Ask Amy Amy Dickinson, Ask Amy

Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.

DEAR AMY: I am a mother of two beautiful children, ages 7 and 4. My older child is very well behaved. Her grandparents and relatives enjoy spending time with her. They take her for sleepovers and play dates. My younger child is a little more difficult. He can be very sweet and loving, but he can have temper tantrums and misbehave at times. He doesn't listen very well and has a stubborn streak. My problem is that the relatives don't want to take him for play dates, movies or sleepovers, like they do my daughter. It wasn't a huge issue when my son was smaller, but now he is 4 and he gets very upset when he is left out. Family members continue to ask for my daughter's company but constantly leave my son out. I have finally said that if they don't take both children, it isn't fair. Am I handling this the wrong way? I want both kids to be wanted and included.

Troubled Mommy of Two

DEAR MOMMY: You need to find ways to optimize your son's chances for success. When family members exclude him, they not only are denying him opportunities to learn, but they are also diminishing the family connection.

Your son may not be ready for a sleepover -- or even sitting through a movie at a theater -- but ice skating, mini-golf or kicking a soccer ball at your local field might be perfect for him.

The best way to approach this with family members might be to enlist their help: "I know Benji can be a handful, but I'm trying to come up with ways to get him up to speed. Can you invite him on a short outing so he can get to know you better and also get more experience in how to behave?" Also talk to your son about his behavior -- he needs to learn to make the connection.

If your daughter is involved in an activity elsewhere, invite the grandparents to join you and your youngest -- at your house, their house or another kid-friendly venue. Seeing him when his sister isn't present to blind them with her charms might help them forge a connection.

You cannot make every social interchange "fair," but family members should be more aware of the impact of their actions.

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DEAR AMY: My husband and I notice a trend among some of our friends that we think is strange, but maybe we're the crazy ones. We have been invited to parties at people's homes, and invitations will say, "Bring a dish to pass." We bring a dish, have fun and keep our opinions to ourselves, but we both think it's bizarre to have a party and expect the guests to bring the food (finances are not an issue). When a group is planning a cookout, having everyone bring food seems normal. But planning a party in your home and not providing the food -- is this a new thing?

BYOF

DEAR BYOF: I do believe that "potlucks" are on the rise.

The apex of this movement was when I was invited to a dinner party and I offhandedly asked if there was anything I could bring. I was assigned "an entree." Sigh.

But when you consider the alternative (staying home and cooking for yourself, or devoting a full day or two to prepping and throwing a dinner party), a potluck is economical, much easier on the host -- and fun.

I hope you will continue to accept these invitations and see them simply as another way of getting together with friends. But please carry on with your own generous style of entertaining. It may be "old school," but it's still cool.

DEAR AMY: I'm responding to "Had It with Dad," the man whose elderly father-in-law was verbally abusive to his wife and family. I am willing to bet that he does not behave this way without an audience. He is banking on his audience remaining polite and giving him free rein to abuse. Bullies are cowards -- most likely the challenge from this man's son-in-law did the trick!

No Bullies

DEAR NO: I hope so.