The Washington Post

Pot Roast at a Tapas Bar: Carolyn Hax Live: (Friday, September 27)

Sep 27, 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 27, at Noon ET, taking your questions and comments about her current advice column and any other questions you might have about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

E-mail Carolyn at

Got more to say? Check out Carolyn's 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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Hi Carolyn, I loved your response in today's column. I have a concern on the other end of the girly spectrum. My almost-four-year-old is in love with pink, princesses, fairies, things that sparkle, accessories, nail polish, sassy shoes---all of it. I assumed she was just drawn to those things because she found them fun and aesthetically pleasing (I too love a good ruffle or sparkle), but now she's becoming preoccupied with "pretty." After I brush her hair, she asks, "Am I pretty now?" After she gets dressed, she asks, "Do I look pretty?" My husband and I have tried to limit talk of pretty to things like flowers or butterflies as being "pretty," though we do slip and tell her she herself is pretty at times (because, come on--she's my gorgeous little girl). We try to emphasize things she can control, like trying SO HARD to learn her letters, hit a ball, etc., but only "pretty" seems to be registering with her at the moment. I don't even know how to respond, when she asks me if she's pretty. I end up saying something lame, like, "You're always pretty, sweetie. We just got the tangles out of your hair, you know?" but that response is too long and not resonating with her. Besides, I worry about telling her she's pretty, but she backs me into a corner by asking me point-blank! Help!

"When I want to know that, I always ask myself, how do I feel inside?" 

Road-test that and check back in. Especially at her age, there's a 99.99 percent chance it's a phase, but why not use the phase to guide her to find beauty a different way. Or ways.


Did I forget to say hello? Wonder how that bodes for the next few hours.

Hi everybody!!!

Hi Carolyn, you answered my question two weeks ago and three weeks ago about telling my roommate how I feel about him. Well it happened and the results were a little frustrating. He has feelings for me, and part of the reason he pushed so hard to come to this country was because of those feelings, but now that he's here and in school he's not sure he wants to jump into anything so serious. I told him that it's a little weird to me that we openly have feelings for each other but we're just going to spend all our time together acting like we're only friends but of course I respect what he wants. And as much as I hope these confessions we made just naturally move us in the direction of romance, I am surprisingly not devastated. I am going to keep my eyes open for other possibilities while not shutting out the possibility that things can happen with him in the future. Anyway thanks for listening and helping me through this - overall I feel so much better having told him than just keeping it all inside!

You're welcome, and sorry for the frustrating result. Though, I have a hunch things will clarify themselves pretty quickly once you push past these initial self-conscious days. 

From last week's chat:  How did I manage the irritation? Very poorly! But we have a communication style that works for us, and we used it. It came from a long line of marriage failures in his family, and him gradually moving beyond what marriage meant for them vs. what we wanted to make marriage for the two of us. Also, he came to the realization that it wasn't fair to me to continue to put off the conversation. We've known for several years now that we want to spend the rest of our lives together; but the marriage hurdle was difficult with the associated baggage it comes with for his family. On being the "last one" to get married: I certainly agree with your sentiment. But when your best girlfriends get engaged after dating for 18 months and you've been in a relationship for 5 years, you sure can feel like you've fallen behind! (despite the three years of long-distance)

Love having blanks filled in, thanks.

Hi Carolyn! I'm about to have a baby and wondered if you had thoughts on some things my husband and I should discuss before the baby comes. We want to be on the same page about parenting stuff before the chaos kicks in. Right now we are both clueless about what to discuss, neither of us having any baby/parenting experience. TIA!

Oh my goodness, you've ordered a pot roast at a tapas bar. But, er, okay:

Talk about the fact that you are both, similtaneously and almost perpetually, going to be too stressed or sleep-deprived or just plain tired for whatever it is you need to do at the moment (feed baby, change baby, bathe baby, try to put baby down for nap, make funny faces at baby, clean up house after Hurricane Baby, do laundry generated by baby, etc.). And, there will be no, "There! Done!" moment to propel you forward, because the next chore will pop right up at you like Pez. And it will be a while before your baby is interactive enough to give back in its little baby ways, like coos and smiles.

And so, both of you will spend a lot of time wishing the other would just take up some of the slack, possibly even resenting each other for not seeing how badly you need help. 

If you're doing this right, both of you will feel you're giving all you've got--and recognizing that in the moment might be the single best thing you can do for your baby and for your marriage. Think of it as a sports cliche, because there's little that can't be condensed into an NFL broadcast staple: Both of you have to go into this ready and willing to give 110 percent. Don't just see your own 110, but also pay attention to and show gratitude for your husband's 110. Ideally this will be mutual. Thank each other. 

I will also say: This particularly difficult time will look much smaller in the rear-view mirror, so keep that in mind, too--it looks its worst in the moment, then the moment passes. 

Congrats and good luck. 




Dear Carolyn, I moved away from my hometown last year, but it turns out I'll be taking regular business trips back that way for the next few months. Living there are my mom and dad (separately--divorced for years), two siblings (one of whom lives with her husband and baby), and several old friends. Last time I went home, I paid a visit to my unmarried sibling, and spent the rest of my free time hanging at the hotel with coworkers. I never heard the end of it from everyone I didn't visit. How do I manage everyone's expectations so that visiting one person doesn't hurt everyone else's feelings? Sometimes I'm in the mood to meet Mom for coffee, but not to listen to Dad complain about his numerous aches and pains. Sometimes I'm in the mood to play with sibling 1's baby, sometimes I just want to go to happy hour with sibling 2. Am I wrong, or is this totally fair?

Totally fair. Let everyone know you can't possibly see everyone in one weekend, so you intend to see everyone once over the course of these weekends, and more if it works out that way. Thank them all in advance for their understanding. 

If the whingeing continues, then give it the, "I'm sorry to hear that," treatment, with a follow-up, "I thought I explained this at the beginning," as needed. Throw in an, "I even thanked you in advance for your understanding! Don't make me take it back!" bit of levity if you think it will fly.

I.e., be cheerful, be firm, and be familiar with the place in the back of your mind where you realize that it's nice for so many people to want your company, even if they're invasive and immature about the way they express it.  

Hi Carolyn: Our son shocked my husband and me by calling off his engagement to "Molly" last month after more than 4 years together. He gave us almost no explanation. We were disappointed--we love Molly and wanted her to be part of our family. For almost a month, we believed our son was the one who had called off the wedding. Molly reached out to us this week and explained that she called it off because of our son's confessed infidelity. Now I feel even worse. I've been holding onto this email for days without mentioning it to my son. Should I talk to him about it? He is, in essence, lying to us about what caused the end of the engagement.

No. You already feel too deeply and know too much. Your son is currently digesting the consequences of his actions without your having to do or say a thing, and that's how it should be. Let things settle and give your son a chance to come to you with a more truthful version of events if and when he's ready.

I can make an argument for letting your son know what you know so there's no deceit-by-omission, but my best one is for letting him know well after this episode and its raw feelings and its immediate consequences are all behind all of you. I'm talking possibly years.

And that's if you choose to say anything at all, which I'm not convinced you should. It can also be knowledge you put in the pot of your understanding---of what happened, of your son, of past events that never fully made sense at the time, of future events that you'll see with new eyes--and draw from as you continue through life with your son, understanding that he's as much a bundle of gifts and flaws and triumphs and colossal screwups as the rest of us, which is why it's so great to have parents around who love the whole thing. 

Dear Carolyn, A while ago, when my husband and I first started talking about having a baby, he confessed that he is terrified about taking the plunge and needed time to get used to the idea. Together, he and I picked a date on the calendar (my 32nd birthday) and agreed that that would be the day I stopped taking my birth control pills, but that I wouldn't make a huge deal about it because we had discussed it beforehand. At the time, that date was 1.5 years in the future. Now it's tomorrow! I feel exhilarated, hopeful, excited, and impatient for pregnancy. I can tell that my husband has been thinking about it and still feels uneasy. Given that we agreed on this ahead of time, can I still go through with it despite knowing my husband still has a lot of the same fears?

Without saying to him clearly that you'd like to stop taking your birth control pills tomorrow, as you agreed to? No, not even when it was part of your agreement that you wouldn't say anything.

There are no bigger deals in this world than giving and taking life. Tell him you realize you agreed not to make a big deal of it, but it is a big deal and you're not forging ahead without his present-day consent.

Plenty of people, if not most of them, give that consent while also harboring varying degrees of terror at the idea. Remind him of that, if it helps. As I've said before, it's the ones without any doubts who surprise me. 

Good luck. 

And happy birthday!

I was contacted via Facebook messaging by a former boyfriend, who got married and moved away a few years ago. The first email was innocent ("How have you been? Here's an update about my life"), but the second and third ones were flirty, and now he has crossed over into complaining about his marriage. I have never met his wife, so I cannot possibly be the appropriate person for him to vent to. Is there any way I can put an end to that line of discussion without cutting off all contact entirely?

Tell him that you appreciate his friendship but have no interest in harboring an emotional fugitive, and that he needs to take his marriage complaints to his wife directly. 

If that moves him to "cut off all contact entirely," then you'll know the ratio of ulterior motive to genuine friendship was never in your favor. 

BTW, even if you did know his wife, the only way you could have been "the appropriate person for him to vent to" was if both you and he had a shared and transparent goal of strengthening his marriage. 

Is there any way around asking someone how they prefer to mourn? I have some friends who have lost someone special, and for the first year or two I send a card/email/call on the anniversary. Easy enough. But then what? Some continue to mark the anniversary every year. Some don't want to be reminded of a loss that's still weighing so heavily on them. (And lots in between, and lots who have preferred different things at different stages.) I hate asking if they want me to acknowledge the date or not - I don't want to make them explain themselves or justify how they're mourning. I just know they're still hurting and I don't want them to feel alone.

Asking does not automatically = "mak[ing] them explain themselves." If you just say you know they're still hurting but aren't always sure what they'd like from you, then say you'll follow their lead whether it's to acknowledge the anniversary or let it pass without a painful reminder, I think it'll be clear to people you're not judging. 

Dear Carolyn, When I got engaged a few years ago, my now-husband gave me a beautiful, expensive diamond ring from a well-known jewelry chain. I didn't ask for it, but I absolutely love it and have gotten a fair number of positive remarks about it from lots of different people. Since then, many of my close friends have also gotten engaged and married, and either by coincidence or through social influence or because of changes in trends, most have either no ring or an unconventional ring (one friend got hers from a relative, another wears something her fiance made for her out of Lucite). Every time a friend announces her engagement and brags about not having wasted money on a diamond, I feel a little stung. Is there a socially responsible way I can keep wearing my ring, i.e., do I need to engrave "I know this was an unnecessary expense" in the band???

I think every time there's a sea change, there's an accompanying period of over-explaining as people settle in--especially when it's a change from One Expected Way to Anything Goes. Keep absolutely loving your ring for what it means to you, and ride it out. 


Dear Carolyn, My husband and I are planning to host Thanksgiving for the first time (we've been married for nearly 5 years, but somehow we've held onto the 'young couple' status that forces people to travel around the world to accommodate their older relatives on holidays). We would really like to combine both of our families, since my husband's parents usually just have Thanksgiving at a restaurant, but we have some anxiety around this because the one other time we combined our families, pre-wedding, it didn't go very well. Any tips as to how we can make things feel comfortable for both families? The problems last time included stilted conversation, awkwardness about money, some petty competitiveness, and so on.

If you'd like to be able to host the two families as it suits you in the future, then don't take the one awkward gathering as the last word. Think of it as a long-term investment, and combine the families with the understanding that it won't ever be perfect but maybe, just maybe, you'll wear them all down enough eventually to find an equilibrium that works. The more they see each other (within reason), the more conversation-starters they'll develop, even if it's just, "Well, let's hope the turkey doesn't explode this year!"

As for this year, you might be able to get them invested in the outcome--while also taking some pressure off you--if you invite them to pitch in. Since your husband's parents are apparently inclined to make it easy, ask them to choose and bring the drinks, and since your side of the family apparently cooks, flatter them and encourage continuity by requesting they bring a family favorite. 

Then, take detailed notes and share the results at the Hoot a couple of weeks later.

I, likewise, needed some time to get used to the idea of becoming a parent. But I'm sure my own experience has been shared by, oh, several trillion future dads over the course of history, in that no amount of thinking about it, reading about it or talking about it makes a guy feel PREPARED for dad-hood. It's very much like skydiving for the first time-- You can watch others do it, you can talk to those who've done it, you can read up on the various options available for "taking the leap"... but no matter what, you're STILL alarmed as all Hades when you're perched in the doorway of the aircraft, and given the signal to jump. If you wait to feel completely ready to be a dad, you'll most likely be waiting forever. This isn't to say that any real obstacles shouldn't be given their due consideration: Can I adequately support this child financially? Can I adequately defer my own needs to a child who isn't in the position to fend for itself? Can I deal with the inevitable frustrations better than my own father, who beat me?!? Sure, be responsible and ask yourself all the questions that are relevant. But if you don't feel at least somewhat unnerved at the prospect of becoming a dad, you probably fall in the fourth Standard Deviation of potentially-expectant dads. And btw... I love being a dad. :D

Love this, thanks, though I think you can switch out "dad" for "parent" and still be on point. I'm also sorry you got a father who made you pay such a steep price for his frailties.

This applies to almost any kind of personal choice. There are people who want to brag about uniqueness, size, or sentimentality. There are people who are self-righteous and want to make a stink about how everyone else fails to measure up to their personal moral standards. Everything from cars to kids to grocery shopping to your shoes could be viewed this way. Relax.

Love all of this, thanks. Though I don't know if anyone has ever not tensed at being told to relax.

When they say they didn't "waste money on a diamond", just say "Cool. Neither did we."

Ah. Well-played.

Maybe she/he should explode the turkey on purpose this year... just to ensure there is something good to talk about for the rest of the years. (Maybe have two turkeys- one edible and one to sacrifice to conversational fodder) Think of the holiday hootenanny possibilities!

Best part, the exploding one will be a dud, and the "edible" one will explode. Or, both will be frozen solid even after a day of thawing and a lengthy steam shower with the cook. (Anyone recall the year of the Butterball shower?)

I get what you're saying, but I'd never want to reproduce with someone like that. How do you know he's not going to end up resenting his wife and the kid he never wanted? It's too great of a risk.

Not really, not if you've chosen your partner well. A mature and decent person will put his (or her, but using "his" for simplicity) full heart into his choice, and both accept and expect that it's not always going to be rosy-dozy and that even people who went into parenthood sans terror will occasionally long for the days when they could sleep in and not have to tend constantly to others' needs. Grownups don't resent others for their own decisions, and going on to have a child despite fears of what that involves is solely one's own decision.

So, short version, don't make babies with jerks. 



What if Molly is lying, or only being partially truthful? Doesn't seem to be the case here, but don't be too hard on your son, or too judgemental. Only the two of them know what really went down, and right now you only have one side of the story. He needs your unconditional support no matter what caused the breakup.

Well argued, thanks.

The theory here is so broadly applicable!! When I was considering going back to grad school, I told my aunt (my go to for career advice) that I didn't want to go back until I was sure what I wanted to do. She told me, "If I had waited until I knew what I wanted to do, I would still be waiting." It was one of the best things that anybody ever said to me, and freed me from a lot of my analysis paralysis. Don't ignore red flags, but if you wait for everything to be perfectly prepared for any big life change, you will never do it.

Right, yes, with an underscore for the "Don't ignore red flags"--or merely your own misgivings, if they overwhelm your interest in any particular path.

I'll also add that your aunt's advice, responsibly applied, can also prevent a common, unintended consequence to living a life based on certainty. Certainly can close people's minds to outcomes that differ from what they hoped for or planned, some of which can be better than the original plan, or just as good but different. Accepting a degree of uncertainty can keep people from being rigid.  

PSA: It takes days - plural - for a turkey to thaw in the frig.

Right--thus the episode in the Hoot, when a novice cook bought a bird-rock pretty much with guests already on their way. (Hilarity and poultry spa treatments ensue: link.)

By the way, one of the unexpected perks of this job is the sheer joy of my Google searches. That one was "carolyn hax turkey in the shower." 

I find a great way to frame the conversation is to discuss how you were raised, what you want to emulate, and what you never want to do to your kids. This highlighted differences between me and my husband quickly, so we were able to discuss some of our differences.

Great stuff, thanks.

To add to what CH said, I think the biggie for those early days is feeding. If you're nursing, decide in advance what he's going to do. Will you handle nights alone all the time? Will he change diapers and get the baby for you? Will you all sleep in the same room, you and baby together in another? If you're going with formula from the start, are you alternating night wakings? The rest of it, you can cover as it comes up. Really, just know who is doing what a 1, 2, 3 and 4 am. You don't want to be ironing that out on the spot!

This too, thanks.

I think one of the best things about kids IS that they obsess, except that I view it as an intense interest and child-like commitment There's a line in a Paul Rudd movie: "My daughter loves bubbles. I wish I loved anything as much as my daughter loves bubbles." It's pretty cool, really. And one of other best things about kids is that they can change on a time. One minute it's princesses, the next it's microscopes. By encouraging their interests, we teach them that it's fun to go all in, and it will be fine when they go all in on their next interest. (An aside: I remember taking my hten-5-year old daughter to campus on a take-your-daugher-to-work day. When asked "what do you like best about yourself?" she said, "my long blond hair." When asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, she said, "the president." Let kid like what they like. They don't get boxed in as much as adults think they do or as much as adults box themselves in.)

More good stuff. (Sorry for not spacing these out.)

My response to that question tended to be: "You're my daughter. You'll always be gorgeous to me." She's grown now, and she still loves that answer.

And this. 

Carolyn- Quick question based on some of the discussion last week regarding feeling let down at weddings and the pressure of people in your life being in different places. How do you deal with the feelings of jealousy when you are the friend "left behind?" I'm the last of my friends and family to be married and have kids- I'm currently single and navigating the dating world. While I'm very happy for the people around me (and hope to have the same things one day), I can't help but feel so out of sync from everyone else. Every wedding, baby shower, engagement announcement, new house, etc. just makes me feel bad about my own life, even though I'm living in a city I love, taking new/fun classes, playing in sports leagues, and getting to enjoy some travel. I've noticed I'm starting to pull back emotionally from these big life events and I've even removed my facebook profile since signing on ends up just making me sad, mad, and yes- jealous. How do you effectively deal with these feelings??

It sounds as if you're already dealing with your feelings in many productive ways, and they just haven't delivered results. -Yet.-

That doesn't mean they won't. It can take time for the dividends of your choices to become clear to you. For one, I think they're being obscured by the newness of this phase of life for your peers. When you're in the flurry of weddings, showers, housewarmings, etc.--and it is a flurry for most people--you're seeing many people who are at the height of their joy with these milestones. I don't mean to sound cynical, just realistic--some of these marriages will unravel; some of these houses will be money pits or just difficult assets to afford/maintain/deal with when the marriage unravels; some of these kids will be difficult and wear out their parents, who will love them nonetheless but who will give up a lot of other valued things to make it all work. The highs and comforts inherent in marriage/house/kiddoes are real and significant, but that's by no means all they involve.

And this will become steadily more apparent to you as your friends and family get a little farther along on their paths, and celebration mode gives way to the rigors of daily life. 

This will happen, possibly, as the second part kicks in, where your "new/fun" things evolve into deeper commitments and pleasures. 

It's a very long way to say "hang in there," but, hang in there. You've had reasons for all of your choices, so don't be afraid to trust them.

One of my close friends has taken to jumping on me over all kinds of things - what I eat, how I vote, whether it's "right" for me to have a cleaning lady, you name it. When I get annoyed at the constant attacks, he tells me that real friends are supposed to challenge each other, that everyone else in my life just mindlessly validates me, and that I'm close-minded and unable to handle criticism. (I don't think that's true, although I certainly don't appreciate having it hurled indiscriminately at me like this.) This guy is smart, interesting, and can be a lot of fun, but every time I see him I come away feeling really insecure that I actually am this flawed, awful person living in a bubble full of sycophants - I mean, how would I know? It's not like the sycophants would tell me. Is he right? Is the common wisdom that friends are supposed to "challenge" each other?

"To you, real friends challenge each other. To me, life is a constant challenge, and so real friends are the ones who accept and are kind to each other."

Discuss.  Or, don't, and just let this alleged close friend know that you're not going to keep serving yourself up to be criticized.

He will likely call this proof you can't handle criticism., but that's fine--just tell him he's right, shrug, and spare yourself of his company. It's your prerogative.

As for the doubts this has strirred up, you can still pay attention both to your own behavior and to the ways your other friends do and don't reinforce it. It's useful to revisit occasionally our own idea of what a good person is, and to see if we're living up to that. No one needs unkind friends, not for self-improvement and not for anything else.

My childhood friend is finding her late 20's to be a very difficult time. As teenagers, we had so much fun together and were honest with each other about everything. Now, her parents are going through a horrendous divorce, and she has been spiraling downwards since college. She sleeps with married men, is very depressed, lies to her therapist, tries to manipulate everyone around her (including me), and generally just seems to seek out drama. I'm in a totally different place in life and find it harder and harder to respond with the same balance of "dislike for what choices she's making" and "support as a friend" when she tells me stories of her antics. However, she depends on me as her closet confidant. I've tried telling her how her consistently not-so-great choices and drama about them are affecting me, but it nearly cost our friendship because of how poorly she reacted. Am I describing a scenario for a friend break-up? Or do we put up with bad behavior with childhood friends, and be that support system for when they HOPEFULLY someday grow out of it?

This is a good bookend to the "friends challenge each other" question, because we're often asked to walk--heck, locate--a line between accepting a friend, faults and all, and enabling a friend's bad behavior.

I think the most important thing to tease out in these situations is the type and degree of harm. When a person is self-destructive, it's useful for a friend to support the person while questioning the choices. When the person is harming or abusing the trust of others, then it's time to pull back and say why. 

In the preceding question, if the "I must challenge you!" friend really thought the LW was a bad person in need of correcting, then the right move was to end the friendship, not harangue the friend.

In cases like this one, where there's a mix of self-harm and harm to others, I think it makes sense to say to her that you aren't comfortable anymore with your role as confidant, because you don't think it's helping--and, in fact, since she's lying to her shrink and still getting involved with married men, you think it's actually enabling her to give her a safe place to talk about this as if it's all okay. Say you want to remain her friend if she'll have you, but that her troubles are beyond your ability to help. 

They actually might be; has there been any mention of mental illness beyind depression, or a screening for? The 20s are an age when many illnesses manifest themselves--hints of it in early adulthood, with mounting chaos as the 3s  approach. Not that depression can't alone explain this, it can--and not that you can do much about it either way; it's more something to keep in mind as you try to figure out whether and how you can help. At a certain point, it becomes a matter for a pro and no amount of careful phrasing can make a dent.

Sorry that took so long. I had trouble organizing my thoughts.

You know, my husband challenges me. He calls me on it when I behave poorly. There have been points in my life when I have listened to his criticism even after completely disregarding everyone else's. This is because he deploys his criticism very selectively, and doesn't rip into me for eating an ice cream bar or blowing off errands or whatever. He makes me want to be a better person. If he was doing what the LW described, however, I would stop listening to him very quickly and assume that he probably needed to find a new wife, someone whose flaws he didn't feel the constant need to point out.

This makes the distinction clear, thank you.

Did the person who talked about his brother throwing up all over the table in 1986 ever send you the photos?

No, and I haven't recovered.

I'm you. Except I am married, have a house, and a baby. But I want another baby so I'm jealous of my friends who are now pregnant with #2. I wish I was like my friends who got the baby weight off immideiately, but I still have 20 miseable pounds to go. My point is that no matter where you are in life, it's hard not to covet things others have that you don't. It doesn't go away once you reach those milestones. All you can do is live your life to the fullest with where you are right now, and find a way peace with what you do have.


I would say most people have no idea how they prefer to mourn, even while they are going through it.

True, but this question was about people who were several years beyond a loss. In that case, I think it's reasonable to think that someone to whom you had sent a card on Year 1 and Year 2 would have a preference for marking Year 3.

"real friends are supposed to challenge each other" - well, I'd say real friends ask and discuss with kindness and tact and accept that they may make different choices in life. Or, you know, generally behave like adults with their friends. Obviously my tune changes if there are serious red flags, but a cleaning lady definitely doesn't fall under flag material to me.

Right--whereas this friend's behavior does, since he's essentially gaslighting the LW. Thanks.

Hi Carolyn, My husband and I have a 24-year-old son who moved away to San Francisco after college and has rarely contacted us since then. We reach out to him all the time, inviting him to holidays and offering to visit; we have also offered to pay for him to fly out to see us and his younger sister. He is always completely congenial, but never has time to take us up on our offers. Also, he never calls us anymore. We exchange VERY occasional emails about how he's doing, but his are often delayed by days and it seems like he's inconvenienced by having to communicate with us. We don't know what we did to deserve this kind of treatment, but it seems like we did nothing wrong - he just doesn't want the close relationship that we believed we would have with our adult children. So, what should we do? Just give up and stop pestering him? Or open a dialogue about our needs as his parents and hope it doesn't upset him?

Tough one, because it could just be that he's not a big communicator combined with being in a happy but also self-centered place in his life, in which case the answer would be to stay non-obnoxiously in touch* and don't take it personally. It could also be that he's actively looking to distance himself, though, and in that case, it might be useful for you to know his reasons ... but you could also make things worse just by asking for those reasons. 

Good times!

So I'm going to hedge and suggest you stay non-obnoxiously in touch, and choose not to take it personally unless and until you get some whiff that he finds you objectionable. Also keep your eyes and ears open for an opportunity--of which you avail yourself -once- --to let him know you miss him and do wonder whether there's a reason he doesn't stay in closer touch. Assure him this isn't a guilt-trip, it's just an effort to understand so you don't inadvertently do things that annoy him.

Don't go looking for this opportunity. Really really wait till there's an opening, or a change in the way you deal with each other. If he remains congenial but elusive, then stick to your gentle efforts to remain in touch, give him time to exercise his freedom and independence as much as he needs, and see if he doesn't circle back a bit in a few years.


*This is in the eye of the beholder, obviously, but a call at some not-in-his-face interval, like every 2-3-4 weeks, and emails on a similar pace with family updates or something that caught your eye, will let him know you're there as his safety net but not as just another chore.

The advantage in asking is not necessarily that you get a useful answer, but also the person you're asking realizes that you're acting on good intentions and want to be helpful, and are hoping you're not putting your foot in it. I think that goes a long way.

I'd embroider this on a pillow, but it would be one huge ass pillow. 

My brother has been married for several years. At the time of his wedding, we lived pretty far apart. After hearing about the wedding and waiting and waiting, I was never asked to be in the wedding! Finally I asked him and he said they didn't ask me b/c they thought I would say no. Fast forward and now they are expecting their first child. I have been waiting and waiting to hear about the baby shower. But I didn't not receive an invitation. My mom did which is how I learned about it. How am I suppose to take this? I feel angry!

Do you live close now? Does your mom? (I'm sorry, they should have invited you to the shower, though being asked to be in the wedding is not automatic, nor should it be.)

And, fwiw, some kind and decent people under-invite to showers deliberately so as not to appear to be shaking people down for gifts. That's why your location matters. 

Also fwiw, what kind of effort have you made toward nurturing a relationship with this part of the family? That, not ceremonial obligation, is what determines your rightful place.

Unless the son was always a bit distant, I can't imagine that the son's actions are not based upon him having some issue with the parents. Maybe the sister has a better relationship and could provide some insight.

I can imagine it, easily. Some people just live in their moment. but, yes, the sister might have useful insight.

We tend to think that developmental stages end at 21, but they don't. It may be that the son really needs to be free of his parents for a while and will come back--I went to Europe at age 28 for 5 years with minimal parental contact, yet I speak with my mother every night now.

What I was getting at with the circling back--thanks for the example.

Wrapping together threads, stories like this are what terrify me about having children. You can do everything the best way you know how, but there are no guarantees your children will appreciate you, or want to stay in touch with you. I have a sibling with Asperger's, and have only spoken to him/her twice in the last 18 months despite (hopefully non-obnoxious) efforts to reach out. It hurts, and I know it is even more devastating for our parents, who have very little contact either. These are the scary unknowns of parenthood.

Yes, some of the many. All you can do is love kids fully, teach them as well as you can, be open to what they have to teach you, and be willing to let them go. It's (even more) complicated by the fact that you -want- them to launch independent lives, and you make countless decisions to encourage that. 

Memo to foot-draggers,* call mom and/or dad! Cheez.


*Just the foot-draggers--I know many of you have your reasons.

Its funny that someone sent in that question, b/c since it was first mentioned in this chat, I've been reading EVERY. SINGLE. HOOT CHAT. Looks like others are too. Hours of productive U.S. work hours gone. Thanks a lot Hax. Do you hate America? j/ you.



Bye! Thanks! Have a great weekend. 

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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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