Carolyn Hax Live: Advice columnist tackles your problems (Friday, August 31)

Aug 31, 2012

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 Friday, August 31 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 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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Hi everybody. I'm just this very second getting kicked out of the room I'm working in, so I need a minute or two to land somewhere. Thanks for your patience.

Okay, that was inconvenient, sorry, but I'm back and I hope not too far from my WiFi.

Dear Carolyn - a couple of years ago you gave me advice when I said my boyfriend didn't give me butterflies. Last year you gave me advice when I said my fiancee was suffering from cold feet. And last month you gave me advice when I worried that I would get a big "I told you so" from friends and family when I announced I was getting divorced. Well, the "I told you so's" would have been deserved, but instead all I've received is love and support. I really should have known better, and if you could have tracked my questions to you over the years (there were more that you didn't answer), you would have wanted to smack me upside the head. I don't really have a question, just an admonition to the world -- when Carolyn says to listen to your instincts, consider doing it.

Or when anyone does--I didn't invent the idea. Or, even easier to identify than instinct: When you find yourself asking and asking and asking, that usually means you're fishing for the answer you want to hear, which usually means you know the truth already but don't like it.

As for "really should have known better," I don't know--I'm not sure there's any such state of being. You obviously needed this process to run its course for some reason, or you would have interrupted it sooner. What matters now isn't how you got here, but where you are. No doubts it hurts for both of you, but that will pass, too. 


Hi Carolyn, I feel like I want to take a "break" from my relationship of 2+ years but feel like if I say that to my partner, it'll be the end (which I don't want). I do wonder whether I should interpret these feelings to mean that it's the wrong relationship; however, I have in the past thrown away a series of good relationships that would have become great simply because I gave up too soon. How do I know whether the problem is the relationship or me?

Can you articulate -why- you want to take a break, and what you hope to achieve by doing it?

Dear Carolyn, I'm due to give birth to my first child any day now. While I understand that everyone is excited, I am worried because I contracted an infection when I was six weeks old that required hospitalization. As a result of that, my husband and I decided that when the baby is born, we will have limit visitors to close family and friends. Everyone will be asked to clean and sanitize their hands and arms and we plan on having a clean gowns for people holding the baby to put over their clothing. We have also decided that we will have an official coming out party when the baby is a few months old for extended family and friends to see him. The issue: some of my in laws have stated that they would not have purchased a shower gift had they known this. One couple has asked for their gift back. Carolyn, I never knew that concern for my baby's health would cause this much grief especially from people that we barely see once a year! Am I overreacting?

To the possibility of infection? Based on one infection that didn't kill you, what, 2 or 3 decades ago? Way overreacting. At least, in this layman's opinion. Presumably you've chosen your pediatrician already, so please asap call and run this plan by a pro. I'm suggesting this not only because I think your fears are disproportionate in this case, and it would be helpful to you and your baby to hear the advice of someone knowledgeable about newborn health and safety, but also because letting fear guide your childrearing decisions is an unhappy path for all of you that I hope you will nip in the bud. So is taking a "sanitize me" approach, since bodies equip themselves to fight infections through exposure to germs, and going completely gown-draped quite possibly could set your baby up to be sicker than other children down the road.*

I might even go so far as to suggest you get screened for anxiety, given the extreme measures you're considering. Ask me after I've had time to think a bit more (and read the response from the nutterati).

Now, of course, the couple who asked for their gift back are clods (yes, clods), as are the others who have stopped their gift madness at the harrumphing stage.

In fact, the volume of overreactions in this one question might be hard to top. family trait, maybe?

* Full disclosure, a friend and I once joked we were going to start our own shelter magazine, Septic Living, given how enthusiasticallty our children took to the free-range lifestyle of getting into the most repulsive muck, gunk and crud piles, and then eating snacks without washing their hands. Just so's you know where I fall on that spectrum. While one person does not a representative sample make, my grossest child gets sick the least, by far.



I've been driving myself hard to get everything accomplished for my wedding ahead of schedule , however friend A who agreed to be a bridesmaid has since put on several pounds and I have now decided to let another friend B take her place. What can I do to let my friend A know she will not be a bridesmaid.

You're just messing with me, aren't you. Slow day at work?

Hi Carolyn, Quick question for you and the gang: I am having a relatively small (<50) wedding (the size is set by both budget and venue) and thus need to keep the guest list to close family and friends. I used to live in another city where I had a small, close group of friends. Since I have moved away, I have not kept in touch with all of them, though they all are still very close. Is it terribly awkward of me to not invite the "whole gang?" Do I say something to some of them? I don't want to hurt any feelings, but including these people would be solely based on their relationship to other guests, not to us. Then again, I'm not in junior high, so maybe I should just invite who I want and let people deal with it? Thanks for the input!

"Small, close group of friends" = invite all or none.

I think we have different ideas of junior high. To me, it's more adolescent to want only the two friends you really like, and be willing to hurt feelings or strain the bonds between them to accomplish that, to save a few hundred bucks.  I'd definitely say otherwise if the group were large or not close, but given these specs, I think generous is the way to go, even if it pinches.

And even if you know you're going to look back on this 20 years from nowand realize you don't talk to any of them anymore. 

Pre-emptive P.S.


Dear Carolyn, My grandmother died recently. She had previously been in a nearby nursing home for a few years. She has left my father her estate, which includes her house. The house is Full Of Stuff. My dad wants me to clear it out for him. He is willing to pay me from her estate. The problem is that I am so overwhelmed! There are about ten rooms on the first floor. There is a basement with three small rooms and a larger storage area. Some stuff she created with her sewing skills, some stuff is figurines she acquired, there're her teddy bears, kitchen stuff, photographs, clothing, etc. I do hard work sometimes, including manual labor, but I can't do this because it's too overwhelming. There's no end in sight. I"ve already had several false starts. I can't decide what to keep vs. what to throw away, and the different categories of stuff are all scattered everywhere. Can I and my dad hire someone to do this stuff??? (Do saints like that exist?) Who do we call? Are there any other options? My dad's pretty open-minded and open to suggestion. Any thoughts would be helpful. Thanks Carolyn!

I suggest you give it one more try, with this system:

Get some large, empty cardboard boxes, mark them clearly--on the sides or using signs on sticks--"KEEP" "TRASH" "DONATE" and, since you're freaking out, "UNDECIDED," but vow not to rely on that too much. You can even mark one "FAMILY" for when you come across something handmade that someone might want for sentimental reasons, and also "CONSIGN" when you think you have something of value to collectors. Pick a room to start, line up your boxes, and even have a stack of old newspapers handy in case somethign fragile needs to be wrapped.

This system usually works well if it's just about finding the discipline to get it done. I just used it myself for an extensive chuck-fest.

If the problem is that you just don't feel able or equipped to decide how to divide things, then you can call in help--a professional organizer--but someone will likely still have to represent the family for on the spot decisions. 

Either way, you might also want to bring in an estate-sale company, a reputable one with people qualified to tell the difference between collector's item and landfill.


I would like to take my husband's last name after we marry. I will probably use my maiden name for work-related things since I'm in academia and have already published with that name. However, I've been given a lot of grief about it from friends. I've been told it is "out-dated" and why doesn't he take my name, or hyphenate, or whatever. I want to do this, and I know it is right for us. How can I explain that to friends who talk about setting women's lib back decades or giving up my own identity? A rose by any other name

You can tell them to blow it out their portholes. Seriously. Equality for women means being able to decide what to call yourself, vs. having society dictate it--and that includes the society of friends who want you to make a political point for them.

Congratulations and good luck. 

My friend is currently living with her husband. She wants a divorce, but has not consulted a lawyer. Last week she told me he choked her. Yesterday she told me that she is afraid he will kill her if he is ordered to pay alimony and child support. I am afraid for her..I keep urging her to see a lawyer, and I and my husband have repeatedly told her to call us anytime, day or night if she thinks she is in danger. She and her husband fight constantly about nothing. He belittles her and she has very low self esteem. What can I do to help her?? She needs to get this man out of the house!!! I believe she has classic Stockholm syndrome. She is terrified of this man, but believes that she still loves him. She is afraid to do anything for fear he will hurt her or take her child and run.

She has a very legitimate fear, based on what you describe and on domestic abuse statistics, which say that violence spikes just as the victim makes an effort to leave. The abuser sees s/he is about to lose control, and responds accordingly.

Your friend needs a lawyer, yes, but even more urgently now she needs a domestic violence crisis counselor. -800-799-SAFE, or 1-800-656-HOPE, now now now.

When I moved into an apartment in college, my parents gave me a lot of their old furniture to use instead of purchasing new items. It was really nice of them because it saved me a lot of money when I didn't have much. Now that I've been working for a few years, I would like to purchase new furniture. When I mentioned this in passing to my parents, they got offended. They said that there was nothing wrong with the furniture they gave me and that it is a totally unnecessary expense to purchase new items. I told them that I respect their opinion, but found some great pieces that I can afford and that I would really enjoy. They responded that they expect me to return all of their furniture (I was planning on calling Goodwill to pick it up because my car isn't big enough for all of it). This would necessitate my renting a van and returning it to their house about 3 hours away. My parents and my brother both have fully furnished homes, so it is unclear why they want this furniture back. Should I just suck up the cost of renting the car and moving the furniture and just let them worry about what to do with it? Is it rude of me to get new furniture when mine is fine? I think they took it as a personal insult that I wanted something new.

You want this to go away--the furniture, the implication you're being an ingrate, the bad aftertaste--so rent the van and return it all. It would be poetic justice, actually, since your parents will then have to deal with it.

As for why they're giving you a hard time, I can't say; I'm with you that it doesn't need to be taken personally at all, especially since they saw fit to get rid of the stuff themselves. But, chances are your buying new things interferes with some vision or definition of themselves that they take pride in--say, choosers of tasteful furniture or benefactors for their children or whatever else. That's a common motivation behind offenses of all kinds.


I just moved into an apartment with two previously-unknown roommates; we're all grad students at the same school. They are a few years younger than I (I'm 27, they're both 22-ish), and so far we're all getting along incredibly well. They want to get a cat. I love cats and have wanted one for years, but I take pet ownership very seriously and am not stable enough (financially and otherwise) to commit to that responsibility right now. I don't think they've thought much about the ramifications (cats can live for 20 years! Vet bills are expensive!), which really worries me; but I also don't know that I have the right to decide for them, and vetoing this seems like overstepping boundaries. I know that technically I do have the right to veto it, since I live here too, but I can't honestly say that I wouldn't love living with a cat. As an advocate for both responsible pet ownership and respecting other people's agency, what do you think? At present I am talking to them about puppy and kitten mills, vet expenses, etc.

Someone will have to own the cat, and be the last word on vet bills, food bills, cleanup beyond the routine, medical treatment, renters insurance if applicable, and where the cat goes when you're no longer roommates. The other two can agree to pitch in $x per month because you all want a cat and are seeing this as a group project, but otherwise it's on the owner. If one of them is willing to take it on, then, good for all of you. If not then I see, if not a bad idea, an idea that could turn ugly if a challenge turns up, like the cat gets sick or causes property damage.

I have an acquaintance who is a professional organizer and belongs to the National Association of Professional Organizers. She helps people clean out their houses and get rid of things. I think that would help the OP.

Thanky. Another coming:

If "estate-sale company" sounds too high end and expensive, try looking around for people who have small businesses that do the same sort of thing as professional EBay sellers. A friend's mother does this, so I know they exist.

Sounds good, but re the estate-sale company, I don't think it would set the family back much, if anything, to have someone walk through the house and say yea or nay on the presence of valuable things (and if there are items of value, having pros handle it will pay for itself--also why it's so important to check reputations before bringing anyone in).

Wait, why do the parents here have to have some pathology explaining their request? Maybe it's really NICE furniture. Maybe they feel it has monetary value. Maybe pieces are family heirlooms that they're sentimental about. If it's some ratty plaid couch from 10 years ago, OK, but the poster didn't offer any specifics.

The only specific that matters is "offended." "Offended" = pathology. 

That's because, if the items had aesthetic, monetary or sentimental value as you suggest, the parents could merely have said, "Okay, but please don't ship it all off to Goodwill--there's stuff in there we care about." But they didn't, they huffed. (And possibly puffed.)

We are having the same issue with my in-laws. They gave us some furniture that belonged to my husband's grandmother. We thought it was to tide us over until we could get what we wanted. This came up somehow in conversation and it became clear that they were completely offended that we would not hang on to this furniture forever. They said we need to ship it back to them (across the country) if we ever replace it. In probing a bit more about the issue we found that they are offended because when they were younger they were taught to save, reuse, repurpose and never buy new unless absolutely necessary. They think we are throwing money away by purchasing a new dining table when we have a perfectly good one that we got for free. There is also the issue that we should cherish the dining table because it came from the grandmother.

Well, they gave a perfectly good one away, vs. cherishing it in their own DR because if came from their mother/MIL, didn't they? But people who are intent on a  good huffing/puffing will rarely be denied, so it's best to just ship them their treasures and, over the new table that you got to pick out and pay for yourselves, toast each other for becoming independent thinkers despite village pressure not to be.

Just like (I hope) the poster and roommates have renter's insurance, so too you can purchase pet insurance. Premium approximately $300 a year--pays for itself if the cat gets a UTI.

Good thought, thanks.

If they're like my parents, they justified buying new things themselves by giving you the furniture. Now they will have to come to terms with the fact that this furniture is being thrown out (or donated) while it "still has life in it". They were using you to both feel like they weren't being wasteful and buy new stuff - you ruined that plan. It's ok, you're allowed to want new things just as much as they are.

Dunno if I want to laugh or hit my forehead on my hand-me-down table. Thanks.

On top of Carolyjn's excellent suggestion (and seriously be careful about the estate-sale people, espcially if she has antiques.) If you're in a situation where it's more 'yard sale' than estate sale there are people who will do your yard sale for you for a small fee and percentage. You set aside what's to go in the yardsale - even if it's just a colored sticker on each item. They do everything else, including donating any leftovers. We did this when my mother sold the house and moved to a condo. It was a great decision.

Another good idea, fanks.

When I had the feeling of wanting a "break" it was because I was restless. I needed change, I needed to feel I was moving/growing/working toward something. The easiest place to get that is in a relationship because breaking up (while emotionally draining) is relatively easy to do (compared to moving, quitting your job, going to school, having kids). Is there a life-change you really want that you are avoiding?

Interesting take, thanks. Might even work to incorporate less dramatic change, just for the sake of it, if there isn't some big need she can identify but is just feeling stale.

How late do you think is too late to send a contribution to the identified charity in honor of, say, a friend's parent? I'm good about sending sympathy cards right away and being supportive of my friends, but I have a knack for forgetting to make a contribution until so much time (sometimes years) has passed it seems worse to do it than to just let it go. Any thoughts?

Never too late. 

Hi Carolyn, I'm writing to ask how my husband and I can best support his daughter and her husband in caring for their newborn baby girl. My husband and I are over the moon about the birth, as we had not expected to be grandparents. Baby will be placed in daycare starting in Oct. (part time) and in Nov. (full time) but meanwhile new mom and dad are is understandably overwhelmed at this huge change in their life. After checking to see if they would appreciate our being nearby during these early weeks, (yes yes they said) we've rented an apt. in their city for 8 weeks so that we can help out in any way possible. We're really excited to do this. While we are on good terms with daughter and son-in-law, we aren't what you'd call intimate. We probably see them 6 times a year (holidays, birthdays) but haven't spent long periods of time together and so can't say we know them in the way some people know their kids. Also it's been decades since I cared for my own one child. I had no one to help after I gave birth, so I cannot harken back to memories like, "it was so helpful when Mom did thus and so." Can you suggest best ways to be helpful, as well as things to avoid (we do not want to add to stress, only to take away from it). I've already invited them to be very direct in asking for any sort of help or, conversely, letting us know if we're driving them nuts but I don't want to add to their burden by making them orchestrate the help either. Thanks so much.

Wow, this is a huge thing you're doing. There are so many possible benefits and pittfalls that it warrants a much longer answer than I can give her, but I think the things to keep in mind generally are to give them plenty of space; don't question or passive aggressively ignore the way they've chosen to do things just because you think it's silly or wrong (dangerous, you do speak up); don't give advice unless asked; respect the way they have their kitchen/linen closet/etc arranged, even if you feel the urge to arrange things "better"; and read their body language as carefully as you do their words. 

A couple of specific things that are rarely resented are cooking/bringing healthy dinners (that's just when parents lose energy and kids get crabby simultaneously), including preparing some ahead to stock their freezer, and taking the baby out for a stroll, even if it's just back and forth on front of their home so you can come right back if needed. That can give new parents a chance to shower without worrying  much how the baby is doing. 



You're not their parents, so stop lecturing them. Assuming they are not idiots or desperately broke, and given that you enjoy cats, tell them you don't want ownership of the animal but will participate in its care in a minimal way and won't stop them from getting one. I have dogs and a semi-feral cat I lured into my house a decade ago. Taking care of the cat is ridiculously easy. She has the occasional vet bill, but mostly just lurks around the house, showing up for mealtimes. Occasionally she wants to snuggle or sleep next to me. I'm not a cat person, but I enjoy her company when she chooses to bestow it. And heck, I did something good when I brought her into my home. She's a very happy feline who has a mad crush on my older dog, and she's lived far longer than she would have otherwise. Not all cats are the same, but they are not time-consuming animals. And if they live indoors, vet bills tend to be minimal. My cat made it to 14 before she ever had to go to the vet for anything but a routine checkup. Find some reputable rescue groups for your roomies to go to and RELAX.

Thanks. The one issue i foresee that you don't cover is that they might neglect the cat, which would put the LW in a lousy spot, but LW's wanting the cat suggests that won't be a huge risk. 

Carolyn, I'm disappointed in your response. For the record, I generally have a "more public access/dirt is better" approach similar to yours -- we took our twin girls to an Orioles game two months after birth. That said, for that first month or so, we were of the wash-and-sanitize variety. Newborns who get infections have far more risk than even older infants. New motherhood is stressful and filled with the opportunity to second-guess and feel guilty. If a few months of precautions let her sleep better, it's insane to give into bullies for the sake of their convenience. In the unlikely event that the child gets a serious infection, will those people stay, 24/7 to nurse the child back to health? Will they lose nights of sleep over the potential outcome? I truly doubt it. Yes, this might be the start of a crazy parental neurosis, but don't assume that. More likely it's just the start of the mother figuring out her parenting style. The LW should do what she feels comfortable with, keep the gifts -- they didn't buy a promise of immediate access -- and just ignore the bullies.

I'm all for ignoring bullies, and the bullies are not why I'm suggesting she rethink her sterile-arms-and-gowns approach.

I also appreciate the chance to say that I don't expect people to ignore cleanliness around newborns. Their immune systems are fragile, and hand-washing is just good practice. Limiting the visitors to close friends and family is good for the parents, too, since they don't need to host the world and shouldn't be expected to, germ attitudes notwithstanding.

But gowns, around a child who is not premature or known to have health problems? The reason I suggested she talk to their pediatrician has, again, nothing to do with the in-laws and everything to do with getting off to a markedly fear-driven start, which rarely turns into the, "Ahhh, we can stop taking over-the-top precautions now" moment.

The best start I can advise for figuring out one's parenting style is learning to take a fact-based approach to risk, since there's no way to eliminate it entirely and it's more costly when it's mismanaged. (As in, when people go to great lengths to protect against a perceived risk that isn't statistically much of a threat, and in the process ignoring something mundane that could have a huge negative impact on the child's life.) Getting into the habit of lining up reasonable and informed advisers (books included) and using them as questions like this one arise is a wonderful long-term investment.

So, would you attend a wedding with no alcohol? Would it matter if the couple were in recovery, vs. trying to save money?

Of course I'd attend, and have. I go for the couple, not the menu.  

Hi Carolyn, I am a US citizen who met someone in Mexico and fell in love. We spend lots of time in the evenings on Skype and also use other apps to stay in touch throughout the day. But I am not much into texting, plus I work full-time. He expects me to reply to texts throughout the day, and when I don't promptly, he gets agitated and sometimes calls me names. I don't know if I'm dealing with cultural differences, language differences (I don't speak Spanish), or technological expectation differences, or what. I have been using boundaries, telling him that I will not reply for one hour if he is mean to me. He usually is nice, even very sweet for a few days, and then it happens again. Last night I put him on overnight timeout. We talked again this morning and he said if I do that again (for that long) never to call him again. I can't seem to make him understand that it is BECAUSE he says mean things about my slow response time that I implement the no contact period. I mentioned this to my therapist and she stated, the way therapists do, "Maybe he just has a personality disorder." What do you and readers think? By the way, he is WONDERFUL in person.

When you need to put your love interest on timeout, then you are dating a toddler. Why he is a toddler--immature, abusive, personality-disordered--isn't relevant, because nothing matters after you realize you are dating a toddler, does it? Because you break up and don't look back?

Or if that's not convincing: When your therapist responds to your description of your boyfriend with, "personality disorder," that means his behavior is outside the boundaries of emotional good health.

Not-unrelated factoid: It is a lot easier to break up with your  love interest who lives in a different country than it is for one of you to move to the other's country and break up then. 

Is there a way to call someone a hypocrite without actually calling them one? Backstory is that husband REALLY hates dishes being left in the sink (and hypocrites), so I try to make sure the dishwasher is ready for dirty dishes as often as possible so that I don't leave my dishes in the sink because it's led to a huge fight before. However, husband leaves dirty dishes in the sink quite often, even if they could go in the empty dishwasher. I end up having to put them in the dishwasher to get them out of the sink myself. I ask matter of factly about the discrepancy and get called passive-aggressive. I call him a hypocrite and he gets defensive. Any other language that I could use? I don't want to be walked all over by him in this situation.

What are the chances that this is the only situation where he releases himself from his own expectations but holds you to them, and punishes you when you protest?

Sometimes my boyfriend drives me absolutely crazy. I get that you can't change people, and you have to accept the things you cannot change. At what point do you give up trying to accept and move on?

When there's more drives-me-absolutely-crazy than you want to have in your life.

If you're trying to gauge whether there's a level of drives-me-absolutely-crazy that's unavoidable in any life, then it might help instead to decide whether the benefits of having him in your life overwhelm the crazy into near irrelevance. 

Just to make it fun, it also matters how long you've known each other (if you're still pretty new to each other, beware), and how much crazy you tend to have in your other, nonromantic relationships. If your closest friends don't get under your skin this way, then that's a hint. 

I write things on the internet for a living. I used to do it in relative obscurity, but recently my career has taken off (yay!). With the increased visibility has come a lot of feedback, most of which is lovely, but some of which is... not. I know this is par for the course and that people will always say terrible things on the internet, but it still makes my stomach turn when people completely mischaracterize something I've said, or tell me I'm a hideous idiot, or send me emails telling me to commit suicide. I feel like I'm back in middle school. Is there some magic bullet for ignoring this stuff? It's so hard not to read what people are saying, and I know I need a thicker skin, but how do you grow one?

Congratulations! I think when you stop being sensitive to people's criticism, it's a bad sign. For one, getting eviscerated occasionally is like a booster shot against getting a fat head. And, even though some of it is just so hateful as to be useless--"You're a ----, quit your job" has never been and will never be constructive criticism--there's usually a useful grain of something in feedback even from the trolls, as long as they bother to make a specific point about your work. Even if the only grain you extract is, "People who share this person's beliefs will never agree with me on this topic."

The good news is, as much as reading the hate mail will upset you, you have allies in quantity and time. You're fresh from relative obscurity, so the meanies really stand out for you now. After a while you'll have read so many of them that you'll remember them for about a day, if that long, before they get pushed out of the way by something else. That happens even with most praise, which you have incentive to remember.

Hi Carolyn, I'm really close to my mom and love her very much. She had lunch with a friend who lectured her about my un-married status and said I HAVE to get married. Fast-forward to later that day, I give mom a call and she snapped at me about being the last one to get married, going for unavailable men, etc. She has since apologized, but I'm really offended. How do I react to this? We're very close but her behavior was uncalled for, rude and hurtful.

Of course it was. But she apologized, so you forgive her for being human (and letting herself get a tad too competitive with this friend), and you leave it at that unless and until she says something else to suggest this is a bigger problem.

That is, unless you already know it's a bigger problem, and that's why you haven't been able to accept her apology as the end of it?

My mother-in-law is extremely fixated on weight. Almost every conversation with her at some point either comes back to how much (or how little) people exercise and weigh. She is tiny herself, exercises all the time, and is very careful about what she eats. I'm a fit 30-something with a healthy body image so in the past it hasn't bothered me too much (although it has always gotten on my nerves). However, I am now 35 weeks pregnant and honestly would rather just not talk about weight right now. She has made a few comments to me recently--how big I look, etc--that really hurt my feelings. I know I'm hormonal and sensitive, but I feel like these comments are mean-spirited and passive-aggressive. She always makes them in such a way that it would be hard to really defend myself or ask her to please not say that. For example, at my bridal shower the other weekend, I was getting my picture taken with her and she said, in front of about 10 people, "It's so nice to stand next to someone who is so much bigger than me!" If it matters, my weight gain is completely on track and healthy and I've tried really hard to eat well and exercise throughout my pregnancy. Not once has she said something nice to me about how I look pregnant. How do I deal with this going forward? I know it will take a while to get back to my pre-pregnancy weight and I would rather not feel like crap about myself every time I see her while I'm still trying to lose the weight. FWIW, my husband recognizes that she is completely ridiculous about this and says she has always been this way. I'm afraid that in the sleep-deprived first few weeks, I am going to snap at her and say something I regret.

I'm sorry you didn't say something at the shower, along the lines of, "Did you really just make a fat joke about me right in front of my face?" or "What an unkind thing to say," or just a let-her-connect-the-dots "Really?" or "Wow." Just from the example you gave, I disagree that she makes these comments "makes them in such a way that it would be hard to really defend myself or ask her to please not say that."

This is not to say your husband is wrong in his approach, which seems to be to dismiss her as ridiculous, but that only works if you, too, think she's too far out there to be worth your concern. If you care enough to be hurt, then pick your spots and tell her calmly when she crosses a line. One argument for this approach is that you're about to have a child who will need about 20-30 years to become as mature as you are about body image--and what about Grandma's talking smack until then? You're going to need to protect your kid from this idiot worldview eventually, so I can make a case for giving it a spin now.


Hi Carolyn! I love these chats, thanks so much! I have a general question about political chatter that is bound to happen during election years. I am confident in my political leanings (that are moderate, FWIW) and am proud to live in a country where people are able to discuss politics without ramifications. That being said, I find it exhausting when people discuss politics as naseum. I also have a hard time biting my tongue when people, of either extremes, discuss radical viewpoints. Any blanket statements that I can make that are nicely phrased versions of "I respect your right to an opinion, but I don't want to hear it?"

Given the way things are going, I think it would be perfectly appropriate to throw your hands in the air, say "AAAAAA NOT POLITICS," and leave the room.  

When our son was married, our future in-laws said that they were annoucing the wedding of their daughter to our son. Their names were listed as parents of the daughter; ours were not listed as parents of the son. My wife feels very hurt by this. These are two intact families; no divorces or remarriages. The bride's family is paying for the wedding; we are paying for the rehearsal dinner and honeymoon. Do you think this was a proper decision on the part of the bride's parents?

No, but giving it another thought would be an improper decision, too. Maybe it's a sign of something that will eventually matter, but until then it's best shelved as, "Okay, that was weird," where it won't risk consuming attention best paid to more consequential things.

Of course, I'm talking to the wrong person about this, but there it is.

People who talk about marriage as though it's something you can do unilaterally should be forced to marry the last person they dumped.


Wow. Does the dishes in the sink bother you? If not, then let them be, and when the husband complains about it, inform him the dishwasher is empty and he can put the dishes there. Honestly, it's like they are just using it as a catalyst for a fight.

OP? Thoughts?

Something I really appreciated from my mother: when we needed a few things from the store, she would ask, "Would you like me to go, or would you like me to watch the baby while you go?" The options were so helpful, because sometimes I wanted to cuddle my baby and sometimes I wanted to get the hell out of the house. And it works for other chores, too!

Great suggestion, thanks. 

My daughter's fist child is 3 months old, so we're in the middle of this too. In addition to not giving unsolicited advice, remember to ask the new parents for advice. This might seem backwards, but it is definitely the way to go. I was surprised by how much I had forgotten about babies. Also, times have changed and there are new ways that young parents like to do things, and believe me they've done their research. So I always ask. My daughter and son-in-law are happy to have us help with the baby because they know that we respect them as the parents and that we will always do things their way. And yes, help with meals and a little bit of free time for a shower were two of the things my daughter most needed in the early days.

Another bullseye, thx. Not only is it correct in a practical sense--things have changed, not all of it fashion--but it also prevents one of the worst problems in these situations, which is the grandparents stepping in as the Baby Experts. Very little grates on new parents more than that. Veteran parents do know things the newbies don't, of course, but the parents are experts on their own baby and need to be treated as such, unless and until an occasion arises where outside expertise is necessary or requested. 

Hi Carolyn, I agree with what you said to the new to be new mom, but in discussing it here at the office, a few of us have wondered...The family members asking for gifts back is ridiculous, yes, but perhaps it is partly because some are seeing the baby's coming out party as some type of gift grab?

Oh, I see what you're getting at--there's an expectation of gifts at the party, like a second shower. That would explain the bizarre focus on gifts in response to the health thing, though still--the better answer would just be to decline the coming out party when the invitation arrives, and quietly let the shower gift stand as the sole contribution. Thanks, Office.

The thing that my daughter appreciated the most was me taking the 2:00 am feeding over several nights. She was breastfeeding and sometimes pumped and sometimes we used formula. (I know, controversial) But she and my son-in -law loved getting 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep.

Not only a nice thought, but it also brings up another area for nuisance-avoidance: People who want to help parents of a newborn will have NO discernible opinion on breastfeeding vs. formula unless asked. It's so radicalized that it's a preinstalled set of hurt feelings and defensiveness.

Re: cats and "you're not their parents, so stop lecturing them": The story given presents a great best-case scenario, i.e., the low-maintenance, cheap cats. But that's not what you always get -- and you won't know until it's too late. The real problem is that, in any roommate situation, the most responsible person gets stuck when things get tough and the others bail. And the OP sounds extremely conscientious about animals. So it is completely logical and appropriate for her to worry that she will be the one stuck with the vet bills -- which she already voiced concerns over being able to afford. My advice: assume you will be stuck with everything (since the alternative may be to allow people who care less to make important decisions). Decide accordingly. It is NOT a bad thing to say no to a pet you know you cannot afford.

Sensible, thanks.

Mother the mother so she can mother the child. It made me nuts when my mother and MIL seemed to co-opt my precious newborn (hormones, hormones) when I needed desperately to bond. I would have loved it if someone would have gone to the grocery store, returned a duplicate gift, mailed some thank you notes, made me a cup of tea.

Another good one. I have so many that I might need to make  a FB note. For now I'll drop it because we already have a chat hijacking on our hands. Thanks.

Most of the pieces are just old furniture -- nothing that is special. I have a lovely bookcase that was my grandmothers that I am keeping (and I indicated that when we had this conversation). Following CH's advice, I will be returning the furniture next weekend. But this isn't really about furniture, it is about how awkward this situation is to me. My parents gave me a gift, I accepted it graciously. But it seems unfair that I am being held to keeping the gift forever, particular when it is a gift of this nature.

I agree it's unfair, but, if it helps, the reason may very well reveal itself and make sense within the context of your family. If you can suspend your hard feelings for a while--weird idea, I know, but a helpful trick to learn--then you might find you have less to be upset about than you thought. (Or just soemthign different.) 

Hi Carolyn. Two weeks ago, my BF and I got into a big fight (about something stupid) and broke up (I think). The day after the fight, I went to him, apologized (even though he was mean, not me), and told him I wanted to work things out because he was so important to me. He told me he didn't know what he wanted and he thought that our relationship wasn't worth the effort (he's looking for a new job that may mean he has to move - but nothing concrete yet). Then, he went away for a week (pre-planned). He's back and we are trying to make plans to see each other this weekend to talk (or exchange stuff left at each other's home, depending on the outcome I guess). I really want to make this work and I really want him in my life, but I'm not sure what I should expect out of t his. It's good that he wants to talk, right? FWIW, we've been dating about 8 months and we're both in our mid-30s. I've been a mess since this happened - how do I not spaz out when we finally do get together?

Why do you want him back so badly? Aside from the fact that the best people for us are the ones who want to be with us--sounds simplistic but it's so often overlooked--it doesn't sound as if there's a whole lot in this for you.


That will have to stand as a rhetorical question, because now I have to go (unless you want to check back in next week, OP). Thanks everyone, have a great weekend and type to you here next Friday.

We're communicators when something bothers us, so all I wanted to do was ask why it applied to me and not him, because it didn't seem fair to me. He shuts down when it comes to communicating about housework though. FWIW, dishes in the sink don't bother me as long as they don't start to smell, but when in a relationship, if you know something really irks your spouse, and it's not too much of a hardship, why not do it just to make your spouse happy. The problem with this specific situation was he got all "do as I say, not as I do' about it. We actually very rarely fight, and if an issue comes up we discuss calmly until we come to a solution. That's why I'm writing in, the dismissive reaction totally surprised me and left me at a loss for other ideas.

Ooh, seeing this late--then that's what you need to say to him, after a cool-off period: "Your reaction on dishes totally surprised me and left me at a loss for other ideas. What's up?"

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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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