Sweet Baby Deity: Carolyn Hax Live (Friday, September 20)

Sep 20, 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, September 6, at Noon ET, taking your questions and comments about her current advice column and any other questions you might have about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

E-mail Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com.

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

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Hello, everybody. Happy Friday.

Hi Carolyn, thanks for your encouragement last week about getting into therapy -- kicks in pants and all that. I'm meeting with a counselor next week. (Also, for the 'nuts and for what it's worth, I'm completely confident that the abuse we experienced stopped with us. My brother and cousin have great, healthy relationships with their kids, for which I am eternally grateful.)

You're welcome! Thanks for checking back in. I hope therapy lessens your burden, and soon.

Hi Carolyn, I'm LW1 from Thursday's column and I wanted to let you and the 'nuts know everything ended up working out just fine. Fiance and I got ourselves a lovely apartment, and my future father-in-law calmed down by himself and is treating us as warmly as ever. My concern about paying for the wedding was that we had already started planning the big, fancy wedding that our parents wanted to host for their friends and relatives, and changing the plans would've been a very aggressive gesture of exclusion. Fiance's family is generally so kind that the reaction to cohabitating seemed out of left field. I was also surprised by some of the responses I saw in the comments, and I wanted to ask why there is so much stigma attached to accepting money offered freely from one's own parents? Fiance and I both have advanced degrees and competitive resumes in a field which happens to be suffering in this economy. He and I both work several part time jobs so that we can be independent and comfortable. Our parents have well-paying jobs, and giving us little gifts puts no burden on them. I'm sure that knowing how hard he and I both work makes them feel inclined to help us out. Is there something wrong with my thinking on this?

Thank you, too, for the update. 

I didn't see the comments to which you refer, but as far as taking money from parents who are willing and able, I think there are some fine lines. Well, strings. When there are no strings, and when the parent has money to give (and the tax incentive to), and when the adult child is functional and independent, then I say yay--sharing the wealth is good for all. It can be seed money for a productive career, a way to replace an aging car, the only chance at a house in a good school district, etc.

Where the strings come in is where there's trouble. Too often money is used as social or emotional leverage, and since your whole question was about just that, it doesn't surprise me that people were taking a hands-off position on all gifts from that compromised source.

As for the fancy wedding, I do see your point, but: Your fiance could have told his father that putting conditions on the money meant he couldn't accept any, something Dad surely can respect--and not accepting any money meant the wedding was on a whole new budget, and that meant a smaller, but warm and family centered!, wedding. He could then say that if the parents all wanted to throw a separate post-wedding celebration with friends, then you and he would be open to that and grateful. 

I.e., there's always a way not to take the money. And, trying to argue there isn't a way to refuse $$$ is basically a red cape to those who already question the propriety/wisdom of parental underwriting of adult children. 

Sweet Baby Deity! My oldest brother is in the Army and the only one of my mom's three kids who has procreated (a 7 year old son). Last month, I took my mom to see them for the first time in three years! Three years, Lost Grandma! I don't think my mom would care what my nephew called her if she got to see him once a week! My mom hasn't had the same last name as her kids (or grandkids) since 1987, I don't think it caused any bonding issues.

Well, how do you know THAT isn't the reason your mom has been shut out for three years, huh?!?!?

I think part of the reason that letter got me so fired up (link) is the sheer volume of letters I get like yours--there's one almost daily--where a grandparent has been kept from grandchild(ren), often for capricious or never-even-expressed reasons. All I could see in L.G.'s letter was a massive, totally unnecessary self-inflicted wound.

And I am so using Sweet Baby Deity.

Hi Carolyn, usually I enjoy reading your column greatly, but something has bugged me lately - the parade of offensive things people say. No question, they are usually offensive. But do we really need to look for reasons to be annoyed or offended? I know I've said a stupid thing a time or two and have immediately regretted saying it. I know people with social anxiety who say stupid things all the time to make conversation. Aren't these a fact of life? One chat was fine; but these comments every week seem to have crossed into a self-congratulatory litany of back patting. Also, practically, aren't the people most likely to say these things least likely to read your chat? And finally, yes, I've been asked multiple times the ethnicity of my children and/or their father (we are a mixed race couple); had my belly patted, etc. I think your response of "why do you ask?" is about the best thing to say. Other than some quick annoyance and perhaps complaining to a friend, I let it roll off my back. Thanks!

You're right, this topic has gotten out of balance in favor of the offended, where the other side--"Just let it GO, already"--has just as solid a point. I was seeing this, too, in the proposals for the "Don't Ask" list, many of which were dukes-up in cases where there was room for a more charitable reaction.

It would be nice if everyone had two questions in mind when dealing with people casually: "Do I need to know this to make conversation" (before asking something) and "Do I need to get upset about this?" (after being asked something). Worth trying to make it a habit, at least. 

I do think that the whole 'well, they're not using the last name that I think they should be using' - is a little weird, off, whatever. HOWEVER, it is disrespectful to have the kid call grandma by something she doesn't want to be called. It just is. ---my in laws have strange names for what they want grandma and grandpa called, and we deal with it - it's not obscene, it's just strange (no I'm not telling, because they are the only ones in the world who use it - so it would be completely identifiable). That's what they want, so that's what they get. End of story.

If it were indeed "end of story," then my answer would have been very different.

But even if I agree 100 percent that people should be called what they ask to be called (I'm at about 90, to account for those who ask something that causes others discomfort*, and for accidents of fate, which often nickname people better than they can name themselves), that doesn't mean Grandma can -control- what others call her. She can ask, she can insist, she can beg, she can boycott her family over it, but she can't make anyone's mouth form her preferred word.

And so that leaves Grandma and the rest of the end-of-story crowd at a crossroads when someone opts out of the preferred name: Choose the relationship over name purity, or choose name purity over the relationship.

Grandma obviously chose name purity over the relationship, which I would have thought was self-defeating and silly but well within her right--except that she was trashing the relationsip with a -grandchild- over this! When her beef was with her son! Sweet baby deity.

So, indeed, I am a firm believer in respect as one of the pillars of both relationships and society. I also believe respect is earned, and someone who goes this bonkers over a name is not going to get much respect. (Except from those who believe respect is not earned, but instead a byproduct of seniority, who can all hang out with Grandma over coffee on the weekend days they don't spend with their disappointing and/or nonconforming grandkids.)


*Example: In-laws who ask a DIL/SIL to call them Mom and Dad, when DIL/SIL has a Mom and Dad and doesn't feel comfortable using such an intimate name with anyone else.

My mom used to say to me "Never attribute to malice that which can be explained by stupidity." Remembering that keeps me from getting too worked up over offensive comments/questions. (I'm pretty sure that the phrase originated with someone more prominent than my mom, but I can't recall who.)

Mr. Google says it's Robert A. Heinlein, and the quote has picked up the nickname "Heinlein's Razor." 

actually, I also saw it as "Hanlon's Razor," which I will not attribute to malice.

How do I deal with my sister-in-law wanting to talk to me constantly about a relationship I think is a 10,000 % bad idea? (For the record, she met a guy on a one-night stand in another country and is flying to meet him. From what I can tell he's not much of a catch, but she's built up a lot of excitement around this.) I have a lot of concerns for her, so part of this is based in fear. The other part is sheer annoyance, since I've seen this pattern with her and "unavailable" men and know how the story goes. I've made my concerns clear, listened to her rebuttal, and resolved to say nothing else since it's her life. However, she keeps gushing about all of it. Can I ask her to stop confiding in me? I just don't have any positive feelings for the situation and I'm tired of having to respond to her. How do I get the point across that I won't say anything bad anymore, but I don't want to have to say anything good, either?

"Since I've made my serious concerns about this relationship clear, your gushing to me about it puts me in an awkward position. How can we fix this?"

Good luck. It sounds as if she has significant emotional problems and either no awareness of them or no interest in doing the work to deal with them. That puts all the people who love her in a tough spot, the major feature of which is cringing and hoping the fates spare her any severe consequences, since you can't make her get help or call off the international blind date.


Hi Carolyn, Love your chats and was hoping for some advice. My family's pretty dysfunctional--Dad's a verbally and emotionally abusive recovering alcoholic, mom's repeatedly stolen money from me in the past, etc. I've got a pretty limited relationship with them as a result, but still love them a lot. Here's my question: what's fair to ask for in my husband's relationship with them? He (quite understandably) doesn't like them and has a hard time interacting with them, which tends to stress me out and make me uncomfortable. Any tips on navigating a situation like this to minimize both of our discomfort?

Here's what I wish spouses* would do when faced with challenging in-laws*:

1. Realize it's not about you.**

2. Remind yourself, when the in-laws are behaving badly, that your spouse is getting the worst of it, and therefore your primary duty isn't to protect or serve yourself, it's to protect or serve your spouse.

3. Part of the protect-or-serve mandate is to show up at family events and provide moral support to your spouse, even when you'd rather eat glass than deal with these people.

4. In return, your spouse owes it to you not to force-feed you these in-laws with anything resembling frequency. The two of you need to discuss and agree upon a level of exposure you can both live with.

5. If and when your spouse turns around and make you pay for the in-laws' transgressions, that's when it becomes about you, and you get to excuse yourself politely from the in-laws' company, for a cooling-off period first and then entirely if the poor behavior persists.

6. There is no No. 6


* I'm using marriage words as shorthand, but this applies to all committed couples.

**If these are generally decent people and they do specifically object to you, then the onus shifts, and it's on your spouse to protect or serve you (i.e., it's on the spouse to stand up for his/her own choice of mate in the face of parental disapproval). That's clearly not the case here, just being thorough.


Hi Carolyn, bit of an introvert here, all tuckered out from wedding season. My friends mainly got married 1-3 years ago, so we're now onto attending the weddings of my boyfriend's closest friends. We fight at every other wedding, triggered by a combination of too much wine and my own impatience about not being engaged yet. At the next wedding we attend, I'm going to try sticking to soda and see if that helps, but the real problem is the impatience. Is there something wrong with me/my relationship if this is happening to us? We love each other and get along in other settings, but on days designated to celebrate the progress of other people's relationships, I just find myself a lot more vulnerable to petty annoyances, and then things unravel.

"my own impatience about not being engaged yet."

So, what's this about? Boyfriend not as into you as you are into him? You're more hung up on checking the box than you are on the person Boyfriend is, and Boyfriend on some level recognizes this? Boyfriend can't even settle on which socks to wear without naming a blue-ribbon panel to weigh in on his options? _______?

There's an underlying something here; couples who are suited to each other and mature enough to enter into a declared commitment to each other tend to do just that, so when they don't, it usually means they're not suited to each other or not mature enough or some blend of both. The drinking and brawling say you're not quite up to the "marriage-ready" hash mark on the maturity stick, but it sounds as if there's more going on. 

Plus, I wonder whether you've actually just talked about it in a non-charged setting, and, if you have, why one or both of you isn't accepting the outcome of that talk as the truth. "Fighting" is really just a nickname for an attempt to renegotiate what you already know is the truth.

For the unsupportive sister-in-law question. There's nothing wrong with dating someone after meeting them through a one night stand. Lots of people do that. Plenty see things fizzle, but plenty have ended up hitched. Who the heck knows what's next. There's also nothing wrong with flying somewhere to go on a date with someone you like. So long as you've got the financial means and you're taking safety precautions (eg staying in public if it's really still a stranger). Again, it could fizzle, they could get hitched, anything in between. So hopefully there's more basis for concern than just those facts!

This:  I've seen this pattern with her and "unavailable" men and know how the story goes. 

That says someone already vulnerable is putting herself, with each of your "nothing wrong with" steps, in a more and more precarious position: Alone, unfamiliar place, no backup, next to 0 knowledge of the man she's meeting and 0 knowledge of or access to his bona fides (she doesn't know his friends, his colleagues, his workplace, his reputation, his family, how he treats waiters/children/pets ...), and she's romanticizing him and the meeting, so her guard isn't just down, it's disabled.

As I said, the fates could go easy on her and he could be both a lovely man and a good fit for her. But, it's really hard to watch someone refuse to use good judgment.

Thank you for pointing this out. I hope people who are about to become in laws consider this. Case in point: I have been married for almost 20 years. When we got engaged, the first thing my in laws said after congratulations was to please call them mom and dad. They said they had done the same with their in laws, and it would mean a lot to them. To this day, I try to call them nothing. Because really, how can someone respond to that and say no thanks, I already have a mom and dad and would prefer to call you Jack and Jill. That seemed like a bad way to start off that relationship, so instead I call them nothing. Which is really bad and uncomfortable.

Now that you're 20 years in, is there any chance of a group laugh over the fact that you care enough about them not to want to sound arm's length or insulting with Jack and Jill, but still have a "mom" and "dad" block, and ... help?

FWIW, this is so common--and for those in an earlier stage of it, I suggest diving right in with, "I want to give you that gift, I do, it's just that I see Mom and Dad as my gift to my parents. Can we meet in the middle somewhere?" Otherwise, you'll end up doing what a lot of people do, hoping you have kids and can then call your in-laws Nanna and Pop or YiaYia and Papou or wevs ...

... and hope you're not marrying into a family of name purists.*


*Yes, this got way under my skin, for no reason I can figure--certainly no immediate experience to affect my thinking.

Having fun with the highlighter today, aren't we?

Actually, too lazy to rub it out, which is what i usually do. 

Hi Carolyn! I'm the LW from this column. I just wanted to update that I've since divorced the husband (who I slowly realized was as controlling as his sister or the rest of the family- as you said, "their normal is super-controlling."). I now happily eat however/whenever/whatever I like without anyone jumping on my back because I don't want a plate of ribs and fried Twinkies. In addition, I finished the graduate program they didn't want me to complete, spent time in therapy they thought was a crock, and am overall happy happy happy in my new life :) Thank you for helping me realize there was a much larger problem in front of me!

And, now, behind you.

Thanks so much for the update, and congratulations on that happy happy happy.




I'd also ask yourself whether you felt this way before you started going to a lot of weddings. If not, is it that you saw other people making a commitment and it stirred something in you, or is it that when you see a pretty ring and pretty dress you want one, too? (No judgement - I know EXACTLY how that feels) If it's the former, like Carolyn said, you need to talk this out somewhere other than a reception hall. And if it's the latter, you might have hit on the right cure with the soda.

Peer pressure isn't just for middle school. Thanks muchly.

I just want to note that even in very healthy relationships headed in the right directions, attending weddings or baby showers can add an element of stress and urgency to decisions about your own marriage and/or family planning. It is totally normal. Heck, a few years into a relationship when you're 31 years-old, even a mention of marriage in a TV commercial can lead to awkwardness. Societal pressure exists, even if it is best to ignore it. So the question for the poster is whether she (and he) feel the relationship is on track and moving at the right place when these outside influences aren't so apparent. If so, try not to stress over the wedding trauma and do indeed cut out the wine. Alchohol does fuel these anxieties.

Another for the peer-pressure column.

And a thought to tack on: When I was in bad relationships or in an unhappy place in one, I cried at weddings. When I was happy with someone or happy alone, I either enjoyed the wedding without any big emotions getting in the way, or I felt a strong impulse to skip the wedding because I preferred my status quo to getting pew-sore and shouting over reception music. FWIW.

Perhaps it would be better to say that certain people -- the elderly, certainly, but also others with a particular role like teachers -- start off with a higher level of respect that they can lose based on behavior.

Works for me, thanks.

Sorry for the delay--I started a question and then decided to save it for a column so I could think some more. I'll have something new in a bit, talk amongst yourselves ...

Hi Carolyn. For the past two years I have been seeing a great therapist. I've made a lot of progress in those two years - so much so that I've reached a point where I don't think I need therapy anymore. I now feel like I can deal with any residual depression/anxiety issues on my own. So, hooray for progress! But, it's going to be hard to say goodbye to my therapist. This might sound weird, but it feels like breaking up with a friend (even though I've essentially paid her to be my friend). Any thoughts?

Taper! There's no reason you have to lose her phone number. In fact, people who have had successful therapy (and yay for you on that) often find they benefit from occasional tuneups. See if you feel better about leaving after making an appointment for, say, 30 days from now.

If you get to Day 28 feeling marvy, then you can cancel or kick it another 30 days down the road, and if that tuneup is sounding good, then it's there for you.

Congrats and good luck. 

Thanks for taking my question! I'll cop to having a bit of box-checking anxiety. Marriage is something that's valued highly among my friends and family, and, as indicated, I'm among the last to get there, and the anxiety does mount exponentially. As for maturity, I certainly agree that tipsy fighting at weddings isn't exactly a ringing endorsement. I will, however, say that we've been to tons of weddings that went swimmingly--this problem has escalated in the past 6 months or so, as marriage for us is starting to feel paradoxically both closer and further than ever before. He's into me, but does not feel the same pressures I do (internal and external) to move forward. We've had honest discussions about marriage, and it's coming on his timeline, which doesn't quite match mine. I very much agree with you that I shouldn't be more focused on "checking the box" than on enjoying Boyfriend himself when I'm lucky enough to be his date to a wedding. But I've never quite gotten on board with the idea, frequently expressed here, that couples who are well-suited just magically and simultaneously meld into marriage mode. Does this really happen more than 5% of the time?

I think so, but I can't prove so, so we'll assume it's not so.

So. That still leaves you with fierce pressure to marry, internal and external. Meanwhile, I have plenty of proof that marriage is a better concept than reality for roughly 42 percent of the people who choose it. 

What I'm talking about when I express the "meld into marriage mode" (erk) concept is the simple and non-dramatic mutual desire two people have to be together. It does happen, it's not strange--but I get how it can seem sketchy to someone in the middle of the wedding vortex.

That's because the vortex messes with natural signals. I'm not sure anyone whose peer group is in wedding mode can say for sure whether it's true love guiding them or the enormous force of social norms--except in hindsight, when you realize you still like each other and you're relieved as hell because half of your friends who got married in that same tidal wave just bicker all the time and some have already contacted attorneys.

Where does this put you? I'm not entirely sure, though I think you'll get closer to sure if you give yourself a little break from your boyfriend to sort out your thinking. Basically, it sounds like you both need to miss each other a bit--or find out if you do.

It's certainly not the dresses or the flowers, though as a girly girl I appreciate those too. I love Boyfriend and want to be his wife, have children with him, buy a home together, etc. Watching other people headed toward these things makes me happy for them, of course. This may have started with the weddings, but that's probably incidental and more a function of my age, career status, desire for kids, etc.

"I love Boyfriend and want to be his wife, have children with him, buy a home together, etc."

And, again--these, sometimes, suck for people. I don't mean to sound so cynical, because I'm actually not. It's just that the reality of each of these--marriage, children, property joint ownership--involves implicit trust, hard work, balanced teamwork, and a few good breaks along the way for it to work. And, when something goes wrong with each one, it can bankrupt you, or anchor you someplace you don't want to be, or worse.

And so they can't reasonably be pursued as a package for their own sakes, because they don't work together that way. The only high-percentage path is to think of marriage if and only if you meet the person you can see yourself having in your life for the duration. Then, you have kids if and only if you're in a stage of life where you can give a good life to a child--or if you can get there between the oops-discovery and the due date. And, you buy a home when it makes financial sense to.

See what I mean? Each piece has to make sense. As a package, they're never going to deliver on what their cultural image promises.

FWIW, I do think this happened to us. I am a planner, both short- and long-term; my wife is a "live in the present especially when the future is scary" person. I was ready to think about marriage long before she was (and we're both women, so no gender roles involved). She got there too, and was 100 percent on board. I think the important question is how you both are about decisions in general, not just this one. If your boyfriend is naturally slower to make decisions, that's one thing. If this decision is different, I'd see that as more of a warning sign.

Well said, thanks.

I'm soon-to-be-engaged and was until very recently in your shoes. For many reasons, we could not move forward with marriage, and it irritated me when I went to weddings (alone or with him). Once we finally hit a spot where we could talk about getting married, I wanted to move so quickly. He generally isn't a future-thinker (prefers to live in the present) so my push for a timeline wasn't well-received. After a while though he realized we were in the right spot, and we had several more tough conversations about what marriage means to us, what symbols we want to ditch/keep/etc. It'll happen on the timeline the two of you develop -- not the timeline that your friends have laid out. It's not fun to wait to be the last one (as I will be) but that's just how it goes sometimes.

Thanks for this.

I'm curious--how did you manage your irritation while you were coming up with your own timeline? How did you get to the point where you trusted he was in "the right spot," even though he still had catching up to do? And where would you have gotten off the bus if it wasn't clearly going where you'd hoped? I think these are what people struggle with.

As for the "last one," some never do, and I think it would go a long way toward easing the pressure (and the number of bad decisions) if people saw marriage as more optional than required or inevitable, and developed a vocabulary reflecting that.


Carolyn, Do you still do the ALS walk? If so, wouldn't it be coming up soon? It's sometime in October, right? What would readers like me do to get involved?

I moved away from my usual walk, so right now I'm just a donor. Readers who want to get involved (yay, thank you!) can click this (link) to get to the DC/MD/VA chapter of the ALS Association, which has its walk info fron and center on its page. 

There's different ways to not be ready. There's, "Every time you bring it up just adds another six months to the time-frame I had in mind for popping the question." There's, "I'm feeling rushed here. I need some space but I can see me getting there. It took 18 months to buy a new car, remember." There's, "What's the rush? I like things the way they are, but, wow, I can see this is really important to you and I don't want to lose you over this. What the hell, let's do it." And yes, I heard the first comment actually come out of someone's mouth. My husband was the second one, or words to that effect.

There a rom-com in there somewhere. Thanks!

Hi Carolyn, Three weeks ago, my husband confessed that he had met another woman on a business trip and had been secretly calling and sexting with her for over a month. He also drove 12 hours round-trip, twice, to have lunch with her. He swears they didn't have sex and that it was strictly emotional, fueled with sexual tension. I believe him on this part. We're trying to work things out, have started couples therapy and are both working on open communication and full transparency. He last spoke to the other woman one week ago and has finally agreed to cut things off from her. But he keeps telling me that he's not in love with me anymore because he doesn't feel the excitement for me that he felt for her. And this morning, he confessed that whenever we've been intimate the past few weeks, he's imagining it's with her, not me. I can't decide if I should keep trying. How much of this is just a form of withdrawal for him? Will he always hold her up as this special unattainable relationship? We also have two young children, that I care for at home. So I have no income. Leaving a marriage is scary business when you're unemployed and have little ones depending on stability and love. Where should I go from here? I feel so unlovable right now.

Excitement is not love, and his thing for her doesn't reflect at all on your lovability. If anything, it puts a big-ass dent in his. 

As for what you do--you get a job. Well, actually, first you get a lawyer. By all means keep taking the steps you're taking to salvage your marriage, but also see the possibility that this could end badly for you and the kids, and prepare for it by lining up whatever ducks you can chase down. Quietly consult a lawyer, secure your personal assets and make sure any joint ones are safe, get your resume all sparkly, do your homework on child care. Oh, and if you have a rational, -discreet- friend whose loyalty is to you vs. your husband but who doesn't have an agenda,* ask that friend for help. You might need some reality checks. 

I realize this might undermine the "full transparency" goal of therapy, but it's possible the stability you owe your kids will depend on your advance preparation. Maybe the twister will veer off somewhere else, but be ready for its path to go through your house. I'm sorry. 


*Because these grow on trees.

I think a friend needs to read Gift of Fear. I'm concerned if her husband sees it, that could be an issue. This is a man who rarely watches the kids for her, doesn't realize that as a stay-at-home mom she has a 24/7 job, and does random things that make her feel watched.The other week, instead of coming straight home from a hair appointment she went to the mall for a quick stop in a store. She ignored a call from him as she was juggling things at the check out, and a couple minutes later, he walks in and says she's "ignoring her family," and won't tell her how he was there at the same time, just, "It's what I do..." (He's in law enforcement.) Advice? I will probably see her soon, but I don't know how to handle this. I'm pretty sure she feels trapped with no way out, and the right help could make a difference.

When you see her, have her take this De Becker-developed threat assessment, called MOSAIC (link). This would be the wake-up phase. If she is alarmed by the results of the assessment, then a call to the Domestic Violence Hotline is appropriate, to find out safe steps she can take to deal with the problem: 1-800-799-SAFE. 

Hi Carolyn, After the sudden death of my brother and his wife, I'm the brand-new guardian of my 13 yr old nephew. We're both in therapy to adjust to the changes and the kiddo is in grief counseling with some other kids his age too. I LOVE my nephew but I'm 29 and hadn't planned on being a parent. I don't have much caretaking skills other than the love I lavish on my dog. I'm so worried about damaging him or hurting him at this really tough changing point in his life (plus he's in middle school. His life is awful right now). You always have great book recommendations - can you recommend anything I can read? I'd love any resources I can get my hand on. We've always had more of a mischievous sibling dynamic (pranks/goofing off etc) when my brother was alive, and the new dynamic in our relationship is causing growing pains/sulking/him telling me that he hates his life. (I get that he's a 13 year old kid who is growing and challenging authority is part of that + woah life changes + before now, I was the one goading him to break rules not keep them) Also from the 'nuts - I sure would appreciate any kind, but concise way to tell people that he's not my son. It's painful for him when people call me his mother in public. Our parents have passed on, and my friends are childfree so I don't have much resources in my life right now.

I am so sorry, for both of you--such a stunning loss. That you guys have a loving history is the good news here, and it will carry you through if you both trust it. 

The best resource I can recommend might not be available in your area, but I'll try: Parent Encouragement Program, or PEP, comes highly recommended (link). 

A good book that is slightly off-point for the traumatic adjustment you're both making, but is bang on for middle-school agonies, is "Best Friends, Worst Enemies: Understanding the Social Lives of Children," Thompson/O'Neill-Grace/Cohen. It's a great primer on learning not to try to fix everything, but instead just to understand (and to recognize when to step in). 

Also, if there's any way you can pull this off, consider building into your routine some relief from walking the parental line--some activity you can do that allows you to revert to your mischievous sibling dynamic. Parents swing this in very different and personal ways, but it's why you see dads throwing their kids around at the pool, or moms going around on Halloween in costume, or families going to amusement parks. Sometimes you have to play. Neither of you might be ready for this yet, but keep it in mind for when you are. Take care.

That's it for today. Thanks everyone, happy weekend, see you next week.

The husband's probably figured out a way to tap into her phone's GPS or he's put one on her car. She should take both possibilites seriously as she tries to get ot the relationship (i.e., get the car throughly examined and ditch the phone but only at the last minute).

Right, thanks.

What does it say about my family that my father refers to himself as "Mr. BigHead" when talking to his first and only grandchild?

Nothing but good things.

RE: marriage and weddings and kids, and all the other stuff... Very few things in life are required, except being the best person you can be today, and trying to be better tomorrow. Everything else is optional.

Nothing but good things here, too, thanks, even though I'm a backslider myself. 

HAS to be "Sweet Baby Deity!"

Yes, yes it does.

By fer realzz.



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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 washingtonpost.com. She lives in New England with her husband and their three boys.

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