DEAR HARRIETTE: My relationship with my teenage niece has deteriorated to the point where we are not talking to each other. She has a boyfriend, and I think that is the reason of the decline in our relationship. He is what I would call a typical "bad boy." He is a high school dropout, and he has encouraged my niece to quit school or at least not to attend as frequently. I spoke to her about this young man because it concerned me, and she got mad. My sister, who is her mother, and her kids and I live together. Now, every morning I greet my niece and she walks away in disgust. I am doing my best to keep the lines of communication open between us, but it is not working. What should I do? -- Family First, Chicago
DEAR FAMILY FIRST: Talk to your sister about the situation. Ask her if she is aware of the friction between you and your niece. Point out what you believe to be happening between her and her boyfriend. Make sure she knows about the school delinquency as well.
As an adult in the home, take responsibility for oversight of what may be happening. Remember that you are the grownup in your relationship with your niece. The next time she walks away, you may want to call out to her to say that you want to talk. Let her know that you care about her and that you are concerned about her. See if she responds.
Since you live together, there should be a level of respect required in the household. You and your sister need to identify what those rules should be and work together to enforce them. Keep in mind that there likely is something going on with your niece that is leading her to act out. That is what you and your sister need to identify.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My church is having a Christmas party for a women's shelter in New York City, and my pastor has asked the members if we can sponsor a child and give them a toy. I would love to sponsor a child; however, I am not in the position financially to do so at this time. What are some ways I can give without spending money? -- A Heart to Give, New York City
DEAR A HEART TO GIVE: Tell your pastor of your circumstances. Explain that you want to help in whatever way you can that does not cost money. Offer to help deliver the items to the shelter. Offer to assist your pastor in any other ways the church or the shelter may need.
Consider being creative and making a gift for a child. It is possible for you to use your own hands and a few resources that you already have at home to craft a gift that a child may love.