I enjoy receiving emails from readers, and personally respond to every one within a few days. However, some people ask questions that I really can’t answer. Here are the most common situations that leave me baffled.
1. Incomplete information. I feel rather bewildered when a parent raises an issue without any background or context. A reader recently posted a question on my Facebook page asking about her boyfriend sleeping with his nine-year old daughter! Does that mean he was having sex with his child, or was it one instance of an anxious child simply wanting to be close to her dad for one night? Most parents are very loving and knowledgeable, and I advise readers to act on their concerns if something just doesn’t feel right.
2.Should I stay married? Some readers describe lives of sadness, turmoil, and desperation. One woman depicted her life as a version of “Groundhog Day,” a movie from the 1990s in which Bill Murray finds himself in the odd situation of relieving the same day over and over. “I’m unhappy, unloved, and unappreciated,” one reader wrote. “Should I get a divorce and try over?”Such letters prompt more questions than answers. It would be terribly unprofessional for me to try to offer advice without knowing much more about her personal and family situation. These letters are requests for help that I cannot give, so I just try to direct the reader to take the next step and seek professional assistance.
3. Sex and kids. Contemporary cultural and sexual norms are very different from what I experienced growing up in a Catholic ethnic neighborhood in Massachusetts. Kids are exposed to much more explicit sexual discussions and images than previous generations. When these youngsters begin to act out sexually at an early age, it’s hard to know if their sexual behavior is due to possible abuse, or just a normal response to their stimulating sexual environment. Parents don’t want to overreact, but also don’t want to ignore symptoms of sexual abuse. When in doubt, I advise these parents to consult with a professional.
4. Is this normal? This is one of the most frequent types of emails. Parents describe some terrible situation, and then ask if such behavior is normal as if that somehow makes it acceptable! Readers confuse the words “normal” with “common.” It’s common for toddlers to have temper tantrums, for teens to test limits, for children to cheat and for siblings to argue. These types of behaviors may be typical behaviors in most families, but still require our attention and interventions.
Please keep writing. I enjoy your comments, criticisms, and suggestions for articles. However, now and then ask me a question that I can answer!