Hairdressers, carpools, and other neighborhood dramas.Carolyn Hax Live (Friday, June 14)

Jun 14, 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, June 14, 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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hey everybody!

What do you do when your sister and brother-in-law show obvious favoritism toward one of their five kids? Their first son is oldest by two years, and gets to go on trips, to concerts, movies, etc. with one or both parents while the others are left behind. His next youngest brother is acutely aware of this treatment (the others are perhaps too young to notice), and, not surprisingly, the second brother acts out whenever the oldest is being favored--given a special treat, second dessert, secrets only he is "old enough" to hear from his parents, etc., right in front of the whole family. The younger will throw a fit over something small and have to be taken out of the room, usually right after his brother has been favored. It's really sad to watch. Is it any of the siblings or in-law's place to say something? It's so painfully obvious and hurtful.

Sure, speak up--but do it in the form of a question, since you do know what you see but that's all you know, and there might be more to the story. So, "How does Child 2 feel about your trip with Child 1?" Your goal is to call attention to the possibility that sis/BIL are failing to see the effect of their choices on their child--i.e., your goal is not to be proven right. That means calling their attention to things you see--and that you'd want to know if you were in their shoes--is the limit to your mandate. Hope it's not as bad as it looks. 

Oh--there is something you can always do to help, whether you speak up or not: Go out of your way to make a connection to Child 2. Even if his treatment by his parents is a worst-case scenario, and even if you can't make even the slightest dent in the parents' behavior, you can be an emotional lifeline to the child just by showing you care.

Dear Carolyn, We had a conflict with our son and his wife and their reaction was to "pull the grandchildren". This conflict happened three years ago. My husband, myself and his sister have tried during this three year period to talk with him and listen to him and also get some family counseling which would include him and his wife. The process of finding a therapist started in ernest last Nov. Since that time he has changed the venue four times and we don't have an appointment and have been told that they will try to make an appointment in July. My take on the situation is that I am being jerked around and they are really not interested in solving this conflict nor being a part of the family. Any advice? Missing my grandchildren

You're probably right about their jerking you around, but stay with it anyway. Your goal isn't to solve this tomorrow. It's to solve it, period, so be patient, gentle and persistent. July? Okay then, July.

I'm sorry. People use these tactics precisely because they're so painful and so hard to combat. It's a power move. Your power, meanwhile, is in your love, your patience, and whatever claim you can lay to the high ground through your behavior.

Hi Carolyn! Around Christmas, I cut a group of relatives out of my life. They don't approve of my boyfriend's ethnicity and refuse to accept that we're together, including being blatantly rude to him and trying to set me up on dates with other men. We thought that time might mellow them out but their behavior only got nastier after we moved in together. It's especially hurtful because I used to be very close with these relatives. Now my parents are pressuring me to try and "fix" the relationship. I know it puts them in an awkward position and that my family thinks all problems just need a good sweeping under the rug but I am not in the mood to tolerate that behavior and am feeling very protective of my overall terrific boyfriend. What say you?

"Sorry, Parents, I have no interest in spending time with people who would treat me the way these relatives did." 

Just because they're pressuring you doesn't mean you have to change anything you're doing.

If you want to leave the door open to reconciliation, you can add: "Maybe, over time, I'll change my mind--I'm just not ready to approach them right now." Or: "I haven't seen any change in their attitude, but if I'm mistaken about that, I'll be happy to revisit the idea of making peace."


My 14-year-old daughter recently came through a bout of serious depression, involving cutting and school refusal. It was harrowing for all of us, but through therapy, medication and a lot of hard work by all of us, she is now happy and engaged, an entirely different girl. I am so, so proud of her. A few days ago I was getting my hair done by the woman who has been my hairdresser for over 10 years. We've built up a kind of friendship over the years and I mentioned how proud I was of my daughter who had been depressed, but was much better. She then surprised me with a tirade about how indulgent parents have become and how they give pills to kids and how wrong that is. When I mentioned that my daughter refused to get out of bed, it was that serious, she replied "I would never put up with that. If my daughter told me she felt bad I would tell her to get some exercise." And then on and on about parents (such as ME) were giving our kids pills instead of discipline. I stopped arguing because I was about to cry. As you can imagine, this is a very raw topic for me, and the last thing I need is to be judged. Obviously, I should never have said anything to her but now that this has already happened I am trying to decide whether to: (1) shoot her an email with my thoughts, (2) find another hairdresser, (3) continue to go to her and say nothing, knowing that I just need to keep it professional from now on. Thoughts? She's the best hairdresser I've ever had, if that makes a difference.

Even if it weren't a raw topic for you, the last thing you needed was to be judged. 

But since there's not much you can do about ignorance or the "I would just tell my kid to ..." attitude, this decision is all about what you feel like tolerating. Is the better haircut worth what you'll feel next time you sit in her chair, and hand her money? That might sound like a loaded question, but it's not; this really is about what you want and need. 

I'm 29, female, in the first healthy, reciprocated romantic relationship of my life. I have never had a boyfriend before this, only demented best-friends-with-benefits situations. I've been in my current relationship for two-and-a-half years, and I feel incredibly lucky to be with my boyfriend. I feel safe and loved, and we moved in together. The problem is that, since I don't have any substantial history to refer to, I'm constantly wondering if certain things in our relationship are omens, or if they're signs that I'm ignoring, or totally normal, or by-products of my personality, or none of the above. Things like, sometimes he annoys the crap out of me, sometimes I want to be alone, sometimes I'm not attracted to him at all, things like this. I always think about the distant future--if the habit annoys me now, what would it be like in 30 years? I have trouble not thinking like this. He is one of the best people I have ever met, and I don't want to lose him. But I might be slowly losing my mind, thinking either that I'm sitting on a pile of evidence and can't see it right, or that I'm unexperienced and needlessly worrying. I try and use something you wrote a while ago: I think, do I want to keep seeing him? The answer is almost always yes. Is that enough to ask? I'd appreciate any insight. -Maryland

That's a good thing to ask, but I don't think it's enough. The next step needs to be to ask yourself, what can I do, within the bounds of this relationship, to deal with the challenge at hand? You mention, for example, that sometimes he annoys the crap out of you and you want to be alone. How are you managing those times? Are you:

1. mentally backtracking to see whether there are any common denominators, like too much togetherness, or loud places, or not enough sleep, or ...? If there's a common precedent, then think of ways you can anticipate and even preempt your crabby spells.  

2. building some breathing room into your life together? Is there a room or space in the home you can call your own? Is there a weekly class, hobby, night with friends, etc., that you can count on as a restorative break? Are you able to say, "I need to be alone for a bit, thanks," without touching off a long conversation about your future and whether you still love him?

3. checking occasionally, once you have these pressure-release valves working, to make sure you still feel like you, and aren't pretzeling yourself just to make this work?

That's really the unifying thread--feeling like a comfortable version of yourself. If you can find and remain in that comfort spot without nagging doubts about your relationship, then that's the kind of normal you're after.


I'm a young professional who carpools with another young professional about an hour each way into our office. I'm lucky enough to have a carpool to save on gas, but my carpool engages in near constant texting while driving when it's his turn to drive us. About once a week I ask him to put his phone down while driving, but I'm met with an emphatic, "I'm not texting! I'm (insert other screen activity here)" or another crack about my own driving habits. I'm diligent about putting my phone away while driving and very rarely if ever fiddle with the stereo behind the wheel. I'm at a loss as to how to explain exactly how dangerous this is, not just to us, but to everyone on the road. Short of breaking up the carpool, what would you suggest?

Breaking up the carpool. I'm all for saving money and gas, but, really? I can't give you a good answer if you rule out the only good answer in your question.

Maybe we can both get our way when you tell him, "Either your phone goes in the back seat or I'm not carpooling with you anymore"--but he's still going to be a combination of defensive and overconfident in his driving ability, and even without texting that's a problem.

Dear Carolyn, I am a guy with a woman friend/co-worker. She was single when we met, I was in a long-distance relationship that ended. We do things together and confide in each other. She recently started a relationship with someone I also know casually. The new boyfriend is very uncomfortable with our friendship and it keeps resulting in big arguements between them, which I know I am not responsible for, but I feel guilty about being a source of conflict. I see his behavior as unreasonable and controlling. My friend keeps insisting he will come around despite the repeated arguements. It is very important to me to keep the friendship, but I also want to make things easy for her. Any advice?

The way to make things "easy for her" is to disappear, but that's not right, is it, to decide for her what she needs?

From the way you describe things, using your relationship status and hers, it sounds as if you believe you and she would be dating if you happened to be single at the same time. If that's true, then the new boyfriend (NB) has cause for concern, even if he's going about it in the douchiest possible way. (The least-douchey way is to take it head on: "If you and he were both single, would you be dating?" Then, take her at her word, meaning break up if she says yes, and trust her/drop the subject if no, and lit time tell you whether that was a good move.)

What you can do about this is limited, as it should be, but you do have some room. If the answer to the would-you-be-dating Q is yes, then you need to say that to your friend. "I'd want to date you if you were still single, so NB has a point. Since you presumably want to keep dating him, I'm going to step out of the picture awhile, at least until I can trust that my feelings for you are just platonic." If instead you wouldn't want to date her even if she were single: "I know I'm in this just to be friends, but he doesn't. Instead of fighting with him, why don't you just keep living your life, and let him see for himself that trusting you is not a matter of banishing me from your life? Then you'll know whether he'll ever be able to trust you, which seems like useful information." 

This deals with the specifics, obviously, but I hope you and she also will talk some point about the sheer stupidity of recurring arguments. They're all about trying to change someone so you can get your own way, and the "recurring" part is a flick to the forehead that the change-other-person option isn't on the table. Meaning, time for Plan B.

You might want to ask him if he'd get in a car with someone who was drunk or high. Texting has the same effect. Also might want to consider anonymously calling in his license plate. This is illegal in many states and is as dangerous as driving while impaired. New research shows that using hands-free devices to "email" orally is even more dangerous. I worry very much about the safety of our streets and highways if the trend of staying connected in the car continues.

Right, thanks. The study of "inattentional blindness" was (sorry) eye-opening. Also hard to forget, since the study was intended to track whether people noticed something right in front of them when they were concentrating on something else. The "right in front of them" thing was often a person in a gorilla suit, and a lot of people missed it. (There's a book on it, "The Invisible Gorilla.") Funny, but so very not.

Carolyn, You're right, my carpool is by nature very defensive and overconfident in his abilities (driving and otherwise). The only additional fact that may make a difference is--we work in the same division, for the same manager, two cubicals away from one another...and live on the same block. We've known each other casually for several years (outside of work), and I'm very concerned that breaking up the carpool is going to turn into WW3 both at home (we share some mutual friends) and at work. Thanks for taking my question, as a long time reader, I really appreciate your insight.

Thanks for the kind words.

Since you're friends, colleagues and living in a small social pond (rock/hard place hat trick, well done!), your best bet is to talk about it outside the car, over lunch or coffee or etc. Say you appreciate his friendship and the carpool seems to work out well for both of you, but you've seriously considered pulling the plug over the phone thing. Will he (a) agree to put said phone in the back seat? or (b) agree to let you drive and just split the gas in a way that's fair to both of you? or (c) offer another solution? If you do it while you're not in the car, and invite him to make suggestions for how to resolve this, then you're much more likely to keep the whole circle of office life intact.

I would be inclined to do both 1 and 2. Find a new hairdresser, but send her an email explaining why have fired her, with some links to information on mental illness.

See, I dismissed 1 out of hand, but when you put it this way, I'm on board. Thanks for that.

To the OP, now that you have experience with clinical depression, you'll find that these people pop up occasionally. Two statements can help when you find yourself in such a discussion. 1) I believe the medication saved my daughters life (because medication especially when cutting is involved can be that important and then if that doesn't cut off the rant 2) we'll have to agree to disagree. I'm as nonconfrontational as they come, but your daughter will encounter this as well so if you have practiced having this rational response that shuts down the conversation, you'll be able to help her through it too.

I also like this, thanks. 

What's missing, though, is addressing the bigotry. I would add two things: "Sorry, Parents, I have no interest in spending time with people who would treat me the way these relatives did. And who believe that people of a different ethnicity are inferior. That's just hateful." and "Maybe, over time, I'll change my mind--And maybe they'll change theirs..."

A good add, thanks.

As someone who takes anti-depressants and hears that kind of stuff all the time, I just blow it off. The thing is, people don't get it. I didn't get it until I'd been through it. Of course it's judgmental claptrap, but I tend to write it off as ignorant instead of malicious. Makes life easier, for me anyway.

Thanks for the alternate take.

I would advise still doing all the things you can do that you would do if you had a healthy but long distance relationship -- send birthday checks to your son, his wife and their kids, send letters telling them that you love them and miss them, send vacation postcards, ask for school pictures, etc. Those will serve as regular reminders that you'd like to have another chance to make the relationship work.

Another good point to add to the roundup. 

A neighbor on my street honks her car horn probably three times a day, as a means of getting her children to "hurry up." Evidently, she gets in her van, starts it up, and then honks her horn (sometimes more than once) to alert the kids that it's time to go "now!" This has been going on for years, and the quiet of the street is broken up by this noise. Is there any way to approach this, or should I just suck it up until the kids finally learn time management?

If it's at 5 am, then you speak up. if it's during normal waking hours, then I suggest embracing it as the best kind of problem to have. No one's getting mistreated, no one's getting hurt, no lasting damage is being left behind? Sheesh.

Full disclosure, I've lived either in a big city or very close to a fire station for my entire life, and a day punctuated by only three brief episodes of loud noise just doesn't show up on my problem radar. Or my nuisance radar. If I knew and disliked this neighbor, then it might, which I think brings us to the nub of it. You don't like her, and so the honks are an issue. The answer's the same--let it go--but the process might be easier if you know where the roots of the irritation lie.


My wife is an introvert. I get that, and we long ago shifted to a system where I only ask her to attend outside-the-home events (dinner with friends or family, usually) that are important to me. We do our best to keep those outside events to two or three a month at most. After previously declining seven invitations from a couple who are my friends, we have been invited to spend a weekend at a friend's mountain cabin -- leaving Friday after work, coming home Sunday afternoon. My wife has agreed to go, but she's sighing and moping and making me feel horrible for asking. I've given her the out of my going without her, but she insists we go together. I feel like I'm torturing a kitten. What now?

No, she's acting like a child. "When you say yes, own it. Don't mope around the house like I gave your kitten away." (Thanks for the kitten image.) 

Are you ready to take that strong a position? 

I am recovering from my second miscarriage in a year. My surgery was earlier this week. I am still feeling shell-shocked, and sort of exhausted, my conversations with people feel like out-of-body experiences. I have very little energy to work (I have a job outside the home). I have a 4-year-old and am trying to figure out what is worse for her - going upstairs to lie down and hide when I go home (I am still on pain meds) or play with her and risk bursting into tears. I am terrified that I am causing her emotional harm through my very shaky abilities to control my own.

I'm so sorry. 

As long as your 4-year-old is in loving hands in your absence, it's not going to cause her emotional harm for you to take the time you need to recover.

Kids from the youngest ages are exposed to the ebbs and flows of life for many reasons we can't control, and so it's helpful to keep that in mind when we're looking at decisions we can control. Your decision between trying to rally or going upstairs to lie down is one of those, and since it's a choice, you can arrange a lot of the variables to be in your daughter's favor: good care in your absence, kind words when you're present, and age-appropriate explanation that you're not feeling well right now but you're going to take good care of yourself and you will get better. She can actually grow from this experience, even while missing you.  

Hi Carolyn, I was at a wedding recently where family members kept coming up to me and asking me why I wasn't married and if I had a boyfriend. I'm a 34-year-old single woman and these relatives hadn't seen me in a few years. I was really uncomfortable with the incessant questioning. What is a good response when people ask intrusive questions regarding your relationship status? I am really still angry at how rude and insensitive the relatives were and I don't really plan to go to another family wedding because of this. Am I being too sensitive/overreacting? I see no excuse- I have never gone up to a married couple and asked them why they didn't have children or something similar so I don't see how this behavior is excusable and why I should have to put up with it? Thank you for taking my question!

It isn't excusable and you shouldn't put up with  it, but I hope you won't keep yourself from occasions you might otherwise enjoy because of it. 

Should people keep peppering you with that question, the truth gives you a range of options: "You're the 14th person to ask me that," for example, is an important non-answer that gives people a glimpse of the cumulative effect of what they assume is a cute or innocent query.  An incredulous, "People still ask that?" gets to the truth of how dated that question is. "I was quizzed so mercilessly on this at the last wedding that I almost didn't come to this one" is another truth in need of airing. Then there's always the Miss Manners staple, "Why do you ask?"

You are under no obligation to be the one who tells any of these truths, and staying home is your prerogative. However, even if staying home is exactly what you want and choose to do, the question will still probably find you anyway, so I suggest being prepared. Your outrage is completely justified, but it's clearly no fun for you, so makebeing ready for the next onslaught the little bit of good that comes from this frustrating experience.


Ok, I'm dating someone that I really like, but he and most of his friends are super high achievers: best schools, prominent/successful careers, athletic, etc. In comparison, I feel very very very average. I haven't been hiding anything though, so he already knows the truth about the things I feel insecure about: school/job/etc. So that must mean that, in spite of these things, he likes me anyway? Right? My fear--and this is in all relationships because this happened to me once and completely shredded my soul and my self-esteem--is that he's just using me "until something better comes along" and I'm too dense to see it.

Stay with me here, please, because it will sound like I'm dumping on you, but I'm not.

When you project onto him the ability to use you like that, you're slamming his character. Do you have any right to do that?

If you have reason to think that's true of him, then you need to break up for that reason and that reason alone. 

If what you know about him says you don't have any reason to question his character, then you need to cut it out, and treat him with the respect he has earned, which includes trusting that he likes you for you.

That's no guarantee you'll stay together, of course; people of fine character can have a change of heart like anyone else. The difference is that, going in, their intentions will be sincere, vs. a callous she'll-do-for-now.

That's the part about him. The part about you is bigger: Please examine the idea that one person (out of 7 billion, never lose sight of that number) can have so much power over the very essence of you. More to the point, please ask yourself: "What's THAT about?" There will always be jerks, users, abrupt mind-changers, sooperdooper achievers, and whatever other type of person currently scares you. They're just fact. 

And so each of us, on the process of becoming whole, functioning adults, needs to find a way to come to terms with sharing the planet with people who are well-positioned to hurt us, be it through intent or merely by proximity. 

The one I recommend most is the "whatever" approach: "They're out there, but that doesn't change the fact that I've got to do what I've got to do." Treat people as populating two categories, either those who help you along with what you need to do, or those you need to tune out as distractions. 

Bring these two ideas together, and I think it makes sense for you to enjoy Superman as a good part of your life, until you see key signs that he's not, at which point he becomes a distraction to tune out. Give only the good ones a place in your soul, and recognize your self-esteem as yours alone, a place to which only you have the key.

Hi Carolyn, I'm at a stage of life when many of my friends are having kids, and I am very accomodating to the changes this has made in our social time as friends. I've always liked kids and my friends' kids enjoy spending time with Auntie Kate. My problem is that I feel like a couple of these friends are really taking advantage, and I'm not sure how to respond. Of these two friends, one woman has brought her kids along on every single get-together we've had since she had her first child five years ago. Another woman moved an hour away when she had kids, and about 95% of the time our social activities involve me going to her house for the day to hang-out with her kids. I understand that their kids come first, but both of them are married and have access to affordable child-care and nearby relatives that could help out. When I ask to meet up, it's with plenty of advanced notice. Am I asking too much here?

Question is, are you actually asking for what you'd like? "I'd love some one-on-one time. maybe a nice dinner?" If you get a no to that, then you have your (unfortunate) answer--but I suspect just from what you've written that your being so amenable to having the kids around is part of the equation here, that your friends are taking advantage more by default than on purpose. Worth a shot to try to change the assumptions.  

When I was about 4, my mother suffered a miscarriage which kept her in the hospital for days. I don't remember much of that time, except that when she came back home, her sister was with her and us a lot. I emptied the dishwasher for her (except for the sharp knives), and she hugged me. That's really all I remember. I believe that she lied down a lot, but whatever you do, she'll be okay. She knows you've been sick, so she knows something's wrong, even if she doesn't understand it. If possible, have other people around to help keep the kids occupied.

This got me all choked up. Thanks.

Lamentably, pushy folks don't allow themselves to be shut up with gentle responses, and keep on pressing. How do you recommend people deal with those who won't take the hint to let things go?

"Aren't you" sweet/funny/curious/pretty/determined/[your not-unkind word here], with a smile, and an "Excuse me, I need to rescue a friend." They don't have to know you're your own friend.

I.e., deflect and exit. You really truly absolutely don't need to stand there and take it.


I'm in love with someone who is a really good kind person. He just wants different things ultimately than I do (the big things like children, marriage, location) and is a very different spot in life than I am. I get that. I see that. I understand that intellectually. But how do I get my heart and emotions to understand and accept this?

Without the mess of grieving and pining and reliving and regretting, you mean? You don't. Hearts need to be whacked with the reality of it, and then left alone to heal. There's no magic to it, there's just the business of living, and of giving the heart new things to love when it's ready.

I have with my S/O what we call the "introvert bubble". I'm an introvert and sometimes, particularly after I've been stretched beyond my capabilities, I retreat into my so-called "bubble" and recharge. This isn't a bad sign for our relationship (and, in fact, we have reached a point of consensus that if we really need the bubble, we can just say so and it's immediately available, no hard feelings), it just means we are self-aware of the things we need. Learning how to be you in a relationship is hard, and it *is* a learning process. Open communication is part of a healthy relationship, and communicating what you need or find particularly "annoying" (does it annoy you when he tickles you? when he picks his toes in front of company? what are the things that he is doing that you find irritating?). And be open to receive that same feedback from him. Then you can build the relationship you both want and need with the tools you each have been given. (As for attraction, I can completely guarantee that I am not even remotely attractive when I come home red-faced, sweaty and gross from running. I've seen my s/o when he's sick. You don't always have to be raring to tear their clothes off.)

I'd like an actual bubble, but otherwise it all sounds good, thanks. 

Okay, you asked me to weigh in so I will. I went to an top 10 school and participated in an NCAA D1 sport that was nationally ranked. Who the ___ cares? Seriously, it doesn't make me a good person, or worth having as a friend or partner. And, I married someone who went to a very average school, who isn't really "remarkable" in any way other than what a fantastic human being he is. So yeah, just because we're high achievers, it doesn't mean we're glassbowls unable to see beyond a diploma.

This was glowing a bit in my queue.

I'm kind of a high achiever, and I really hope the woman who wrote in doesn't feel average or inferior. Someone with decent character knows that prestige (school, job, int'l travel, etc.) is not to be equated with compatibility in personality and other things. I HATE being called "intimidating" or "very very smart" by guys... I just wish they'd realize that we have the common hobbies or interests or whatever and treat me as they would anybody else. But if he likes to have "inferior" or "average" girlfriends so that he can control them and feel high and mighty, that's another story altogether...

This one too, but only kind of.

(Thank you, both of you.)


There's a chat from some time ago about a similar situation, where it was pointed by others who had been there that along with the age-appropriate explanation ("Mommy is sick and sad, but she'll be better soon"), letting the child "help" was healing for both. The child was a little older--7, I think--and so could bring drinks and such, but a 4-year-old can understand that playing by herself quietly helps when Mommy needs to rest, bring pillows, help pick up, etc.

Thank you so much, I was thinking of this very Q and A but didn't want to compromise my blazing chat speed (quiet, you) to look for it. 

How do you handle a neighborhood kid who you don't necessarily want around ALL the time? My children are 5 and 4 and there's an only child a few doors down who is about 9. I don't trust the kid. He's rude, abrasive, and often defiant. However, my boys love to play with him (obviously, the boy is older and has "cool" toys). My problem is - the kid comes outside to play when we're outside and I don't know how to say, "look kid, beat it" without being a complete jerk. Help!

"Hey, [Kid], how are you today?" ... pause for answer ... "We're having some family time right now, but you're welcome to stop by later if you'd like." Teach him now about the laws of dropping in: that you won't always be welcome, and that not being welcome doesn't mean people don't like you, it just means now's not the time.

Please get his parents involved, too, by saying that you're fine with his stopping by,* but that sometimes you're going to say no and you don't want them to be surprised by that.

Aaaand, also talk to your kids. Letting them know that sometimes you're going to say no to [Kid] will the moment go a lot better. While you're at is, prepare them to hear "no" from others sometimes when they get old enough to drop by someone's house. The preparation really makes a difference.

*Assuming you are fine with it, on occasion. It sounds as if it would be a good idea for you to talk to the other parents about the general idea of this much older child around your children. It requires a lot of supervision from you, no doubt, and the weight of that would likely be lighter if his parents were working with him on their end to make sure he's aware of the younger kids' limits.


I hope that telling an S/O what is annoying does not squeeze out telling that person what is endearing. Positive feedback, even about annoying things, as in I am so glad you didn't . . . . Good job!! is essential to healthy relationships. Too often we fixate on the negative when reinforcing the positive yields greater returns.

I like this answer so much, I'm inclined to look the other way when you do that ... that ... thing with ... ugh never mind. 

My best friend has started seeing her ex-boyfriend. Again. She has a history of not being able to make a clean break and it is always with huge glass bowls. For five years she was on and off with a sexist pig who would make her take off her pants for his friends so they could see how hot she was. Then she dated a man for two-and-a- half-years who married someone else while they were together, the whole time holding out hope he'd leave his wife to be with her. Anyway, this guy she's with now spent the first two months they were together prowling for other women. She dumped him, but they continued talking. He kept telling her he wanted to be together, all the while still trying to sleep with other women, which she would find out about. He lied to her about why him and his ex-wife split up, which she found out about (he cheated on the ex). The other day, she posted pictures of them together on Facebook. They spent the whole day together-- went on a day trip together. So it would appear they are on the verge of getting back together, if they aren't already. I can only imagine she didn't tell me beforehand because she knew what I would say. Every single fiber of my being wants to slap her upside the head. Can I say something and what?

If "she knew what I would say," then you've said it all, at least all of the specifics. Now, it's time to stick to what's general and true: "I cannot bear to watch you treat yourself so poorly anymore, and cannot talk to you about this boyfriend--or any other who helps you mistreat yourself--as if it's a typical, healthy relationship. I hope you'll get help. If you're not ready, then I will be at your side whenever you are."

Hold the line--you are not her shoulder for incremental cries, you're there only for the one that moves her to change. Until then, "I've said my piece on this. Can we please talk about something else?"

I can't express fully how lousy this will feel in the moment, but, long run, she's wiping out most of your other options with her self-destructive choices.

Maybe there is something going on at home with the parents. Maybe they fight a lot, or there is abuse, etc. Maybe that is why he always wants to be with other kids and has an abrasive nature. You never know. It doesn't hurt to be kind and loving. He is 9, he may not understand that he is being annoying.

yes, that's entirely possible. It's also possible he's lonely. Could be he's just 9, likes playing with the neighbor kids and his abrasiveness is a personality thing.

I think it's important to spell out that "kind and loving" and saying "no" occasionally are not mutually exclusive. If anything, a bad home situation would make it even more valuable for this boy to learn some social rules from someone who cares enough to enforce them consistently and kindly.  

That's it for today, thanks. Have a great weekend everyone, and hope to see you here next week. 

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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 New England with her husband and their three boys.

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