DEAR AMY: My great-niece is 11 years old. I'm very concerned about her. She's lived with her grandparents (my younger brother's family), since she was very young. She doesn't really have much contact with her own mother or father (who split up years ago). She recently found out that her mother is pregnant by a new boyfriend and is going to have a baby girl. I asked my brother how my great-niece is handling this and he said, "Not very good." He asked me for any advice. I told him that I wasn't sure how to handle this. My concern is that she stays in her bedroom all the time and seems very withdrawn, depressed and unhappy. She used to be happy and smiling. Any help on how to handle this very difficult situation?
DEAR WORRIED: Now is the time to surround this girl with love, affection and attention. You can probably imagine how conflicted and hurt she is feeling — her mother, who abandoned her, is now starting another family. This will revive every abandonment sadness she has ever had, and will likely introduce more feelings that she can't articulate and doesn't know how to handle.
Her guardians should not let her isolate herself. Privacy is important for young adolescents, but isolation will contribute to her sadness.
Everyone in the family should attempt to talk to her about this. Don't assume she is happy about this news, and don't force her toward a happy narrative ("Hey — you're going to have a little sister!"). Instead, ask her, "Can you describe how you are feeling?" If she is inarticulate or silent, don't correct her. Reassure her and enfold her in her family's embrace. Watch a favorite movie together. Go bowling and ice-skating. Put her first.
If there are safe ways for her to see her mother, she should be offered this opportunity.
Books will help her to process and tackle some of her sadness and worry. Give her some good, age-appropriate books to dive into (I highly recommend the site amightygirl.com for book suggestions). Read together.
A book for the adults to consider is: "The Worry Workbook for Kids: Helping Children to Overcome Anxiety and the Fear of Uncertainty (An Instant Help Book for Parents & Kids)," by Muniya S. Khanna and Deborah Roth (2018, Instant Help).
If it's possible, she should also see a counselor with experience in working with children. An independent, caring and supportive adult could coach her in ways to process and respond to her very big feelings.
DEAR AMY: My parents have been divorced for several years. They refuse to reconcile, and they refuse to let me live with either one of them. Most recently, they also decided against continuing to financially support me. I have been in and out of law school — most recently out — because I flunked out. What should I do with my life? Should my mother or father agree to take me back in, and/or financially support me so I can live comfortably until I'm back in school or have a high-paying job? Please advise.
Prospective Law Student & Aspiring Actor
DEAR PROSPECTIVE: No, your parents should not provide you with a comfortable living while you get your act together. You're on your own now. And this is what it feels like to be on our own (hint: Often, it feels vexingly uncomfortable).
Law school might not be for you. For one thing, your own judgment and critical-thinking skills seem so faulty that you just don't seem cut out for a career in the law (although your gas-lighting skills would probably acquit you nicely).
Acting, however, will allow you to inhabit fantasy and express your creativity. Acting is deep and hard work, however — and opportunities don't present themselves unless and until you are ready to recognize and accept them.
It's time for you to experience the terror and joy of making your own way in the world.
DEAR AMY: "Experienced with Equine" corrected your use of the phrase "jumping at the bit" by saying that the correct phrase is "chomping at the bit." I beg to differ! The correct phrase is "champing at the bit!" Anyone experienced with equine matters knows this.
Correcting the Correction
DEAR CORRECTING: The beautiful thing about this is that I've heard from several hundred people who are deeply engaged and knowledgeable about both horses and language. My understanding is that both spellings are used. Thank you all.