Dear Emuna: My Son's Six-Pack

February 16, 2011

7 min read


Help! My fitness-obsessed son is driving me crazy.

Dear Emuna,

My teenage son is very into his health, obsessive in fact. He is constantly working out, checking in the mirror for his six-pack and, in other ways, admiring his physique. He is very concerned with what he eats, trying hard to eliminate sugar, salt and all fried foods from his diet. His topics of conversation have narrowed to breakfast, lunch, dinner, the gym, and evening snack. He’s making me crazy. How can I get him to stop?

-- (Not so) Health-Conscious Mom

Dear Mom,

Why would you want him to stop? You are the envy of parents of teenagers throughout the world. He’s eating healthy? Call Michelle Obama right now and tell her your secret. Most American adolescents eat too much junk and fatty foods and you’re complaining about a child who doesn’t? Say thank you to the Almighty. And get yourself some new cookbooks!

Additionally, even though it may be a little boring or even annoying to constantly discuss food and exercise, this is a big step up from the topics of conversation of most teenage boys. And at least he’s talking to you instead of just grunting. You have a lot to be grateful for.

If he’s at the gym, he’s not in a lot of other much less healthy (in all respects) environments. Sometimes (okay, almost always), teenage girls go through phases when they are obsessed with their clothing. For mothers who don’t like to shop, this can be a particular challenge. But the goal is to connect with your kids, so you have to work on being fascinated by what interests them. This furthers the relationship which is the most important thing you have going. The same is true here. Make yourself interested; this is your son and you want to know and understand what he likes. (This is true for husbands and wives as well but that’s another letter!)

It sounds like you have a terrific son. Give him a hug (in the privacy of your home and when no one else is looking of course!) and tell him how much you love him. And if you're teaching and modeling good values -- which it sounds like you are -- hopefully as he matures he'll come to appreciate that there's more to life than his body.

-- Emuna

Dear Emuna,

I work from home. My family needs the extra income and truth is I enjoy the stimulation. But I’m having a hard time balancing my work demands with those of my family and home. As I walk through the house, it’s hard not to clean up, do laundry, start dinner…And the next thing I know, the morning is gone. When my kids get home from school, I want to give them attention. There goes the afternoon and evening. And I didn’t even mention my husband’s needs. Help!

-- Torn in About a Zillion Directions

Dear Torn,

Working a home is tough for men and women. It’s hard to concentrate and the structure and motivation needs to all be self-imposed. You seem to be struggling with both sides of the equation – how to create a work atmosphere at home and accomplish what is necessary – and how to give your children and spouse what they need in the midst of this.

The work situation may be easier to solve. Begin by getting dressed. Do not work in your pajamas. You need to be in a professional mode in order to focus on your job. And yes, clothes make the man (or woman).

Try, if possible, to put your office in a separate part of the house – away from the main distractions like the refrigerator, television and bedroom. And create some parameters for yourself. Set up minimal hours for work and adhere to them “religiously.” Besides allowing you to be successful at your job, if you work hard during the designated hours, you will feel freer to attend to other responsibilities when you are outside that time frame.

Your family also needs special time. Set some aside just for them. Just as you need to assign special work hours, you also need designated non-working ones – perhaps from the end of school until bedtime (depending on the ages and needs of your family). No work-related calls (no calls at all might be even better!), no work-related activities. No “just checking one email.”

Compartmentalizing and separating is crucial. If your children know they have your full attention during “their” time, they will (usually) leave you alone at other times. But if they feel they are constantly competing for your attention, they will never stop. You have control over this situation.

When you are structuring your day, don’t forget that your spouse has needs also. We have taken care of work and the children; it’s too easy to let the needs of the other adult in the family slide. This would be a big mistake for your marriage. The two of you need to work out a schedule of work vs. together time. Again, I recommend some designated hours. While there is always room for flexibility (a big project, work function on the one side or a romantic getaway on the other), it is important to adhere to the guidelines as much as possible or someone will feel hurt and resentful.

It’s a big gift to be able to work from home. There are so many conveniences and benefits that accompany that kind of career. Like everything else, it needs to be handled thoughtfully and strategically.

-- Emuna

Dear Emuna,

My husband and I are expecting another child and both sets of parents want to come visit as soon as they hear of the baby’s birth. We love them both but the truth is they are all very needy. When they come, they are very dependent on me to drive them all around town, to cook for them, and to provide “entertainment.” They also don’t have a lot of patience for the chaos of a family with a number of small children. In general we are happy to cater to their needs and glad that our children are close with their grandparents, but I know that after I give birth I won’t be able to take care of them. (In fact, I will want someone to take care of me!) They just take for granted that they are coming when the baby is born. How do I gently suggest that another time would be better?

-- Loving and Overwhelmed Daughter/Daughter-in-Law

Dear Conscientious Daughter/Daughter-in-Law,

Whew! That’s a tough one. You don’t want to hurt the feelings of your parents or in-laws or make them feel in any way unwelcome. On the other hand, the time after giving birth is very difficult – physically and emotionally. Your first responsibility is to your immediate family. It will be a challenge enough to look after your infant, your husband and your other children. It is not really fair to them to add grandparents to the mix (unless they would be very helpful – but that’s not what you described).

Begin by telling both sets of grandparents how much you love them and how much you and your family really like it when they visit. Then I think you could gently ask them for a favor. Tell them how much you would like them to come when you will have the energy to really enjoy their trip. Maybe suggest an appropriate date in the future. Promise to send lots of pictures and make plans for what they can do with the grandkids when they do come. Get on Skype (God’s gift to grandparents) so you can see each other in the meantime. Tell again how much you love them.

They may still get insulted (although hopefully not if you use such a loving approach); you can’t help that. You did your best. And don’t back down out of guilt. You will not be doing anyone any favors, least of all yourself.

Next Steps