Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Cousin Unsure How to Speak Up About Adoption Issue

DEAR HARRIETTE: My cousin adopted her grandson when he was an infant. She did that because her son and the baby’s mother were unfit to care for the boy, and she thought he was in harm’s way. The court agreed with her, and she has had him in her custody for more than a dozen years. Every now and then the boy’s mother will try to get in touch with her son. At first my cousin encouraged visits and for them to stay in touch, but every time they would get together, he would come back with behavioral problems. My cousin told me the mom tried to reach her son to say happy birthday, but my cousin did not deliver the message. I felt bad about that. I wonder how this young man is going to feel later in life given that he has no relationship with his mother. Will he resent his grandmother? Is she doing the right thing? Since she told me about it, should I express my concern? -- Protecting the Boy, Philadelphia

DEAR PROTECTING THE BOY: This is a complicated situation with no simple answers. Your cousin seems to be doing her best, which included adopting her grandson in order to ensure that he would grow up in a healthy environment. Yet, it is tricky for a child not to have regular engagement with his parents. It is likely this young man will have some emotional issues to wrestle with as he grows up.

Since your cousin shared details about the family dynamic, you can share your opinion. If you think she should tell the young man his mother reached out, say as much. You can add that even though the dynamics are tricky, your cousin probably doesn’t want to be the one refusing to allow him to communicate with his mother. Defer to her, though. She knows what goes on between the two of them. Ultimately, she is the one charged with protecting her grandson.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I was driving a group of teenagers to a baseball game when one of them opened the window and threw a banana peel out of the car. I was shocked. This child is close to my son and normally well-mannered. I pulled over, stopped the car and told him to get out with me and collect the banana peel to put it in the trash. He couldn’t believe I did that, but he got out and picked it up.

Later my son told me how embarrassed he was that I picked on his friend like that. He said his friends won’t want to hang out with him if his mother embarrasses them like that. I was so angry I didn’t say anything to my son. How can I address this so my son understands how egregious his friend’s behavior was? -- Crossing the Line, Atlanta

DEAR CROSSING THE LINE: Point out to your son that littering is illegal and immoral. It is our job to take care of our planet, not pollute it. That goes for your son at all times and his friends when they are in your company. Acknowledge that you did not intend to humiliate this young man. You did need to uphold your values, which meant the friend had to pick up his litter. Add that your son should reinforce good environmental habits with his friends.

(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)