My daughter is graduating from college a year early and hasn't quite figured out her plans for summer and beyond. I was planning to throw her a fairly big graduation party, but now she is telling me that she'd rather not because she doesn't like the idea of fielding the "What are you going to do next?" question over and over. That breaks my heart a little. Is there a tactful way we can avoid her having to go through that, other than my putting out a mass email that she doesn't have a job lined up?
If she doesn't want a party, then she doesn't want a party, no?
If this is truly her one reservation, then, yes, there are ways around it. But I don't want to suggest some and sound as if I'm condoning pressure to make this party work.
My daughter splits her time between her father's house and mine. At her father's house, she is rewarded ($$$) for good grades. At my house, she loses privileges (TV, phone, etc) if she doesn't keep up with her schoolwork. Each of us feel strongly that our method is right. I think it's obvious that good grades should be the expectation, not something to be extravagantly rewarded. Do you have any thoughts on this? I am aware that we're sending her a very mixed message (or maybe it balances out).
Actually, it's a very clear and consistent message: Dad is awesome and Mom (right?) sucks.
That's no reason to abandon your principles, obviously, but I have a feeling you don't intend for one of your principles to be, "Raise our child by the Zax Method" (link).
If this were a no-brainer about childrearing that you were sticking to, like ... idunno, car seats, then I'd see why it was so important for you to dig in. But you and he are both betting it all on two methods that neither of you can prove to be effective. Right? Is either of you citing longitudinal research?
There's an obvious way for you two to cooperate that I hope you'll both consider. You are using the stick to keep your daughter's work habits in line. He is using the carrot to keep her grades in line. The two aren't the same; people can work hard and get lousy grades, as well as loaf their way to good ones. So, theoretically, you and he can agee to endorse each other's ways as part of a comprehensive team approach.
For what it's worth: People can also be old enough and savvy enough to see right through being carrotted-and-sticked (stuck?) and just do what they were going to do all along, while watching their respect for their so-sure-they're-right parents erode. In that case, the best thing to do might be to tell your daughter you'll both butt out and trust her unless and until there are signs she's starting to drift.
How do I get out of a carpooling arrangement between me and one of my coworkers? We've been picking each other up for about a month and even though it is way cheaper and more convenient, making conversation with her for two hours every day has totally worn me down. But because we live and work in the exact same buildings, her feelings will be (understandably) hurt if I back out for no real reason.
I'm sure you can come up with something face-saving that isn't a total whopper, but it sounds as if you have great incentive to find a way to make this work. Audio books, for example? You can also say that talking wears you out and it's not personal, it's just you. I'm guessing you're introverted, and if that's true, then just say that. It still might hurt her feelings, but then maybe you can make "Quiet" by Susan Cain your first audio-book.
Hi Carolyn, Love the column and chats! Hoping you can provide an unbiased opinion on something. Last fall I gave birth to twins and shortly after we got home from the hospital, our friend "Jane" brought over several meals she'd made for us to put in our freezer. About a week after that, our friend "Bill" lost his wife suddenly. We wanted to get food to him ASAP so I pulled from the freezer some of Jane's food and some things I'd made while still pregnant and sent my husband to drop them off at Bill's house. A few weeks later Jane brought over a casserole and I mentioned to her how much we appreciated it since we'd given some of what she brought to Bill. Fast forward to last week and Jane admits to me that she was really [teed] off that we had done that. She said she'd made those meals for us with love and was annoyed that we would just give it away like that. Said we could have gone to the store or had something delivered rather than taking her food to him. Our *twins* are a week old and we're supposed to go shopping when we already have prepared food in our freezer? As a result of our decision to help out our friend, she decided at that point to stop making food for us at all. I apologized for hurting her feelings but was too stunned to say much else. Am I being unreasonable in thinking that's a little insensitive?
I'd call it exhausting, actually, for Jane. Isn't life hard enough without finding extra reasons to take offense, and without acting on them in the form of "never again" decisions? And dredging them up as fresh wounds six months after the fact?
To be fair, calling Jane's overreaction "insensitive" flirts with completing the circle of huffiness, because it implies that she wounded you by being wounded by you, when what this situation really needs is for someone to stop the madness. Better to greet Jane's harrumph with a, "Gosh, we sure didn't mean to hurt your feelings, we were just trying to help a friend," and leave this whole stretch of social misfires in the past. To the extent Jane lets you, at least.
Carolyn Your "old friends disappearing" Q - the vacation home people. This has to, has to, has to be a joke. Someone is yanking your chain. NO ONE is that clueless or self-absorbed. Right? Please tell me I am right.
I published it with doubts, expressed in my answer. One reason I went with it was the certainty of others who, when I surveyed them informally, said they'd known people who could have written it.
What does your experience tell you? I can't say I know someone who could have written the letter in question, but I can say that I spend my days neck-deep in the awful things people do to each other, but only ankle-deep in people's agony at causing others pain.
Please, please do NOT throw your daughter a party! Several times, I requested my mother not to throw a party for me because I felt awkward about it. It never went over well. I spent the whole time wanting to hide in a corner, and at the end, I had to fake a gratitude I didn't feel. If you want to celebrate, take her out to dinner somewhere nice. What she needs is a hug and assurance that everything is going to be okay, and that it's okay to be a bit lost sometimes.
Seconding Hax reply: as someone in a very similar situation, please don't throw this girl a graduation party. No doubt you are proud of her and her degree reflects effort and money on your part as well as hers, but being paraded before my family and my parents' inquisitive friends sounds like my very worst nightmare right now. Please don't do that to your daughter.
I was one of those (recent) college graduates that didn't want to field that question either, at the height of the recession. My mother and I compromised in that we held a very small affair with immediate family and my closest friends at my house in my college town (not hers). We had BBQ, played corn hole, and everyone there already knew that I hadn't figured out anything beyond what to wear under my graduation robes.
Sounds a little strange...if I were graduating college a whole year early, I'd be excited to have everyone celebrate with me. Then when they asked, I could honestly say "I've just spent all my energy on graduating early- I haven't figured out the rest" with a big smile on my face. Sounds like she's under a lot of stress (her own doing?her family's doing?) to perform what with graduating early and feeling bad she doesn't have her next step lined up. Maybe there is a bigger issue at play here that needs to be addressed, not just ignored as I-don't-want-party.
A get-together would be a great time to ask "what would you do if you could do it over again?" Might get some good ideas and steer people's judgement away from the 'success' track.
As Graduation season is upon us, I think this letter, and the question, is pretty common. At the root of this issue is this: are graduations for the person graduating, or for their family? My parents threw me a graduation party from undergrad, even though, like the LW's daughter, I had nothing in particular lined up and spent most of the time feeling awkward. But my parents clearly wanted a party and, since they helped pay for my education, I felt I had to agree. I wish I would have stood my ground more because we have boundary issues now, and I suspect this party was part of that.
I wanted to weigh in because this was the exact same situation I had growing up with divorced parents. My mother would punish me for bad grades, and reward me with "choose your own homemade dinner" for good grades. My dad set a pay scale based on the grade (with poor grades leading to me to have to pay him). I never associated my Dad as the good and Mom as mean because they both had their version of carrot & sticks even if one rewarded me monetarily and one couldn't afford to do so. I think most divorce kids realize that they have two different households that they have to work within pretty quickly; I gave up trying to compare them or pit my parents against each other because they never let it work. They defended their kingdoms but never tried to encroach on each others because both systems/households were reasonable.
Ah, good point, thanks. One more:
Growing up my siblings and I got paid per 'A'. It was a fantastic incentive because my parents would groan and lament how poor we were making them. It was a great time had by all. However, if our grades dropped below a 'B-', we had privileges taken away (we uh hum only had 1 landline phone and 1 TV in the house). Goes to show ya that both ways can be effective :) All 4 are college graduates
Then it must work!
Just being a doink. Thanks. Since we're sharing, we weren't paid or punished, just ... expected.
I thought the current rhetoric about goals was to reward effort? Wouldn't you rather your child tried a harder class, a new hobby, something outside their comfort zone? And isn't the child likely to get worse grades before they get better ones?
It is, and she probably would, and I'm not sure, thanks.
I'm just going to let you guys answer while I Google things that my 9-year-old would find amusing.
Hi Carolyn, My husband and I were supposed to miss his best friend's wedding this summer because it was the same day as my due date...then I miscarried. We've been trying to have a baby since and it's been really stressful. As the wedding approaches I find myself dreading it more and more. On top of the emotions that it is bringing up about the miscarriage, my sis-in-law just announced she is pregnant and my cousin will be there with his newborn. Is there a way for me to bow out of the wedding or is this a suck it up and put a smile on my face moment?
I'm leaning toward suck-it-up moment, because this is your husband's best friend and your husband might really need this right now.
This is not to minimize what you're feeling--it's a real confluence of hard feelings that you're trying to sort through, and if you haven't looked into therapy or a support group, then I urge you to (try Resolve at this link). I also think it's fine to give yourself permission not to go.
At the same time, doing something nice for your husband potentially accomplishes three things: gets you out of yourself a bit; changes your scenery, which lately has been of a "really stressful" place; gives you a chance to reinforce your marriage during a time that's known for straining marriages.
Just some ideas to toss around. I'm sorry for your loss, and hope there's good news waiting for you in the near future.
I have two daughters. The older one, "Eleanor," is a classic high-achieving firstborn who has always excelled in school; she will attend a highly selective magnet school when she starts high school in the fall. "Marianne" is three years younger and has always felt herself to be a bit in her sister's shadow. Marianne is a capable student, but nothing has been as easy for her as it has been for Eleanor. Her tendency has been to define herself in opposition to her older sister: "If Eleanor is interested in X, I am not going to be interested in X." This is fine in many ways -- I have encouraged Marianne to find her own activities and interests. However, it's not okay with me for this logic to be applied to school. Marianne's thinking seems to be "Since Eleanor is the scholar, I'm not going to be the scholar." So far Marianne has done well in school, but middle school looms next year and I am already seeing signs that Marianne is picking up the message that smart girls lose some social currency. Eleanor got that message, too, but she chose to be her own person and ignore it, thus becoming a nerdy, unpopular kid in the middle school pecking order. I get the sense that Marianne is not willing to make that social sacrifice. How can I help her navigate middle school and give her the support she needs to do her best academically, while at the same time not pressuring her to somehow replicate her sister's experience? I don't expect her to be an academic star, but at the same time, I want her to take pride in doing her best rather than holding back so no one thinks she is a geek.
This will seem out of left field (and it's also way late in the process), but do you have any flexibility on where you send Marianne? There are schools where it's cool to excel, plus it might be helpful to break Marianne's sense that she's just marching down her sister's path.
Carolyn, Hopefully you can take this question as its rather timely. My father is mentally ill (manic depression and bipolar), and has been for years. He's probably also again considered an alcoholic, though he was sober for at least 15 years. I don't know the extent to which he's still seeking help. I know he goes on and off his meds at a whim. He's also VERY controlling, and at a minimum emotionally abusive toward my mother. They've been married 40 years and are in their early 70s. I have no way to contact my mother without him knowing about it or finding out about it (he monitors email and phone records and we can't have any "mother & daughter" conversations) . They're coming out for a visit this week, and I'm hoping to figure out a way to otherwise engage my dad and have some time to talk one-on-one with my mom, but I don't know what to do or say other than "I'm worried about you." She has said at one point that "she's had enough" but I also suspect that she's afraid of what he'd do: to himself, to her, or the fallout that my siblings and I would have to deal with. I've researched resources available to her in her hometown, and I know its on her to make the choice to do something, but I'm still at a loss of what to say or do at this point.
Get your hot lines on--NAMI, at (800) 950-NAMI (6264), or this link --and the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Pose your question to them, and specifically ask for an approach you can use to get information to her quickly and, if possible, consistently. Put that and the resources you researched for her onto a small piece of paper for her. Your dad can't follow you into a ladies' room, and surely you can put yourself somewhere public during this visit so you can say, "Mom, would you please come with me to the ladies' room? I need you help with something and I'm not whipping my shirt off out here." Durn faulty bra hook. Or some such. Good luck.
Carolyn, in the past you've recommended that the child of less-than-respectful in-laws do the intercession for their partner. In my case, my parents have been unwelcoming towards my husband of two years. They've never corrected him when he calls them "Mr. & Mrs." When my mom and I leave the men alone, my dad abandons him, affording only the briefest and most surface-level of conversations. I know the reason behind their coldness: they just don't approve of his career and money-making potential. It's become so awkward that my last two visits, he didn't even bother to come. I'm stuck, because what can I say? "I want you to be nicer to my husband? Please stop giving him the cold shoulder." What if they refuse? Do I stop my visits too? I should note that there are no kids/grandkids involved here.
" they just don't approve of his career and money-making potential"?! And you haven't verbally slapped them yet in their self-righteous faces? The "what can I say" bit sounds disingenuous. You tell them that in freezing him out they push you away; that in judging him by surface standards they not only insult you both but embarrass themselves; that you ask only that they make an effort to see in him what you do--not for themselves and not for him, but for you, though all parties stand to gain from that effort.
Now, could be there's some oversimplifying here; it's possible, for example, that they just don't like him or they disapprove on a deeper level vs. just not being wowed by his job, and the "career and money-making" angle was their way of rationalizing their dislike and/or was what you took away from a more nuanced explanation.
Regardless, there are two things I can say for sure: None of this excuses a failure to say, "Please, call us Joan and David," when the Mr. and Mrs. act lasted past the point of silliness, so you can certainly talk your way to a solution there; and nothing you say will solve the problem of "the briefest and most surface-level conversations." You can't make anyone like anyone, but you can ask for a certain level of effort and civility.
If they refuse, you'll have a decision to make, obviously. The paths range from severing the tie, to seeing them less, to playing the middle (seeing parents sans husband, for e.g.), to showing up with husband as a form of quiet insistance on his proper place in this family. There's no one way that suits every situation, so your conscience has to lead.
Hi Carolyn, I'm usually one to hold my tongue when it comes to dishing out unsolicited advice, but I'm curious about whether that policy holds when it comes to someone I love. My sister is a wonderful person in many ways, but she has trouble meeting men and dating them for longer than a few weeks. I have a few theories about why this is (she thinks she comes off as loose and carefree, when actually she exudes how high-strung and sensitive she really is; her default conversational topic is complaining about other people...) Would a caring sister say, "I know you haven't asked my opinion, but maybe if you tried to find other conversation topics" or "if you let the little things the guy said or did wrong go, you'd find more of what you're looking for,"? Or do I just say nothing, remain supportive, and offer my opinion if she does ask for it?
That policy holds double for people you love; they're the ones you'll most regret alienating with unwanted suggesitons, right?
I'm also not sure what you'd accomplish with the examples you offer here except to put your sister on the defensive. Saying nothing isn't the only alternative, but what you propose here is close to offering her the suggestion of changing her temperament and personality, when what you want is to actually help her, i.e., minimize pain and maximize pragmatism.
One way to avoid the unsolicited trap, and also stay on the realistic side, is to start asking her what she thinks went wrong, what she thinks she needs to do, how she thinks [X statement or reaction of hers] must have appeared to the guy in question, etc. If she's coming up with the ideas, then the pain risk is also greatly reduced, right? Best of all, you can wade in gently with leading/pointed questions, and back away if it doesn't work. With blurting out an opinion, there's no taking it back.
Last thing. While it can be useful to hear about aspects of ourselves that we can stand to improve, I think it's even more useful (and far better for one's confidence) to hear about the good stuff that we'd do well to focus on and highlight around others. Right now it sounds as if you can't see why a guy would want to date your sister, when it might help her most if you could help her see why one would.
How do I deal with a fiance who has expressed concerns/doubts about our marriage? Wedding planning has been on hold for almost 2 weeks (frankly, I'd rather elope -- the wedding is for him and his family), and he's been distant (not mean) while he figures out what he wants. I can appreciate that to a point -- he's not leading me on -- but it's tearing me up. I'm hesitant to end things, as I'm sure that I want him as my husband. We live together (his house), and every day of distance does more damage to me and our relationship. I'm no idiot, so I've started considering my Plan B, which is a life without him. We've just started couples counseling. I'm trying to be patient -- I love this man, and he's my best friend -- but how long do I wait? (online only, please)
I'm sorry. This is just going to have to play out, but one thing you can do in the meantime--I hope--is get out of that house! Tell him you want him to have room to figure this stuff out, and go crash on someone's couch.
If you don't have a couch you can crash on, then that has to be promoted from Plan B to Plan A: become less reliant on this relationship as your social lifeline. In the meantime, see how quickly you can put together a weekend road trip that will give you room to think at least till Monday.
There's no set amount of time one ought to wait, but I think you'll be able to see for yourself whether there's progress over the coming weeks.
Something else to consider is that "I have doubts" and counseling and all that can sometimes be more about pain-avoidance than fixing the relationship, when the idea of pulling the plug and hurting someone beloved is just too hard to face. Giving him the out is one way to keep from being dragged through this.
I hope that's not the case. Good luck.
In a conversation w/Marianne it would be great if you could find a way to communicate the idea that she's letting Eleanor control her life by her habit of doing the opposite. I used that concept w/success w/my students when I taught high school. They understood that they had ceded control of their life choices to whomever they perceived themselves to be opposing.
Right--ceding control to E and, also, to the geeks-aren't-cool peers. Applies vs. both influences.
It's obvious that you really value intelligence and school achievement (Jane austen reference was the clue). Marianne might have different priorities, especially at the middle school age. Good grades are a predicter of success, but so are social skills. Not saying anyone should play dumb, just thinking that Marianne might have different innate talents than you and Eleanor.
Right, thanks, and I'll go further and say E might have different innate talents than the LW. Both girls are getting pigeonholed in this story, unless the reductive storytelling was more a matter of live online advice realities than of realties in that family.
I was Eleanor. Please make sure that she knows that her academic achievement is wonderful, but if she stumbles, you will still love her. If Eleanor feels validated as the oldest child/smartest child/good in school and then hits a roadblock, her personality may crumble. Make sure that you express to her that you love her: just for who she is, not what she accomplishes.
Yes, this, thanks.
Audiobooks might work, but if there is a podcast you really like and she might enjoy too, consider loading up an mp3 with some and offering it as a fun diversion to share, instead of an attempt to not talk to her. Might go over better?
I meant the audio books to be shared as well, but, yes, podcast idea is excellent--easier to follow, too.
I have a group of mutual friends here in the same town (several sets of married couples); we have all been friends for many years. Regarding one particular couple, there have been multiple instances when we (my husband and I, with or without others) have witnessed the wife raising her voice, scolding, and/or being generally mean and dismissive towards her husband. Her husband's reaction is either to ignore it or say something outlandishly sexist in response (he doesn't actually believe what he is saying - he is clearly saying it to get a response). Frankly, this behavior (hers and sometimes his) makes us uncomfortable. Given that our kids are all friends, it will be difficult for us to completely distance ourselves from the couple. Is there something appropriate to say to her? To him? Or should we just keep our mouth shut when she "undresses" her husband in front of us? - To But In or Not?
i answered something similar to this recently; I think friends have an obligation to speak up in these situations when it happens more than as a rare exception. A, "Hey, is everything okay?" can go a long way toward letting the couple know they've crossed a line, without scolding.
Hi Carolyn, Yesterday, after more than a year of silence, my ex-boyfriend (the one who broke my heart, yet still rents the penthouse in it) texted out of the blue. It was short, and kind of brutal "Hey You" was shortly followed by "Any boys?" which threw me for a loop. I told him I was dating (which is true) then changed the topic and didn't ask about his love life, because even though it's been quite a while, it would still hurt me to know. He abruptly closed down the conversation, and said he was just checking in and is glad I'm happy. I don't want to entertain any delusions that he might still harbor feelings for me, but I'm kind of wondering what the hell just happened. Any thoughts or suggestions?
Oh, you got it in the title: emotional drive-by. He was curious, you satisfied the curiosity, moment over. I get how very painful this was/is and I'm sorry. Next time let him be curious; I don't think you have anything to gain by responding. If he has reconsidered for real (that's what you're hoping for, presumably) and if he has the kind of courage necessary to being a good partner, then he'll make a real effort. Right?
It has occurred to me that I have been passing a lot of judgement on the people around me, in the form of gossiping, offering unsolicited advice, and negative thoughts. This is painful to admit, and this is not the kind of person I want to be. I've decided the first step is going to be shutting my trap when I am tempted to vocalize my judgement, but how do I turn these thoughts off? Any tips or exercises for turning around the negativity in my head?
What you're proposing already goes so far toward greatness that it almost seems dismissive (and presumptuous) to add to your to-do list.
Like that has ever stopped me.
Try a "look for the good" mantra. It'll probably come naturally, given your awareness that the world doesn't need another negative voice; you've already oriented yourself toward more positive thoughts and outcomes. But you can make it a front-of-the-mind effort for a while. That's Tip 1.
Tip 2, I don't think you're ever going to shut off all the mean thoughts, nor do I think you should. That sounds lethal to one's sense of humor.
Hi Carolyn, I had dinner with an old friend last night who I haven't seen in months since she moved an hour away. I asked her to dinner in her city and she suggested we go to the restaurant where she works. We go, and she proceeds to talk to the other waiters and staff (who she worked with earlier in the day), text on her phone, and she even took a lengthy phone call when we were in the middle of a conversation. She has never acted so rude to me before. I understand talking to her coworkers, but she didn't even introduce me to them. Normally when someone in my family or a boyfriend is so rude, I ask them to pay attention to me and save the texting for later. No one has ever taken a phone call during a dinner without an explanation or apology as to why that call was necessary. I just didn't know what to say to my friend last night. I am not even sure I want to bring it up since we aren't as close as we used to be since she moved away, but I still feel hurt and mad that I was at a dinner to spend time with her and I mostly felt lonely the whole night. Should I have handled it differently? I thought it was common knowledge to pay attention to the people you agreed to hang out with.
It is--that doesn't mean everyone acts on it.
It sounds as if this friendship is over, so, in the interest of putting it away for good, I can think of one thing you could have done differently: Leave. "I can see you have a lot of other things going on right now, so I'm going to go." Pay for your meal, bye. She might have protested, but you could have then put your hand on her arm and let her off the hook: "We're okay. This is best. Seeya when I seeya."
It's a minor point, though. Right now the "hurt and mad" is at its peak so it seems like it's about the way she treated you, when it's really about finding out awkwardly that the friendship is over.
As someone who my in-laws never warmed up to, I think we left out the part where the frozen out spouse is going to resent your cowardace and disingenuous "what can I say?" attitude until it builds up and he leaves -- not because he can't respect your parents foolishnes (because obviously, he can't) but the spouse will lose respect for YOU. If that's what you want, by all means, keep up your own foolishness.
My sister always gives me some. Infuriating. Many years ago - before marriage kids, etc (and she still thinks of me as 10, so it's strange when she talks to me like that - and well, i'm no young spring chicken) - she said to me: I think you should date more. My answer was: oh, yes, I do too. And she was speechless (if you knew her, you'd know how impossible that is). She really had nothing to say, because she thought I would argue with her. Which I didn't (by then, I was so tired of that, just agree....makes things simpler). Yes, she thinks we are oh so close. Just like you probably think you and your sister are - when, with questions like that - you probably are not. Just some unsolicited advice.
If I'm ever in a slapfight, you're on my team.
There's one big person to consult in all of this. Your husband. Ask him what *he* would like you to do, and sit down and come up with a plan of attack between the two of you that will suit the both of you. While you need to follow your conscience, part of what should be informing that is the knowledge of what he would prefer and what he would be against happening on his behalf.
The husband, yes, right. I'm as bad as the in-laws. Thanks.
Disagree about the lady who's due date is the friends wedding. She is going to have a hard time dealing with this day. She should not have to be in public and all smiley faced. Maybe the husband can go with out her. I think the friends would understand.
Doesn't have to, yes, I agree (and I hope said so in my original answer; I'm achieving chat daze at this point), and yes the husb can go without her, of course. I merely propose thinking more broadly instead of defaulting to that. Thanks.