Mother wonders if daughter needs professional help, daughter disgusted by mother-in-law’s table manners

Published 12:18 am Saturday, September 2, 2006

Dear Annie: Our 13-year-old daughter has us completely at a loss when it comes to relating to her. When she enters the room, the first words out of her mouth are sarcastic, disrespectful and downright mean. I cannot remember the last time she initiated or even participated in a normal conversation.

“Jodi” doesn’t seem to appreciate the sacrifices we make and the kind things we do for her. It isn’t that she’s a teenager. She has been hard to handle for some years. I think it may be the temperament she was born with. Her older siblings were nowhere near this much trouble.

Jodi makes it very unpleasant to be at home when she is here. All we ask is that she be respectful and considerate. We’re not asking for more — we’ve been forced to lower our expectations a great deal because of the way she treats us. We try to be firm with her, but she continues to be nasty. Is it time for professional help? — Hopeful Mom

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Dear Mom: Yes, it’s time. If Jodi has been difficult and nasty for years, her attitude is fairly entrenched. Getting her to change her behavior will require some adjustments from you as well as her, so please get to work on it. Once she turns 18, you will have no control over the situation. Ask your pediatrician to recommend a family therapist and make an appointment right away.

Dear Annie: Over the past several years, my mother-in-law’s table manners have become socially embarrassing. She never uses a knife to eat. Instead, she uses her fingers to tear the meat apart or to push food onto her fork. To make matters worse, she then licks her fingers, making sucking noises at the table.

We’ve tried to overlook it in our home. However, our son was married recently and Mom did this in front of my new daughter-in-law’s family and guests. It was embarrassing. Is there any way to gently tell her how bad this makes her look? She is a really nice person otherwise. — Grossed Out D-I-L

Dear Grossed Out: Sometimes increased sloppiness or laxness in eating habits can be indicative of a medical or dental problem, and if your mother-in-law hasn’t had a check-up in the past few months, suggest that she see her doctor and dentist. Otherwise, tell her (sweetly) that she may not realize how much she uses her fingers to eat, and that the noises she makes are audible to everyone at the table. If she doesn’t care and doesn’t change, there’s nothing more you can do.

Dear Annie: I read the letter from “Confused in New York,” the bipolar woman who is working on a teaching degree, but would rather start a business pet-and-house-sitting. This woman is about to enter the most challenging aspect of her professional preparation program, and it is highly unlikely she will succeed if she is pursuing this solely to pay off a loan or to satisfy her husband’s wishes.

I have worked in the field of education for over 30 years, and this is what I would tell her: See if you can complete your degree without completing student teaching. Obtaining a degree in education or a general bachelor’s degree is possible from many institutions. Be sure to check all options with a qualified college adviser, and find one who can help you explore options regarding your loans.

If you choose to complete a degree, you will likely need additional credits. I would advise you to take these in the area of business. Given your interests, you will want to learn more about how to make your pet-and-home-sitting business a success. If in the future you decide to pursue a career in teaching, it will be easier to do, having already earned your degree. — Ph.D. in Wisconsin

Dear Dr.: Many readers chastised us for advising this woman to finish her degree, since she was not completely committed to teaching. Your advice to concentrate on other areas of education makes sense to us.