DEAR AMY: My teenage daughter "Ariella" has shut me out of her life! I am a divorced dad of four years. Until now I have enjoyed a healthy and loving relationship with my daughter. Ariella stayed with me every other weekend and one evening a week. When she turned 14, she changed her hair color to electric blue and refused to see me.
For the last three months, I have consistently reached out to her to ask what's wrong, but she refuses to see me and will not return my calls or text messages. Her mom won't take sides and insists that whatever is going on is between Ariella and me.
We attended one counseling session together, and she says she is unhappy at my home but won't say why. I have consulted several attorneys, and they do not recommend litigation for this delicate matter. Amy, I am very sad to not see her. How can I get my daughter back?
— Sad Dad
DEAR DAD: Your ex-wife's refusal to help mediate this is damaging and not fair to the child. However, the blue hair is a clue of sorts into her angst. She also may be shutting out her mother and as much of a mystery to her custodial parent as she is to you.
Some 14-year-olds literally slam their bedroom doors on their parents, dye their hair and basically go underground. Your daughter is showing you how alienated she feels. If your daughter made it to therapy once, please do everything in your power to get her back into therapy.
Your therapist may direct you not to press your daughter too hard with leading questions such as "What's wrong?" Instead, assume an attitude of listening, sympathy and openness. Stay in touch with her, without applying pressure.
DEAR AMY: Help! My son just bought an engagement ring! I have had one pet peeve since the day he started to date this young woman: She never gets up to help clear the table, ever!
My son is definitely a "doer" — he cooks and cleans — but when they are at a family gathering (and we are a big Italian family), everyone gets up after the meal and clears the table, and she remains seated. Sometimes she is the only one seated!
It really riles everyone up, but we are all afraid to say anything. I can't believe my son doesn't say anything either!
I don't want to be the grumpy mother-in-law, but really, Amy! The first time we met her, there were 14 of us at the table. At the end of dinner, everyone got up to clear except for me. (Everyone knows the cook doesn't clear.)
She said, "I guess I should get up," and I said, "I think you should!" This was the first and last time she ever did! What can I do to graciously ask her to help out? We're tired at the end of the day, so let's all help one another, right?
DEAR TIRED: It is surprising that you don't know how to graciously ask a question. Granted, being gracious is not quite as entertaining as criticizing someone behind her back, but it's infinitely easier.
Your future daughter-in-law may be less assertive than you are. She might not really know how to roll up her sleeves and plunge in. Or maybe you are right, and your son is marrying a lazy git.
You can retrain her by asking, nicely, every time you dine together, "Let's give the cook a break and help with the dishes, honey. I'll wash, and you can dry."
DEAR AMY: "Grumpy Old Man" was complaining about the kids who live next door hitting many balls a day into his backyard. I can't believe you encouraged him to continue to be grumpy! He should embrace these young people, whose biggest crime is that they are playing baseball.
— Upset Reader
DEAR UPSET: I could imagine how "Grumpy" felt. Sometimes, the repetition of youthful incursions into flowerbeds wears a person down. Next thing you know, you're shaking your fist in the air, yelling, "Hey you kids, get the heck out of my yard!"