Life Advice

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Health & Spirit

Older sister struggles to describe family relationship

By Amy Dickinson, Tribune Content Agency on

Dear Big Sister: Telling your sister that you call your stepfather by his first name because you are a "grown-up" is just not true, and this might continue to be an issue for the girl because she wonders why her family members aren't being truthful about something so important to her.

Eight-year-olds are naturally curious about family relationships. This is completely appropriate. You and your family members need to stop acting like this is some strange, scandalous, or unfathomable mystery, and simply explain the family tree to someone who deserves to understand it.

Get out two pieces of paper. Cut out headshots of all of the pertinent parties (including your sister), and tape them to the papers. Label one "Brenda's family tree" and the other "Anna's family tree." Include both your father and stepfather in your family tree, and also include her.

Your mother needs to be transparent about her previous marriage and explain that she was divorced for many years before Anna was born.

Tell Anna about meeting her for the first time when she was a baby, and how tiny and cute she was, and how happy you were to finally have a sister.

While you're at it, you could build this family tree outward so that your sister understands the distinction between aunts and cousins. This is the essence of the "teachable moment."

Dear Amy: What, if any, is a good response to a person who calls attention to his or her obvious physical defect or condition?

For example, an overweight person recently referred to himself as a "fat slob," and a somewhat homely person made a self-deprecating remark about his unattractive face.

It made me feel uncomfortable, and of course, I did not make any comment, but just passed over what had been said and went on to talk about something else.

Is there a better way to respond?

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