Dear Amy: I was awakened at 3 a.m. by my 4-year-old crying out for me.
When I went to his room, he was sobbing about having a bad dream. I asked what happened and he cried, “I was killing daddy!” He was hysterical. I asked, “How were you killing him?” He responded, “With a Hot Wheels track.” I didn’t push further, in fact, I kind of wanted to laugh.
He had gotten into trouble before bedtime when his dad told him to clean up the living room and pick up all of the Hot Wheel tracks scattered around the house. My son threw a fit about having to pick up his mess.
That night, I consoled him, and explained nightmares.
I’m wondering if the nightmare was his subconscious still being angry with his dad. Should I worry about future aggression or psychological issues? He was very upset that he had this dream and couldn’t go back to bed without telling his dad he loved him and that he was sorry.
Dear Concerned: The genesis of this nightmare seems obvious. And your son’s instinct to resolve his feelings by apologizing and telling his dad he loved him in the middle of the dark night was a psychologically and emotionally very healthy (and mature) response. Good boy!
One reason parents try to have a peaceful wind-down to the day is so the family can enter the night relatively unfettered by unresolved disputes and anxieties.
Before your son drifts off to sleep, you and his dad should encourage him to reflect on the day. His own story about how the day went will reveal his anxieties to you, and help you to encourage him to resolve them. Ask him, “What was your least favorite part of this day?” Listen to his answer and help him to resolve any dangling worries. Then ask, “What was your favorite part of the day?” This enables both of you to relive something fun, silly and pleasant. Also ask, “How did you show kindness today?”
These questions at the end of each day will help him to modulate his behavior during the day and put his own story into context at night.
Dear Amy: My children’s spouses do not call my husband and me “Dad” and “Mom.” They call us by our first names.
I have gone along with their preference. I’ve also noticed that my children do not call their spouses’ parents “Mom” and “Dad,” either.
When I was growing up in the ’60s, my parents called each other’s parents, “Ma” and “Pa” (Italian), and “Dad” (the non-Italian parent).
When I married, I immediately addressed my in-laws as “Mom” and “Dad.” I felt that I was honoring them by addressing them in this way. I felt that I was giving them the honor that I gave my own parents. I also felt that it would be an honor for my husband to call my folks “Mom” and “Dad.”
What is your opinion about this? Why do people no longer call their in-laws, “Mom” and “Dad”? What changed in society?
Dear Wondering: The language changes, along with the culture. Many aspects of Western culture have changed since the ’60s. Because many families are geographically scattered, the relationship to in-laws is often less parental, and more based in friendship.
When I asked my own mother about this, she confessed that she called her mother-in-law “Mrs. Dickinson,” through the first years of her marriage (in the ’50s). After that, she spent many years basically strategizing ways to not use any particular address for her mother-in-law, because my mother was too shy to bring it up, and her mother-in-law too formidable to relieve the discomfort.
When I got married, I immediately asked my mother-in-law how she would like to be addressed. She claimed not to care, and I believed her, and so I addressed her by her first name, which always felt right to me.
Importantly, you seem quite sad about this. I hope you will bring up your preference to your in-laws: “How would you feel about calling us ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’?” They might be happy to oblige.
Dear Amy: I’m reacting to the letter by “Burdened,” the elderly man who is holding a secret: he fathered a child when he was a teenager. Thank you for telling him to be honest with his family. I’d like to encourage him to search. He might be my dad!
Adopted and Looking
Dear Adopted: DNA testing is creating many opportunities for families to find each other.
Email Amy at firstname.lastname@example.org.