DEAR HARRIETTE: I have three children, ages 6, 11 and 18. My two youngest kids are with my current husband, and my oldest is from a previous marriage.
I am having some trouble with my eldest son. He always seems to be in a bad mood and unwilling to spend time with our family. I know he is at that age where he only wants to be with his friends, and I usually give him a lot of space to be independent, but I would like him to want to spend more time with our family.
I have tried talking with him about this, but every time I bring it up, he completely shuts me down and ignores me for a couple of days. Please let me know if you have any advice on how I can approach my son about spending more time with our family. -- Sad Mama, Silver Spring, Maryland
DEAR SAD MAMA: Your eldest is at the age when he should be almost leaving the nest. While he is living at home, you can still make house rules. First, tell him how important it is to you that he participate in family activities, at least a little bit. Acknowledge that you know he prefers to spend time with his friends. Point out that, for you, family is first and that you want him to make family a priority among his other interests. If he still resists, give him an ultimatum. If he wants to keep living in your house, you expect him to participate in family activities. Only go there as a last resort, though. The goal is to get him to want to be connected, at least a little bit.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I am a 22-year-old guy, and my girlfriend is 20. I am about to graduate from college, and my girlfriend works in our hometown. I love her and can see myself spending the rest of my life with her, but I am worried that we are rushing our relationship. She leaves me not-so-subtle hints about marriage. The other day she came home with a T-shirt with the word fiancee on it and hinted to me that we will be getting married soon. How do I talk to her about slowing down our relationship without making it seem like I am unhappy? -- Not Ready for Marriage, Sausalito, California
DEAR NOT READY FOR MARRIAGE: Get ready for one of many heart-to-heart discussions with your girlfriend. Invite her to sit down and talk to you. Ask her why she got the T-shirt saying fiancee, given that you two are not engaged. Tell her that you love her and believe you have a future, but you are not ready to take the next step. Be prepared to tell her why. If it's because you haven't figured out yet how to earn a living or how you plan to grow into adulthood, tell her.
This could be a turning point in your relationship, depending on how the conversation unfolds. Be prepared to stay open and honest -- and true to your path.
(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to email@example.com or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)