Carolyn Hax Live: Advice columnist tackles your problems (Friday, January 25)

Jan 25, 2013

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, January 25, 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.

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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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Hello, hello, here we go.

Something I wish had occurred to me before I filed today's column: Who on earth is surprised by a gay child in 2013 America? I don't know what reminded me of this, but I remember when I was expecting my kids, I'd think a lot of what they might become--daydreaming-type stuff. And among those imagined possibilities was that they might be gay. Why not? And big whoop, right? So it now seems odd to think about today's letter, and think that someone's kid would get to college (?) age without the possibility ever occurring to the parent that the kid might be gay. I might be surprised that I didn't figure it out, but that's a different thing. Otherwise it seems like willful blindness to me.  

Open to contrary arguments, though, of course. Send em if you've got em.


I met a guy recently who seems to be interested in me, and I am interested in him, too. However, he has a full beard, and I prefer clean-shaven faces, to the point that I think I would be repulsed by having to kiss someone with hair on their face. I have dated men with a goatee or a closely trimmed beard before, but that was a long time ago and my preference for clean-shaven has increased since then. But (so far) I really like this guy. Is there any way at all I can suggest he shave if he wants to kiss me?

No, but I think after you kiss him, you can decide whether it's a problem for you, and if it is, then you can say something. As long as you preface it with the acknowledgement that it's presumptuous of you to interfere with his grooming choices, and a kind word about him. E.g.: "I realize I'm totally out of line in saying this, but I like kissing you ... and  don't like how your beard feels." 

In other words, "I think I would be repulsed" (oomph added) is not grounds for speaking up before seeing for yourself whether you have a problem with the beard.

Hi Carolyn, My baby-boomer parents asked us to match their contributions to our childrens' savings accounts. While I agree that this is well-intentioned advice, we are focusing (in our early 30's) on shoring up our retirement reserves and paying down debt. Not to mention, we both work, and 2 kids in daycare is a significant expense that won't be there forever. I started explaining all this and I think did a decent job doing so, but realize I should have said something more along the lines of 'if you want to contribute, that's great, but our financial decisions are our business'. My parents have a tendency to try and control more than they should in my adult life; we have a decent, albeit distanced, relationship because of this. Do I revisit and explain that our family's finances are no longer a topic of discussion or negotiation, or just let it lie unless they bring it up again? Thanks as always. - Not counting on social security when I retire

I'd be inclined to let it lie. It sounds as if you're in the process of breaking a habit of answering to domineering parents, and exchanges like the one you describe are common--where you reflexively explain yourself instead of kindly insisting they step off. It's also part of that package for you to wake up the next day with a forehead slap when you realize there was a better way to enforce the boundary. 

The important part is that you recognize both what boundaries you need  and where they need to go. The rest will work itself out in the long run.

As for the specific issue of the 529 (right?) bullying, I think it's best to let it go if only because they might not bring it up again, and why wreck that? The time to revisit is if and when they insist that you match them. In that case, you're right that an "our finances are our business" line is appropriate, but they are giving you money and you do have solid ground to stand on. Because of that, a one-liner to the effect of, "There are loans for college but not for retirement," would neatly sum up your choice to stock up on retirement first, kid savings second. A challenge to that would then trigger the our-$-our-biz line. 

If the one line strikes you as too much of an opening for your parents then, of course, skip right to the padded "butt out." You're the one who knows how much room you have to maneuver.

My wife's work schedule is much more unpredictable and demanding than mine. I work pretty much a 40-hour, 9 to 5 job; she works anywhere from 55-60 hours, sometimes at nights and on weekends, and she doesn't have a lot of control over her schedule. Sometimes she'll call me at 4 or 5 and say, "Hey, I'm unexpectedly getting out early tonight -- want to see a movie/go to dinner/etc?" I know I should be happy to spend time together, but I end up feeling resentful -- like I'm at her beck and call and don't have anything better to do (even when I -don't- have anything better to do). I don't want to be a person who waits by the phone, but I also know its not her fault that her job is more chaotic than mine. How do I be a supportive spouse without being a doormat?

I'm not sure, because I can't identify with your seeing this as a doormat issue. She's not pulling your strings; the job is pulling hers. So where does resentment fit in? And why does hopping to a movie when the opportunity arises feel like capitulating, instead of, idunno, waking up to a town full of snow and finding out school is closed? Seems like a happy surprise. 

If it's because you feel you can't say no when you're not in a mood for a movie, then the answer is either to say you wish you were up for it but would prefer instead to celebrate her night off at home--or, if that results in a pouting wife, to say that you feel pressured on these nights to jump out and celebrate or be punished by her disappointed mood, which doesn't seem fair to you. 

I do want to give you a more complete answer, though, so if you can fill in some of the blanks, pls do.


FYI - The first few kisses may not be pleasant and depending on how ahem intense they are you could get a case of beard burn. Then you (and your face) get used to it. I don't love my husband's beard either, but I love him. Imagine if this guy asked you to change your eyebrows, because the shape grossed him out

I was thinking more if a guy said he was grossed out by the hair on a girl's upper lip, but same idear, thanks.

My friend Z has been dating a guy, S, for a year. The guy doesn't seem to like our group of friends and shows it by being very sullen and withdrawn when we're all together. S won't show a preference for where we go to dinner, what movie we see, etc., but then he's annoyed with whatever the decision is. And when S isn't happy, Z jumps to fix it somehow. They also bicker constantly about very minor things. It's difficult to watch Z trying so hard to please S when he seems determined to be irritated by everything. Z is the only unmarried one in our group, and I'm worried that she's investing a lot into this relationship because she so badly wants to get married and have kids--she seems to think that she's out of time and has to make this work, to the point where she has said firmly that she would marry him if he proposed. Is there any way I can approach her with my concerns that won't put her on the defensive? I'm just really worried about how her behavior changes when he's around.

Some of this, you need to take up with S directly. This column from last week explains how and why (link).

Some of this, you need to say to your friend, specifically: "When I see you with S, I worry about how your behavior changes--you seem stressed [or whatever it is you see]." Do not, do not attack S directly, since that will only force her to defend him as a roundabout way of defending herself and her choices.

And some of this you need not to touch with a 10-foot pole: That you're all married and she's desperate to join your club is an offensive line of reasoning to pursue, one almost guaranteed to put her on the defensive, even if you happen to be right in this case. There's also hubris to it, because it assumes the paired-off elements of the group are (a) better off than the un-paired and (b) shall always remain so. It's so much more complicated than that, as you surely already know, so bring that awareness to the conversation with your friend and leave the oversimplified narrative out of it. 

Speaking from experience, it's actually humiliating to have your son "come out" after you shed blood and tears raising him. Driving him each early morning so he could serve as an altar boy. Volunteering as Troop Leader and supporting him each step of the way as he became an Eagle Scout. Attending each and every one of his football games as he made it onto the radar of college scouts. Then before the key summer camp for football recruits, he declares "who he is". And, surprise surprise, all those letters from college coaches turn into NADA. Nothing. Not one cent of money for college. So, you know, save your "big whoopiness". Fool me once, shame on me. Can't get fooled again.

I can't for the life of me figure out how having a son turn out to be gay negates your driving him to church/scouts/football practice. If there's anything to take away from this, it's shame on various church/scouting/sports worlds for being so slow to grow up on this. 

And did you really promote the youth sports for the scholarship money, or was it because your son enjoyed and was a better person for playing?

And did you really just suggest you wouldn't have shed "blood and tears" to raise him had you known he was gay? Then shame on you, but not for being fooled. 


I wish all parents were as open minded as you about the possibility of their kids being gay! Part of it is willfull blindness and not having in on their radar, sure, but there are still huge swaths of people who think being LGBT is a moral and/or spiritual failing rather than just part of the human condition. The obscenely high rates of homelessness among LGBT youth is proof of that---their parents throw them out. I wish more parents would flat out talk about how they'll still love their kid if they're gay, bi, trans and so on. Saying stuff like that to all of their kids from a young age would do a lot of good. Familial rejection for sexual orientation and gender identity is such a major problem. I get that people struggle with their kids coming out (and even the idea of it), so I'm glad excellent resources like PFLAG (Parents, Families, & Friends of Lesbians and Gays, are out there to help the parents so they can be supportive of their kids.

"I wish more parents would flat out talk about how they'll still love their kid if they're gay, bi, trans and so on. " Or no darn good at the area of tangible achievement the parents most value, be it music, sports, standardize tests, whatever other shiny thing catches the eye of an ambitious parent.* Often parents really do feel this love for their kids, even as they get swept up in the D-1 scholarship chase, but just don't think to say it, or don't realize they need to.

That, and a yea vote for PFLAG, thanks.


*Not saying "ambitious parent" as dirty words, because that would be rich; I can get as caught up as anyone. It just has to be kept in check. 

We all imagine things about our kids. I imagine my girls as all varieties of adults. But if there's no reason to assume your kid's anything other than totally average (and straight is right there at average), I can understand being shocked. I mean, if it's 10% of the population, the odds are your kids are straight! And then you're suddenly staring into the headlights of the anti-gay bus. I had a friend (who later came out) who would ask and ask what we'd do, how we'd feel if one of our kids were gay. The only thing that I really truly thought I would feel is worry. Not the usual stuff, but the stuff targeted at homosexuals. Suddenly adding that worry to the other worries of having a college-aged kid is quite the pile on.

I get the gist of your answer, and I totally see the worry--even knowing how fast things are getting better. 

But I don't buy the 10 percent argument. That's a lot, actually, especially if you frame it as one or two kids at every kiddie birthday party will eventually be coming out. Meanwhile, so much of the problem with the way parents imagine their kids is that they rarely think their own kids are average--everyone else's are! That's why the "all the children are above average" motto for Lake Wobegon is so funny. Parents have no trouble seeing that NCAA scholarship when Junior is in utero, when 2 percent of high school grads get them every year. Yet gay, much more likely, is not on the radar. 

Those colleges did your son a favor. My husband is friends with a guy who has two Super Bowl rings and he is a physical wreck and terrified of early-onset dementia. His son currently plays pro and my husband's friend says that if he knew then what he knows now about TBI, he never in a million years would have encouraged his son to play football.

A whole other conversation, but, yeah. I might be off football entirely, now that you bring it up--there was something about the Ridley hit last week that had me thinking, no mas. Why that one and not all the others? I can't say, and I can't say I won't look at things differently next fall, and I can't say why I'm not also second-guessing my kids' hockey, and I can't be sure it's not all self-serving somehow, but for now that's where I am. 

Plus, you threw out one of the better topic lines I've seen. Well played. 

Did the "humiliated" parent of a gay son really do all those things in order to produce a specific product (a hetero football scholarship winner), rather than to raise a human being? That is tremendously sad for both son and parent, but more especially for the son. People, your kids aren't your "achievement." They're human beings in their own right, and you don't get to mold them like clay and then use them to validate your own needs.

A fine piece of posting, thanks. 

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to explain myself a little more fully. I think what bothers me is this: With her work schedule, my wife usually only gets one or two free nights a week. They're never the same nights, though, and so I feel like if I want to see her, I have to keep alllll my nights free. When she doesn't end up being free, I end up feeling like a chump because I sat at home and did nothing, and when she does end up being free, I feel resentful that I'm conforming to her schedule. Basically, I feel like she gets to do all the driving in the relationship. And even though I know logically that its her job's fault, not hers, I still don't like the way I feel sometimes in this relationship -- which is like a pathetic hanger on. So maybe the solution is that I do a better job of getting my own hobbies and friends and evening plans -- even when that means we might not see each other for a couple of weeks?

A ha! This makes much more sense to me, thanks.

It might help if you just choose a night or two each week that is your standing appointment to do something, be it a recurring commitment like an adult sports league or a class, or an open-ended, this-is-the-night-I-make-plans-with-my-friends night. Then, if your wife happens to be off on one of those nights, she either has the house to herself or gets to see her friends. (That has to be a luxury she has given up on at this point, no?)

Yes, it might mean you miss each other one week, but life is long and ideally so is marriage. 

sometimes, too, when she's suddenly off on a night you have plans, you might be in a situation where you won't offend people if you postpone them till the next night--something you can play by ear and that's better than the "pathetic hanger-on" default.

Yes, yes, yes please say SOMETHING to your friend about how her behaviour changes when she's around him and how she seems to excuse obnoxiousness in him that she probably wouldn't tolerate in a friend. I really wish someone had done this for me - I dated a guy who was like this for over a year, and the sad part was that by about the 6-month mark, *I* noticed things like this and my friends kept telling me how much he cared for me and how they great he was, etc. etc. Of course now that we've broken up (quite painfully), they all tell me how they did notice but didn't want to say anything because they thought it wasn't their place to do so. In other words, yes, say something, and soon.

Eesh. I can see not saying something (not that I agree necessarily, I just see that it's one viable option), but it sounds as if your friends actively lied to you. What was that about? Were they trying to persuade themselves? Were they acting like they saw it all along, even though they missed it, to pump themselves up? However you squint at it, it's suspect. 

Hi Carolyn, I'm in a 9 month old relationship with a woman who has a 5 year old son. I have 2 slightly older kids of my own. I love her dearly, and I love her son, however, I don't love the way she treats him. In my observations, she has no ability to say "no" and actually mean it/stick to it. When she says no, he quickly resorts to the crying tactic, and this almost always works. He's a smart kid, so he usually goes into crying mode at the first desire to have something, because it works so well. When I say no to him, he respects it. No means no when I'm the authority figure. He rarely will eat what is cooked and she routinely makes a backup meal for him. I'm of the school that a meal given to you is The Meal, and the next meal is breakfast. Your choice. She does not agree. It's not just meals. I often witness him controlling the day's agenda. Or, will he grow up and not take no for an answer from his girlfriend? She has talked about moving in together, but I know my sanity would quickly erode. I also worry how my kids will react to this situation. On a personal level, the 5 of us all get along marvelously. I just have this one problem. When she says "no" and I get on board with that, then she says "yes", *I* feel jerked around. Do you have any suggestions for how I can cope with this, or good books to read about blended families? I don't think I plan a future with them unless it changes.

You think wisely--no future, at least not in the same household, unless you can reconcile your two approaches to childrearing. 

There are going to be areas where you don't line up perfectly no matter what, and that's okay; that's the case with many effective parents. For example, someone can have your general view of the power of "no" and still bend on the dinner selection. As long as both the rules and the parents who make them are generally clear and consistent, then a few aberrations aren't going to derail the whole train. 

It's when the gaps between philosophies are as wide as the ones you describe that it becomes a risk to the kids' emotional health for you to combine households. I suggest taking this out of the "Hmm ..." realm and start dealing with it professionally--or at least planning to do that when you get to the point in your relationship where you're ready for a more permanent commitment.

That professional route can involve any of a few different approaches: parenting class, couples counseling, and reading and discussing well-respected books on child development are three that come to mind. "Parenting With Love and Logic" is the book I'd put at the top of your reading list, and behind it "1-2-3 Magic" and "How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk." 

If she won't join you in this effort to seek harmony, then harmony's not in the cards, not with this partner.


A friend is about to have her final attempt at pregnancy via artificial insemination. I'm planning to visit her in a couple of months, when she'll either be pregnant or not. The thing is, I'm newly pregnant. Do I need to give her a heads up now, which is basically as soon as I know? Or can I reasonably wait a few weeks, until I've had time to absorb, and see if I stay pregnant?

Wait. Let her get through her procedure without that distraction. The best time to tell her is when you would have anyway were you not visiting and were she not trying to get pregnant. If the trip happens to fall before you would have chosen to tell her, then tell her a week or so before you go--i.e., just long enough in advance for her to adjust to your news (assuming she even needs to).

Hi Carolyn, My partner and I (both 60-ish) have known each other for decades. A year ago we became romantically involved and have decided to live together in my house. At this point we are splitting the cost of groceries, utilities and internet. I do all the cooking, he does all the dishes. We share household chores. Both his house and mine are paid for. He will be renting out the house he has lived in. This will give him income he would not have were he not living with me. It feels strange, however, for him to pay me any 'rent' since he hasn't been paying a mortgage or rent - it shouldn't cost him more to live with me than it did to live at his house. (although I'm saving him a lot of money by cooking - he ate out often and bought convenience meals) I always try to settle such things by imagining what would feel fair were things reversed - if I was moving into his house and getting money for renting mine. I would greatly appreciate any insights or suggestions. Thank you! Beth

All this is fair game for discussion with your partner. I can say, though, that living in a paid-for house isn't free. There are property taxes, right? And insurance, maintenance, wear-and-tear? All of these make it appropriate for your partner to kick in something for his place in your house. If it feels better to you this way, you can peg his contribution to what you and he both pay for these fixed costs of your respective homes, and then deposit his contribution into a separate account that you designate for use only on maintenance and home improvement.

I have a very kind friend who has a great deal in common with me. We both work full-time, as do our spouses, have long commutes, and we each have two preschool-age children. Our older kids are a few months apart in age, as are our toddlers. In repeated conversations over several months, though, Friend seems to have a pronounced preference for Older Kid. Friend shares stories that end with "and Younger Kid just ran everywhere. I can't take Younger Kid shopping/out to eat/[other activity]." Or "I'll take Older Kid to X, but I can't take Younger Kid." I can't remember the last time I heard something positive said about Younger Kid. Friend has also shared stories about picking Older Kid up from day care to go out to lunch or spend the day with Older Kid while Younger Kid stays at the same day care. While every child is different, I do know what it's like to have two kids. I also know toddlers can be maddening, and both my kids are equally adept at occasionally driving me nuts. But to never hear a nice thing said about Younger Child and hear stories of the child being excluded makes me sad. I don't know what to say to Friend, as this particular aspect is so at odds with the great traits I've witnessed over the last few years. And as upsetting as all this is for me to hear, I can't imagine what it's like for Younger Child to experience, especially if it goes on and Younger Child starts to pick up on the different attitudes.

A couple of things on this: 

1. It sounds as if you're just hearing about the situation, and haven't actually witnessed any favoritism. It could very well be that your friend is very good with Younger Kid, and saves the negatives for conversation with a (seemingly sympathetic) fellow parent.

2. There are ways to bring this up without overstepping. One of these is to ask the kind of routine follow-up question people customarily ask in a conversation. For e.g., "How does YC feel about your doing this with OC? Has s/he noticed yet?" Or even, "Clearly one of your kids is a lot easier than the other--and I know this happens in almost every family. How do you handle the whole issue of not appearing to play favorites? That must be really hard."

In other words, treat it as something you assume she has already thought about and resolved, instead of a crime against her younger that only you've been able to spot. That will make you a safe place for her to talk about this out loud, and there aren't many of those; judgment lurks around almost every corner for parents, especially the parents of high-energy, run-everywhere kids. By being able to talk about the risk of unfairness, it follows that she'll be more likely to deal with it head-on--assuming she isn't doing so already in the times you're not there to see it.


Hi Carolyn! Long time gay, first time caller. I loved your advice to LW1 today, but I would add one thing: when I came out to my parents they were very, very supportive, but noticeably shocked. My dad came to me a few days later and apologized, and said something that has stayed with me since; as soon as he found out my mother was pregnant, he started imagining the wonderful life I was going to have - who I was going to marry, the grandchildren I would produce, what I would be, and so on. He wanted me to have a happy,easy life, and he'd imagined a really great one. He said, "When I was crying the other night, it was partly out of fear that your life wouldn't be as easy as I'd wanted it to be and that you were going to experience things I couldn't protect you from. But I was also shocked that 20 years of my daydreaming were just flat out wrong. I was mourning that, and I'm sorry." It had never really occurred to me until then, but as much as my life is mine, I'm a huge part of my parents' life too. I didn't owe him a pity party about the life he made up for me in his head any more than if I'd become a hairdresser instead of a doctor like he'd imagined, but I did owe him some acceptance and love - the same that he'd shown me. I was enormously grateful that he shared that with me, and I try to remember that and summon empathy every time I think my parents are getting over-involved in a decision I'm making. They're not my counselors, they're my parents and can't ever have an impartial stake in my game. Also: for whatever flack your daughter gives you about not handling this "correctly" when you ask her about the lady she's dating, do your best, but also remind her that you're her mother and it's your job to embarrass her with awkward questions regardless of who she's with. I got all uppity about my parents not asking the "right" questions until I realized that was one thing my straight peers and I had in common.

I'm kinda choked up here. Thank you. 

Besides checking the awesomeness box, it also checks a generational box as well: I have to think (given my era, upbringing, education and location, I guess) that in time fewer  and fewer parents' imagined lives for their kids, the "who I was going to marry, the grandchildren I would produce, what I would be, and so on," will be so linear. I don't doubt that my parents' vision for me was linear--because that's What People Did when they were in their formative years. Since the late 60s, Americans have been challenging those linear cultural notions, and while what people have actually done has always reflected individual preference, what people expect has been a sturdy holdout. Surely that's starting to change?

Carolyn, How do you kindly tell a family member that she is no more "busy" than anyone else in 21st century America? My sister is always given a break by my mother -- gets out of all sorts of family obligations, gets tons of child-care help and sympathy, gets passes on forgetting birthdays, milestones, and engaging in generally surly behavior a lot of the time - because she's just so "stressed." My sister works 40 hours a week. So do I. However, my mother often cannot help watch our kids because my sister "needs" her so badly. If I can't make it to Aunt Gertie's 80th birthday blowout, it's a guilt trip. But she gets a pass because she's so "busy." I am sick of it. My sister's latest thing is not returning phone calls because she's just so scattered. It is beginning to cause major resentment for me. Her husband works long hours, too, but hey, so does mine. And we'd like to warrant the same compassionate-you're--busy help/treatment without having to behave like complete messes to get it. Help?

Let it gooooooo ... just drop your end of the rope. As legitimate as all of your complaints sound, they're only as useful to you as they are productive. And what have they gotten you? Has your sister ever said, "You know, I really monopolize the family's attention--I'm so sorry"? Has you mom ever said, "You know, I realize you're just as busy as your sister, but deep down I feel responsible for her inability to get it together, so I let her suck me into the drama, and that's not fair to you"?

Hafta think not.  

If so, then it's time for Step 2, to stop looking for returned calls, child-care help or validation from your family. Unfair? Sure is. But dwelling on that only amplifies the impact of the unfairness on your life. If you mentally (emotionally?) write them off as being too low-EQ to recognize their messed up dynamic, then you start looking elsewhere in your life for satisfaction and validation. Your spouse, your kids, your work, your circle of non-family loved ones, your causes close to your heart. They're your rock.

And when someone guilt-trips you over missing Aunt Gertie's birthday, you are this person from now on: "Yep, can't make it, so sorry, so how are you doing these days?" And if your guilt-slinging family member presses: "Aw, cheez, gotta go--bye, say hi to Auntie for me!" Click.


Hi Carolyn, I've been at my job for 6 years now, and have loved about 75% of it. But in the last year, I've learned that I'm being underpaid compared to my peers, and haven't gotten a promotion, despite new projects being added to my workload every quarter, and glowing performance reviews. I asked my boss about these things, and he boiled it down to the fact that in this economy, I should be lucky to have a job. He's right, but still the inequity remains. Long story short, I've found another job--it's not a big bump in pay, but it presents many more opportunities for growth, training, and potential pay, plus it's a better title--all good things I feel I deserve, but have been missing at this job. But I feel this crushing guilt about giving notice, feeling like I'm betraying my company by leaving. What's wrong with me, and why can't I just say kiss off (nicely) and leave with a clear conscience?

I dunno what's "wrong with me," but please see that this better offer is all the opportunities you listed, and one more: Leverage. It might be the new offer is worth taking no matter what hoops your boss jumps through for you, but, if you'd rather stay, then ask him to jump through the hoops you'd need to be willing to stay. Worth a try, no? If no, you go.

Congrats, btw. 


My Mom just turned 70 and has been overweight a long time. She has a bad knee and refuses to discuss surgery. This has been going on for years and her mobility is decreasing, while she takes baby steps towards weight loss. I'm really concerned that she will lose her independence within the next two years. Any tips on approaching this subject with her? My siblings and I have tried in the past and she gave us the silent treatment. It didn't go so well. We want to help and keep gently supporting her, but is there really anything else we can do in the meantime?

I urge you to talk to an elder care specialist--a social worker, gerontologist, etc.--because there are many facets to this problem, including your mother's weight and bad knee, her emotional limitations (silent treatment?!), the near ineviability of her needing care, the money that will cost, and the fact that you and your sibs will most likely be responsible for her when she can't take care of herself, but aren't being allowed any say in the path that takes you all there. 

At least for now, the U.S. Administration on Aging offers an online Elder Care Locator (link). Have a look, see who serves your/your mom's area, and get started on a comprehensive plan. 

Hi Carolyn, I've been following your columns and chats for years now, and I really admire the combination of insight and humor that you bring to both! I'm hoping you can direct a little of that my way. My parents in law want to take their two sons and DILs on a cruise. They've brought it up the last three times we've seen them. But there is nothing in the world we want to do less than go on a cruise, with or without his family along! We thought about suggesting some other kind of family holiday, like renting a beach house somewhere. But that would cost more, and we aren't in a position to offer to pay the difference. And, unfortunately, the in-laws have serious mobility issues, so I can see the appeal of a cruise as a vacation that doesn't require a lot of standing or walking. All three times they mentioned that they want to do this, my husband avoided responding with anything more than "hmm," then changing the subject. (I'm trying to follow his lead on this, since they're his parents.) But they're not taking the hint. His mom in particular is very sensitive and would be very hurt (to the point of extended and repeated tears) if she knew we didn't want to go. So we either get to be the selfish children who break mom's heart, or or we suck it up and give up a week's vacation to go on our version of holiday hell. Are these our only options?

Have you ever been on a cruise?

Hi Carolyn, I love your column and your answers, so I'd love you to decide a difference of opinion between me and my husband. His mother is very generous, but gives gifts (usually a check) of differing amounts to each of us. (To the extent that it's relevant, my parents are deceased.) I think it's wrong because it makes me feel not truly a part of her family. My husband thinks it's fine because she obviously loves him more than me. I don't doubt that but I don't believe that the amount of the birthday check is where the degree of love should be felt. I always say that I will never do this to my children's future spouses; my husband thinks it's the way to go. What do you think? I'd love to hear your take. Thanks.

I'm sorry, I can't summon any concern for whether I get a gift from my in-laws, much less one that's equal to what they give their child. They can give me nothing! I'm not their kid. Whatever they want to give me is syrup on the pancake. (Cash, any amount, is the real maple syrup vs. the dyed brown stuff.)

Talk to me about their fairness to our kids, or to their kid, or about respecting our household rules, or their general civility to me, and then I can work up a lather.



Me and my best friend are over-weight. We were both pretty and thin in high school and slowly through the years, and pregnancy's and divorces... have gained weight. She wanted to have weight loss surgery but her doctor was against it and when she looked into it further her insurance wouldn't cover it. I just approached my doc the other day about the possibility of having surgery and my insurance does cover it. I am looking seriously into it and told my friend. She scoffed at me and told me how terrible the surgery is and I should lose weight by diet and exercise. (Something she has never done, or is doing) I quickly changed the subject. Now, I am pretty sure she is upset that I can have the surgery done if I want to and she cannot at this time, but I thought she'd be more supportive. If I do decide to have this done I am seriously considering not telling her. Should I just not bring up the subject again till I know for certain? I thought she would be there for me, but I am suspecting I'll need to find support elsewhere.

The response to her inability to handle her (understandably) complicated feelings is not to run, hide and judge. Sure, she "should" be more supportive, but give her a chance to process everything first!

Start by saying out loud that you get that it's a really lousy break that one person's insurance does cover what another person's doesn't, independent of medical necessity (as far as any of us can tell). Even though her snark about diet and exercise was petty stuff indeed, she needs your support--arguably more than you need hers. Get it out in the open and really start being each other's friends. 


"I am looking seriously into it"--second and third opinions, I hope. 


I'm pretty sure my four-year-old ISN'T gay, but gayness is part of the "big world with different people" conversations we have all the time. I want my son to be okay with who he is and also who his friends and other family members turn out to be. Some of us are raising "future gay kids," but most of us are raising the kids who will be their peers.

I was going to leave this topic be for the day, but this is a damned fine point. Yes, we are raising the peers of all kinds of kids, and if my kids don't roll with that "big world with different people," that's on me.  

Hi Carolyn, You have said a few times in the past something along the lines of, "We are not responsible for someone else's feelings," and when it comes to the extremes of narcissistic or victim-playing behavior, I get this. But if I do or say something legitimately hurtful, prejudiced, etc., to someone else, whether through malicious forethought or benign error, it's hard for me not to feel at least a little responsible for the likely distress that person then feels, and I do my best to make amends. True, some of us have an especially Zen approach to life, and each of us ultimately chooses how we react to what life throws at us, but I think I'm understanding your comment much more coldly and heartlessly than you intended. Could you please help clarify? Thanks! Love the chats.

Thanks for the kind words. 

Truth is, I think a lot of what I advise and believe in amounts to a system--an emotional word problem, in a way. Because of that, talking about it involves breaking down very emotional things into transactions, which is inherently cold.

But that's just in the mechanics; the result is an emotional exchange, which, if handled with good intent, respect and fair concern for all involved, tends to be the opposite of cold. 

Take the transaction you're talking about: If you "do or say something legitimately hurtful, prejudiced, etc., to someone else," you're still not responsible for the other person's feelings; it's his or her place alone to decide what to do with and think about your actions. BUT: You are responsible for you--which means you make a good faith effort to express your regret and repair or mitigate any damage when you do something you recognize as wrong.

So, yeah, cold word problem, but happy result where people care about each other while also recognizing what is (actions) and isn't (outcome) theirs to control.

I think is important to state you are not looking for a defense. The friend is an adult and doesn't need to justify anything. You just wanted to point out your concerns

Love this, thanks.

As someone who went through the fertility journey, if the LW is still pregnant and the friend is not, it would be nice if she was willing to postpone the trip and offered her friend the option. I'm sure the friend will be logically happy for her but it could be really difficult to cope in person. Time will heal that so it's not to say that it will always be an issue.

Worth considering, thanks.

Thank you for your advice about counseling and the books. I've suggested seeing somebody together about this, and she has been very open to the idea. We had also started reading "Stepcoupling: Creating and Sustaining a Strong Marriage in Today's Blended Family", but so far it hasn't had much about parenting differences. Your answer reminds me, I lent her the "How to talk to your kids..." book about 8 months ago and she didn't read it or return it. Maybe a gentle inquiry about that book is in order. Thank you so much!

Sher thing. In the meantime, have a look at "Love & Logic" yourself. I think it makes a lot of sense while sometimes straining the bounds of realism/pragmatism, and therefore offers excellent discussion opportunities, particularly about what you want to teach a child and to what lengths you are willing/able to go to get there.

Seriously -- for all I know, this could be my husband. This sounds -exactly- like things we've discussed before. Please, please, take Carolyn's advice. I long for a night or two at home by myself, but when I get home, I feel so guilty for being away all evening that I force myself to hang out with my husband, even though what I need more than anything is a few hours of solitude. Call Boy -- live your life. Join a club. Take a class. If I don't see you as much, it will be well worth it -- especially if it means that when I do see you, you're happier and not resentful.

We could have a whole discussion on people's varying needs for alone time, and the pressures of expectations. Thanks for the cry for help. 

Generally, I'm with you: I certainly do not make my kid an extra meal. Sauce can be left off a dinner, but that's about it. I'm definitely the most old-school, hard-glass parent I know - I often feel out on an island compared to many loosey-goosey parents I see. However, there is always cereal accessible to my kid, so she can have a bowl of cereal if she doesn't care for dinner, just like I had that option growing up. So if this hard-glass, disciplinarian parent thinks you might go a little easier, you *might* have something to learn from your girlfriend. Definitely come to some agreement with her. Maybe try PEP classes together, to learn to blend your parenting styles.

Yeh, we do the cereal (or PBJ) option, too. They have to fetch and fix it. Thanks. 

I don't think PEP is everywhere, so for those without access, ask your pedatrician for good local parenting classes. 

Just wanted to offer one bit of context for why the friend might go pick up OC from daycare to go out to lunch but not YC. When my toddler started daycare (used to have care in our home), I thought I'd go pick him up for lunch on occasion and it would be a fun thing for us to enjoy together. Maybe when he's older, but right now? No way. It would totally throw off his day. He's 20 months, and thrives on his routine. Variations from his expected day really throw him off right now, and it would really throw him off for me to drop in and out of his day unexpectedly. I think this is something he's going to outgrow as he gets a little older, and I may very well drop in for lunch when I can at that point, but now? Nope. Since YC is a toddler, this might be at least part of the reasoning behind that particular discrepancy. And not for nothing, toddlers can be HARD. I love my son to the moon and stars and back again a thousand times, but he's also in the thick of very tantrummy, screamy, crazypants territory and there are days when he is absolutely exhausting to be around. I know it's going to get better, and he definitely has days that are better than others, but this is a tough phase for the whole family at the moment because he can be so touchy. LW, since you have a toddler, too, maybe a little more empathy? Or if you can't identify because your kids haven't gone through this phase, maybe stick to quietly counting your blessings?

Vouching for the "It would totally throw off his day." Thanks muchly.

No, no, no, please don't recommend the poster use the job offer as leverage to stay at the old job. That rarely works out well. If you do that, you're still at a job where they try to reward you as little as possible. They won't suddenly see your true value and be grateful they could persuade you to stay. They'll see you as someone disloyal who put the screws to them and can't be counted on to stay.

Thanks for the dissent. i've seen it work and I've seen it not work, but what I've never seen is the keep-you-but-resent-you outcome you describe. Appreciate the warning.

That's it fer today ... thanks everybody for stopping by at an edition of the chat that didn't feature my or my kids' illness for the first time since before Christmas. All hail winter. 

Have a great weekend and hope to see you here next week, usual time. 


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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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