Make time for everyone to accommodate realities
Q: As a mom of three girls, is it in my job description to try to ensure my daughters are close? My two oldest (10 and 8) are absolutely inseparable, which is great, but they have never had much interest in their 5-year-old sister. They have started asking whether I will take just the two of them on special outings.
I don't know whether it's jealousy or they consider themselves too mature for her or what, but I have nightmares of raising two daughters who are best friends and one who feels like an outcast her whole life.
A: If you know of some way to "ensure" a close relationship between any two people, please write back with the specs.
In the meantime, yes, the 'tweens are too mature — but it sounds a lot better as, "Developmentally, they're in different worlds."
Another bit of rephrasing: "It's in your job description to be fair to all your children."
Accommodating these two realities — phases and fairness — will demand some creative scheduling. (Because having three kids doesn't demand that already.) Just as it's not fair for your 5-year-old to be excluded, it's also not fair to the older girls to populate their free time with someone who can't keep up, or who tries to and gets on their nerves.
And the most direct way to satisfy these two conflicting needs is to make time for each of them. So, yes, give your older girls their "special outings." Not only will it make them happy, but it will also occasionally relieve your 5-year-old of the burden of being a burden. She may not know that her sisters see her as one now, but she'll soon figure it out.
In return, on a realistically regular basis, give the little one time with a single older sib, one-on-one.
And, this is important: Don't mistake these for forced babysitting gigs, don't choose activities that bore or annoy the older, and don't bribe your way out of these first two "don'ts." Make the activity itself a plum, and make it one both can enjoy.
Fairness might not need such active intervention for long — kids grow, dynamics shift — but you're on duty to praise your kids when there's support among siblings and to deny them traction when they carp.
If this were dog training, I'd say the outings and praise encouraged good relationships through "positive reinforcement": rewarding the behavior you hope to achieve. The concept applies to people, even if liver treats and ear scratches don't.
What matters more should dictate wedding invitation
Q: My dad has had three failed marriages; his first produced me and my sister, and his third was with my stepmother, who essentially raised us. My dad has a girlfriend he's been with for more than a year.
This girlfriend has been rude, nasty and hurtful — unprovoked — to my birth mother and stepmother, and to me and my sister. I've spoken to my dad, and he continues to forgive and defend her.
My fiance and I are planning our wedding, and neither of us wants his girlfriend there. I am afraid my father would respond by not coming. Any suggestions?
A: Just one: Which matters more, Dad's presence, or girlfriend's absence? More succinctly, defending Mom(s) or appeasing Dad?