Question: My 15-year-old daughter and I are very close. My question relates to her non-relationship with her father. He and I divorced when she was a baby. He does not live nearby and uses the distance as an excuse to not come around.

He has never attended any function that was important to her. He always has a "legitimate" reason for not being there, but he is really just lazy when it comes to putting forth effort in any relationship.

To make matters worse, he has two other children who live near him and he does see them on occasion.

My daughter appears to be well-adjusted, but I know from the times that I find her crying and from writings in her journal that she feels left out and forgotten by her father. She does not like to talk to me about him and rejects the notion of seeing a counselor.

Is there anything I can do to help her? I've tried talking to her father, but he says he will do something and then doesn't.

I am fearful for my daughter's future relationships. I was a child of a broken home, and my father wasn't around either. I have serious commitment issues with men, which probably stem from my father's absence. I want to do all I can to ensure that my daughter doesn't walk down the same road. — No Name, via e-mail

Answer: How painful to have to worry that your daughter will suffer the way you have! Of course you wish you could change her father's behavior, but it sounds as if you may not be able to.

In adolescence, it is often necessary for a child to accept a parent's limitations and mourn the loss of the parent who left. This is sad and difficult, but it's far better than holding on to false hopes and promises only to be disappointed when the truth must be faced.

This process is more difficult when the child's feelings become intertwined with those of the parent who stayed.

Perhaps you could explain to her that you respect her desire to not talk with you about her father. Tell her that you know your own feelings about him make it hard for you to leave room for hers. It's difficult for you to help her with those feelings, even though you wish so much that you could. This might help her see that counseling could be an opportunity to understand and value her own wishes, disappointments and other emotions.

Because you are so close, she may be trying to protect you from the anger she feels toward you: Children often take out their anger at the parent who left on the parent who stayed.

You are right to be concerned about her self-esteem. A child who feels that she has not been valued by a parent needs to learn to value herself. Your daughter needs to recognize that her father's behavior is not a measure of her worth, but of his.

She will also be helped by opportunities for success and by relationships with other adults who do let her know how important she is to them.

Question: My oldest boy, who's 8, is angry or moody and sullen much of the time. He complains about everything. School is "boring," and he hates going to church. He hates his brother and sometimes hates me.

When I scold him, he says I don't love him. I took him to see the school counselor, but it didn't seem to help. Is this just a phase, or should I pursue it more? —Name and address withheld

Answer: All children have moments of anger and sadness that come and go. But when a sullen mood sets in, taking the joy out of most activities for more than a few weeks, a child may be depressed.

Not so long ago it was believed that children could not become depressed. Unfortunately, it has become clear that they can.

How seriously should you take your son's behavior? You may feel that he is just trying to get his way when he accuses you of not loving him. But a depressed child might also do this.

It does sound as if he might need your help to find activities that he can succeed at and enjoy. It might also help if you could reserve a regular special time each week to spend just with him. In between, make an effort to praise him whenever you see him doing something right.

If he continues to be angry or moody most of the time, this may be a sign that he is depressed. Often depressed children complain of being "bored" and seem more irritable and angry than sad.

On the other hand, a child who is bored at school may be a gifted one who is not sufficiently challenged. Or he may have learning disabilities that interfere with his participation.

If his angry mood has invaded all or most of his life, you should seek help. Trust your instincts. Your pediatrician could refer you to a child psychologist or psychiatrist who could help you understand his behavior.


Questions or comments should be addressed to Dr. T. Berry Brazelton and Dr. Joshua Sparrow, care of The New York Times Syndication Sales Corp., 122 E. 42nd St., New York, N.Y. 10168. Questions may also be sent by e-mail to: nytsyn-families@)nytimes.com. Questions of general interest will be answered in this column. Drs. Brazelton and Sparrow regret that unpublished letters cannot be answered individually. Responses to questions are not intended to constitute or to take the place of medical or psychiatric evaluation, diagnosis or treatment. If you have a question about your child's health or well-being, consult your child's health-care provider.