Carolyn Hax Live (Thursday, May 24)

May 24, 2012

Note to readers:This week's chat with Carolyn Hax will take place Thursday, May 24 at Noon ET instead of its regularly scheduled time of Fridays at Noon. It will return to its regularly scheduled time next week on Friday, June 1. Thank you.

In her daily column in The Washington Post Style section, Carolyn Hax offers readers advice based on the experiences of someone who's been there. Hax is an ex-repatriated New Englander with a liberal arts degree and a lot of opinions and that's about it, really, when you get right down to it. Oh, and the shoes. A lot of shoes.

Carolyn was online Thursday, May 24 at Noon ET, taking your questions and comments about her current advice column and any other questions you might have about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

E-mail Carolyn at

Got any of Carolyn's answers or readers' questions from the past year stuck in your head? Submit them for next week's Best of Hax 2011 chat that will take place while Carolyn is on vacation.

Got more to say? Check out Carolyn's discussion group, Hax-Philes. Comments submitted to the chat may be used in the discussion group.

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Hey everybody, thanks for coming on a Thursday (again). There will be one more time change in the near future, for the June 8 chat, for which I'll have details soon. Those darn kids wreak havoc on a schedule.

Boy, the column about the post-divorce friend whose pre-divorce friends wanted crisis intervention from her rang a bell. Same tune, different words - I was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago, and within 6 months two co-workers whose mothers had just been diagnosed were asking (pleading demanding) that I call Mom. One of them even said "I was so relieved because if YOU can beat it Mom can." In the most sound-proofed corner of my brain a massive mixed chorus began screaming "YOU'RE DOOMED NOW! YOU'RE DOOMED!" The ironic thing was that, in response to my least intrusive possible but no doubt weird phone calls, neither mom really wanted to develop a new relationship with a complete stranger coping with the most painful thing in her life, and one of the moms spent a good twenty minutes momming me. For anyone who would like support from a survivor, I'd suggest asking gently once with a giant gaping escape hatch plain to see. And better yet, ask that survivor to help you find a support group - those are survivors who've reached the point in their orbit where they're ready to talk about it.

Well argued, thanks.

Do you think it's possible (or advisable) for a married person to maintain a friendship with someone where there's an acknowledged mutual attraction? My friend and I have pretty much acknowledged the attraction, but neither of us would act on it -- we're content to be in each other's lives. Of course, this might not always be the case, particularly for him? Typing it out, I feel like it's a bad idea, but in reality, it seems to work for us. What do you say?

Idunno. When you say "it seems to work for us," are you including your spouse in the "us"? I'm pretty forgiving of natural human impulses and understand that married people aren't immune to feelings for others, but if I found out my spouse was paired off this way with someone else, I imagine it would feel pretty bad.

Dear Carolyn: I know this is going to be a ridiculous question, but it is an aspect of my brother's personality that I have been exposed to my whole life: he asks for help too much. Before every household project he enlists the help of a lot of people. He only lives about three blocks from my family and calls us about once a week or so for help with some random project. Honestly, the vast majority of these projects could be done with only one person and would only take a bit longer. We thought it was just that he wanted to see family a lot, so we started having Sunday dinner at our house with our parents and younger sister. And yet, he continues. Can you come over and help me spread mulch? Can you come over and help me pick paint chips? Can you come over and help me haul some stuff to Goodwill? Note, I could do all these thing. But am I a bad sister for wanting to say "sorry, I can't." just because I don't want to?

Of course not. Some people, apparently, were put on earth to help the rest of us learn to say no, and he's one of them. "Sorry, I've got other stuff going on, but I'll see you Sunday."

In the middle of a heated argument with my brother (therecurring theme: you put no effort into our relationship), he said that my 5 year old son was really hard to get along with and that was some of the reasons he didnt spend anytime with him. I was floored - heart dropped to floor. The next day I told him how much that hurt me and he apologized, profusely, but Carolyn, I havent really seen any change in his behavior toward me or my family, or my son. His nephew. And I am really hurt. I have tried to express this to him, flat out telling him that his apology means nothing when his actions haven't changed and his reponse was dismissive. I really feel like he is uninterested in developing a relationship with my child, and whats worse is that he has a very cozyrelationship he has with his partners nieces. What can I do? This hurts.

Of course it does. But, have you dropped your defenses enough to consider that maybe your son and your brother actually don't mix too well? 

As hard as it can be to be objective about this, we all are better for being willing to detach our own feelings of pride, accomplishment and acceptance from other people's opinions of our kids. I'm sure you've come across children you don't like very much. Certainly you don't like every adult you meet, so why should kids be any different? they have personalities, too. And there will always be some personalities that rub you the wrong way. 

It always feels kind of mean to think, "Wow I don't like that kid," because kids are supposed to be innocent and therefore exempt, but chemistry doesn't care about mean. And, it's not a "good kid" or "bad kid" thing, it's just a matter of style. 

So the same thing should apply with your own kids. Some people, even people you love and count on, will find your perfectly wonderful kid annoying, just as others will think he's the sun and the moon.  

So while it sounds as if your brother didn't handle this gracefully (at all), I think it's time you stop pushing him to be Uncle Awesome--at least in this phase of your son's life. Even consider apologizing for cornering him into saying what he did. You can't make anyone love anyone else, and it sounds like you've really laid on the pressure for him to do just that. You've even dismissed his "profuse" apology and gone right back to the pressure.

Maybe when your son is a little older, even when he's 6--one year makes such a difference at this age--you can (conservatively) try again to see if your brother will warm up to your son. In the meantime, seek extended-family warmth from others who are more receptive.

What do you do about a friend that always pushes you to do things that you can't afford? I'm a college student and a friend of mine is pushing me to go up to Maine for a weekend and it's a trip that I cannot afford both timewise and moneywise. I've told her this and she still keeps on pushes me. This is not the first time that she's done this and I really just want to cut ties, especially since she is not really a close friend and I have so many other good friends who don't push me like this.

Then say so. Seriously. "I'm going to say this once: Stop pushing me. If you continue to push, I will walk away" or hang up, or block her email, or whatever form of communication you need to shut down. Then do it. 

What is the proper etiquette when a family members asks you to attend their therapy session? I've received this request from a family member. She's been displaying some very destructive behavior that is complicating our family dynamic, to put it mildly, so I was very happy to learn that she's been seeking therapy. However, she is in the mental health field herself and I learned from another family member who went to a previous session that she is misleading her therapist and manipulating her sessions. Is it appropriate for me to go as requested and correct her statements or supplement missing details to the therapist? I would assume that no progress could be gained without revealing the full picture and that acknowledging her actions in the presence of a licensed, neutral professional would be the approach. I've never been to therapy myself, so I really don't know. If I do so, could this derail her? I don't want to make things worse.

Go and tell the truth. That's what you're being asked to do. You can also ask for the therapist's number beforehand so you can call to ask how attending a session would work. The therapist won't be able to say anything about your family member, but can address your questions about the mechanics. 

Sounds like someone who's uncomfortable with just his thoughts for company. Perhaps his sister should ask about that.

One possibility, thanks. Another one that crossed my mind was anxiety--i.e., needs the assurance of another set of eyes and opinions on everything.

I'm a survivor of an eating disorders and all my friends know me as a resource on the topic. So I often get emails saying, "My friend thinks her daughter may have a problem, can you email her?" So I send short introductory email, usually with a recommendation for a helpful book. The majority of the time, I get no response at all.

Thanks for this. A mini-theme is emerging, where Person X is worried about Person Y and not getting anywhere with efforts to help, and so calls in Person Z to step in to the rescue--without checking first to see if Person Y has any interest in the intervention. Maybe I'm overthinking/overlinking, but air of desperation to it seems about right. 

Happy Anniversary, Carolyn!! I'm the wife and mother of two that asked for help to figure out why my husband's hugs irritated me (column 8/24/2011). Per your advice, I did go to therapy for a while, and though we didn't talk about the physical affection problem directly, it was still very helpful. In therapy, I came realize that I am extremely self-critical. (When my therapist mentioned it, I responded with, "No, I'm just lazy and self-absorbed!" I'm sure he would have slammed his forehead into a keyboard at that point, had decorum allowed.) I'm trying to quiet that voice in my head that tells me whatever I've done, it's not good enough. Feeling less cruddy about myself is nice, and it's cut down considerably on my mental "to do" list, which was kindof daunting up until now. Before, my list was something along the lines of: pick up kids ("That you shortchange all the time. You better hope they turn out like their dad."); make dinner ("Which is never as nutritionally balanced and well-liked as it should be, and why aren't you growing your own vegetables?"); don't watch TV ("You really have gotten intellectually lazy"); initiate sex ("you're lucky he doesn't care about your flabby thighs", etc.,). Now, I'm focusing more on trying my best from moment-to-moment, and letting that be good enough. I'm sure no one will be surprised to hear that this has helped me free up a lot of emotional energy to enjoy other pursuits. We're thrilled to be expecting another baby shortly.

Wow! In a good way. Congratulations. 

I have almost the same issue. But I say, "Sorry, I don't have any other stuff going on, and I still don't want to help you."

How come I never sit next to you at dinner parties? Oh wait. I don't go to dinner parties.

Hi Carolyn, I have a 4 year old daughter (turned 4 in March) and our downfall is getting out the door in the morning. It is just so hard to get her moving, and she doesn't care if she is late for school, and we are late for work, it's not a motivator for her. I am not a big fan of rewards like a star chart/toy if you behave, I have tried to impress on her that we need to work together, and if you don't help out, privleges will be taken away. Some days it works, other days it doesn't. Is this just the price of being a busy family with too little time in the morning?

You're not a fan of rewards, so you use punishment (privilege-removal) instead? That doesn't make sense to me, because I can't imagine you'd want others to punish you for mistakes instead of giving positive reinforcement (PR) for your accomplishments--and you're an adult. A 4-year-old runs on and needs that praise so much more. 

It can't be hollow praise, of course (preemptive strike against the self-esteem eye-rollers), but it can include motivational PR, achievement-based PR and tangible rewards more meaningful than a sticker. 

It would take me a long time to type out the various approaches people use effectively, so I'll suggest that you either read a book on it (the two recommended most often, in my experience, are "How to talk so kids will listen and how to listen so kids will talk"--being lazy on the caps--and "Parenting With love and logic") or take a half day and sit in on your daughter's school day. Teachers of young kids have some amazing techniques to keep the room from descending into chaos, and learning from the teacher will have the added benefit of making home and school relatively consistent. 


thanks Carolyn, you have given me something to think about. My brother unfortunately is my only family in this country and we dont have a good relationship with our parents. But i agree that you cant make someone love someone else. I only wish he would take some interest in my son's life, other than coming to visit once a year.

I'm sorry. If it helps, your heartbreak is not uncommon. For a lot of people, family only acts like Family in soup commercials.

I think it's also important to think about how your expectations/hurt feelings cycle will rub off on your son. You don't want him to have his heart broken, too, or to emulate the emotional pattern between you and your brother, so that's another reason to devote your energy to people who reciprocate it, instead of to chasing down people who don't.

I think it's important to remember that when you have a loved one going through a great difficulty -- divorce, cancer, mental health crisis -- you are desperate to help in some way. And when you know or meet someone else with a similar experience, the first impulse is to seize on this person as a potential source of help or solace. It's a well-intentioned and loving gesture, even if it's not always a helpful one.

yes to all, thanks.

Could there be some undiscussed behavioral issues with the son which makes it hard for the uncle to be around? Some kids (we have a few in our family) have some behavioral issues which made them unpleasant to be around. It would be hard for a parent to hear this, but it may be worth it to take an objective look at the kid's behavior and evaluate whether there is something going on.

There's that, too--hyperactivity is the classic one, but there are others.

The key part of that "objective look" will be to assess behavior in all situations, including home, school, play dates, out in public, one-on-one, in a crowd, etc. 

Thanks for the suggestion that he might have anxiety/uncomfortable with his own thoughts. I suspect that may be true. But that doesn't make it any less tiresome to go over to his house to help with chores when I have plenty at my own house. I suppose this is an occasion for tact and balance.

Probably. (Or, I could say, what isn't?)

Hi Carolyn, My cousin is getting married in Milwaukee, about 6 hours from where I live now. My boyfriend went to undergrad there and has a few friends in the surrounding area. Our plan is to make a long weekend out of it and see his friends on Friday and attend the wedding on Saturday. My mother told me that it was rude to see entirely different groups of people when in town for a wedding; that if we were planning to get to Milwaukee early we should be spending the time with my family. My boyfriend and I feel like this is a long weekend that we are taking and the time we are suggesting is divided equally between his friends and my family. Thoughts from you or the nuts? Is this rude?

Your mom is working from a playbook I've never seen. Unless you're in the wedding and blowing off a rehearsal dinner, I don't see how it's anyone's business where you spend your Friday.

I feel like I'm a working mom stuck inside a stay-at-home mom's body. This is a new and strange lifestyle that's just not clicking with me yet, and I worry that it never will. I'm afraid going back to work isn't going to happen any time soon, nor do I necessarily want it to. All the "mommy friends" I've made are educated, driven career women like I...was. They work during the day, and I'm left at home with my little one. How do I adjust to this new lifestyle? --Trapped Mom

Plenty of educated, driven career people take time away from careers to be home with their kids, so you haven't fallen out of some exclusive club or become a different person.

You might, though, be asking too much of stay-at-home parenthood. If you expect it to be just you and Baby and gingerbread and crafts, you're putting yourself on a path to go out of your mind. I don't think it's natural for parents to be holed up alone with their kids. There has generally always been a communal element to raising kids--and just look what happened in the '50s in America when being home with your kids and your sleek new washing machine was supposed to be enough.

Try looking at your at-home stint through professional eyes. How best to get this job done well, within your budget, and without isolating yourself? 

My home life was always dysfunctional, but I didn't realize how much it affected me until I left home. I tried to work through it in therapy, but realized total estrangement was the only way I could deal with the toxicity, and I cut ties in December 2009. I've been trying to figure out what I will do when my parents die, regarding contact with them and the rest of my family. Even after 2.5 years, I still don't have an answer I can live with, so when I found out on Tuesday that a brother has a rare cancer with average survival of 6-20 months after diagnosis, I was completely unprepared for the emotions that followed. If he weren't dying, I would want zero contact with him. He was (is?) a sexual predator who beat his girlfriends and wives for years. He is not a good person, but he is also my brother. I can't reconcile my seemingly awful thought that he got what he had coming with my emotional connection to a "family" member that is so awful. I don't know what to do, because I have no idea why part of me still wants to reach out to this disgusting human being who happens to be suffering, and who will leave behind 6 innocent kids. Contacting him will inevitably end up with some sort of contact with the rest of my family, and I don't know if I can handle that, but I worry I might have regrets when he dies and I've done nothing. For the first time ever, I can't figure this out on my own, and I am miserable. Please help.

Oh my. Any reason you haven't considered a return to therapy? 

There are some things that I don't think anyone can be expected to figure out on their own, and you've got 2 or 3 going on at once.

Dear Carolyn, My husband and I recently visited my in-laws. During the visit, my father-in-law told my mother-in-law that I was pregnant. I am still not sure why he did this. I am not pregnant and gave no indication that I was. My mother-in-law immediately warmly congratulated me. This was upsetting for a number of reasons. Obviously, no one wants to look pregnant if they are not. Worse, I actually was briefly pregnant last month and had a miscarriage, which affected me more than I would have expected. My husband and I would like to have a baby, and I have been getting anxious about it lately (we have been trying for a while). My mother-in-law was embarrassed and told my father-in-law he needed to apologize. He did, sincerely. My husband was also angry and spoke to his father later. I felt sad and upset, and while I tried to move on, I think I was not as warm towards my father-in-law as I usually try to be. What I really wanted was a little space, but he spent the rest of the weekend being over-the-top attentive and flattering. On the one hand, I feel sorry for my father-in-law. I know he is mortified - he could hardly have said anything worse if he tried.  On the other hand, I am having trouble letting the whole thing go. I think part of the problem is that he can be pretty overbearing, and has in the past made annoying remarks about when I was going to get pregnant already.  I guess my question is: when someone sincerely apologizes, what responsibility do you have to move on and not be upset anymore?

When you're going through a lot emotionally already and someone throws a challenge on top of that--in front of others and in the course of a stay in someone else's house--and the challenge comes from someone who already strains your patience, I think it's normal to have some difficulty shrugging it off. 

You do have to accept the apology and put in the effort to get back to "normal" with your FIL. But it's okay for that to come after you've given yourself some time to work through your funk. 

Dear Carolyn, My husband's family enjoys to celebrate milestones with alcohol in a causal setting. My family typically marks occasions much more formally. For my baby shower, my family hosted a proper tea at the country club where dresses were strongly encouraged. My husband's family had a couples backyard barbecue with a keg and horseshoes. My husband and I do not prefer one family over the other and appreciate that we have so many loving people in our life. But pretty soon we will be hosting Christenings and birthday parties. We would like to find some middle ground between these type of celebrations in the future. We would especially like a way to handle drinking -- my husband's family does not celebrate without alcohol and my family doesn't drink. How do we host an event where everybody feels comfortable?

Off the cuff, I'd say let the venue do the talking for you when possible; it sounds as if you've pretty much been doing this already, with the back yard vs. the country club. 

I also don't think it's as important for you to cater to your family's preferences as it is to set a welcoming tone yourselves (and give clear instructions about plans, e.g., "This is going to be really casual" or "This one's formal so men need to wear coat and tie"). If these families can't roll with the kind of party their hosts decide to throw, then that's actually rude on their parts. Do what you think is right and then trust both families to come through. 

And, finally, don't see this as anything bigger than a phase, since the Christenings-and-group-birthday-parties time is actually fairly brief. The kids will want their own parties with their own friends soon enough.

Any chance your husband told him about the pregnancy/miscarriage and he didn't completely understand? How old is this man? Any chance this is more a factor of old age than rudeness?

Or the husband had mentioned the pregnancy but not the miscarriage, which crossed my mind but I forgot to put it in my answer. Thanks.

re: wedding and not being able to do anything else. What if they were vacationing for a week in wisconsin (or elsewhere?). Really? For destination weddings are you not allowed to have a real vacation?

Nope. You must follow the bride and groom around like imprinted ducks. (Couples appreciate that kind of attention from their wedding guests.)

Absolutely, I would advise to go to the therapy session with the destructive member of the family. That is one of the only ways the therapist can see a more rounded, less biased picture of what exactly is the problem/dynamic. I was in therapy and my therapist wanted to meet my mother; I had "issues" with my mother, though nothing I could describe very well. After a few joint sessions, my therapist understood more fully what those issues were, and formed an even lower opinion of my mother than I had.

I love a happy ending, thanks.

carolyn, I am not sure I agree with your response on this. If my sister made no effort with my daughter it would be heartbreaking to me and really hurt our relationship. I get that some kids are not fun to hang around --I am a kindergarten substitute-but a little goes a long way with kids and it appears from the LW's question that they do not live close by thus the opportunities for building a relationship are few and far in between.

What would you suggest, though? 

Hi Producer! In the "About the Topic Section" it says, "Carolyn will be online Thursday, May 24 at 1:30 p.m." in bold letters. It has said this for a couple weeks (I know because I thought that I had missed the time change). I just wanted to make you aware of it so it could be changed. Thanks for all you do!

Thank you for pointing this out! What would we do without the 'nuts?

When my husband and I learned I was pregnant, we couldn't wait to tell our parents. We told them together and asked that they not share the news until well after the first trimester. They agreed, but w/i 5 min of the conversation, my FIL had posted the news to Facebook - one action we specifically asked that not due at all. Fast forward a month or so later and we lost the pregnancy. I was devastated, but managed... That is until a family event when a number of well-meaning relatives wished us congratulations, peppered us with questions and finally had to hear our sad news. They were visibly upset about it and we left the event b/c I was too shaken. I'm trying to give my FIL leeway, b/c I understand that he was excited and wanted to share good news. Unfortunately, he has little regard for other people's requests or feelings and this is a glaring example of it. It now makes me extremely worried that he won't adhere our parenting requests when we finally do have a child. He ignores the requests of my SIL and her husband. The ones who usually suffer the consequences of his behavior are us, not him. How do I handle this?

First, I'm really sorry--that sounds awful on top of awful

Second, it sounds like you're being pretty charitable with your FIL, what with the "he was excited and wanted to share good news" leeway, but it might make more practical sense for you not to be. The relevant information about him is that "he has little regard for other people's requests or feelings," and you need to have that firmly in mind -whenever- you make a decision that involves him--be it to share good news, or to trust him with your someday children. Never lose sight of who he is, because he won't keep your news secret and he won't adhere to your parenting requests. You know this because you've witnessed it. And you know you stand to be heartbroken (or worse) when ... surprise! you expect better form him and then he acts exactly like he always does anyway.

As sad as it sounds, you don't have the luxury of acting on the "can't wait to tell our parents" impulse. Please talk to your husband about this before you reach another crossroads with your FIL, so you and your husband both agree on how to handle him.

I seem to be having the opposite problem lately - people want me to call their friends and family to GET advice. We've sold our house and are looking for another one and I have gotten nothing but advice for the whole process: "My [insert family member] is a real estate agent in [a faraway state]! You should totally call [him or her]!" I've tried to consciously minimize how anxious I feel about selling, buying, and moving to temporary housing as I have a young child, but I find myself increasingly annoyed with unsolicited advice. This is on top of the unsolicited advice I get anyway just having a young kid. What are you go to comments for unsolicited (and often grating) advice?

"Thanks, I'll keep that in mind" and/or, "Thanks, we're all set." Repeat as needed until hint aquired.

It also can't hurt to ask yourself how much you're talking about this with people. If you're working out your stress verbally with friends, it's only natural for these friends to start proposing solutions. 

Hi Carolyn, my extremely generous uncle sent us a very nice holiday check for our son...and I never deposited it, nor did I send a thank you note. So, fast forward to the end of May and the check is still sitting there and I feel awful sending a note so late, as well as depositing it so after the fact. I think I held off on depositing it because even though I know he could afford the gift, I felt bad accepting it. So, I would really like to send him a note acknowledging my lateness in thanking him and just deposit it, so he'll know we spent it on something nice for his great-nephew. I'm struggling with what to say in the note though--how do you say thank you so belatedly?

I think you need to call him to say you set the check aside for depositing and next thing you knew it was May, and you're mortified that you didn't thank him, and you also didn't want to deposit it now without warning him in case he'd written it off after all these months. 

I had a child earlier than any of my friends/relatives. I work, and she's in daycare a couple days a week, but rarely see other parents when I pick-up/drop-off. I've tried meeting other moms through neighborhood list serves, but nothing really meaningful has come out of it; and frankly, a lot of moms I meet stay at home and aren't really interested in socializing with working moms because of scheduling. As a result, at 2 our kid has never had a play date. I have no idea how she reacts to other kids, and I'm worried we're somehow failing to socialize her properly. It's especially worrisome because we are expecting baby #2, and still don't know anyone with kids. Are we damaging her forever? What other things should I try to make mom-friends?

You're the one who's not socializing; your 2-year-old spends a couple of days a week immersed in the peer-interaction petri dish of day care. She'll be fine. 

And while it might be worth it to you to keep making an effort to meet other parents, for your own reasons, it's also okay to be patient. For a lot of parents, the real chances to know other parents don't come until their kids are in school. Day care is such a drop-and-go environment, where the nature of school communities (in my experience) is to get the parents involved.  

My parents got divorced when I was 24 and my sister was 27 and have refused to speak to each other or be in the same room with each other since. Now my sister has cancer and both of them are asking me questions like, Will you find out when the other is visiting sister in hospital so I don't go at same time? And, If sister dies, will you tell the other one not to come to the funeral? How am I supposed to deal with this? I've generally just refused to talk to one of them on behalf of the other one but the requests haven't stopped.

[mouth agape]

My first impulse is to feed you this line for your parents: "Do you ever hear yourself?"

My second impulse is to urge you into the therapeutic community in some form or another--individual therapy, support group for families dealing with cancer, Al-anon even. I don't suggest this so much because you need creative solutions, since your refusing to indulge your parents is really the only route to go--but I do think you need a hug, a shoulder, a group of people to say wow, you are being so strong through this. A place you can leave the crazy so you don't always have to carry it around.

"You look like you want to stab me in the eye," my husband said during a recent conversation. That pretty much covers it. I feel two things nearly all the time -- extreme anger or nothing at all. We are parents to an eight-month-old son and large, playful dog. Between the two of us, we have four jobs and three of them are mine. We mostly function as two single parents, handing the kid and dog back and forth to each other as one arrives home and the other leaves for work (three of the four jobs are out of the house; for my main gig I consult from home). And, I hate this life. I hate it. You name it and I despise it at this moment. Could ppd be the culprit this late in the game? Does it ever present as anger? All the websites I've seen say this is an early-onset thing with weeping, etc.

Yes, it could be PPD, or just plain old depression, so gettign screened makes sense.

But that's actually ignoring the elephant in the room: Have you had any serious talks about making changes to this untenable arrangement that is your life? All of you deserve better.

My brother and his family live very close by and often want to get together on the weekends. We generally do a bigger family activity at our parents' house once a month or so. While part of me would like to huff it and lug our three kids under 4 over to his house (or have them over), my husband prefers our weekends to, generally, be for us. And I have to say that I do enjoy the "alone time" since our week is so hectic with both of us working. So we'll take the kids on errands, parks, outdoor festivals, etc. I am constantly feeling bad, though, for not spending more time with my brother's family (who have kids our kids' ages) and often feel like I'm either letting him down or forcing my husband into doing stuff that he doesn't want to do. Any way to balance both? Or is this it?

What do -you- want? No real sign of that in here. (Which tends to be linked to the constantly-feeling-bad thing.)

Me again. Thanks, Carolyn! Your advice is exactly what my intuition has been telling me. I wanted to know if those feelings were founded or just me working through the grief and loss and lashing out inappropriately. Unbiased reality checks from someone who knows none of us helped! I've been mentally prepping the conversation with my husband, and now I feel better about letting the words flow. Thank you!

You're welcome, and good luck.

If this were in fact the case, which I am positive it isn't, day care would let you know.

A good one, at least. Thanks.

Now is a perfect time for you and your husband to start defying your own family's style of celebration. Maybe it is to swap around between extremes, maybe it's somewhere in between, or heck, maybe it's out in left field somewhere. Do a thought experiment. If you and your husband had been planning a shower for some friends whose tastes are similar to yours, what would it have been like? Once you know what you want for yourselves, then you can use Carolyn's very good advice about clear communication. And give yourselves permission to mix it up a bit. One great thing about these clashes of family cultures is that it lets you see that there are many ways to do the same thing. What feels like celebration to the two of you? Start there, and work outwards.

Love it, thanks.

Before we even started dating, I knew my boyfriend suffered from depression - the debilitating depression that prevents him from getting out of bed some days, that cause urges to self injure, to want to kill himself. My gut tells me he was diagnosed as bipolar but is ashamed of it. My question is where is the line between accepting the depression as part of his life and trying to support him in any way I can and enabling him by maybe ignoring that 900 lb gorilla in the middle of the room?

This is too serious for either of us to wing it. Please call NAMI, (800) 950-6264 and run your question by the help line staffer. NAMI offers various programs "for people whose lives have been affected by serious mental illness." 

My sister-in-law and I are pretty friendly. Apparently, she said to my husband recently oh your wife is so much better than your ex. You know, that sounds like something good, right? Instead, I was just furious. Sort of like how dare I get compared??? I don't even know why I am angry. I don't like being compared in general, although I know it's inevitable. It's just that no one is asking for this comparison, especially not my husband. We were supposed to hang out this weekend but I feel like I want to be alone. I suppose I just need to get over it?

Sounds that way to me. especially since you like your SIL. And she didn't express a preference for the ex. 

It also might be useful to tell your husband it's best not to pass along stories of these comparisons to you, because they give you a nasty emotional rash.

Our circle of friends have babies born within a few days/weeks of our second child. This is a great situation for us as they have built in playmates. The only negative is one couple who are obsessed with trying to compete with the rest of us. First it was who was finding out the gender first, then it was who was going to deliver. Now that the babies are here it's about the weight of the babies/who has teeth first/who rolled over first etc. What is the best way to handle such silliness? We have tried changing the topic, but that hasn't worked. We suspect a good deal of this stems from insecurity. The couple is now obsessing about a second child (all of us are on our second).

No, all of it stems from insecurity.

I have a feeling this couple will find their way out of your social circle eventually, but in the meantime, humor, topic changes, and the occasional, "Hey--they're all great in their own ways and on their own time," are all your friends here. Each is a way of declining to enter the competition, and that's the only way you're going to keep it contained.

Two side notes, though--1. watch the "we." If "we" includes other members of this circle of friends, then you're veering close to the ganging-up line. 2. Competitive people are most annoying to other competitive people. I say this as one myself, so I'm not pointing fingers, just that if you are mindful of where your kids falls on the distribution curve (as many if not most parents are, given that little voice that asks, "is s/he okay?") then you're going to be vulnerable to someone who is overt about it. Something to have in mind when this couple is getting on your nerves, maybe to soften their impact.

Hi Carolyn, My 53-year old dad might have fathered a child with his girlfriend, who is only 5 years older than me, just prior to his divorce last year. I say "might" since his girlfriend was sleeping around at the time. Nonetheless, my dad is raising this child as his own and is paying for everything since she is unemployed. He kept this a secret but now wants me and my siblings to meet and accept her and this new baby in his life. Despite all the lies, I can't see myself outright rejecting a sibling if this child turns out to be his, but I think I need to know for sure before I know how much exposure I'm comfortable with. Would it be fair to ask my dad to take a paternity test?

Nope. Not at all. For all practical purposes, this is your father's child, and like any child s/he is innocent and needs the love and support of a community. So, you're either in or you're out. 

The mother's age, by the way, and employment status, and promiscuity, and your father's infidelity and secret keeping, all are  relevant only to your anger, and not to the child.  I'm sure you know this but thought I'd mention it anyway, since in the question (and no doubt in your feelings) they're all intertwined.

One of my best friends has struggled for years with some very private and emotional issues that stem from some horrific childhood events. I have encouraged her to seek therapy for some time now since her struggles have progressed to a point that are beyond what her friends can help with. I was thrilled that after months of encouragement she booked an appointment and saw a therapist that she said she connected with. But she has since cancelled subsequent appointments and is saying that she's not sure she wants to go back; she wants to "work things out on her own." I have encouraged her to go back at least one time, said how proud I am of her for taking the step in the first place, but nothing is working and I am growing frustrated. Do you have any advice about how to encourage a good friend to keep up their therapy? I feel like being too pushy will have the opposite outcome from what I'm going for.

You have encouraged her, likely to the full extent that you can. From this point, all you can do is continue to say, when she looks to you for help, "I'm sorry, this is beyond my abilities," and hold that line. It's important not to be the outlet that she counts on to justify not getting professional help.

I think it's also a friend's responsibility to point out when you think she's in real danger of hurting herself or others, which I hope it won't come to.

I recently started seeing this guy, and he's very sweet, nice, fun to be around, and I'm attracted to him. The problem is that I see personality traits about him that I think will make us incompatible in the long run. Like, I have always been driven, and in addition to my job, I tend to have a bunch of different projects going on that are important to me, while he seems more comfortable just kind of hanging out, and doesn't seem to be naturally curious or oriented on achievement - which is perfectly fine and normal! But I think I would be happier with someone more similar to me in this respect. I could see myself getting attached to him, and then either having to go through a painful break up once the incompatibilities become a real problem, or sticking it through and always wondering if I couldn't have found someone more compatible. FWIW, we're both in our 30s, my default state is single, I like being single (I like being in a relationship, too, but I think I could be happily single, forever), and a few years ago I went through a painful break-up that I'm sure is informing my feelings now. So, is it a bad idea to continue to date him, while, at this early stage, I already see roadblocks?

I have no idea, but I will suggest a different way of thinking about him, to see if that helps: Some driven, ambitious people do feel more comfortable around others like them. However, some find that a home or a marriage often isn't big enough to contain two Type A's with clear agendas--especially since it's almost inevitable that each agenda will require different sacrifices and accommodations. This can be especially true if the couple have kids.

Worth running some different scenarios through your mind, at least. to smile serenely and say, "you win". If they don't get a clue and grow up, eventually they'll get so miffed that they'll stop hanging around. Either outcome is a win for you. (heh.)


Oh please... get over it. Just when my husband and I started dating my now SIL was still friendly with his recent ex-gf and after meeting me, told her who then told my husband that SIL said I looked a lot like his exwife but not as pretty. I got over it.

And shared, lucky us. Thanks!

While it sounds like the angry woman's issues are much more complicated than body chemistry, my PPD showed up as **RAGE** once a month. SCARY RAGE. No harm in at least checking that out. If it is PPD, then that's at least one issue to resolve among the many others.

And plain old depression also can have anger as a symptom. Thanky.

Owright, that's it for today. Thanks again for stopping by and have a great weekend. I'll be back next Friday at noon as somewhat usual (and the summer should have way fewer Friday interruptions).

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Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997 as a weekly feature for The Washington Post, accompanied by the work of "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis. The column has since gone daily and into syndication, where it appears in over 200 newspapers. Carolyn joined The Post in 1992 as a copy editor in Style, and became a news editor before turning to writing full-time. She is the author of "Tell Me About It" (Miramax, 2001), and the host of a live online discussion on Fridays at noon on She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and their three boys.

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