Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Question: How do I respond to the numerous adults who tell me, in front of my 10-year-old daughter, how pretty she is? I tend to just say thanks and move on (sometimes these are people I know, and sometimes not), but I'm beginning to worry how this is affecting her. She and her friends are starting to become much more body/image conscious and I don't want all these compliments to make her more so.
This seems to be a repeat from my own childhood, and I still cringe as I remember my parents responding, "Thank you, but even more importantly, she is nice and smart!" I know they were saying that for my benefit, but I do not want to do that. However, I do want my girl to know that her gifts of empathy and humor, etc., are things she can really be proud of. with the underlying message, perhaps, that beauty, while an asset, is really just a matter of luck. How to deal?
Answer: Have you ever asked her how she feels when people do this? Run it by her next time this happens; it could lead to an interesting conversation about looks (hers, yours, everyone's) and values (hers, yours, society's) and what well-meaning doofuses people can be. Bringing her into the conversation will do orders of magnitude more for her intellectual and emotional self-awareness, I expect, than telling her or others how smart/funny/empathetic she is.
Question: My mother is fighting cancer and ever since she was diagnosed, she rarely discuss the illness - approximately twice a month. She is very private and so it is difficult to figure out how she is doing and how I can help her.
I am trying to respect her wishes, but as a young adult, I struggle with the possibility of losing my mother and how to help her. Do you have any suggestions on how to cope with the situation and overcome my own worries?
Answer: Such a tough break for you both, I'm sorry.
Your impulse to get involved is natural, but problematic, too. You want to ease your worries by doing something concrete, but if you press your reluctant mother to talk about how she is or say what she wants or needs, then you're essentially shifting the work of addressing your worries onto her - and I know that's the last thing you want to do.
One basic way around this is to decide something you'd like to do for her - keep it low-key - then say you're going to do it unless she tells you not to. "I'm free Saturday so I'm going to come stock your fridge and do your laundry, unless you tell me not to. Is 10 a.m. OK?"
For what it's worth, discussing her health about twice a month is not what I would call "rarely." To me, it sounds as if she's keeping you apprised without having to dwell on it. Consider reflecting her preference in the way you ask - i.e., stay in close touch, but ask directly about her health only once a fortnight or so.