Q.My 16-year-old stepson lives with his mother and stepfather and can't get along with us at all.

He recently e-mailed my husband at work, called him a horrible father and told him that he was insane.

He also said that he would only spend time with his dad if he left me and the other children at home and that he'd like it even better if his father pitched us out of his life.

My husband said he couldn't understand why his son doesn't want to do things with all of us as a family and I could only say, "I have no idea."

He wouldn't even call or come to our house for cake on his father's birthday and said if he ever did come, he wouldn't help his dad do any of his chores because he doesn't live with us. "I am not doing your work!" he said.

He ignores his grandmother, too, even when she sends him money; he resents my husband for winning the men's golf tournament four times; he calls his stepfather "Dad" in front of his own father; and he's always bragging about himself.

He also told the neighborhood boys that my 16-year-old daughter -- his stepsister -- is "hot" and he would like to . . . you know. He even brought his friends to her window one night to peep in on her.

This kid has been acting out ever since his parents divorced eight years ago.

A.It might be tempting to boot this young man around the block, but that would never solve the problem.

Your stepson wouldn't be acting so mean if he hadn't been hurting desperately and for such a long time. Divorce may have seemed sensible and inevitable to his parents, but you can't pull away the fabric of a child's whole life, introduce a fresh cast of characters, and expect him to like it. Life doesn't work that way.

The more your stepson hurts, the more he needs to be cosseted, to be loved and, above all, to spend time alone with his dad.

Your husband should see his son, regularly and alone, and he must listen to him thoughtfully and sympathetically, consider each argument he makes and each opinion he expresses, before he states his own belief. There is a good reason for this: An angry child never hears what anyone has to say until he is allowed to say what he thinks.

But while your husband is doing all that listening, he should also insist that his son speak politely and without raising his voice and that he never does anything that might embarrass the family -- like talking provocatively about his stepsister or encouraging his friends to peek into her window. This kind of behavior deserves an apology but after eight years of anger, it may be a while before he can tell your daughter that he's sorry.

Your husband should also play a few holes of golf with his son every week or so, or play a sport in which his son excels. They may only be able to endure a couple of hours together but, again, they should spend the time, one on one. Your stepson is much too shattered to be pleasant to you or to his stepsiblings yet and if he tried, the tension would probably escalate and this would delay the unification of the family.

In time you should do a little fence-mending of your own, but nothing fancy. A box of homemade gingerbread, when he has won a prize at school, will be appreciated by your stepson although he may never thank you for it or for the little note you send.

Remembrances from you, and increased respect and the attention from his dad, should add up and in time your family may begin to cohere, but it may never be as close as you and your husband might like. Be thankful for small blessings.

Questions? Send them to advice@margueritekelly.com or to Box 15310, Washington, D.C. 20003.