Annie's Mailbox: Niece playing genetic Russian roulette

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Dear Annie: I am one of four sisters, all of us in our 50s. We are a close-knit family, though we no longer live in the same communities.

My niece, “Tara,” gave birth to a son while she was still in high school. A wonderful couple adopted the boy, and because the adoption was open, they have stayed in contact. The baby had some health issues, which they initially attributed to the lack of prenatal care. Two years later, Tara gave birth to her second out-of-wedlock son just as her first was diagnosed with Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy. There is no history of this in the family, and my niece was deemed a spontaneous carrier. Her second child has it, too.

When these two were diagnosed, the doctors explained that, barring a miracle, her sons would face an increasingly painful life and an early death. They also told her she could pass along the disease to future children. Tara didn’t care. Five years ago, she met a divorced man with three boys, and they have since had three more children together. Blessedly, two of the children are girls and will not develop the disease, though they could be carriers. The third child is a boy who, astoundingly, is healthy. But she plans to have more children.

No one can get through to Tara that she is playing genetic Russian roulette with her children’s lives. These are children, by the way, whom neither she nor her partner can afford, and we have no idea how she plans to care for a child who might become disabled. How do we continue to love and support her when we are all so upset with the situation?

— Heartsick in the Heartland

Dear Heartsick: You sigh deeply and say nothing. Tara is a grown woman, and these are her choices, smart or not. Be a kind and loving great-aunt to these children, and try to keep your opinions out of it. That’s as supportive as you need to be.

Dear Annie: My 20-year-old daughter is fantastic. She’s smart, funny, compassionate, involved and has a beautiful, warm, friendly face. Her problem is that although she works out, she is short and a little heavy. And she doesn’t know how to dress to “accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative.”

I want to help her, but am afraid of hurting her feelings and don’t know enough about the details of fashion to teach her. Also, she probably would not take my advice on this topic. Is there a book I could give her? Should I ask her mother to deliver the message?

— Loving Dad

Dear Dad: Mom may already have done so and met with little success. Your libraries and bookstores are filled with books about how to dress, but they won’t help your daughter if she perceives your overtures as unwelcome criticism. If she works out, she is probably healthy, so try not to fixate on her weight. If you want her to dress differently but don’t know how to do it, talk to her mother about what might be more flattering and buy her a new outfit for her next birthday.

Dear Annie: This is in response to “Louisville Lass,” whose children receive too many presents.

When my daughter was born, we received mountains of toys and clothes from our families. I didn’t want to offend the givers, so now I suggest different types of gifts for my daughter: a year’s membership to the local zoo or children’s museum, or tickets to local, low-cost events, such as kids’ concerts, plays or book readings.

These gifts allow me to spend time with my child in an educational or cultural setting, and we send the giver pictures throughout the year of the fun ways she is enjoying their gift. It has worked beautifully for us.

— S.W.

Dear S.W.: This is a lovely suggestion, and we hope those who are looking for gift ideas will consider yours.

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