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Carolyn Hax: Deciding when parents should step in and help kids

Dear Carolyn: Common advice is that parents should let kids struggle through issues on their own, thus learning how to manage their friendships, issues, etc. There have been letters from adults who say how damaged they are because they didn’t feel their parents protected them.

How does one navigate this? Or should parents simply resign themselves to being despised by their progeny?

– Helicopter vs. Supporting

It’s navigable, but resignation is a solid plan B.

Letting kids work things out is for the small(er), one-off problems: arguments with sibs or friends, a dismissive comment from an adult, difficult homework, bumps, bruises.

Protecting kids is for the big stuff: bullying by family or friends; a learning issue that makes homework crushing; verbal abuse from an adult; a buddy whose unstable or overindulgent household isn’t a safe place for your kid.

The common denominator is frequency. A child needs to learn how to handle hurt feelings from this or that social incident, for example, but can’t be expected to deal alone with the relentless attack of social aggression. Oopses, step back; oppression, step in.

And hugs in both cases. You don’t have to be cold to encourage resiliency.

You also don’t have to get it right every time. Sometimes you’re going to think it’s big when you’re really just overreacting, and sometimes you’re going to brush it off when it turns out to be something big.

When that happens, you pull out your best parental move of all: Apologize to your kid for getting it wrong. Nothing helps a child find the sweet spot where strength and frailty meet than demonstrating it for them yourself.

Taking sibling’s kids

Dear Carolyn: My sibling and I have children close in age (around 10), we have a close relationship, and luckily live close to each other. We make a point to get together with our kids at least once a month, and we always have a great time. We are very lucky!

Here is my quandary. Years ago, Sibling’s spouse decided to stop attending our annual family vacations, which include our parents and other siblings. Fine, I get that not everyone wants to spend a week with their in-laws. Because of this, Sibling and Child come on these annual vacations without Spouse.

This year Sibling cannot attend, so I asked if Sibling’s child could come with us. Sibling said yes, but Spouse said no because they would miss Child too much. Spouse has no problem leaving Child with us when it fits Spouse’s needs, like wanting to go on vacations with my sibling sans Child, so I’m puzzled. They will be at work all week anyway.

I am so frustrated by the situation. I haven’t said anything to my sibling, because Sibling is very sensitive. It really hurts me though, because the children love being together and I feel like Spouse is being selfish. Should I continue to bite my tongue?

– Just Want to Have Fun

Why would you even consider jeopardizing a source of year-round joy over one little week?

Your sib-in-law has every right to say no, for reasons selfish, logical, needy, brave, or specifically pegged to this week (which sounds distinctly possible). Respect for boundaries demands that you leave it at that.

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