DEAR AMY: I am a 37-year-old mother of two. My younger child is 6. His father and I never had a plan for a future together. He is just a big kid who has never taken responsibility financially to help me with our son. He hasn't put his name on our son's birth certificate, for fear that child support services will garnish his wages. When we went to court, they came up with a monthly figure of $180 for child support. He has since given me only about $15 to $30 every two weeks. My family and friends keep telling me to play hardball because he's taking advantage of my kindness. We get along -- my son has never seen us fight and we've even taken vacations together as friends. I am scared that will change as soon as his wages get garnished. On the other hand, I work full time and provide so much for my kids that a little help with bills would be a blessing. What should I do?

-- Hard Working Mom

DEAR MOM: Surely when you deal with your own children you expect them to take responsibility for their actions and face consequences. You should expect at least as much from the father of your son.

Officially acknowledging that he is the father of this child is necessary. This is for your son.

You two have been to court before and have managed to keep things friendly (this speaks well of both of you). Obviously, he needs to pay child support, but you still have matters to negotiate, and if you do so successfully you will not need to play hardball.

Ask the court to assign a mediator. The matters on the table at this point are his requirement to acknowledge paternity and the amount of child support he realistically can/will provide. Reducing the amount from $180 to $125, for instance, might encourage him to actually make his payments in full.

Otherwise, if he is able to pay but is refusing to pay, or if he is forgetting to make this very modest support payment, then he is both a deadbeat dad and a baby, and he should have his wages garnished.