KATHY MITCHELL AND MARCY SUGAR | Annie's Mailbox 'Junior's' behavior is rocking his lifeboat

Dear Annie: Eight weeks ago, my 14-year-old stepson moved into our home. His mother could not control him. He had eight school suspensions for aggressive behavior and using foul language.
He arrived here with nothing. We enrolled him in school, bought him clothes and now have weekly therapist appointments. "Junior" has already been put into restrictive classes at his new school, and was suspended last week for hitting another boy. He is rude, obnoxious and disrespectful. I quit my job in order to be home full time. I cannot leave Junior alone for more than an hour. I feel like a security guard.
We have no support from his mother or her family. Junior has seen his mother twice since he's been living here. When he comes back from her house, his behavior is abominable. I am at my wits' end in dealing with this spoiled child. I am an experienced mother, having raised two children who are now grown and doing fine.
My husband works all day, and this kid has raised his blood pressure. Our entire life revolves around this boy. My husband and I cannot have a conversation with each other without Junior interrupting. Should I insist that if Junior doesn't straighten up, he can go elsewhere? Fed up Stepmom
Dear Stepmom: Please don't. Junior is crying out for help, and you may be his last lifeboat. You deserve a lot of credit for giving up your job to care for this troubled boy, but it will take more than eight weeks of counseling to make up for 14 years of problems. Junior needs to know you love him no matter what.
Talk to Junior's therapist about his progress and what you and your husband should be doing at home to reinforce positive behavior. Then ask the therapist to refer you to someone who can help you deal with the strain. Being a rock of stability can be difficult and stressful. We'll be rooting for you.
Dear Annie: My son just returned from a weeklong overnight camp. On the way home, we discussed his activities and the counselors. He said his counselor doesn't make much money and he depends on tips from parents as part of his income.
This was our first experience with overnight camp, and I didn't tip the counselor. Should I have done so? What is an appropriate amount? My son had a great time, and he liked his counselor. I'd be happy to send him a belated "thanks" if this is the expected custom. To Tip or Not to Tip
Dear Tip: No self-respecting camp counselor should tell his young charges that he expects tip money from their parents. If you would like to express your appreciation to the counselor, that is entirely up to you (and obviously, he'd like cash), but you are under no obligation to do so.
Dear Annie: My mother and father divorced six years ago. My mother is planning to marry "Ethan" in a few weeks. The problem is, Mom and Ethan have decided to use the diamonds from her old engagement ring to make a new one.
This seems wrong to me. It's also an easy way out for Ethan, who certainly has the money to buy Mom a new ring. Is there some etiquette rule that covers this subject? I'm worried that Ethan is somehow taking advantage of my mother. Frustrated Daughter in the Northwest
Dear Daughter: It sounds as if you are not terribly fond of Ethan and resent that Mom is cannibalizing her old ring to make a new one. Etiquette says Mom can do whatever she likes with the ring. However, if you are sentimental about it, you might mention how much it means to you and see if that makes a difference.
XE-mail your questions to anniesmailbox@com-cast.net, or write to: Annie's Mailbox, P.O. Box 118190, Chicago, Ill. 60611.
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