Q. My husband and I have two grown sons, 22 and 28. Both live on their own. One is a student; the other has a full-time job. The boys are both single, and we would like to take them on a vacation. The problem is that the older son has a drinking problem, meaning when he drinks he becomes a problem. He's a fun, good-natured guy when sober, but when he drinks, he becomes mean and picks fights with his Dad and me, embarrasses all of us, and has gotten into some serious trouble in the past over this. His younger brother is able to steer him back on course when he gets out of control, but I don't think it's fair to expect that of him. I don't see how we can take one son on a trip and not the other. Should I just forget the whole idea of a vacation with my sons?
A. I have never believed that all children must be treated equally, if only because there are so many variables. I think you are correct that your younger son should not have to be hall monitor for his brother, and neither should you be on a vacation where you’re wondering what his next move will be. It would be perfectly correct — and maybe even a step in the right direction — if you were to tell your son with the drinking problem that you'd love to have him come if he could abstain from spirits, because you don't wish to deal with his evil, 80-proof twin. If he decides that is not an acceptable condition, so be it.
Q. A good friend has one child, a 6-year-old daughter, who is running the show. It is almost painful to be around her because there is no discipline. No one ever says “no” to her, and adult conversation is almost impossible. Even when there are dinner parties, no one tells the kid to go to bed, so she is crawling around under the table and occasionally popping up to demand attention. Neither parent ever says “go to your room.” My children are older, so I have left this stage far behind, but I'm wondering whether I should say something. I know it's touchy to criticize anyone's children, but this laissez-faire approach is not doing the kid any good, and her mother, especially, will pay for this down the line. I consider this woman a good friend, and part of me feels that friends have an obligation to level with each other. But since this is such a delicate subject, I would like your opinion.
A. Yes, indeedy, this kid sounds like a witch in training. And you are right about it being a touchy subject. To criticize a child is really to criticize the parents — or perhaps more correctly, the parenting. People do not respond well to what they emotionally feel is an attack. Your only way into such a discussion would be as this woman's “older friend” who has been through the childhood wars. If there is an opening, such as maybe a small confession about being at her wits’ end, you might broach the subject by saying something like, “It is really tough, and I well remember when my Janie was young.” If she is at all receptive, you could then talk about the value of discipline and boundaries and throw in that child experts believe this is what kids actually want — and need. Good luck.