Q.I am a single working mother of two daughters, 13 and 11, whose father died in May.
He had a stroke when I was pregnant with my younger daughter and I had to deal with his illness and later his move into assisted living while our girls saw ambulances come to the house many times and visited hospitals frequently. I'm afraid I didn't spend enough time helping them to be kids.
Both of my daughters are shy and reserved, but I'm particularly worried about the younger one. She is involved in outside activities, such as dance, Girl Scouts and volleyball, but she is very anxious. I have her see a psychologist once a week so she can at least unload her worries and fears instead of carrying them around. When I ask questions, she says I'm trying to get into her business, but I just want her to be happy and to have friends with whom she can chat on the phone and share secrets.
She has never really had close friends, however, nor does she have much in common with the other girls in the Scouts, in school or in sports. Although my daughter likes volleyball, she can't stand soccer, and all the other kids have been playing this game together since kindergarten. This, of course, has bonded them through the years.
My daughter did invite a new classmate for an overnight a few weeks ago but the girl was overbearing and demanding and knew the lyrics to many rap and hip-hop songs, which my child knew nothing about.
I just don't know where my child fits in.
Perhaps we live in the wrong neighborhood. Many of the mothers are stay-at-home moms and I sometimes feel like I am not a complete mother because I go to work every day.
Is it too late to help my daughters?
A.It is never too late to help a child -- or her mother. And it sounds like all of you could use a little help.
You and your daughters have been through so much for so long. Surely you must still be hurting, particularly your girls. You knew your husband when he was young and virile but they knew him only as an invalid. This had to make them feel different when they started school, which is a time when conformity matters more than almost anything else. It also must have made them feel guilty for wishing they had a normal life and a normal dad, as they undoubtedly did. Having a hospitalized parent is much more embarrassing to a child than is a working mom, because chronic illness is unusual, while working moms are almost the norm these days.
You can't change the past, but you can give your daughters some first-class family adventures so they can forget the scary sound of sirens and the antiseptic smells of a hospital.
Ignore a few things on your to-do list and take the girls ice skating or bowling once a week instead, and go on a day trip every month to see the new aquarium or to ride a train to the next town (if there is a train). The more unusual the adventure, the more your girls will probably enjoy it.
And once every three or four months, go camping in a state park for the weekend so you can go on a long hike together, or visit a historic town so you can see sights from the past. This sightseeing trip won't be too pricey if you stay at an inexpensive B&B.
Whether your adventures are big or small, the payoff will be great, for they will give you time to talk with your daughters about their dad, about the things he liked to do before his stroke and how much he loved his girls.
These conversations will help them -- and you -- replace the memory of the man your husband became with the man he used to be, so you can all slog through grief's dismal swamp a little faster and a little easier.
Your efforts should also make your children feel more comfortable in their own skins and in time help them become less shy, more self-confident and more capable of making friends.
Both you and your daughters should also be comforted by "The Grieving Teen" by Helen Fitzgerald (Simon and Schuster, $13) -- anything by Helen Fitzgerald is comforting -- and you will find good advice about grief and much, much more in "Talking to Tweens" by Elizabeth Hartley-Brewer (Da Capo, $15).
Questions? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Box 15310, Washington, D.C. 20003.