Carolyn Hax Live: Can we be friends? (January 27)

Jan 27, 2017

Advice columnist Carolyn Hax chats live every Friday at noon to answer any questions you might have about this strange train we call life.

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Hi everybody, happy Friday.

Dear Carolyn, my husband and I have different parenting styles, and each style is perfectly fine by itself. But when we are both trying to parent at the same time, the styles clash. The kid ends up getting buffeted (blown about, not smorgasbord-ed) by words and different requests or imperatives. Do we just take turns directing an activity, or should one of us shut up, or do we need to take parenting classes? Note that this is never violent or argumentative, just annoying to the other parent (and probably the kid).

Given the stipulations that each method is fine by itself and that the kids are suffering from the clash, I think the real question is, why not take parenting classes?

There's also an element to this that each of you needs to work on separately, and that's having the grace and maturity to "lose" in a few of these clashes. The way you present it--"take turns"--is the same idea, but it needs to be more than just a surface interaction like the possession arrow in basketball. Maintaining your "way" vs. the other parent's "way," in the moment, knowing either way is truly fine, as kids are noticeably torn between you, it at its essence an ego thing. Neither parent can afford to serve ego above partnership or children's well-being.

If instead you truly thought your co-parent's way was wrong, then this would be about principle and child health vs. ego ... but then you'd still need to start at a good parenting class--and counseling with a good MFT.

If there isn't a good class near you, then check out PEP, which is moving some classes online: LINK


Thank you for modeling good self-care, and taking the time you need to deal with your stuff.

Thank you, but this one was just a regular vacation, connected to a kid's four-day hockey trip earlier this month.

I guess that's part of self-care though? Hard to tell the difference sometimes between having a normal life and actively keeping the crazy at bay.

Either way, I appreciate your generosity.

I have a relative whom I genuinely love, despite our very different views on politics. That's never been a problem. However, he is now considering running for public office in our community. If he does, how do I handle it? The honest truth is I think his political views are not just a run-of-the-mill difference of opinion but views that would be dangerous to our society if they were implemented. Should I decline to support him? Actively campaign for his opponent?

There's no right answer here, there's only your conscience. It has to decide where "the better angels of [your] nature" are more wisely deployed--serving the interests of your community or your family.

I don't envy you, certainly, in such an emotionally challenging decision, but I suspect when you take a hard look at these two choices, stripped down this way, the right one for you will seem obvious. Good luck.

Hi Carolyn, I think I may have an undiagnosed case of anxiety. I often have panic attacks that seem to begin on when some fears I have are triggered. My spouse says that I have a tendency to rationalize my fears (which he believes are unreasonable) whenever I begin to spiral down a deep black hole of fear. I'm not sure what to do. I've noticed that I become quite distressed when confronted with situations that I cannot control and try to overcompensate by trying to control whatever I can. I barely even leave the house now. Can you recommend some reading to help me deal with this? I can't afford therapy right now but I'm tired of crying and being afraid of everything.

I'm so sorry.

I'm drawing a blank at the moment on reading, and will post anything readers suggest, but I'm not encouraging that as the best option anyway. You say you can't afford therapy, but you're in crisis and I think it's worth it to try to find someone who will accept you as a patient on a no-fee or sliding-fee basis. If either you or your spouse works, then see whether you're covered by an Employee Assistance Plan. See if your local hospital(s) or med schools offer a clinic. Check with the American Psychological Association and AAMFT to see if there are providers locally who offer reduced-cost treatment. This is a tall order while you're feeling anxious, so ask your spouse to do the search for you.

In the meantime: If you have the ability to watch video at home, then you have access to instruction in yoga and meditation. These can bring immediate stress-reduction benefits, to the extent it's almost shocking--you can feel muscles start to unclench. Certainly it's better as a beginner to have someone work with you in person, but if you stick to the very-beginner videos then you might reap enough benefits to get you out the door to a class.

I also think your spouse can help you by training himself in "reflective listening" (also something he can do online, though again it would be better for him to work with a therapist for a session or two). RL is a way to validate someone through listening--vs. negating, which is what he does when he says, in a presumably well-meaning way, that you're rationalizing--that also encourages you to talk your way to what's really bothering you, and therefore to a calmer state.

Take care and please check back in next week, if you think of it, to let us know how you're doing.


Dear Carolyn, Love the Chat! I know you've posted about this topic but it all escapes me now. My mom has stage 4 cancer and I'm grieving already...what to do I? I know you say one day at a time, but my heart is broken and I don't think I'll ever recover. To put the cherry on the sundae, I'm in my late 30s and very single with no children or family to speak of...I thought I had another 20 years with my mom. This is breaking do I go on? I'm seeing a therapist but nothing will ever make sense again.

It will make sense again, I swear.

Or, it'll never make sense and you'll look back and realize nothing ever made sense to begin with, it was all just an illusion. Which is actually not as dark a sentiment as you might think. Losing someone so central to your life and soul simply changes everything--it's a profound and permanent shift. But as someone who has lived it (in ways similar to your experience now, just mid-30s, separated, no kids, realizing those 20 years I had counted on wouldn't happen), I'm comfortable saying that it's better on the other side in every conceivable way besides my mom's absence. Going through it made me less self-conscious, less competitive, stronger, kinder ... or maybe just less mean, more aware of my faults, less inclined to wield those faults against others, better at using my time on things that matter to me, better at recognizing my good fortune, more patient with other people and their faults, more able to laugh/point at myself and call BS when my behavior at the moment undermines everything I just typed about myself just now.

The "making sense" stuff you counted on before will seem in retrospect like a history of going through the motions because you just expected to, vs. made a carefully considered choice to.

I don't know why it takes having our guts ripped out for some of these things to make sense all of a sudden (and to those who achieve more compassionate self-awareness without it, you have my deepest admiration), but that's often the case, and so it's on us to find our way through the wreckage and to this other side.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Right now you have important enough work in just spending all the time you can with your mom, and crying out what you need to cry out. It really is okay not to get more ambitious than that. I just spelled out the other stuff for you to put in the back of your mind as something that's waiting for  you when you're ready, something to keep you moving through your more difficult days. You're feeling broken now and you're supposed to, but you will also mend when you're ready to. Not into the person you used to be, but the person you're meant to be, the one who can look at the same view as always but see twice what you saw there before. 

Dear Carolyn, Our only son got married a while back. It was 18 months between their engagement and the wedding. During that time, we never heard from the bride's parents, who were hosting the wedding. No contact whatsoever. We were allowed to invite only 2 people out of 120 guests. We hosted a rehearsal dinner for 60-- it ran into high 4 figures, cost-wise. Not complaining, we love our son. However, we are still having trouble getting over our disappointment and hurt at having been excluded. We weren't introduced to most of the people there nor included in any of the other pre-wedding events. It's too late for a re-do but how do we move forward?

That's cold and odd. How's your communication with your son? Both historically and now that he's married?

For budget purposes, my fiancée and I are having an adult only wedding. However, because they are close to my fiancée and she can't imagine them not being there, we are inviting two of her nieces, ages 9 and 12, and a 13 year old cousin. This going to blow up in our faces?

Well, some people might get pissy about it, but as long as you're prepared for that, then you're free to make and bend rules as you see fit.

For purposes of appearances, you might want to give the kids ceremonial roles in the wedding. That can "explain" without explaining why exceptions were made in these cases.

My husband decided the kids (2 preschoolers, 1 elementary-age) should have no screen time in the morning. That would be fine, except that I get up much earlier than he does (we both work), and I am up generally at the same time the kids get up. At any given time, I have 1 or 2 kids dancing around me in the bathroom, begging me to watch them do X or help them do Y. When they had screen time in the mornings (after getting dressed, etc) I was free to get ready in peace. I've asked my husband a few times to start getting up earlier to help me with the kids and he said he would, but hasn't. You think I'm ok to let the kids have screen time again in the morning? Or should I just learn to ignore the kids, as my husband had advised me to do? My husband will be angry about allowing screen time again.

Oh this drives me nuts. One parent making a rule unilaterally that makes life harder *only* for the other parent has a lot of stinkin nerve.

So say this to him. Suggest that he either get up earlier or pick a different battle on the screen time thing, because what he's doing is disrespectful of your equal say in how you two raise your kids.

One of those different battles can be to implement, *together,* something else for the kids to do in the morning--a toy or game they love that's available to them only in that morning time, or age-appropriate morning chores they can do, with his supervision at first but eventually on their own so he can sleep in. Or book time, with a carrot of some sort as incentive. Etc. Or you just compromise on an educational use of that screen time.

Whatever it is, it needs to be something both of you agree on, vs. a tax that he levies and only you have to pay.

I love your column! Is there any hope that you'll set up as a subscription, so we could receive your daily column via email instead of having to go to the WP site on the computer? Then I could check it more easily on my phone!

Hey there -- Chat producer here. You can subscribe to Carolyn's newsletter by click this link. Thanks for asking!

How can you tell the difference between settling and making a good, logical decision? I'm thinking of this in terms of a romantic relationship. Good human who I love and loves me, but no "spark" or that feeling of being "in love" on my end. Feeling pressured because of age (wanting to experience pregnancy before it's too late) to make the logical decision. But feeling sad I might never experience the high of being in love again (even if short lived). If I were 25, I would move on, but in my late 30's, with a shrinking pool of availability, I feels lucky to have met someone that I care about, even if it's not butterflies (Which I know go away, but would be nice to have even for a short time period). I don't want to sacrifice not having a family because I'm waiting on a fairy tale. But I don't want to sacrifice being in love out of fear.

If he knew you'd be marrying him just to have a baby, would he still want to marry you? How would you feel if he were saying this himself right now--that only the possibility of kids is keeping him there and if he were 25 he'd take a pass on you, because you're lovely but meh?

I don't know that we can even get to your question without first answering the moral question presented by your ulterior motive for marrying him. I'm sorry.

Plus, once you have this baby, then what?

Or if you're unable to get pregnant, then what?

Or if he becomes ill and dependent on you, then what?

Or if you marry him and get pregnant and fall butt-over-handlebars in love with the guy who moves in down the street, then what?

I don't think it's ever a good idea to marry someone unless you're eager to share the rest of your life with that person. Whatever form that life may take.

It seems unlikely that you could singlehandedly prevent your relative from winning office. On the other hand you could certainly singlehandedly permanently poison your relationship with this person.

My parents were slightly worse in that there was an ego at stake for one of them. It got to the point that one would deliberately issue contradictory directives to get under the other one's skin. By the time I was a teenager, I learned to play them off each other so well that neither one noticed I had regular sleepovers with my best friend on school nights and I got to hide other bad behavior. Please do deal with this soon or your kids will play you like a full symphony.

Thoughts and Feelings by Matthew McKay et al. It was actually used as a textbook in my counseling program, but it is written as a self-help, and available in most bookstores. Also, just remember that all of these things take a lot of practice to change, since you are so well practiced at the anxiety pathways of thinking. And please, please, please see (or have your husband see) if any of the counseling options are available. There are usually some avenues to affordable sessions, and a practiced guide will help enormously.

Did your team win the hockey game?

Lost in the final ... but got to the final in a shootout! Big highs, big lows, big drama, with the stakes fixed at virtually nil. Kid sports can be so much fun if you squint hard enough to blur the people who take it way too seriously.

Easy solution - put the kids in the bedroom where your hubby is sleeping. Lock the door, from the otuside

Can we be friends?

My heart goes out to you. As soon as your mum can, consider getting hospice - they are great with quality of life for you mom and also the nurses are wonderful supports - for your mom and you. Get help with everything you can. You don't mention your community - who can you rely on? Who are you best friends to whom you can rail? Who will bring you gin a midnight? What can you do to take care of yourself - massages? walks? baking? meditation? I know you want to spend time with your mum, but in order to make the most of that, you have to recharge. Consider reading Atul Gawande's Being Mortal.

Yes to all of these, thank you. Hospice is clutch, and not just for when you're looking at X time to live.

And everyone should read "Being Mortal." 



That's it for today. Thanks everyone for stopping by and for your questions and comments. Have a great weekend and type to you here next week. 

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Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997 as a weekly feature for The Washington Post, accompanied by the work of "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis. The column has since gone daily and into syndication, where it appears in over 200 newspapers. Carolyn joined The Post in 1992 as a copy editor in Style, and became a news editor before turning to writing full-time. She is the author of "Tell Me About It" (Miramax, 2001), and the host of a live online discussion on Fridays at noon on She lives in New England with her husband and their three boys.

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