work, but now I'm home on disability and she can't decompress alone.
Also, I was diagnosed with cancer four months ago and my prognosis is not good. I need a bone marrow transplant to be cured but haven't found a match, nor have I begun chemotherapy.
My daughter knows about my health problems, but she won't talk about her feelings with a therapist, a school counselor, a close relative -- or me.
How can I help her deal with her issues -- and mine? Should I seek professional help?
I'm afraid it will be too late if I wait until I start chemotherapy, since I will be an inpatient for at least a month.
A.Your first concern is bound to be your illness and your prognosis and you can bet that it is your daughter's first concern, too.
Even the word "cancer" is scary, especially to a self-centered young teenager (and all young teenagers are self-centered -- when one mother dragged herself home after a chemo treatment, her dramatic 14-year-old could only wail, "Do you know how much this cancer of yours is stressing me out?").
Your daughter, however, is handling her worries like a trouper. She doesn't even seem any moodier or messier or sulkier or whinier than other young teens, nor do you blow up as much as most mothers -- you and she simply withdraw at night to do your busy work and push your fears away. But you must have some reality talks with your daughter.
She not only needs to know where she will stay when you're in the hospital but who will take care of her if you don't make it; how much savings you have in the bank and whether you carry any insurance.
Although your daughter is awfully young for this talk, it will make her feel safer and help her deal with the outcome with intelligence and confidence.
But first take your daughter to your oncologist so he can tell her -- in an upbeat way -- about the treatment you're getting, and why; how it will affect you; how long it will take for you to get better; and what you both can do to make things easier at home. When that's done, leave the room so she can ask the doctor any questions that might be embarrassing to ask in front of you.
The doctor can also urge you and your daughter to see a therapist together and will give you the names of those who treat cancer patients and their families best. You and your daughter need help, to cope and to plan, and you need it now.
Your daughter needs more than therapy, however. She also needs emotional nourishment at home.
Don't work in one room while she is in another, but join her instead. If she's playing a video game, challenge her to a match; if she's doing an art project, ask her to teach you how to do it, and if she's reading a book, sit with her while you do a puzzle. You don't have to talk to build a strong connection.
And please, ignore as much clutter as you can. It's just not that important. You can minimize the mess by having your daughter do each project on a tray, because she will be more likely to put the tray away than to stash all the pieces.
If the mess gets too much for you, however, hire a college student occasionally to help your daughter organize her supplies. This may even inspire her to keep them a bit neater.
Questions? Write to Box 15310, Washington, D.C. 20003, or e-mail email@example.com.