Category Archives: Parenting

Mother In Law

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My daughter and son-in- law have had problems for years. He is an
alcoholic who has been in recovery on and off. He has never brought in
a reliable income, so she has been the primary breadwinner to support
them and their daughter. They relocated to be near his family, which
first was great but I think the pressures of living up to everyone’s
expectations took their toll. He lost two jobs, fell off the wagon, and
now they have separated. First he lived with his parents, and then
moved to halfway house where they carefully monitor his recovery.
Here’s the question: My daughter is secure in our support and love for
her. I think her husband does not know that we care about him too,
and that we are rooting for the family to stay together. Is it okay if I
call my son-in- law to give him emotional support during his recovery?
He’s a good guy and I think she will be happier with him than single.

Mother In Law

 
Dear Mother In Law:

I’d caution you from just picking up the phone and dialing, certainly
from doing so without a serious and explicit conversation with your
daughter. There are so many things you may not know, because
children always shield their parents from so much of the worst of their
adult lives. I’d start by asking her what she wants, and what her worst
fears are about his returning home prematurely. Do your best to listen
and not defend him. If you think she’s off base in her assumptions or
perceptions, try to ask her questions instead of just telling her what to
do. That’s hard, especially for a worried mom.

 
If you do speak to the husband, ask what he sees as the obstacles, not
just to moving back home but also to a long and stable marriage. Let
him have as much airtime as he needs, and tell him you love him no
matter what the outcome. Try not to get more involved unless your
daughter asks you to, and don’t repeat what he said to you. Also, you
don’t say how old your granddaughter is. I’d advise doubling down on
phone or Skype time with her, because I’m sure all these changes are
very confusing and she may need someone to talk to other than angry
mom or absent dad.

Just A Mother, Not a Rabbi

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m turning into a curmudgeon about the holidays. In this case,
Passover. I raised my two kids in a typical middle-class, middle of the
road, Reform Jewish environment. We went to services maybe once a
month, and were each B’nai Mitzvah. Now they’re in their twenties,
done with college, and starting lives as adults. Neither lives at home,
but they have gone in totally opposite directions. My son is a vegan,
non-gluten- eating, hippie come lately, though he does make a good
living in high tech. My daughter went to Israel, and came back almost
Orthodox. She says she hasn’t decided about moving there
permanently, but whenever I question her (which she takes as a
challenge) on any aspect of the change, she mutters about moving
“back to her people.” I’m her mother. How much “more people” can
someone be?!? How am I supposed to make a Seder with someone
who won’t sit at the same table as someone who will only eat “gluten
free matzo style crackers, not kosher for Passover ????”

Just A Mother, Not a Rabbi

 
Dear Mother:

You make the Seder you would normally have at your house. And you
invite both of your children, and tell each they can bring a
friend/date/support person if they think they need to. You could
compromise by doing a family second night Seder, but frankly I think
that’s backing down to emotional blackmail. You should set the table
as you want, with the foods and accoutrements you have likely used
for decades. If you sweep every crumb from every cupboard, and get
rid of all the leavened things, then do so. If you do not, then don’t. If
your son wants to have his matzo-style crackers on a small plate near
him, then that’s fine. If your daughter is so frum she will not attend,
you have bigger issues than one last family holiday can solve.

 

This is your home and your family, which, though it may seem to be
diverging in opposite directions, will come together again over time.
There’s hope that each of them will evolve onto a more moderate
path. But you should take your daughter’s word that she might move
away, and stress that this may be the last time you are together for a
while, so your children should respect their parents enough to live
through one last Seder together, your way, and then talk about the
politics of religion after the holiday is over.

Buttinski?/Not

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I have a niece to whom I am very close. She has had three
miscarriages this year and just announced that she is “giving up” on
attempts to have a baby. I know she is under a lot of stress at work,
and that she and her new husband, who is a wonderful parent to her
eight-year- old from marriage number one, would be fantastic parents.
But their lives have been so overwhelmed with selling and buying old
and new houses, with work, and with attempts to get pregnant and
deal with the medical aftermath and the grief, that I think the odds
have been stacked against her. What can I say to help her realize that
it’s just too soon to stop trying?

Buttinski?/Not

 
Dear Buttinski/Not:

If you are truly “very close” and a regular confidante, you have the
right to talk to her about things that some couples might consider their
own private business. Timing matters, and so does tone, so you should
choose both of those very carefully. I’d suggest inviting her for tea and
talk. Start by telling her how concerned you’ve been about their very
hectic year, how much you love her new husband, and how happy you
are that her new family is blossoming, despite the setbacks with her
miscarriages. Encourage her to give the possibility of another child
another six-twelve months, after her life has settled down. And keep
telling her you love her and that when she is less stressed out, nature
may respond differently.

Money Momma

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m trying to help my son decide about grad school. He’s a good kid,
perhaps a little sheltered, who got great grades in honors college, then
took a gap year, and is applying for physical therapy school. It is both
very competitive and very expensive. He applied to five places and
through a clerical mishap missed a deadline for one. His two preferred
school are out west but he just got accepted to a very prestigious
program in the metro northeast, the only that actually gives
scholarships. This decision could be the difference between starting a
profession with as much as $150k in debt. How can I convince him
how important it is to not start life in the hole just because he likes to
camp and ski?

Money Momma

 
Dear Money Momma:

In the history of humans there’s never been a family in which parents
didn’t know better than kids what they should do. That is if you ask
the parents. These same folks probably ignored all the well-intentioned
advice of their own elders and bounced back (or didn’t). The moral of
the story: bring right doesn’t always convince anyone how to act.
Help your son keep all his options in play. If there’s a (relatively
minimal) fee to hold his place in the place that said Yes, until he hears
from all the schools, go ahead and pay it. Make sure he understands
that eventually he is going to have to decide but that he’s now in the
fortunate position of being able to use the early acceptance to
leverage the places he haven’t heard from yet. My advice, calling or
emailing the other schools and saying: I got into [prestige school] and
I’m waiting to hear about scholarship money. Can you please tell me
when I am likely to hear from you about acceptance, and whether or
not you do fund any beginning student.

 
Then sit down with him and do the math. Be sure to factor in all the
relevant variables, like how soon he might be paying in-state tuition at
the far-off schools, and the likely revenue stream for his first five-ten
years of employment, based on average salaries. Young folks don’t
usually understand the burden of debt. But seeing the numbers written
down in a spreadsheet, and seeing his future disposable income at
low-to- zero in some options and much higher in others might have an
impact. In the long run, he has to be happy, and he gets the last vote.

Home Base

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My daughter’s a good kid. She graduated college two months ago after
majoring in fine at. Yes, I know, not a likely major for a well-paying
job. She’s worked at galleries and has fantasies about becoming the
director of a museum until she is recognized as a brilliant painter. I
love her and have always tried to support her dreams, not squelch
them. But she’s moved back in to my home, and I’m not seeing any
evidence that she’s seriously looking for a job, or thinking about
moving out any time in the foreseeable future. I’ve always had high-
level managerial positions in major national corporations. It wouldn’t
take more than a flick of my finger to life the phone and get her an
entry job in my company. I don’t want to railroad her into a future that
contradicts her heart. But I also don’t want her to settle in too
comfortably or long. What are reasonable guidelines to impose on her
job search?

Home Base

 
Dear Home Base:

A parent who can provide a job for a child, especially in a tight
economy, is a blessing. It’s also a curse, because the kid knows
there’s a safety net if no other work can be found, and that can slow
down or hobble a work search, especially when the parent is providing
a warm nest, good food, and emotional support rather than stress. So
you need to use the safety net as a motivator as well as a security
blanket. Translation: give your daughter a deadline to get a job in a
field that speaks to her heart and soul. But make it clear that if she
does not accomplish this by a reasonable deadline, say three more
months, that she will have to: move out?; start paying a hefty rent?;
accept a job at your company. The default job offer need not be
draconian, but it should be sufficiently boring and mind-numbing that
she feels motivated to look. Think filing in the accounting department.
You should also set aside family time to review her resume, coach her
about how to conduct a job search (including networking and
informational interviews), and teach how to present herself in
interviews. People who haven’t gotten a professional job before often
need practice. If you’re in management, tell her very clearly what you
think makes a good hire, and then help her become one. But above all,
don’t let her fail. If she’s a good kid, help her become a good adult.

Second Life

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I have a relationship question that is long-run not short. I’ve been with
my new girlfriend and (I hope) eventual wife for two years. She
started dating me even though I wasn’t fully divorced. And slowly but
surely it has become a strong loving relationship. The problem is that
her 14-year old daughter still refuses to accept me. The ex is a pot-
smoking, guitar-playing, rock-star wanna be who doesn’t get that at
age 45 his chance for fame and glory is long past. But his daughter
adores him. I’m older than any of them and within three years of
retirement from a very high stress job I can’t wait to leave. The
daughter is smart but not get a scholarship brilliant. There has been
no discussion of adoption given her age. And I am happy to help out
with college costs in addition to my usual monthly household
contribution. But I am not eager to prolong my work life misery for a
young woman who treats me with scorn. I know it sounds early but
how can I explain my needs without further alienating her?

Second Life

 
Dear Second Life:

Relationships grow and change over time. It’s the rare parent, even a
bio parent, who has a great relationship with a teenager. And with my
advice I’m am in no way advocating that ant offer of support you make
be seen as a bribe to get her to appreciate you more or treat you
better. That said, be as honest and transparent as you can with both
mother and daughter.

 
Explain that your current level of financial support for the household
will go on even after you retire in three years. Say that you are willing
to contribute towards college costs in addition, but not to work longer
to contribute more. Say that when the daughter does apply to schools
she can count on a firm commitment from you of $x thousand per year
for a specified number of years. Explain that the only criteria are on
going civility and maintaining a specified grade level. Be clear that the
support will end if she drops out, does poorly, or treats her mother or
you with disrespect. Nothing may change or time and familiarity may
improve things. But you can proceed with a clear conscience.

Grrrrrrrr

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I just visited my daughter, son-in- law, and grandkids. The kids are
great (two boys 7 and 10, and a girl 4). But I saw several things that
disturbed me. My son-in- law is a like a fourth child. He does cross-fit
every day. He comes home with bloody hands and exhausted and
plops in front of a screen of some sort, work or sports. I understand
that the kids are spoiled, but that nobody other than my daughter
even takes their dishes to the sink, let alone help empty the
dishwasher, and generally be more responsible is very hard for me to
watch. He is a high-powered corporate sales guy, but it’s hard to teach
kids good values when only one parent is role modeling responsible
household behavior. My daughter is constantly walking around the
house picking up after all four of them. I hate to bite my tongue when
my son-in- law complained that she had seemed peeved and had taken
away a beer he hadn’t been finished with. I pitched in where I could,
but she said having help that disappeared was almost worse. I don’t
want to be seen as the meddling other-in- law. But I see my daughter
struggling to keep up and perpetually tired. What can I say?

Grrrrrrrr

 
Dear Grrrrrrr:

Every household has its own dynamics around chores and perceived
responsibilities. I come from the “teach them young” school, because
otherwise we will end up raising generations of entitled young who
think the rest of the world are their servants. That’s more than an
issue of class and superiority; it’s a matter of politeness and
appreciation as well as creating a culture of mutual responsibility.
Tell your daughter that she has to be the messenger, unless she wants
you to do it via email or Skype. I’d counsel that it be her, but you can
role-play and work out the kinks with her before she talks to the
family.

 

The messages should be these: The world won’t always be your
servant. Everyone has to help. If you don’t, people won’t like and
respect you and then you’ll get a reputation for being a slacker instead
of a nice person, which you are. From now on everyone is responsible
for carrying all their plates and glasses to the sink. You boys will help
me unload the dishwasher and [girl] will have special ways to help
until she’s older. If you spill something, grab a sponge and clean it up.
If you take things out of the fridge or cupboards, put them away in the
place you found them when you are done. And for one hour each
weekend we’re going to have a family clean-up project, all working
together so we can sing and whistle while we work.

 
As for the husband, he needs to model good housekeeping for the kids.
And he needs to put his happy face on around them. If they see him
complaining, they won’t respect or listen to your daughter. So tired or
not, he too needs to pitch in before he gets screen time.

Worried Momma

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My youngest child just got on a plane for South America.
Waaaaaahhhhhh!!! He and his girlfriend are taking a gap year between
college and grad school. They are great kids: smart, responsible, and
hard-working. All the applications are turned in, with a cover not
explaining that he’s on the road but will check email at least weekly so
he can answer any questions. But they are traveling in youth hostels
and without any predictable itinerary. So other than fitting him with an
embedded transponder (an idea I seriously googled until he made fun
or me and refused) I have no way to know what’s going on other than
the weekly updates he swears he will send, and phone calls/skypes we
have asked him to make. He’s a great guy but also sheltered and a
little too trusting in the idea that people are inherently good. Can you
help me cope with all the disaster scenarios my brain is conjuring?

Worried Momma

 
Dear Worried Momma:

Anyone with a child has had all the same fears every time their kid has
walked out the door, even if they are walking to school in a clean safe
neighborhood. The bigger world is indeed a scary place, and bad
things do happen to good people. But not to all of them, and not
nearly, by a thousand thousand times over, as often or badly as your
worries will lead you to believe. Sure, he may lose some money or
even his backpack. But he knows your phone number, and short of
damage to his body, there’s very little that a transfusion of money
won’t fix. The young bounce better than we do.

 

You cannot protect him with worry. Instead, send him emails
encouraging to have fun, be careful, and come back with many stories
and pictures. You can send him links to safe travel tips, and ask the
girlfriend’s mother to do the same. But he is not alone, and if you’ve
been a good parent, this is the time to let him leave the nest with both
love and support.

Traditionalist

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Last year’s Gaza war was a wrenching experience in our family. Our
youngest daughter was in Israel at the time, on a summer trip to learn
about her heritage. My family is descended from Holocaust survivors,
one of whom made is to Israel after WWII. So in addition to learning
about cultural and political history she also got to meet a great uncle
and many cousins whom none of us had ever met. We were terrified
for her the whole time, but none of our family was hurt. Ironically, she
returned not dyed white/blue and wrapped in the Israeli flag, but
convinced that the current government is responsible for creating a
situation of permanent war in the region. My wife and I think of
ourselves as pretty liberal, but some of her statements have gotten us
thinking we may not be as liberal as we thought we were. Passover
has always been a very important tradition in our family (about thirty
local relatives). Eliana has said that in addition to doing the regular
Haggadah readings, she wants to have a dialogue about politics. My
wife thinks it is highly inappropriate. I am torn. I suspect many of the
relatives would be horrified. What do you think?

Traditionalist

 
Dear Traditionalist:

I think your daughter got more out of her trip than anyone could have
expected. She is to be commended for her engagement in the messy
world of Middle Eastern politics, even at the now safe distance of
observer and commentator. I’d opt for a compromise. It may, like the
Solomonic offer to slice the baby in half, satisfy no one, but at least
you will have tried.

 
Tell your daughter that you want her to respect family traditions and
not to disrupt the Seder. Explain that not only is it a requirement for
Jews to tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt, but it is a very
important family tradition of togetherness. Tell her that after most of
the official readings are concluded, during the meal, you as the host
will give her the floor to invite people to a second night discussion of
what she learned about Israel and Palestine. Coach her to make it
sound invitational, not confrontational, or no one will appear. Tell her
to invite any of the various generations to come to a listening session,
where each person will be able to share their complex feelings of grief,
fear, confusion, anger, and yes even strident militancy. Explain that
the point of the listening session is for everyone to feel heard, not to
convert people to a particular way of thinking. Explain that only when
all people, kids to adults, learn to have constructive dialogue around
difficult subjects, will the world improve.

 

 

Need Earplugs

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Please help resolve a family dispute. My husband and I decided to
have just one child because we fear what is happening to our planet.
He is a kind, gentle guy who didn’t start dating until college. His first
relationship lasted far too long and we feared he would succumb to
fears of being alone, but after they broke up he met and wooed a
wonderful young woman and this summer they got engaged. We see
much too little of them because they both got jobs a plane flight away.
So collectively we decided to celebrate their successful passing
probation and engagement with a weeklong Chanukah trip to the
coast, where we could really get to know one another over long walks
and meals. My mother and sister, with whom we normally spend the
holiday are “insulted” that they were not asked to join us. Is there a
polite way to say “Not this time” that will stop their kvetching?

Need Earplugs

 
Dear Earplugs:

Once people have decided they have been hurt, “insulted,” or wronged
in some way, rationality sadly does not nearly enough to walk back
their hurt feelings. If they are reinforcing the wound with telling one
another how awful you are, and trying to get you to listen to same, it
will take time, patience, and not always answering your phone when
they call to let them blow off steam. Eventually, like toddlers wearing
themselves out before a nap, they will settle down, but I fear you will
be wasting your energy and breath trying to make that happen much
faster than it will take.

 
Tell them that this was a wonderful and necessary experience for the
four of you. Admit that yes it while it might have been better for them
had they come along, it would not have been what you, your husband,
your son, and fiancé most needed. Try to plan a long family weekend
with them, perhaps at Passover, and encourage your son/fiancé to
send them a lovely loving note. Then change the subject when they
bring it up. They’ll stop when you stop listening.

Too Many and Not My Own

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

When I was young I had an abortion. It is the biggest regret of my life.
Not from a philosophical, “right to life” point of view. But because I
genuinely wish I had raised a child. I got a degree in counseling and
know I have helped many other people become parents. I took in a
foster daughter, but because I was considered well equipped to handle
a troubled child, I got a very difficult 15-year old with multiple traumas
and behavioral issues. We have a good relationship now but it took ten
years. I was also a Big Sister to a young woman who went through
bad times but has turned it around and is now married with a one-year
old. I had the family over for dinner. That was the first time I’d seen
her in a year. She shocked me by asked if I would be a “nana” to the
baby and “What would I like to be called?” I’m already helping pay off
my foster-daughter’s college loans and counseling/weight-loss
treatments. I’m tapped out. My answer that evening was, “Let me
think about it” because I felt “NO!!!!” was too strong. How should I
answer?

Too Many and Not My Own

 
Dear Too Many:

It’s clear that you are a compassionate giving person. But that doesn’t
mean you have to answer each request for parenting assistance with a
Yes. Parenting is clearly more than a financial commitment. But it is, in
fact, partially one. Parents help pay to educate, get their children out
of jams, and thousand and one small gifts a long the way. If you were
to be an actual nana to the baby, you’d be signing on for decades of
relating, not just to the newborn but the parents as well. If you are not
truly moved to say yes, you need to be honest. That doesn’t preclude
having a more distant or even regular relationship. But it does change
the level of expectations and commitments.

 
The best way to communicate on this topic is a handwritten note.
Explain that you care about her and are so very happy that her life has
moved into a great place, and that you can see how happy she is
being a wife and mother. Explain that you were very honored to have
been asked to be a grandparent but that you are feeling over-
committed to your own family now. Say you would enjoy a more
casual role, and that names can happen as they do. Wish her the best
of luck and say you’ll have them over again. But don’t set a date very
soon, and have “a previous commitment” if she calls to ask you.
Creating and maintaining appropriate distance shouldn’t be that hard.

Freaking Out

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My son just got arrested. He’s basically a good kid, though of the three
I have has always been the one most likely to get in trouble with the
law. Things like BB guns and sassing a policeman when he was young,
and a DUI (driving under the influence) and a brush with pot
possession in high school. I was told his records have been sealed.
Now he lives two states away and was stopped by a cop for a traffic
violation. The officer thought he smelled marijuana and searched the
car, finding a small amount. Alex waited for news of a court date,
which never showed up. He has moved several times since then. When
he applied for a new rental he was told he had a felony on his record
and was not eligible. FELONY! It turns out that where he lives they
notify people of court dates by mail and something didn’t get
forwarded so he couldn’t defend himself or choose from other options
so he now has A RECORD. What should he do? I do? What if his junior
records are discovered?!?

Freaking Out

 

 

Dear Freaking Out:

You should find a lawyer in the state where he lives. If I were looking,
I’d look for a defense lawyer who’d worked for the Prosecutor’s Office
in the past. The kind of person who can pick up the phone and get
someone to answer, and who can say there’s been a problem that
needs to be corrected. Once it’s clear that your son never got the
notice (ahem, he could have called, just saying), the lawyer should be
able to get the original options put back on the table. They would likely
include a rescheduled hearing and some time to choose what’s usually
called diversion (classes for offenders in addition to a fine, but no jail
time).

 

 

Note that you will likely have to pay the lawyer a retainer (think
$2500). You should ask him what that covers and follow up with an
email to be sure you have it right. Most lawyer bill by the tenth of an
hour (yup, every six minutes), so time can add up fast. You should
know the hourly rate and also the lawyer’s expectations of actual cost
to make sure your son’s record is cleared, or at worst that he ends up
with a misdemeanor. I hope he learned his lesson. If not I recommend
he move to a more pot-friendly state.

Science Dad-in- Law

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m a scientist so I believe in testing hypotheses with the scientific
method. That involves postulating an idea and then testing it to see if
repeated observations confirm or repudiate the idea. Here’s my
Hypothesis A: My daughter married a lazy jerk who wants to sponge
off her and my wife/me. Here’s the evidence: He is 26 and has never
had more than a series of part-time jobs. He’s allowed her to work the
full three years of their marriage, and been happy to have her
unemployment support them after she was laid off. His favorite way to
spend time is to drink and play video games with his buddies; second
is to go hunting with his father. He and my daughter have proposed
moving in with my wife and me (happy empty nesters looking forward
to some travelling) “to save money.” This grand opportunity comes
along with their nine-month old baby girl (my first grandchild), so my
wife is more favorably inclined than I am. I work all day, and she’s at
home. What do I want? I want my son-in- law to get a job!! Another
Hypothesis B: I am a Grinch. How would you test these to see which
is true?

Science Dad-in- Law

 

Dear Science Dad:

They could both be true, but proving the first is your big problem. I
tend towards Hypothesis A, at least in your telling. A 26 year-old
parent who doesn’t work is a worrisome symptom. You could end up
with your daughter and granddaughter in the house at some point in
the future, if your daughter realizes that the slacker in her bed is just
an overgrown child. My first line of defense is this: No moving in
without a steady 40-hour- a-week job (or two 20’s), and a pay stub
and three-month performance review from a boss to prove it. That’s
your son-in- law’s job/paystub/review, not your daughter’s. I’m sorry
she got laid off but unemployment is not forever and they’re going to
have to send someone to earn a living. I’m sure he’s ready to offer to
be a stay at home dad. That’s a very bad investment on her part, at
least by me.

 

 

I’d sit them down and have the long-run talk. Ask lots of questions and
then sit quietly, letting them squirm and letting the silence build and
his likely inadequate answers trip over one another. Once he’s
thoroughly enmired, make the offer that if he can demonstrate a
reliable job, you’re prepared to let them move in for a monthly
contribution of $xyz towards mortgage/utilities/food. That offer’s good
as long as he is working. If he loses his job, only your daughter and
grandchild are invited to remain. It may sound like tough love, and
might make me a Grinch also. But arresting this trend asap is a good
start to the new year. An added benefit: you won’t have to come home
from a hard day’s work to see him lounging on your sofa.

In the Crosshairs

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My husband and I had a rocky divorce. The boys stayed with me until
each turned 16, then fled to their dad’s. The eldest, Aaron, is now a
college sophomore and our relationship has improved immeasurably,
so much so that I invited him to spend spring break with me in Costa
Rica. I was looking forward to a week of bonding time, and a chance to
reestablish the closeness that I had and would like again. He asked me
if he could invite along his girlfriend of five months. Other than my
disappointment about not having one-on- one time with him, I am
cautious because this girl (who seems nice but who can tell much from
a meetings at restaurants) is still a high-school senior. Senior, as in,
under 18. I don’t want to disappoint him, don’t want him to back out
of the trip, and don’t want to set up a situation where things are worse
after the trip than before. What say you?

In the Crosshairs

 
Dear In the Crosshairs:

You’ll need to thread this needle very carefully. While I understand you
have high hopes for your renewed relationship with Aaron, you’re still
the parent. If he withdraws again, know that he’ll come back again.
It doesn’t sound like you know this girl’s parents at all. That where I’d
start. Ask for their contact info and interact with them directly. Explain
the trip’s location, logistics, accommodations (including proposed
sleeping arrangements), and costs. Ask them explicitly if their
daughter has permission to go, and assuming you’re not footing the
bill for her, if they’re willing to pay for her part of the trip. Tell them
that you would like them to negotiate agreements with their daughter
about behavior, and then get a copy of the agreement, as well as a
written release from them about your personal liability if anything
happens on the trip. Get a copy of her medical/insurance info. Check
with the airlines to see if there’s anything else you would need being
the adult traveling with a minor who is not your own child and with
whom you do not have a legal relationship. If you’re lucky, someone
external will intervene and you’ll look like the good mom. If not, be
prepared to have a very different vacation than you were planning,
with lots of chaperoning.
PS – an alternative is to say, not this trip, but once she’s 18 we can
all go for a weekend together. The odds are only 50/50 they’ll still be
dating.

Former Working Mother

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My daughter’s about to graduate college with a not-very- employable
English major. She’s looking for her first job. She’s been lucky about
getting interviews, because of our networking and her older sibs’
friends in tech ventures. But when she walks out the door for an
interview she looks like she&'s dressing for a party more than a job
interview. I managed to keep my mouth shut for the first two, but
when I couldn&'t keep it zipped I told her to “Go put on business
clothes.” Not surprisingly, we had a fight. She did poorly at the
interview and accused me of undermining her confidence. How can I
explain to her what employers are looking for in a way that she&'ll
understand? My concern, btw, is without self-interest. I’d rather she
not move back home. We’re quite happy being empty nesters and I
want her to complete her transition to adulthood.

Former Working Mother

 
Dear Former:

If you&'re old enough to have a daughter, you&'re old enough to have
worked in an environment very different from the current world of
work. I’m not saying you experienced the hierarchical world portrayed
on Mad Men, where women had to claw their way out of serving coffee
at every meeting. But your 21 st -century daughter is looking for a 21 st –
century entry-level job, not a position as a senior professional.
The general rule of attire for white collar jobs should be comfortable
young professional. She should definitely look like she appreciates the
interview and dressed up enough to honor the opportunity. But when
you&'re looking for job as a file clerk, you don’t show up in a three-
piece suit. Above all nothing with stains, odor, or store tags still
hanging on. How she wears her clothes and conducts herself will make
people feel at ease with her. The more comfortable she looks and
feels, the easier it will be for interviewers to imagine her around them
day-to- day. She should avoid any scent that might bother a sensitive
interviewer. Tell her to think chameleon, not flamingo.

 

 

Don’t, btw, discount her English major. Employers are hungry for
intelligent folks who can put a sentence together well, proofread
carefully, and explain complex ideas simply and sensibly, whether it’s
in a memo or on the phone. That goes for tech firms and any other
business that needs to communicate with its customers. Experience
will be her best teacher, so no need yet to make room in the nest.