Ask Natalie by Natalie Bencivenga

Daughter Dating Older Man? Mom Worried Daughter Is Gaining Weight?

DEAR NATALIE: My 20-year-old daughter is dating a man more than twice her age! She isn’t even old enough to drink yet. I don’t understand why she needs to date a 41-year-old. I don’t approve of this relationship, and we have been fighting about it ever since I said something a few months ago. Now she wants to move in with him. I feel as though I need to say, “It’s either him or your family.” What should I do? -- ANGRY MOM

DEAR ANGRY MOM: Tread lightly here. Your daughter is an adult now (albeit a young one) and giving her an ultimatum most likely won’t help the situation. I know this isn’t ideal, but take a deep breath and a step back. Saying “It’s either him or us” is only going to push her further into his arms and away from you. Instead, try acceptance (if only momentarily) so that you can figure out what is really going on. If he is treating her well, what can you do? And if he isn’t treating her well, if he is controlling or unkind, then creating a place for her is even more important. Keep an open mind for now, and an open door for later.

DEAR NATALIE: My 15-year-old daughter is starting to get a little heavy and isn’t as active as she should be. The other day I suggested it wouldn’t hurt her to get off the couch and move a bit, which of course exploded into a fight about her being “fat.” She was crying and asking me if I really thought she was fat and I didn’t want to lie. I felt I needed to tell her that I was getting concerned that she had put on some weight. Now she isn’t speaking to me. I’m not sure how to handle this. Any thoughts? -- DIET DISASTER

DEAR DIET DISASTER: I’m wondering whether this is really her issue or your issue. Up until you pointed it out her, it didn’t seem to occur to her that she was “getting fat.” If her weight isn’t a health issue and more of a vanity issue, why you are so involved? Did you have a hard time growing up and want her to avoid some of the problems you faced, perhaps bullying or feeling insecure in your own body? Instead of chastising her -- which will probably only cause her to eat more -- why not engage with her on things that are empowering and meaningful? If she likes to write or enjoys music or painting or sports, find something you can do together that has nothing to do with talking about her weight. Later, incorporate some fun physical activities you can share. Frame them as just things to do together and not as “working out” or “slimming down.” Being a teenage girl is r-o-u-g-h and the world outside is harsh enough. Her body is changing and the last thing she needs is her mother making her feel less than. Be a part of what uplifts her, not what tears her down. 

Natalie’s Networking Tip of the Week: Looking for a way to connect with new friends? I was invited recently to a macaroon making party and while our pastries weren’t beautiful, the fun banter and shared experience was bonding. Food can be a great way to connect, so have a few new friends over and see what you can whip up!

Please send your relationship and lifestyle questions to or tweet them to @NBSeen. You can also send postal letters to Natalie Bencivenga, 358 North Shore Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15212

(This column was originally published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)