Ask Amy: Niece's biggest crime is being a teen

Dear Amy: My niece lost her mother (my sister) when she was 10 years old. She is now 16 and spends time at my home with my husband and me (approximately once or twice a month for an overnight).

We do not have children of our own. This is becoming a great source of stress for me because although my husband says he is OK with her staying with us, he always ends up getting offended by something she does.

To me these things are normal teenage behaviors, such as giving one-word answers or not cleaning up her dishes or making her bed. Today he was upset because she and her friend made brownies and did not offer him any.

My husband and I always end up fighting once she leaves because he complains about her, and I get angry and defend her. I have spoken to her about the things that bother him, but she always seems to do something that annoys him.

Amy says: The reason experienced parents tend to be tolerant about “normal teenage behavior” is because they have learned how important it is to pick their battles.

Your commitment to your niece is commendable. Encourage your husband to have a positive stake by taking a “team” approach, with the two of you making choices together. If he changed his perspective even a little bit, he would embrace this opportunity. As it is, his concerns seem quite petty, but I believe he is acting out because he lacks a more defined role with her and he doesn’t know what else to do.

Do not offer a knee-jerk defense of her. If he has something to express, you should strategize together about how to do this — kindly and carefully — and then talk to your niece, together.

One night soon, take her aside and, rather than correct her after the fact, say, “Let’s do something nice for Uncle Derrick and surprise him tonight with his favorite meal. I’ll show you how to make the entree, and you show me how to make the brownies.”

I know this sounds hokey, but sometimes the way through someone’s tough outer shell is to do something obvious, thoughtful and sweet.

Heed doubts

Dear Amy: I have recently fallen in love with a woman who is 35 years younger than me. Could I really be in love or am I just an old pig? She insists that she loves me for who I am and not for my wealth, but I’m having doubts.

Amy says: You can definitely be in love with someone a radically different age from you. The question you seem to want to ask is: Is she really in love with you?

It seems to me that when someone repeatedly insists that something isn’t true, it increases the likelihood that it is (or might be) true. If your wealth is your most obvious asset (as her youth might be to her), then it is most likely a factor in your relationship. And, yes, when doubts creep in, pay attention!

If she is an adult, and you are having a consensually good time, then you should enjoy this relationship. Don’t get married or purchase property together without receiving professional legal and financial advice.

A note to remember

Dear Amy: Regarding the letter from the assistant teacher who sent thank-yous to students for gifts while the other teachers did not, I recently found my scrapbook from second grade.

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