Dear Amy: I am an American man living in China with my two sons.
I left my wife because she was a drug addict. I paid for her to go to a treatment program, but it did not work for her. She died of an overdose.
My older son was 3 when his mother died; his younger brother was two. Neither boy seems to remember much about her. We moved to China a few months before she died.
Both boys think their mother is in America. I have not told them the truth about her. I don’t think they know that she had any problems, or that she has died.
My older boy is proud to say (when asked) that his mom is in America. But I think that he surely must wonder why she is never in touch.
I know I need to tell my sons the truth. I would never tell them that she died of a drug overdose, but I wonder about the guidelines. How old should they be when I tell them their mother is gone forever?
My oldest son is 5 and the younger is almost four.
I’d really appreciate your help.
Dear Lost: I shared your question with Dr. Joshua Sparrow, director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center at Boston Children’s Hospitaland Harvard Medical School.
He responds: “Yes, you need to tell your sons the truth. As parents, that’s our best chance to sustain our children’s trust in us, and to model the importance of being truthful. We parents must do our best to help our children learn to cope with the inescapable challenges that we all must live with.
“Never say anything that you will have to take back. There is no need to say more than a young child can understand, but it is important not to say things that you will later need to contradict. You must tell them that death is forever. Of course, they will not understand. Most adults can’t really fathom death’s irreversibility, either.
“Tell the truth in simple terms. Don’t add more detail than they can handle. They will let you know when they’re ready for more. There is no such thing as closure after a death.
“Children, like grown-ups, revisit the loss through time. As they grow, they will raise new questions that they didn’t even know to ask when they were younger. Be ready to NOT be ready.
“You can say that their mother died from a very bad sickness that most people – including children – never get.
“Manage your own feelings about their mother’s addiction so that your children do not have to deal with your conflicted feelings while dealing with their own. It is important not to cast blame, because children, even very young ones, often blame themselves for a parent’s death.”
Dr. Sparrow and I agree that your children are lucky to have a father willing to walk this difficult path, hand in hand with them.
Dear Amy: I work for a family-owned company in the Midwest. I am first (blood) cousin to the owners of the company.
I love them very much and go above and beyond in my work. I’ve worked for them for eight months, but for the last six months, I have not been paid.
This is nepotism, right? I tried having conversations with them about this issue (payroll, my unhappiness), but they make it about their problems and the company’s problems.
What hurts me most is the emotional investment, time and loyalty.
I know my family needs my help, but I continue to get the short end of the stick.
I just want to make everyone happy.
Dear Uncompensated: If you are on the payroll at this company and you are working and they are not paying you, they are likely breaking federal law.
“Nepotism” is when family members favor one another in the workplace.
What you are experiencing is abuse.
You should find another job immediately. Keep all of your records from this job, including all written communication, in order to try to receive back pay.
If you want to help your family members in your free time, perhaps you could volunteer on nights or weekends. Working under these circumstances is not good for you.
Dear Amy: Wow. “Driving Me Nuts” described that annoying, grating speaking style that I even hear on NPR. “Vocal fry” describes it perfectly.
Now, how can we get it to stop?
Dear Had It: This, too, shall pass.
Email Amy at email@example.com.