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April 4-10, 2007

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Ask Sydney

This advice column is penned by a Sonoma County resident and our new weekly sage. Go ahead! Ask her anything.

Dear Sydney, my dad and stepmother live comfortably, not lavishly, in retirement in Florida. My mom died many years ago. She was always the one we counted on to help us kids out financially. If she were alive, she would make sure my two sons would be "taken care of"--birthdays, holidays, college funds, etc. As it is, my dad doesn't even send the kids 10 bucks for their birthdays. He loves to talk with them and obviously loves them a great deal, but even on Chanukah, all he sends is a couple of fancy cakes, not a cent of gelt for the kids. I've tried to broach the subject, but it's awkward. He doesn't have to send squat to his grandchildren, right? Am I out of line to expect Grandpa to show some "love" financially to his grandkids?--Filial Frustrations

Dear Filly: It takes so much money just to make it, many of us depend on the generosity of family members in order to help provide for our children, and sometimes for ourselves. It would not be far-fetched to say that if families lived more closely together, sharing homes, childcare and offering monetary assistance to each other when possible, our lives could be much easier than they are when we are separated by an almost obsessive desire to have "personal space." Perfect example? Dad lives in Florida and spends his cash on himself. Once you turned 18, his financial obligations to you were over. Try coming up with something concrete to ask for, like, "Hey, Dad, can you help me put braces on the grandkids, so they don't have to go through life being called Bucky Beaver?" He may say no, and then you could resent him. Go ahead. It won't make you feel any better or do any good, but still, he deserves it. Parents should take care of their children as best they can forever. Parenthood is a lifetime commitment. Our children are always our children, no matter how old they get, and when a parent forgets this, it can be very hurtful. Your father is under no obligation to help his grandchildren (and you in the process) by providing thoughtful financial assistance, but by failing to do so, there is no question that he is letting you down.

Dear Sydney, my son recently came home from school very upset. He's a sophomore in high school, and he's being made fun of for being "gay." This has been an on-again, off-again problem since elementary school, and it breaks my heart over and over watching him suffer. My son made me promise not to complain to the school. He says this won't change anything and would just make things worse for him. How can I protect my beautiful, kind-hearted son from this constant cruelty? Should I complain or respect his wishes? I'm furious about this.--Mama Bear

Dear MB: Make an appointment to meet with the principal. The way your son is being treated is neither acceptable nor safe. Clearly, whether he is gay or not, he's being discriminated against. Tell the principal that your son's well-being and safety in school is the responsibility of the teachers and the administration, and they need to do whatever is necessary to ensure your son is no longer tormented. If the problem persists, or even if it doesn't, consider finding another school. There are high schools where he will be treated with respect. Interview the various schools in your area, and find out what sort of programs and support systems they have in place to support queer youth. (Whether or not he identifies himself as queer is beside the point in this case, as he is being treated as such by his peers.) Gay-bashing is not something to take lightly. It can be lethal. Demand an environment where your son will be treated well. A sophomore in high school should not have to worry about defining his sexual identity, but no doubt the treatment he has been receiving is both confusing and disturbing for him. First, ensure that he is in a safe environment, then try to find someone for him to talk to about what's been going on.

Dear Sydney, my kids are pre-adolescent. I've always raised them to be independent thinkers, and now I'm kicking myself. I have experienced 36 years on this planet and feel I know what they need in order to become healthy adults. But they fight me tooth and nail on almost every single thing I ask of them. I feel so frustrated. I'm beginning to have much more forceful encounters with them and feel that I'm often up against a more powerful force than myself. Obviously, I intended to raise powerful people, but I don't always think they know what is best. How do I convince them otherwise? For instance, do I insist that they go on family outings or take lessons when they don't want to and aren't even willing to try? Or do I just let them stay home? Things are so different than when I was being raised; I never would have fought my parents like this.--Miserable Martyr Mother

Dear Martyr: Bravo to you for raising kids who are independent thinkers! Do you really want kids who do whatever you say because they're afraid to do otherwise? Believe me, times have not changed. There are still millions of children who are too afraid or intimidated by their parents to speak up for what they want and believe. That said, sometimes you do know what's best, and you have the right--and the obligation--to make sure that your children follow your directions when it's important. Look carefully at the different things that you expect of them. Is it really vital that they take lessons? Some kids don't want to take lessons. So what? But what about family outings? Well, what is it you want them to do? Try to plan family outings that they'll find engaging, and if you want to do something they don't, then leave them at a friend's and go without them. You'll have a much better time, and so will they.

As your children grow, they are going to resist your suggestions with increasing frequency. Try not to take it personally (yeah, right). They may be kids, but they still know what they like. Your job is to give them as many opportunities as you can, but ultimately, it's their decision if they want to take you up on it or not. The more thought you put into the things you "make" them do, the more they will know to take you seriously when you insist. People have been tut-tutting "Kids today!" for decades. But the fact is, child-rearing is akin to climbing Mount Everest in a bikini and flip-flops. For all practical purposes, it's impossible, but what choice do we have, once we've begun, but to follow through?

'Ask Sydney' is penned by a Sonoma County resident. Inquire at

No question too big, too small or too off-the-wall. Ask Sydney.