A Trip to Dork Mountain: Carolyn Hax Live (Friday, October 18)

Oct 18, 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 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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Hi, everybody. What's new these days? 

As an adult, is it ever okay to tell your parent you don't like their significant other and/or that you think their significant other doesn't treat them well? I feel like my dad is being taken advantage of by his girlfriend. He spends a lot of time and money and effort on her. She spends little of those things on him. But since I'm an adult, this has no bearing on my day to day life. And since my dad's an adult, well, he gets to choose who he spends time with. I just hate watching it.

"So, how are things going with Girlfriend. Are you happy?" Then, you listen. Often people will find a way to tell you whether your concern would be welcome or seen as an imposition. 

Carolyn, I have found myself in an extremely uncomfortable situation and I'm hoping you might be able to help me find a tactful way to tell someone they are creeping me out. I am 33 and recently divorced. Lately a married male aquaintance of mine has been contacting me via email and calling me at work repeatedly to the point that I am uncomfortable. If the situation were different I'd just tell him to back off, but, his daughter and mine are best friends, attend the same daycare and will go to kindergarten together. His son and mine play soccer together. His wife and I are very friendly. We even go to the same church. This all started innocently as he asked for my contact information for what I thought was a legitimate business reason. It quickly snowballed into weird things like, "Maybe I'll call you later to break up your day!" and "Do you like me?" Most of the emails I have not responded to or have given generic blow off type responses to, but he won't stop. In the last 2 days (Thursday and Friday) he has sent me 36 emails.  I am dating someone, which I'm sure he does not know, so I don't know if just casually mentioning that fact would make this stop, but I need to do something before it gets even more out of hand. Also, his wife is extremely nice and as far as I know, she thinks they are happily married. Do I have any obligation to say something to her?


Please read "The Gift of Fear" asap. Like, download and start it today.

I say that because you need to state clearly and unequivocally that you don't want him to contact you any more because you are not interested in a relationship with him--but that message needs to be crafted in such a way as not to encourage him unwittingly. For example: If you mention, as you propose here, that you're dating someone, he could easily take that as, "... but if I weren't dating someone, I'd eagerly respond to all your emails." De Becker is very clear on the fact that you can't assume he will interpret societal code the way you want him to. This is not someone who has any regard for codes or rules or limits, as you've seen by the fact that he's a married man sending you 36 emails in one day. 

So, you need to give that ironclad "I'm not interested" message, and you need to ignore every single attempt he makes to contact you, without exception.

You also need to document his attentions to you so far--keep any e-, text or voice messages. I also don't think it's an overreaction to talk to the person in your local police precinct who is in charge of domestic issues. Explain that this is a preemptive call/visit, to make sure you're doing the right thing about unwelcome attention from someone who might not respect boundaries. Cross those T's.

When you see him in person, be arm's length civil and avoid being alone with him.

As for his wife, that's a wait and see. If you take these baseline actions and he leaves you alone, then you leave the situation alone. If instead you give him a clear message and he refuses to be ignored (I will never get that phrasing out of my head), then you'll need to consider bringing her in. But I would consult the police and the Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-SAFE) first.

Last thing. I know there will be eye-rollers among the readers of this answer, but, again, this is someone who is already showing a disregard for appropriate boundaries. It's far better to take simple precautions that themselves don't have ripple effects (a book, an "I'm not interested," a bit of message storage, and a non-binding conversation with police) than it is to assume the best and start acting only when that assumption turns out to be mistaken.

Hey everyone. The chat software is behaving strangely today. I'm able to work around it, but it's slowing me down somewhat. I'm going to take a second to relaunch it to see if that helps. Sorry for the delay.

OK, I read last Friday's chat too late to contribute but I do have something to add to one of the themes of the week, "my boyfriend/girlfriend/wife/husband didn't give me a gift on such and such special occasion and I'm angry." My parents had a long and happy marriage. After my father died my mother confessed to me that he never bought her a birthday present. In the first year of their marriage she happened to spy him in a department store trying to buy her a birthday gift and he looked overwhelmed. She realized then and there that for whatever reason, this was something that just wasn't going to happen, it was a bridge too far. So every year she bought herself a present, had it wrapped, gave it to him to give to her and acted surprised because she thought we should see our father giving our mother birthday presents. This went on for decades and I had no idea. When she told me I just thought it was beautiful. Isn't this so much better than resenting you spouse for somehow not measuring up? My mom is gone now too, but she taught me something about acceptance and love with this "confession."

This is wonderful, thank you.

I read today's column and I agree with your advice. At least as a first step. I do think the LW will want to know she did everything she could to work with the marriage she has before the upheaval of divorce. However, I have a different perspective, because I was one of those kids. When my parents split I was 13, my sister was 16 and my brother was 19 and away at college. How the split affected each of us was very different. For me, I lived it everyday for 5 years before leaving home and it became my new normal over that time. I had my sister there to help deal with the initial fallout of it all and navigate the awkward years directly after. My brother, however, felt incredibly disconnected. It was really hard for him at holidays to come "home" to a place he didn't recognize.  In hindsight, it's clear it took him much longer to understand how our new family worked, because it was so different from the one he thought he left when he went to college. All that is to say, there is no good time, but I would definitely not advise that you "wait until they are in college". Having your home nest blow up the minute you leave it brings an entire set of challenges that are at least equal, if not more so, to the disruption your young (flexible) kids will feel now. My parents both have new partners and are very happy and we all spend time together on vacations and holidays. Divorce can have a happy ending, as long as you and your husband work at your relationship even after your marriage has ended. Even in divorce, he will always be a part of your life, so remember your actions toward him should always be loving, even if you don't feel in love. Best of luck and I hope the end result is as happy as ours, no matter your path.

Thanks for this. There was actually a reader-advice letter some years ago making a point very similar to yours--that waiting till college erases the only home those kids know at a particularly vulnerable time. I don't have time to give it a proper Googling, but if someone does, please feel free to shoot me a link.

Applause, too, for the "loving, even if you don't feel love."



That reader advice letter would be this one, which reads:

"The child is having difficulty enough leaving home and parents, and to realize that there isn't even going to be any home there anymore just adds to the pain."

I feel terrible about it, but I don't like her. At all. I have tried to see the positive. I complain about her only to my friends, never to my husband. But dealing with her is really challenging, and it takes a lot of work to always be warm and nice and welcoming. My husband knows she's difficult, and he thanks me regularly for being so good with her. He totally gets it, and he's way more frustrated with her than I am. But lately when he's complaining about her to me, I just want to admit how I really feel and how taxing and exhausting and unrewarding she is for me. There is no upside of admitting that - I know this. He doesn't need me piling on. He minimizes my exposure to her drama (which is all about her and her own life, nothing related to us or our kids - hmm, in fact, maybe that's why I feel so guilty about disliking her, because it's not about how she treats me directly). But lately I am finding it so hard not to admit how I really feel to him. I don't know what I want from him - more gratitude? Validation that I'm right and she is terrible? To stop being so fake to the person I talk to about everything else? I mean, we can and do share an eye-roll about her regularly, but he doesn't need to know that I can't stand her (right?). Just writing this out was really helpful, but I feel like I'm in danger of saying a lot of things that I can never take back.

This! This! This! "To stop being so fake to the person I talk to about everything else?"

It's not as if you have only two choices, to withhold the truth or flood your lives with it. You can keep it contained. You can also make your conversation not about his mom, per se, but about your uncertainty about how much truth to tell. You can say, for example, that you have no issue with the way she treats you directly, since that's the truth. You can say you've struggled with whether to share your feelings about the way she treats him, because you don't want to pile on but you also don't want to put on an act for him. You can ask whether he'd prefer you to keep your brave face on or to just blah-blah-blah some of your own frustration sometime.

I don't know enough about this situation to predict an outcome, not even close, but I do know that between people who share well, conversations like these can be cathartic. And this one can be even if you never end up actually saying how you feel about his mom. 

Good day Carolyn - I have been in a casual relationship for several months with a man who I consider to be a very close friend. We have occasionally spent the night together but have never had a conversation about it. I would like to know where things stand, and more specifically, I want to tell him about my feelings for him, and let him know that if he doesn't feel the same or isn't interested in actually dating, then I can't continue to be his FWB. The problem is I always chicken out of bringing it up - it just seems too awkward, and I am afraid of facing potential rejection face to face. Do you think it would be okay to write him a letter/e-mail about this instead? That way he could process without being put on the spot, and be able to e-mail me back which might be easier for him, too, if he has to tell me he's not interested. I tend to think this is just a really chicken move on my part, but I'm curious to hear your thoughts.

My inner oversimplifyer wants to point out that if you had solid reasons to believe he felt the same way, then you wouldn't be so afraid to speak up.

My inner PITA wants to point out that the first gauge of sufficient maturity and trust to be in a relationship is the courage to take an emotional risk and withstand a painful rejection.

My inner everyone else is queuing up to sound off, too, but you already know that chicken moves are for dance floors, not relationships. 

Hi Carolyn, I have a question about potential red flags with others' significant others. My housemate is aspirationally smitten with this girl (i.e. nothing has happened yet, but he wants it to) and he asks me for advice and I just have SUCH A BAD FEELING. It's so viscerally anti-her that it's made me wonder if I'm secretly harboring feelings for him. And it's nothing glaring--she seems thoughtful and is very friendly. Can you tell me if my red flags are ludicrous? 1. She has dated at least four of his friends. 2. All of them still have strong negative feelings about her. 3. She started getting very close to him (gifts, late night texts) while still dating someone else, as though she was teeing him up or something. 4. She seems to need to be desired, by a lot of people, a lot. 5. She is MUCH friendlier to men than women. Am I a jealous hag? Are these tiny ludicrous things that I'm blowing out of proportion as an overprotective harpy? How do I not be so invested in this? Or how do I tell him to tread cautiously?

Yes, every one of the flags you spotted seems legitimate, and yes you're haboring feelings for him. 

The former isn't a tough call, and the latter isn't my call at all. If I'm right though, then, fittingly, think of it as a game of hearts. Either stay out of it entirely and just be your best self while his interest in her runs its (collision) course, or shoot the moon--admit you have a visceral reaction to her for what you're capable of recognizing as very legitimate reasons in spite of your blatant self-interest due to your, ah, feelings for him.

I feel like I'm walking everyone out on a limb today. 

I wonder why MIL has such a big presence in their lives. If she and hubby are on the same page with how they feel about her, why are they allowing her to infiltrate their lives like this? Why are they exposed to her drama so much in the first place?

Excellent question. OP still there?

A slight expansion to your excellent advice (alluded to, but not out-and-out said): After telling him, in writing, to not contact you again, don't respond to anything he sends/pick up any calls because--I learned from my sister, who did her master's social work research on stalking--any attention--even negative attention, feeds the stalker's bent concept of intimacy. Any attention is attention and means you are paying attention and he's got a chance (in this guy's mind). Starve the attention at once. And definitely get it all in writing, get whatever help you need, etc.

Yes, this bears spelling out, thanks--and it's a key point in TGoF. He makes the specific point that if you ignore-ignore-ignore and then respond to the 100th email, even if just reiterate your "I'm not interested" point, someone can take that to mean that, okay, it takes 100 emails to get a response, so I'll send another 100 emails. You have to cease  responding completely. 

...And take other precautions, which is why I recommend the book instead of trying to pass along its messages on my own.

I agree that this would probably naturally morph into dating, if he was into it. But, I disagree that it is a chicken move to put out awkward relationship ideas by email. Sometimes it does give the email receiver a chance to think it through and answer more thoughtfully. For example, I would rather be dumped by email than in person because I get a chance to process my initial reaction in private, and then respond. As long as the email is thoughtfully written, I don't see a problem with using this approach.

Fair enough. 

I include myself in that!

Where's your sense of adventure and abject humiliation. Cheez.

Please, tell him! Maybe he thinks you like her a lot more and he'd limit both your exposure to her even more if he knew you really have a tough time, too. Maybe he's kicking himself over the depths of his bitterness in the face of your apparent coping skills. You don't have to be gratuitous in your description but just tell him that he's far from alone in his feelings. My father-in-law is a rather awful human being (abusive to his family for decades, etc.) and my husband knows that I hate his father but that I'm willing to be civil bordering on cordial just so he can see the rest of his family. He describes his own feelings as being that he loves his dad but doesn't like him.

This is it in a nutshell, thanks.

Dear Carolyn, My husband and I are very anti-smoking, as the habit has harmed several people close to us. He lost both of his parents before they reached 65 due to health complications related to smoking. My mom (a smoker for decades) has reached her 70s, but with a severely diminished quality of life for the past several years. We were, therefore, deeply disturbed when our daughter, a junior in college, came home last weekend with a suitcase that reeked unmistakably of cigarettes. We asked her about it and after the typical deflective responses died down ("Why were you smelling my stuff?!?!" "You're always invading my privacy!"), she admitted that, yes, she "and a few friends" (she emphasized the friends part repeatedly) smoke sometimes. We are unbelievably frustrated here. This is a topic we've been discussing since she was a little girl in the context of her sick grandparents--a direct 1-to-1 correlation that seemed to resonate with her. We understand peer pressure, but this seemed like one thing we did not think we would have to worry about. She is a legal adult and we have no idea what we can do, other than to keep nagging her about the dangers she is exposing herself to. (But we only see her when she comes home, which as she reminded us, she "chooses" to do but may not always.) What else can we do here?

Nothing. There is nothing you can do about this except drive your daughter away--her dukes-up reaction told you all you need to know about that--and since your whole issue with her smoking is that you're afraid of losing her, there's just too much irony in driving her out of your lives by harping on her choice.

A choice, mind you, that she made after your "discussing [it] since she was a little girl in the context of her sick grandparents." There's little chance this is a coincidence. If she wanted to put some distance between her own identity and yours, then she couldn't have settled on a better wedge, could she?

So, looking at it that way, the best thing you can do is not fuss over the cigs, but instead go the counterintuitive route of giving her your blessing to be herself. Say you love her, say you of course will worry when she chooses to harm herself, say you will nevertheless love her and stand behind her right to make her own choices however she needs you to--including by butting out. Shock the heck out of her. She'll believe you only when you stick to that blessing at a time she knows you're resoundingly unthrilled with her choices. And, when she believes you, then her grounds for rebelling against you turn to sand.

Because we feel guilty. We can see how unhappy she is and we're trying our best to be supportive. She'll say how much she loves spending time with us and how important her relationship with her son is, even though when she gets upset she'll say terrible things to him.

Thanks. I hope you're able to keep things in proportion; that's make-or-break, in my experience.

Go ahead and write it down. But don't send it. Use the process of writing to get your thoughts in order, figure out what he might say, and have a reaction pre-planned to each of the options. That should give you enough courage to do this in person.

Worth a try, as long as OP then destroys it. If not, and a copy gets loose somehow and miscommunication mayhem ensues, then we might be forced to write a bad romcom around it. Thanks.

Bunch o people weighing in on the staying-together-for-the-kids-until-they-become-college-kids phenomenon. I'll post a few without comment. 

I was one of those kids whose parents divorced right when I left, too. It's awful. For reasons defying logic, it feels like your fault. The home you know is gone, and it takes much longer to get used to it because you're barely back. The other thing I would emphasize? If you're going to do it, then do it. My parents told us they were divorcing, then "working on it," then separating, over a four year period. Kids are held hostage in the midst of that indecision. It becomes the whole family's responsibility to "fix" something that's really only the business of two of them.

I want to echo the earlier poster on when to divorce. My parents waited until my sister and I went to college to divorce and ended being extremely (and unintentionally) cruel to us. They sold our home and each downsized. We were told we had to take anything from our house that we wanted to keep. As college students, we had no room for our childhood books and toys in our dorms, so they were all donated. Neither claimed to want the family pets, who would have been given away if it weren't for months of my hysterical sobbing. My parents seemed shocked that we weren't acting "more like adults" about all this. My sister sought refuge in her college boyfriend's home and ended up marrying very young. I spent years tracking down items that had been given away. My parents have long since apologized for their insensitivity and everyone had regained happiness and equilibrium, but it was a very destabilizing time. I know they would have handled it better had we been younger and not perceived as adults.

To back up what a previous poster said, waiting for the kids to go to college is a terrible time to disrupt their lives. My brother accepted a job in another state during his son's freshman year at college, which was also his daughter's senior year of high school. They sold the home that both kids had been raised in just at the time that they were leaving home for the first time, and not having that familiar space to return to, at least for awhile, affected both of them. Both kids chose to stay in their home town rather than relocate with their parents, and now only visit occasionally. I don't think the ramifications occurred to my brother, but I think if he had it to do over again, he might have tried to put off the move a few more years.

A friend of mine's parents waited for him to go to college to divorce. When he found out they stayed together and unhappy for his sake, he was devastated. He got that it was their choice and it wasn't his fault, but it still was a pretty upsetting realization for him. He really does wish they had split up sooner and had years more of happiness rather than waited.

and ...

So, I actually greatly appreciated that my parents didn't divorce until all of us kids had left the house. Although it really sucked (and was fairly surprising - my parents hid their unhappiness until just about the very end), I was happy I didn't have to live through it with them. I wasn't there for the separation, the packing up of our belongings, the moves, the legal settlements. I got to blithely live my day-to-day life in ignorance. I wasn't in denial, mind you, and I still suffered from it. But I think it really helped being removed from that. I think it just depends on what your kids are like.

Thanks everyone. 

That last takeaway--"it depends on what your kids are like"--gets close to the conclusion I drew last time I fielded a bunch of opinions on when and whether to stay "for the kids," which was that the variables get the last word. That includes the temperaments of the kids, but also the degree of unhappiness of the parents' marriage, the potential ugliness of a divorce, the financial impact, the presence or absence of abuse, and so much more. 

Is it awkward to accept extreme offers of generosity from friends? My husband and I have wealthy friends who asked us to go on a vacation with them to an expensive destination. They offered to subsidize the cost of the vacation rentals and take care of dinners out. The trip is a bit of a stretch economically, and so I am inclined to gracious accept their offer, while my husband thinks it would be awkward and inappropriate and that we should just suck it up. My view is to take the offer at face value: they want to go to this location and want us to join them and are willing to make it possible. I think my husband is concerned that it creates inequities in the relationship and makes us seem like second-class citizens. He would rather suck it up, spend the $$, enjoy a bit of luxury and put less in savings that month. What's the right way to think about it?

Well, there are two ways to think about it. The first is to weigh the awkwardness of such a generous offer from a friend, and the second is to weigh the appropriateness of asking your husband to accept a gift that he's not comfortable accepting and that you can afford to purchase for yourselves, with some maneuvering.

We could bat the first one around for a while, but the second makes any answer a moot point: You can't ask him to accept this gift. Go, enjoy the bit of luxury and tell your friends thanks but you've got it covered. There are ways when you're actually on a trip to give and receive gifts without awkwardness, if it comes to that.

TGoF = The Gift of Fear PITA = ?

Pain In The Abuttcheeks.

I don't know if I agree with Carolyn. I have had similar feelings about a woman that I knew who you describe to such a tee I genuinely wondered if it was the same person. I'm happily married and this woman didn't really encroach on my marital territory (although she did overrun my social network). So it wasn't an issue of jealousy in a romantic sense. She just...triggered me. It can be personally offensive to watch a woman use your (male) friends for their affections and also to see her not value other women at all.

Thanks. Like I sez, I have no idea if she has feelings for the guy, only she does. Well, she and anyone who sees her with him, but that's a whole other thing.

But, you're right, someone can get to you viscerally even if you have no personal stake in her actions. 

... To the extent that, when I read the description of this red-flaggy love interest, my brain put a decades-ago name and face on her from my own mental archives. Same thing--couldn't abide the person even when nothing of mine was at stake. 

Hi Carolyn, I got married about a year ago, at age 30. Before that, I lived with my parents for a few years in my 20s to save some money after school. This really helped us relate to each other better as adults, but it also made it very tough for them when I moved back out and later got married. Even though she likes my husband a lot, Mom is always trying to maneuver ways to see me alone, excluding him. Is this normal? By the way, it's not like my husband and I are conjoined at the hip; I visit my parents by myself plenty of the time. I feel like Mom is uncomfortable relating to the married me and doesn't enjoy my company unless I'm alone. Any thoughts? Thanks, your column is awesome.

Thanks muchly.

Have you brought this out into the open with your mom? "I may be reading this wrong, but it appears to me that you're always trying to maneuver ways to see me without Chuckles. Is there something you're not telling me? Please don't be afraid to tell me the truth*."

It might help if you think of any truth as a better outcome than, "Oh, no, everything's fine," which has almost zero productive worth when you've already witnessed an odd pattern in someone's behavior. All you can say to one is, "Okay, I'll take you at your word, but if anything changes let me know"--and see if her way of dealing with you and your husband does in fact change.



*This part will go so much better if you handle gracefully whatever truth she offers up. I mean, the high-percentage answer is that she just misses your company, and your company is something that changes when a spouse is or isn't around.** A bad answer, meanwhile, is a low-percentage chance, but if she does drop some kind of bomb on you, then hold it together, say you need time to process the information and then do just that.

** If things change a little when spouses are around, that's normal. If you change a lot when your spouse is around, then it's time to ask yourself why.

I recently quit after smoking for 10 years. If I can offer any advice to this family it's this: never mention it to her again. Seriously. Every smoker knows smoking is bad for you, but all you will do is make her want to smoke. Your hounding will make her want a cigarette. Your disappointed looks will make her want a cigarette. Your snide comments will make her want a cigarette. My sister recently made a comment about how our road trip would go much faster now that we didn't have to stop for smoke breaks. It made me want a cigarette (but didn't have one). There is absolutely nothing you can do to get her to quit. Nothing. When she's ready to stop, she will and you can support her then. Otherwise, don't mention.

I wish I had a framing feature that would put a little fake-wood-grain border around some posts. Thanks.

Original poster here: I never in a million years would have thought of it like that. Thanks, makes a lot of sense.

No no, thank you.

Broken clock theory says I have one more coming this session.

I totally get both sides of this. But I am in the position to be able to take nice trips and I have one friend who is the perfect travel companion but is broke. I would much rather pay for her than go alone or with someone I don't enjoy as much. It was difficult for her to accept it at first, but I was able to convince her that it's not charity, it's actually me selfishly wanting her company. That completely fixed the dynamic of if being me giving and her taking when it's looked at in that way instead.

Yes, thanks--this answers the first way of weighing it. Or first weigh of waying it. It's less fraught with singles than couples, I suspect, though I'm not sure I can put my finger on why just yet.

It's me. I do think that I probably have feelings for him. At this point our housing situation is essentially like a sexless companion marriage--I have never gotten along with anyone quite so easily or well, down to the particulars like level of messiness tolerable, correct procedure for making a stir-fry, kindness, and musical taste. I'm protective of him for that and also because his mother recently died. I get irritated every time this girl's name comes up (or when she comes by at 11:30pm because she "forgot her umbrella"). I know he loves living with me, but I don't think the feelings are for a couple of reasons. However its' comforting (kind of) to know that those are red flags by any perspective, rather than my own envy.

For her, it's a Jezebrella.

I hope you and he find your way to each other. I also think there might be a middle way to handle this, if you think you can admit she rubs you the wrong way and also admit you're not an unbiased judge without overcommitting to an analysis of either. Planting seeds, leaving breadcrumbs, pick your cliche, would let him think things over, at least.

That said: Chances are something with this girl is going to happen if it hasn't already, so it's okay to decide how much you share based on how much of that information you'd want him to have while involved with her. feh.

Does "Never mention it again" apply to spouses, too? If so, how do I deal with the fact that I hate the way that my wife's breath and clothes smell?

No, it doesn't apply to spouses, because those are fingernails of a different color. (Ew.)

It's your intimacy that your wife is burning, so you have much more say. I would suggest, though, making your response to her smoking a fixed and therefore predictable quantity, i.e., something you needn't re-litigate every time she lights up. Let her know you feel X, and will do Y when Z. Then stick to that, firmly and never meanly, so that it's a matter of her choosing her consequences whenever she chooses to smoke or declines to make an earnest effort to quit.


Carolyn, my 2nd grader is being bullied by a boy in his class and this has been going on since first grade. It's not bad enough to ruin my son's day or school experience (he loves school) nor is he the only target--this kid bullies a lot of the other children (it's all rough housing that ranges from uncomfortable to painful for his targets). We've recently mentioned it to the teacher but I would also like to empower my naturally diffident and non-assertive son with tools/strategies to deal with bullies himself. Particularly, because 1. such type of bullying is a common if unfortunate element of playground and school life and 2. he needs to have the confidence to stand up for himself. Do you have any books on this you would recommend that would be comprehensible to lower elementary school children or would teach me to teach him the tools? Since it's national anti-bullying month, perhaps other people would find it useful too? thank you!

Best I've read on the subject is "Best Friends, Worst Enemies" by Thompson/O'Neill-Grace/Cohen.

It also sounds possible that this "bully" is actually trying to be friends with his classmates but has no idea how. Is he doing this roughhousing in anger? Second grade is a little late in the process for this, but it's not unheard of for a wrassle or a whack in the back to be a kid's idea of saying hello to people he likes--if he's not comfortable yet with the words and gestures of friendship. Of course, if he's roughhousing in anger, then that's something else entirely and the school needs to get on it, fast.

Anyway, read the book, and maybe draw out the teacher a bit more on the other circumstances. The more you understand, the better you can guide your son, since bully-neturalizing can involve a huge range of approaches from full avoidance to full engagement. Once you do know more, I'm a huge fan of role-playing, even if it feels like a trip to Dork Mountain. (I think using the term Dork Mountain was a trip to Dork Mountain. My poor kids.)

That pretty much sums up how I feel about my parents. But given that, how do you know what the appropriate amount of time to spend with them is? I never enjoy myself in their company, but then I feel bad when they ask when I'm going to visit next and I point to some far off date.

It's different for everyone, because location and expectations and tolerance levels can be so different case-by-case.

To find what works for you, I suggest you take out your calendar and plot out days to see your parents. Start with the first possible time you can see them, and ask yourself, Can I take it? If the answer is no, then push it back ... back ... back until your guilt alarm goes off. Then see how long it is betwen your last visit and the planned one, and take that tentatively as your Standing Visit Interval. Then stick to that frequency, see how it goes and tweak as needed. You're really just trying to find the sweet spot between dread and guilt (this whole topic has to have people thinking, "Wow! I can't wait to have my own kids!"), and having a fixed interval and notes on a calendar can keep you from drifting away or dwelling on it too much. 

"Bullying" is making a project out of making a particular target's life miserable, for one's own satisfaction. If this kid is rough and pushy with everyone, it sounds like he may be a bit of a clod, but not a true "bully."

Zackly. Thanks.

Might give you a lot of helpful information and, possibly, influence.

Did this three times myself--the first at the suggestion of their teacher--and didn't regret any of the times, even though the outcome was different for each. The one caveat is that I'd talk to the teacher more fully first. It's really helpful to know the backstory vs. just plunging in. 

Maybe this is a question for the haxfiles. What did your parents do that makes you not like them and not want to see them and dislike their company? As the mom of two young kids, this is the very future I dread. I adore my own parents, even though they weren't perfect, and wish I could see them more, but I live far away. So, what did your parents do, and what do they do now that makes you not want to be around them? I'd love the insight to keep from running off my own kids. My husband is in that boat too - doesn't really like his mom, and that makes me sad. I will be so heartbroken if that is how my kids feel about me when they are grown. I'd love to know if there is some sort of common theme that make so many kids dislike their parents to this extent once they are grown.

This is a GREAT topic for Philes--thank you. It's going up after I sign off, which is in about 2 minutes.

Short answer, from what I witness and read: The fastest way to inspire your kids to force themselves to visit you out of duty alone is to make everything about you. You can do that by neglecting them, by getting too far up in their business, by being capricious with your approval, by not keeping your own needs in perspective and/or in check--and many, many more. 

So, er, good luck! 

You decide how to run your household, but from the moment they're born, they decide who they are. So, love and respect who they are. And cross your fingers.


Thasssit. Thanks everybody, have a great weekend and hope to see you back here next week. I'll post the Philes question within the hour. 

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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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