Dear Emily

At the risk of sounding like Lucy from ‘Peanuts,’ I love giving advice.  I’ve always dreamed of writing a column like “Dear Abby.”  If you have a question you’d like me to answer, please send it to me in the box below.  If you want your question to be posted anonymously, please write “Anonymous” instead of your name.  Otherwise, it will be posted with your name. Your email will NOT be published. Other readers will be able to comment and share their ideas, too.

Please click on one of the links to the right to see past questions and answers.

  1. Dear Emily,
    Do you have any recommendations for how to discretely help children that are in emotionally difficult situations? I have an 8 year old niece and 5 year old nephew that live far away, their mother has something wrong with her, not sure what….she is VERY ANGRY all the time, and rude to me (her sister) and our mother. Not just “normal” rude, but hateful and blames EVERYTHING on EVERYONE else. She doesn’t always interact with her children in a loving manner….They have been through a very rough few years, their father suddenly started doing drugs and everything spiraled. (There was divorce and restraining orders-they do not see him anymore). I want to help them (and my sister too!) but if she for any reason might think I am interfering or doing something “improper” in her opinion, I am afraid she will cut off communication. I was hoping there are some good books for kids that teach lessons about dealing with difficult people/ staying positive/handling life situations in an emotionally healthy manner. What would you suggest for this situation? Thank you, Worried Aunt

    1. Dear Worried Aunt,

      Before I answer, I wanted to ask you a few more questions:

      1. Has your sister always been a rude, angry person, or is this new behavior?

      2. Are your niece and nephew ever able to fly out to visit you (ideally without their mom)?

      3. Do the kids get to spend time with their grandmother (your mom) on a regular basis?

      I’m going to do some research on books for kids. I hope to hear from you soon. Thanks for being my first official question!

    1. I think that long-distance relationships can work…for a while. Geographical distance tends to become more uncomfortable over time (assuming that the relationship is a good one). If the relationship is solid, couples usually want to figure out a way to move closer together.

  2. ^^^ oh! I LOVE these questions!
    Here’s mine: When bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people, what are your best coping skills beside faith in God… Sometimes PATIENCE is such hard work!

    1. Hi Laura. I love your question, but I think it’s the most difficult one for me to answer. I was up late last night thinking about how to reply. I, too, struggle to understand why bad things happen to good people and vice versa. Sometimes I try to cope by doing cat therapy on myself. Here’s how it works: 1) I imagine I’m trapped in the body of my cat, Kiko. I don’t understand why my owners won’t let me roam around outside at night. They let me out during the day, but cruelly block my access to the nighttime world. I feel like I’m being punished for no discernible reason. 2) I pop back into my human mind. I wonder if the reason I feel like I’m being punished is that on a cosmological level, I have the mind of a cat. I try to hold onto hope that someone is watching over me (and all of us) the same way I watch over Kiko.

    1. Here are my general beliefs about shared custody: 1) children should not be away from their primary caregiver for more than one day for each year of age. For example, a 3 year old child will usually be distressed by being away from their parent for more than 3 days at a time; therefore, a week on/week off custody schedule is not advisable. My opinion on this point was influenced by the work of Joan Kelly, PhD. 2) It is generally best for children to have time with both parents, as long as both parents are functioning reasonable well. This means both parents are free of addiction, untreated mental health problems, and abusive patterns. If this is not the case, I think that parenting time should be limited until the parent with the problem address their issues. 3) There is no “one size fits all” model for custody, and I think each case should be evaluated individually. Assuming that all children should have 50/50 custody is a bias in itself. I do think it’s good, however, to reference general guidelines when creating a customized custody plan. Here’s one of my favorites: http://www.azcourts.gov/…/parentingtime/ppwguidelines.pdf

    1. Jennifer Lawrence explained the phenomenon so succinctly: “When someone makes you feel insecure, it’s strangely exhilarating, because you have to keep trying to fight for that validation.”

      My Facebook friends also had some insightful observations:

      Elizabeth Suzanne: That is so unbelievably true. It’s like an addiction – you get so caught up in the way they make you feel when they’re good to you that you’ll do anything and deal with anything they shell out in order to get it. It’s so bad that even when you get away, you go through withdrawals. The road is rough for sure!

      Emily Gallup: I love your addiction metaphor! It’s so true. One of the hardest parts of being a therapist is watching people continue to make self-defeating choices. I think it will help me be more patient with my clients if I remember that they’re addicted to their toxic partners. Kicking addiction is always an ordeal.

      Elizabeth Suzanne: Well, it definitely feels like it. That punishment/reward cycle – the high you get when you’re in the reward stage is euphoric. It’s really hard to let that go.

  3. How far gone can a marriage be and still recover? My wife and I seem to have accepted that we’re better roommates than spouses. For a variety of reasons we no longer share a bedroom. We don’t fight much but there certainly isn’t much passion anymore. I think we stay together because of the kids but I don’t consider us much of a role model for a healthy relationship. As far as I know we’ve both stayed faithful but I don’t think either of us is happy with the current situation. I’m not sure if our current relationship is sustainable or if should even be sustained. I don’t think either of us is sure where to start putting this thing back together.

    1. Hi Anonymous. Thank you for your question. I think it’s a topic many people can relate to. Before I respond, could you please tell me whether you and your wife have tried counseling before? And if it’s something you’d be willing to try now?

      1. We’ve gone in the past but it has been a while. I’d consider it but things have got to change and I’m not sure sustainable changes come from counseling.

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