More like a short-story anthology: Carolyn Hax Live (Friday, March 7)

Mar 07, 2014

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.

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Hi everybody.

I don't mean this is a lying about it way, more like you don't tell people at work or anything. It's always felt like attention grabbing, which makes me uncomfortable with announcing it at work or with people who aren't friends/family.

If you don't have a personal connection to the people at work, then it would indeed be weird or attention-grabbing to announce your engagement at work. 

But since so many people make strong, even lifelong personal connections through work, I have a problem with rubber-stamping an engagement announcement as "attention grabbing." Too judgmental. Given the culture of some workplaces, it's completely appropriate to announce--just as it's also appropriate in some cases to share just with colleagues who are genuine friends, and in some to keep your news to yourself unless and until it comes up organically.

On this as with so many things, to each his or her own.

Congratulations, by the way.

I know that you run reader advice and that you don't always agree with it. I'm confused about yesterday's first letter. It's utterly rude and inappropriate to give a widow "permission" to date. And at her late husband's funeral no less! I know that grieving makes people do crazy things, but this writer didn't seem to have any understanding of her behavior. She sounded very boundary-challenged. Any thoughts on why you ran it?

You saw "permission," I saw a blessing--or, maybe a better word, a release. 

Apparently it also didn't offend the widow, because she says they remain close. She also said they chose not to attend the wedding to avoid having the specter of the first husband at the wedding. That seems boundary-sensitive to me.

But, on this as with so many things, to each his or her own.

Nice job on the columns this week. I'm not usually a fan of your vacation columns, but this time the readers had a lot of terrific things to say.

(Like I sez.) Thank you on behalf of the readers responsible for the submissions, since I was just the messenger.

Recently you've run a couple threads about SAHMs and how they're perceived by the world. From what I can tell, everyone seems to fall into one of two camps: 1. those who believe SAHMs sit around eating bonbons all day, and 2. those who insist SAHMs are badly undervalued and are short-order cooks/paramedics/professors worth six-figure salaries. I'm home full-time with my kindergartener, who spends about half the day in school, and my infant. I'm friends with a handful of other SAHMs, and indeed their kvetching about being overworked is nonstop. I find it unsettling, because honestly (and I'm sorry if this outs anyone or hurts the "SAHMs are hardworking wizards" cause) between school hours and the time my older kid spends playing alone, I have quite a bit of free time during the day. We don't have any hired help--I cook, clean, and engage with my children plenty. Yet if something comes on TV and I want to watch it, I can. If I'm ever behind on replying to emails, it's just because I didn't feel like writing them. This unsettles me, because while I do feel that I'm a good mom and that what I do is very important, I also have the sense that there's something I'm missing about what causes others to struggle so much. I worked for nearly two decades before transitioning to my current lifestyle--the former is harder. It just is. My question is, should I assume I'm somehow shortchanging my child if I don't end each day exhausted and praying for relief and recognition? The tone of this question may be coming off a little (or a lot) snarky, but this is a topic that irritates me to no end because I feel like a traitor whenever I acknowledge the truth about my SAHM life.

You're doing just fine by your child; the people you're shortchanging are the stay-at-home moms whose children are not as calm as yours. 

What you're essentially doing is looking through a periscope, and drawing a conclusion about the entire ocean. Look around you sometime at kids not your own, out in the world. The amount of variation in temperament is enormous. You will see, for example, babies who sit peacefully in their car seats as their parents have a conversation, do their shopping, watch an older child's sporting event, etc. Or, toddlers who contentedly play on a blanket with a stack of blocks or a truck or some dolls. Keep looking, though, and you'll see other babies who thrash around in their car seats or strollers and then try to writhe out of their parents' arms when they're picked up, or you'll see toddlers who start running the moment their feet hit the ground or who lose interest in their toys after 5 minutes. Being home with one of those, even amid other children who are calm, is enough to fry a person by lunchtime.

What has me skeptical, though, is that you really need me to explain this. Your conclusion after hearing so many other SAHP's kvetch wasn't, "Whoo, I'm lucky my kids are easygoing"?Instead it was, "get over yourselves, people"? I'm asking because the tone at the beginning of your question seemed to be one of genuine curiosity, but by the end there was a distinct harrumphing sound.

You don't say explicitly that your friends have received your truth-telling badly, but if that is in fact the case, then I suspect it will go better if you do it with the understanding that your experience is both the exception and, to a large degree, a fluke.


Hi Carolyn, I've spent most of my life working towards a certain career. Now, in my senior year of college, I have myself set up exactly where I want to be--accepted to grad school of choice, with employment for when I graduate. This is what I thought I always wanted, and haven't given this plan much thought in a while. Recently, I started thinking about going a very different route. I can see myself in both roles. I think I'd be happy in both roles. It would be very difficult (not impossible, but nearly) to combine both roles. I need to let grad school know by mid May and if I choose that, I'm basically locked in for 15 years (something I was fine with until very recently). If I don't take this offer now, its unlikely that I'll get it again. Other path would involve a lot of serious soul searching, and ultimately end in a life-long commitment. Until recently I was so excited that I had gotten to where I thought I wanted to be, EVERYONE knows! That shouldn't matter, but I'm afraid of disappointing those around me, and I'm afraid of disappointing myself by making the wrong choice. Any words of wisdom? (Vague, I know. I can offer more details if you want them)

Sounds to me as if you need a year or three off. Not necessarily off-off, but off a defined path--which can be anything from waiting tables in an interesting part of the world or joining the Peace Corps or interning for a cause that means something to you or whatever your imagination and finances permit. 

I know this isn't universally applicable, but I do know that many schools would rather have an admitted student defer for a year and come back fully committed than enter right away only to burn out.

Talk to someone in your career counseling office at school, if you have one, and also explore the possibility of deferring your grad school of choice. Give yourself room to breathe. You are just barely an adult and you;ve spent most of your years leading up to this point with a fixed idea of where you wanted to go. Those two things combined have left you very little room to figure out who you really are. I have a bias here for sure, but I believe that the decisions you make after you try on a few different kinds of lives are better than the ones you make from a series of linear steps.

I didn't proof that one. Enjoy.

Think of the flip side - you said that your two-decade career was challenging. What if someone in the same field came to you and said "What are you talking about? That job was effortless and I barely had to pay attention to do well. I had plenty of time for the rest of my life and interests." Would that gnaw at you a bit? Would you consider the possibility that the speaker had had an experience that differed from yours or was lying? Would you go through all the reasons why the situation was different from yours? This is the consideration and kindness you could extend to other SAHMs.

Yes, this, thank you.

I was raised in a Catholic family but knew from roughly the age of 10 that I wasn't a Christian. I was forced to continue participating in church stuff until I left for college. My resulting resentment and lack of faith were points of contention between my mother and me for many years. My spouse and I both eschew organized religion and agreed to raise our kids without trying to indoctrinate them with anything other than love and respect for their fellow humans. My now 5 year old child has gone to mass with my mom on several occasions and has figured out that Grandma believes Jesus was killed on a cross and came back from the dead. With Easter approaching, my child is increasingly asking questions I have a hard time answering in a way that doesn't validate them as fact while also not saying things that if repeated to my relatives - as 5 year olds are prone to do - would not insult their beliefs. My mom and I seem to have reached a truce on the religion front over the last few years and I'm trying to figure out how to balance wanting to be honest with my child without reigniting that battle with my mom who is the most likely person to hear my child's regurgitation of spouse's and my beliefs. Any advice? Resources?

I don't think there's any way you can completely avoid friction on this topic, since you and your mom are not going to agree; since your mom's problem is with the fact of disagreement itself; and since 5-year-olds will be 5-year-olds. 

It might make sense to mitigate things temporarily by pulling back on your child's mass attendance with Grandma until Easter has passed. Reducing exposure is likely to reduce the frequency of the questions--and you can always go back to the usual way of doing things after Easter, and even through Easter in the future as your daughter gets older.

I also recommend the "Some/Many people believe ..." contruct. Answer her questions with that preface, and you'll both give her the information she seeks and make it clear that you're not presenting these things as true. It also lays a foundation of respect for other views, by establishing that there are in fact many different ways to think about such unknowable subjects as what happens after death. 

Naturally you'll get the follow-up question, "What do you believe, Mommmy/Daddy?" But since your mother already knows you don't believe, there will be no surprises there if your daughter runs these tidbits back to Grandma.


You also asked for resources, and I don't have any, say, books in mind (nutterati--do you?), but I suspect there are people in the Unitarian Universalist world who have given this a lot of thought and would be happy to help you find a respectful way to incorporate your mom, your views and your childrearing responsibilities into an approach that won't make your integrity choke.

I agree with Carolyn. When I was about 12, I decided I wanted to be a journalist. I spent the next 10 years working towards that goal-- career shadowing a reporter in my town, writing for the school newspaper, going to a top journalism school-- only to discover in the last half of my senior year of college that I wasn't sure this is what I actually wanted to do with my life. I felt it was too late to back out at that point and had a job lined up for after graduation, so I just went with it... and a year later, I was completely burned out. It had been the wrong choice, but I'd just been to stubborn to admit that I'd been wrong when I was 12. I'm now doing something completely different that luckily still incorporates the skills I learned in school, so my education wasn't a total waste, but I also determined that I'm not a "career" person. I'm a job person who pursues a wide variety of hobbies in her free time and this lifestyle is so much more my speed than the one I thought I wanted as a seventh grader.

Thanks for this. 

It's also possible that life is long and journalism -was- right for you--for about a decade. But then you had gotten out of it all you had wanted, and it was time to move onto something else. Right now, that "something else" is taking in whatever you can of life, financed by a job that doesn't move you but doesn't make you miserable, either.

Following this logic, you might well come to a point in your future where a more "career" like job calls to you, the way journalism called to the 12-year-old you. And you'll decide that you're fine with setting aside some hobby time to make room for that. It might even require the "locked-in" type of training that started this thread, but by that point you'll have had the life experience and the resulting self-knowledge to judge more successfully whether such a commitment makes sense. 

Point being, some lives are less like a novel and more like a short-story anthology, and that's perfectly valid--as long as you follow through on your emotional commitments, like sticking around to raise your kids. 


Hi - I read the live discussions all the time but just wondered for the first time - is there an area here where people are commenting on the discussion itself that other readers can see? I ask b/c Carolyn just asked the 'nuterati' for comments /suggestions about a certain resource. Does she mean write and tell her or is there a 2nd discussion of comments by people who are reading this live as well? hope that makes sense.

During the chat, she means use the Submit Your Question box to write in. After the chat, comments do open up on this page though, and the discussion usually continues there for people who are reading it after the fact (or who just want to keep talking about the issues raised).

Dear Carolyn, Longtime reader, first time asker! My friend Kate and I have known each other for years and have kids around the same age. After essentially growing up together, Kate's 17-year-old son (a few months shy of 18) and my 15-year-old daughter (turns 16 in two weeks) have suddenly become interested in each other romantically and have been on a few dates. Kate's son is a great young man whom I love like a nephew, and yet I am not comfortable with this pairing for a number of reasons (age, maturity levels, potential for damage to Kate's and my relationship). Kate, on the other hand, thinks it's the cutest thing ever and encourages it actively. Part of that is probably because the risks of irresponsible dating are greater for a girl. What should I do, absolutely nothing? I was hoping Kate would be my ally in encouraging the kids to date other people, but no dice.


18 and 16 do not a scary age gap make. They will be 17-16 for a time, even. 

And, they're dating after getting to know each other with a thoroughness almost impossible to find in the wild. The "encouraging the kids to date other people" that you endorse, on the other hand, would be more likely to lead to pairings based on looks or chemisty vs. knowledge of each other and compatibility, which in turn are more likely to earn the "irresponsible dating" badge.

I'm not a big fan of "encouraging it actively" when it comes to kids' romances or even friendships, because it creates boundary problems; kids need room to figure out most of their relationships themseves, with gentle, backstage guidance from parents who at least try to be objective. 

And I also get that a relationship between your kids could present challenges for the friendship between you and Kate.

But this thing is happening, whether you want it to or not--and so making any attempt to stop it is just going to backfire on you, possibly hurting your friendship with Kate more than the romance itself would have, certainly damaging your relationship with your daughter, and most likely having the ironic effect of throwing gas on their romantic fire.

He's a boy your daughter likes, he's within a non-alarming age range and there's a good chance she chose him for all the reasons you'd want your kid to fall for someone. Treat him and the romance as you would any other--by which I mean, I hope, that you'll give them warmth, reasonable limits and whatever leeway their character, choices, ages and maturity warrant. 

As in--let go, Mama, let go.

I don't disagree with you, Carolyn, just want to play devil's advocate and mention the flip side of your advice. I sometimes feel like this idea of taking time to "explore" post-college is kind of a luxury of the pre-recession days when careers were plenty. Now, a year (or ten) of peace corps/bartending/perpetual interning/being generally underemployed and underpaid is kind of forced upon those of us who have graduated in recent years. I know many of us would look at the opportunity of having a defined and stable career path for the next 15 years with envy. Not to say that sticking with it the right choice for this person. Just to be a realist about what the actual alternative might turn out to be.

Fair enough. The recession angle, though, works on both sides. Just as the exploring years are lasting way longer than people want them to last, the handcuffs of a defined path are staying on (and chafing) longer, too.

Mostly what I see is that people's loans for their specialized schooling are outlasting their interest in that particular career field--but the recession had other ill effects, too, like making a career change after those 15 secure years much more daunting than it used to be. Being middle age and trying to start over is one of the toughest spots to be in right now, so anyone who suspects there's a do-over coming at the end of the 15-year commitment might be better off waiting and making a commitment that has a better chance of holding up. 

It's a difficult choice to make in the best of economic times.

Proud UU here! I enjoyed this link: Particularly this quote: "Perhaps you will have to admit to your children that this is a mystery; that people have been trying to make sense of life and death for a very long time. Tell them that Easter is about life: about life coming from eggs, from seeds, from mommies and daddies, and in all sorts of stories. Tell them that mystery is exciting; that what they feel in their hearts is precious; that what they think is important and that they can think and feel about life and be glad."

Now I want to run in a meadow like Julie Andrews at the beginning of "The Sound of Music."

It's more important to be honest with your child than avoid conflict with your mother. Kids pick up on evasiveness. I think it feels like shaky ground - not solid. Better to say that you need to think about your answer than to give an evasive answer. But you'll still need to answer, later. : - )

Right, agreed that the daughter relationship trumps the mother one. 

"Some/Many people believe ..." isn't an evasive answer, though, it's fact. It can even be, "Grandma believes ...," or, "The Catholic Church's position is ..." to make it sound less evasive.

Bunch of posts on kids and explaining religion:

I raise my children to respect all religions or lack thereof. I highly suggest you read "Raising Freethinkers." It is excellent.

Though it would probably be too advanced for a five-year-old, as a kid I read and re-read a book called "My Friends' Beliefs" ( It gave me my first exposure to the Jewish and Muslim faiths through profiles of young people in these faiths, alongside similar treatment of a girl like me who attended a church similar to mine. Although my Protestant parents were open-minded, they weren't equipped to give me objective explanations of other faiths, and this book (a gift from a family friend) stepped in to fill the "some people believe..." gap. I credit it with forming the foundation of what I believe as an adult: that religious identity and religious communities, whatever they happen to be, have value in and of themselves that are independent of literal belief in your religious text of choice. Which is a nuance that the five-year-old (if not her parent) may be able to grasp when she's older.

I'm an atheist. I use the "Some people believe..." when explaining holidays and other religious beliefs to my children. The OP was concerned that his 5 y.o. may repeat things that would insult his/her relatives' beliefs. If those relatives are intolerant of the OP's stance on religion, then they are already insulted. So OP doesn't have anything to lose as long as his/her explanations to his/her child are civil and thoughtful. There is the risk that the relatives will tell the 5 y.o that the OP and spouse have crazy ideas, but that's another "teachable moment" on tolerance.

I haven't read them, but Dale McGowan's books - "Raising Freethinkers" and "Parenting Beyond Belief" - come highly recommended, from what I've heard.

The OP may want to check out this site:

We told our children stories---the story of Easter, the story of Passover, various creation stories etc. You can tell stories rich with important details (as part of cultural literacy) without saying that you yourself believe them, and you can draw out themes that show up across traditions.

Thanks moochly.

Put it this way: if you wanted to be able to vet (or get the skinny on) any of your daughter's beaus, is there anyone who you'd have more info on than Kate's son? As far as "the risks of irresponsible dating" go, is her dating Kate's son any worse than dating a boy you don't know?

Right, thx.

I'm in the process of making a major career shift myself: leaving my only job since college, which I've been at for nearly a decade, to finish law school and change fields. There are personal reasons involved, but also the realization that this is my only chance. If I finish school and dislike the new field I can go back to this after a year, but it will be much harder to change fields I graduate and stay in this field as an attorney. My first point for OP, though, is that I didn't mull over this by myself: I talked to my family and other mentor figures, I talked with my therapist (god I love therapy), and I met with the career counselor at my school to see if this was an idiotic decision. To my surprise, everyone has been hugely supportive. My second point is that one decision does not erase the second opportunity. I'm in school part time, and I am one of the youngest people in my class. Men and women in their 40s and even 50s have decided to finally pursue something that they've always wanted to do - for a few, this is even a third career. Unless OP is in their 70s, it is highly unlikely that they will never have a chance to change course. If they're set on moving forward rather than taking a year (or, um, nearly a decade) off, they're not losing the power to make a choice. For me it's a completely terrifying choice, but it's a choice that anyone can make.

Nice perspective, thanks.

When is it okay for one spouse to overrule the other? My spouse and I are at a stalemate over where to send our child to school next year. Both of us recognize that it's not fair for one of us to unilaterally make parenting decisions like this. And yet - we can't seem to come to an agreement that we're both comfortable with. I feel like you've addressed this before...situations where it is appropriate for one spouse to veto the other, so I'm hoping you can recap your thoughts. Or give us some new ways to approach this decision. We both want to reach an agreement everyone is happy with. (Online only, please.)

Need deets--age of child, difference between the two schools, baseline philosophy driving your view and spouse's. 

I know you want a general answer, but a specific one will be more useful.

General answer anyway: Both of you need to figure out what you believe your child will gain or lose with each choice. Then you need to decide how consequential these things will likely be for your child. Then you see if one of you has a stronger opinion of or argument for the potential consequences.

If one feels more strongly, then that person wins. 

If both of you feel strongly, then you both need to consider a couple of things: 1. that it's probably a difference you knew was there all along between you, so maybe your old way(s) of dealing with it would work here; 2. that if you haven't dealt with it, then this is about you vs. spouse more than it is about school vs. school, most likely, and so resolving the former will likely make the latter decision easier (or just less charged); 3. Unless your choice is between St. Heaven's School and Hellfire Academy, your kid will probably emerge just fine from either place. I know how hard this is to do, but still try to imagine looking back on this decision 20 years from now. Will it matter one whit? Two whits?

Now imagine a power struggle between you and Spouse. And don't bother imagining it--20 years from now, that will matter many whits to your child.

Hope you enjoyed your vacation, you were missed, but you deserve it. Anyway, my question. The woman I have been with for 8 years and love and plan to spend the rest of my life with, has some real issues with her own appearance that I don't understand. The "ugh, I'm so fat" thing is just the surface. I tend to reflexively assure her when she devolves into the woe is me stuff, but find her saying that doesn't help at all. Then if i ignore the woe is me stuff, she just seems to wallow until I assure her, and she tells me it doesn't help, but it then stops for awhile. Other than apologizing profusely for the message our society sends to young women, I don't think there is much more I can do. It's not like it's all the time, it borders on rare, but is there anything I can say or do to help her? Or is just letting her let it out the right plan? It just feels like I'm in a no win situation.

Thanks for the kind words.

I'm sorry to do this in back-to-back answers, but how often is "rare"? It matters.

If it's only, say, a few times a year, then I suggest you just figure out a way to get through it (never underestimate the power of kind words and sincerity) and take it as, let's call it a tidal thing--stuff just wells up when the seasons and the moon are a certain way, and this is the way she reacts, and then it passes.

If it's more frequent, like once a month ... well, specifically once a month-ish, then it could be hormonal. 

But if it's more frequent and not easily explained away, then it's time to draw her out about it: "I'm never sure what to say, and I don't know why you do this to yourself. I love you. I love how you look. My love is not pegged to how you look.

"But I also don't think my saying these things really helps you. Can you think of anything that might help?" 

If she's receptive, you can be more specific, such as: "Is it just a feeling that passes, or do you always feel this way but only say something every once in a while?"

Not that there's an easy solution either way--asking is just a way of nudging her to think about it more broadly than "I'm so fat," and also to show her that you're at a place of concern between "Come on, nothing's wrong with you," and, "What's -wrong- with you?" Shaky self-confidence is a tough problem to solve, but this tells her you're ready when she is to start.

Ah, but what's the KID's preference?

Kid could be 4. Thus the need for details.

I have kids, both boys and girls, and I don't understand how the risks of irresponsible dating are significantly different for a boy than a girl. Yes, the girl can get pregnant. But I hope to raise two genders of children to make sound decisions for themselves, and I would be as concerned about a young son impregnating his girlfriend as I would if I were the girl's mother. Of all of the double standards, this one galls me the most.

I hear you. 

Often it's the fear of the effects of being held to a double standard ... which of course helps perpetuate the double standard.

Thanks for these responses about the person worried about how much she's invested in her career. We live in an area where specialized magnet schools are all the rage and my son got accepted to two for high school. One has a criminal justice specialty, and at 14, he wants to be an FBI agent. I've hesitated to accept this, because I know in my heart what he wants at 14 isn't what he will grow up to be, and seems like we're pigeonholing him at too early an age. Thanks to these letters, I am more confident in saying no and letting him attend our local school and take whatever electives interest him each year.

I appreciate that you got some clarity for your situation. I do think, though, that no one approach serves every kid. Just using your example, I can see a kid who otherwise would flounder through a more traditional high school be completely inspired by what a criminal-justice program has to offer. 

I'd also rather be the parent of a 28-year-old FBI agent mulling a career change than a 28-year-old still trying to overcome the effects of  half-assing and pot-smoking his way through a high school that alienated and bored him to tears.

Knowing your kid beats any educational philosophy. It's not even a contest.

IIIIIIII dunno. It's sweet when my boyfriend tells me my thighs aren't big, but... they ARE. They just are. And often I'm stating it much more matter-of-factly than he realizes and don't NEED him to convince me that the fact isn't so. Sometimes it's just "Oh these pants don't suit my thighs" and hearing "sure they do because you're BEAUTIFUL" is...sweet, I guess...but more annoying after a while. I mean, I've had boyfriends argue my bra-size with me, and I've never minded my little girls! So whether the lady-love is truly insecure or not, I just don't think it's the OP's job to build her up. I can't imagine it benefiting anyone long-term.

It is -your- job, though, to say to your boyfriend: "It's sweet when you say that, but I'm stating this much more matter-of-factly than you realize. These pants actually don't suit my thighs--so I'll get another pair that will. I'm okay!"

Had the woman in question said that, I doubt Happy Friday! would have had to write in.

I know I'm almost at the finish line, but I'm flagging--please pardon a brief coffee-fetching break.

Hi Carolyn, I'm dating a divorced father of a 7-year-old daughter. We have been together for about 10 months, have exchanged "I love yous," have even talked about moving in together, I have met his parents, and yet he has never invited me to meet his daughter, the most important person in his life. Believe me, I have tried to facilitate this myself. I've invited him to bring her along to kid-friendly outings. I bought her gifts for Christmas and her birthday and sent them via my boyfriend. There's always some excuse why she is not available to come along when we're going out. I have asked him point-blank, and he always just says, "You'll meet her really soon." At this point, my best guess is that his ex-wife is intentionally getting in the way of my interacting with her little girl. So what do I do, jus tkeep being patient? I'm starting to worry that this means he isn't as serious about me as I am about him. After all, actions speak louder than words...

"You'll meet her really soon": That's not an aswer. That's a deflection.

And any talk of moving in with someone when you're still at the deflections stage--on any topic, but especially on something so significant as his child--is wildly premature. 

You have two choices here. 1. You  speak up fully now: "You haven't answered me about your daughter--you've deflected. I don't have to meet her tomorrow. But before we talk about things like moving in together, I do have to know you trust me enough to share your reasoning with me."

Or 2. You recognize that you're not planning a future, you're dating, and you need to date some more before you get to the future part.

He has a young child; if he takes that responsibility seriously, then he does need to move more slowly than he's moving now.

My advice on cohabitating, for example, is to save it for when you've reached the point with someone--mutually--of seeing it as a life commitment. When there's a child involved, that standard makes all the more sense. Learn about each other, learn to communicate--then worry about meeting kids, negotiating exes and changing addresses. And don't expect to be part of her life until he's sure you're going to remain part of his. (Though he's the one who needs to be telling you this.)

Thanks so much for taking my question. Our son is only three, but we live in a state that offers full-day pre-K,which he'll be eligible next year when he's four. Our debate is a little more complicated than deciding between school A or B. It's whether we keep him in the private, half-day preschool where he currently is for another year or enter the lottery to try to get a spot in a state-funded pre-K program. I'm in favor of keeping him where he is - because it's convenient for us and because, on principle, I think 9 am - 12 pm is enough school for a four-year old. I'm a stay at home mom, and don't need a full-day option. (The full-day schedule is actually far less convenient for me because we have a younger son who would be in a different schedule, so I'd have two different drop off times and two different pick up times.) I'm not in a particular hurry for my son to go to school full day, and I think there are a lot of benefits to his having unstructured time. My husband doesn't disagree with any of this, but thinks we need to do everything we can to increase our chances of getting into this school (it's a pre-K through 8th grade school in our neighborhood that we both like a lot.) If he gets a pre-K spot, then he's in for good. And so is our younger son because siblings get preference. We can forgo the pre-K thing altogether and just try the lottery for kindergarten, but he pre-K lottery gives us the best odds of getting in. (And yes, all of this is about a lottery, so we may not even get a spot. I just feel strongly that we shouldn't even bother with the lottery if I KNOW I don't want to send him.) So...that is probably way more than you wanted to know, but that is our situation. My husband and I are used to being on the same page with the big parenting stuff. We don't want a power struggle. I don't want to just tell him "No, we aren't doing this" because I don't think that's any more fair than if he told me, unequivocally, "yes, we are doing this."

This is, actually and perversely, not way more information than I needed, because it proves so well how complicated these things can get, and how two people who usually agree can disagree starkly, and how general answers just aren't useful.

Except the part about looking back after 20 years. This will be small taters by then.

I suggest you talk to parents of older kids. I'm looking at your description and thinking, "GAH, get the space in the good school!" because you're possibly chucking 10 years (x 2 kids) to preserve your preference for just this one. And because I've been in a similar spot and opted for the better-for-now choice and it did cost me the better-later choice.

In fact--when the choice is short view vs. long view--as yours arguably is--then long view wins. It could be that simple. I say "arguably" because someone  could also easily argue that the home-time with a parent will help more long-term than this school, but that's something for you and your husband to discuss. 

But since you might not win the lottery anyway, it does seem to make sense to try; it could all be moot when your son's name isn't drawn. (You could also pick your son up early, when you pick up the other one, no? Pre-K is generally looser than K and up.)

Ive had an eating disorder for a lonnnnng time. Hated my body since before the eating disorder. Never happy with it whether thin, fat, purging, non purging, etc. But I am married to a man who thinks I am beautiful and one of the things I realized is that everytime I dismiss a compliment or reassurance by him it's like Im telling him he is vision impaired or an idiot or has bad taste in women. It's an insult and hurt him and I didn't even know I was doing it and Im glad he let me know (sorry for that last run-on)

No need to be sorry--your point is perfectly clear, and excellent, thanks.

You're probably right that what he wants at 14 won't be what he wants at 23 or 33. But that doesn't make what he learns along the way a waste. I went after a specific career field from middle school until my mid-20s, when I realized I was unhappy and made a big career shift. It look time to re-establish, but I use skills from my old career every_single_day and in every job/position I've held since. Look at it not just from a career-track view - beyond a career, what would this place offer him? Would it be enough to make it worth it, regardless of the career he goes after?

Yep, thanks. Again--would it inspire him? That makes the learning go by almost unnoticed. I liken it to sports, or dance, or [kid-friendly activity here]: Kids learn about hard work/deferred gratification, cooperation, overcoming frustration, etc., without even knowing they're doing it because their hearts are in it. And a person who knows how to work hard and overcome frustration can learn just about anything else. 

1. That guy sounds like a gem for being so concerned! Hope Mrs. Friday-to-Be appreciates him. 2. My mom runs herself down a lot, and it's so sad to hear. I suspect that she has, over the years, trained my dad out of the habit of giving compliments ("That looks nice." "Ugh, you think so? The hem is all wrong and I'm so fat anyway."). It's a terrible cycle, because now he doesn't bother with giving them and she has lost what should be a really reliable source of positive feedback. Please don't do this, ladies! When someone compliments you, the best response is a simple thank you! As adults, my sister and I have both tried to break this cycle of running down our own looks. It's not impossible, but it's tough.

Another good thought on this, thank you.

That's it for today. I hope I didn't leave any threads hanging, it feels a bit as if I did. Anyway, if you'd like to nominate a chat name, go for it, and also a topic you'd like me or Jess to post to Philes. 

Otherwise, thanks for coming, have a splendiferous weekend (been a while on that one) and I'll type to you here next week, unless the unending winter inspires me to move to Baja and open a fish taco stand. 

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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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