Carolyn Hax Live: Zilla Snow (Jan. 29)

Jan 29, 2016

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, hope you're all dug out who needed digging out.

Speaking of which, I forgot to mention during last week's Hax Chat: Blizzard Edition--To those expecting babies nine months from a week ago, please consider a name other than Jonas.

Thank youse.


--Jonas's mom


Hi Carolyn (online only please), I live halfway across the country from my family, which is currently experiencing major drama with my youngest sibling. Logically, I know there is nothing I can do about the situation, but hearing about what is going on and hearing the stress in my parents' voices is heartbreaking. I feel so, so alone. It doesn't help that my husband is deployed and while I love where we live, I don't really have any friends here. And it's not like I can solicit my Facebook friends for people who have gone through similar family situations and who can provide comfort and guidance during this time (I think it's comfort I'm looking for most). Any suggestions on how to cope? I run a lot and that helps, but when I'm not running it is hard not to perseverate on the situation. I volunteer locally but am otherwise unemployed and don't have any kids, so I have a lot of time on my hands for perseveration.

One of the most profound things you can do is challenge your underlying thesis here: "Logically I know there is nothing I can do about the situation."

There is always something you can do about any situation. Please make that your baseline truth--not just for now, but for everything you encounter in life. There is always something you can do.

Now, in this case, because you're far away and because your sibling presumably hasn't asked you to step in to help, there's nothing you can do *directly* to fix the situation. But there's a lot you can do for yourself. You can, for starters, look into talking to a therapist. You can expect guidance that's more informed than any mere friend could offer, and in that there's often a great deal of comfort to be found.

You can also recognize that even with running and volunteering, you still have more time on your hands than is good for you, and you can add things to your schedule--a class, a new hobby, a job (part-time, even, and it doesn't have to be on a career path), an expanded volunteer commitment. If you like animals, a pet could do wonders--or if that's not practical, then helping out at a shelter would be a victory of mutual nurturing.

And you can reach out to some friends, chosen and confided in judiciously. Maybe they won't have gone through a similar situation, but does that really disqualify them from providing solace and companionship?

Short version: Let yourself consider exactly the things you've ruled out. So often that's the fastest way out of a rut.

I don't know how that turned into a 15-minute answer--my apologies for the long wait.

Carolyn, My daughter is in college and lives with two other room mates. She and one of the others wants to push the other one out. From what she tells me it is mostly about the other girl's boyfriend. They hate him because he apparently treats the girl awful and makes her cry all the time. They are tired of telling her to dump him only to see him plopped on their couch days later. I see it as an abusive relationship and my heart breaks that they would push her away, but I also get how hard it is to have front row tickets to a show they don't want to watch. What can I tell my daughter? What else if anything could I/should I do? Thank you!

First, I hope you'll advise her to talk to an expert on relationship abuse. Your daughter and the other roommate/bystander both can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-SAFE, or RAINN, 1-800-656-HOPE, explain the situation and ask for suggestions for talking to the other woman.

They can and should also go through the school's channels for reporting relationship abuse on campus. I expect this would go through the Dean of Students' office, but she likely knows exactly what the residential advisory chain is. Colleges and universities are under serious pressure to address this too common, very serious problem on their campuses. It has to start with fellow students like your daughter.

And, last thing for now,these roommates need to figure out whether they have standing to keep this guy out of their apartment. Something else to take up with the school, especially if they don't feel safe with him there.

Other ideas welcome.

Support groups can also be really beneficial since you have the support of people who are going through what you are going through. Lots of groups have support for siblings or family of those affected by mental illness, addiction and physical illnesses! Good luck!

Yes, please go with Snowzilla instead. They'll be the coolest kid in school.

My husband and I are fortunate and have great maternity/paternity leave, which we're splitting. Right now, it's his shift and he's at home with our seven month old and preschooler. My husband is stressed. He's admitted that taking care of small kids is not his thing. He didn't deal well with stress before kids and now he's really, really stressed. He's constantly grumpy, complaining and regularly yells at our preschooler. He won't get counseling for dealing with the stress (he says that would stress him out more), nor, on a practical level, will he accept help at home during the days to take care of the kids while I'm at work. We have five more weeks to go before he goes back to work and I resume my maternity leave shift. I'm at my wits end with worry about the toll his stress is taking on him, our relationship and most importantly, our kids. I'm not sure what I'm asking but I need advice on how we all can survive the next five weeks with our sanity in tact.

Your husband is acting like a petulant, self-centered child.

I have no quarrel with people who lack the skill or temperament to care for small children. It's a difficult, stressful, exhausting and, just for fun, high-stakes job for which not everyone is suited. Forget having a quarrel--I don't think any less of anyone who lacks that skill or temperament.

But when someone unsuited to the job--freely self-identifying as such, even--then refuses to take any steps to remedy the problems that unsuitability creates, then we have a serious problem. 

He can't hire help? Go to a parenting class? Talk to the kids' pediatrician? Make arrangements for interim care so he can go back to work early? Get whatever counseling it takes to stop yelling *regularly* at a *preschooler*? "It would stress me out more"? What a %^&$ coward.

If ever there were a time for a spouse and co-parent to step in on behalf of the children, this is it: He's abusing your kids. "Verbally" is abuse, too--plus, you've got a stressed out caregiver who won't get help. Are you sure it won't cross over into hitting the kids? Desperation changes people. We've seen it ourselves in this forum, first-person, when a stressed-out mom shook her baby when s/he wouldn't sleep. 

So you need to draw the line. More kindly than I have, of course--I'm talking to you. Were I talking to him, I would have a kinder tone but no less firm. So say you're worried about him and the kids, this can't continue as is, then ask: What reinforcements is he willing to call in? Tell him it needs to be done and it is going to be done, and now's his chance to decide which way he gets help for these five weeks (and beyond). If he doesn't choose, then you will have to step in and make the decision.

Because that's what is best and safest for the kids--and what is best for the kids will ultimately be better for him. So ask him what'll it be. If he doesn't decide, then you have to step in. 


Please please please post this. It sounds like this person is a military spouse. 800-342-9647 offers 24/7 free confidential counseling for issues just like these. How to Deal - Please call! The person who answers will locate a counselor that fits your needs and can be via phone, video conferencing in person. Its free and confidential and I hope provides you some relief during this time.

If the LW is unemployed and childless and their spouse is deployed can they go back to visit for an extended period of time to help the family? It would give them peace of mind and be a help to the parents

Good catch, thanks. I thought this myself as I read the Q, but forgot to include it as I got into writing my answer.

I was in a similar boat about 10 years ago, with my younger sibling going through a rough time. Every. single. phone call. with my parents ended up with them talking to me about their worry and stress. It made me a wreck. I think there was a natural inclination to talk to me about it because I was geographically removed from the situation. The problem was that I wasn't emotionally. I finally had to tell them that as much as I wanted to be supportive, I couldn't do it every time.They needed to find another outlet, and they eventually ended up going to therapy themselves to deal with the own stress (sans sister). It's a tricky balance, wanting to be supportive but also needing to take care of yourself.

Excellent point, thank you.

Talking to a confidential on-campus resource will know how to give advice about supporting her roommate and what her specific campus policies and resources are. Just search the college website, try Title IX Coordinator or go through the counseling center. Though she can & should clarify what level of confidentiality is offered and what the school may be required to investigate. There are ways to support the roommate and herself - but leaving an abusive relationship takes time and often many attempts. If they have the roommate's relationship investigated immediately, she may turn away from support, which in the end is what the perpetrator ultimately wants.

Hi Carolyn, When someone tells you something strange about themselves, how long do you give yourself to react? And how do you act around them while you are figuring it out? My husband of ten years recently came out to me as a trans woman. She says she is a lesbian, and wants to stay and make it work. I am trying to be supportive, but I am feeling betrayed and weirded out and I'm pretty sure I'm not a lesbian. When I hide my confusion, she's ecstatically happy to be her real self: when I mention some aspect of my unhappiness, she goes very quiet. I feel sad and alone and confused and I don't know how much of that to let show. I thought I had a best friend, and that we told each other everything, but apparently not. Should I "fake it until I make it", or let myself flinch when she tried to hug me while dressed as a woman, or something in between? Separating is not an option: we have two small children who adore both their parents (and are unconcerned about daddy in a dress).

Please look into the Straight Spouse Network (LINK). You need someone to talk to, and to help you figure out how to be the legitimately difficult combination of shocked, supportive, sad, lonely, loving and confused--put "justifiably" before each, for good measure--all while being a seamless co-parent of young children, as you figure out what to do next.

As for your specific question, you take the time you need--and you say as much to your spouse. "I am not ready for hugs," said kindly, is perfectly fair in a situation like this. She has had a lifetime to process this and only just now has embraced it; you've had just weeks or days. You can say that, too, again with kindness. You can also assure her that you see she is ecstatic to be her real self, and you are supportive of that--it's just that what it means for you is a lot more complicated. So she goes quiet; being supportive doesn't mean it's your job to protect her by not showing any feelings of your own. You can be both thoughtful and real.

This is down the road for you for sure, but you, too, probably need to consider the one thing you ruled out: "Separating is not an option." It may make sense for now. Stability isn't just important for kids; it can also help you think more clearly about your next step. 

But as you say, you're straight, and can't be expected to remain in a marriage now that you realize it is not a hetero one. You can choose to stay, ultimately, of course--but staying is hardly your only option, even as you raise children together. Loving and supporting each other as people and parents means you can do this. Your separate homes can be in the same town, same street, same building. Why not?

I have been the girl your daughter is trying to push out. My roommates junior year of college "dumped" me and said they no longer wanted to live with me. I was compeltely shocked. I realized later it was because I was very unhappy in my relatinship and it was affecting others around me. I thought these girls were my best friends at the time but instead of trying to help me through a hard time they literally kicked me to the curb and became quite cruel during the move out process. Suffice it to say, our friendships also ended, along with my relationship shortly after. Please tell your daugher to be kind in her decision to ask her roommate to leave. She may not realize how much pain the other girl is truly in and losing a friend in the midst of a possibly abusive relationship can be devasting. I mourn the loss of my two friends much more than I did that boyfriend.

The daughter and bystander roommate need to banish the boyfriend not the abused roommate. Tell the boyfriend, without flinching and in front of the abused girl as witness, that said boyfriend is no longer allowed inside their residence, that the school has been notified of his suspected abuse, and that it will not be tolerated or enabled. Demonstrate to the abused roommate just how to stand up to bullies, not how to be one. Abused victims often don't know what that looks or sounds like.

Last week, my sister-in-law dropped by our house unexpectedly. The house was a disaster due to the kids being knee deep in exams. I was in sweats with no make-up or hair done. She said she stopped by because she was in the area to give us a belated Christmas card and her cell phone ran out of batteries so she couldn't call ahead. As she stood in our foyer, soccer ball sized dust bunnies rolled by and bags of stuff destined for charity were underfoot. Furniture was askew and a broken Christmas ornament lay on the rug. I was mortified, but no one else thought it a big deal. My husband thought his sister was rude in coming over unexpectedly, but didn't think he had to impress her so didn't mind the mess. Should we say something to her? My husband said to forget about it.

I'm with your husband. Mulligans all around--she gets one for dropping in unannounced, your husband gets one for not feeling moved to defend your honor, you all get one for the exam-week squalor. Happy Friday.

How do I get my father to enjoy his grandkids? I know he loves them a lot but when we visit he rarely wants to do anything with the group, spends most of the time making sure they don't touch anything they are not supposed to and generally fussing. My boys are 5 and 6 and can get a bit wild but mostly just typical kids that age. After our last visit one of them commented he didn't want to visit anymore because there were too many rules. My mother runs interfereance to the extent she can but that usually just means he goes somewhere the kids are not. He's not mean to the kids and they generally have a great time with the rest of the familiy. My problem is that my parents are both older and I'm not sure how much longer they will be around. I don't want my kids primary memories of their grandfather to be the guy will all the rules who does nothing but lecture them.

You can talk to him, and suggest a few off-site kid-friendly adventures to make it easier for him to enjoy his grands without having to worry about their breaking stuff. Nearby park, children's museum or play gym, trampoline park, an open gym/skate/bounce, bowling alley, all the places you probably count on when the weather keeps you inside. Watch for sensory overload (yes you, Chuck), but otherwise it can work really well, especially if the adults can camp out at a table and the littles can come and go freely, maybe staying a little longer to eat.

If he rejects the ideas outright, then you'll need to point out diplomatically that the "Don't touch!" impulse is reasonable, but also stressing everyone out.

If he resists even that, then, unfortunately, you join the ranks of people who have to revise their expectations of warm grandparental fuzzies downward to reflect reality--and hope the grands are around long enough to enjoy an older version of your kids.

Carolyn - my first instinct in reading your response was " did we get to abuse so quickly." I had to go back and read the question and yes, the LW did write that she "considers it an abusive relationship". But lets consider for a second that the LW is jumping to conclusions. The boyfriend in this situation could just be a total glassbowl and the young woman is upset about the way her boyfriend is treating her. I just think people are way to quick to call out "abuse" and say the roommates are themselves in danger when there is no reason to think that.

Then all the more reason to talk to someone who has the time and training to hear the details, make some sense of them and advise a course of action accordingly. Both the RA system and a hotline would still be a valuable resource.

In conversation and in a forum like this, "abuse" might get used too quickly in a discussion, as you say, but I humbly suggest that the reality of it is otherwise--that people witnessing these situations are way too quick to rationalize away the possibility of abuse, because it's so much easier to say, "S/he is just a glassbowl," "It's none of our business," etc. It's easier for the victims themselves to rationalize, at least in the short-term, because getting way is so hard. I think this is especially true when the abuser is female, since there is so much more of an awareness effort underway to identify male abusers, but it applies to all combinations. 

For anyone unsure of the seriousness of someone's glassbowlery, and whether it rises to the definition of abuse, MOSAIC is an excellent threat-assessment resource from Gavin de Becker's shop: LINK. It is intended for first-person use, but I have found it helpful in undertanding someone else's situation by plugging in what I had witnessed.

Am I betraying my younger siblings by having a functional relationship with the mother who was awful to us when we were younger? Forgiving her for how she's hurt me and redrawing boundaries with her has improved my life immeasurably, but I don't expect anyone else to do the same. But am I hurting my siblings by having a happy relationship with someone who's hurt them? What do I say to my mother if she wonders why they are still mad at her (since I'm not)?

Have you asked them? "I worry that you see it as a slap in the face that I am in touch with our mother. I'm happy to talk about it, if you have any concerns." If you do end up having a conversation about it, be prepared to do more listening than talking--and you definitely don't want to defend your decision in case it gets heated. "I can see why you feel that way." "I will have to think about this." "I hadn't looked at it that way, but I understand now." Acknowledge feelings, postpone answers. Time to think is your strongest ally.

As for what you say to your mother when she asks why the others are still angry, it's just a different side of the same answer: Your siblings are the only ones who can answer that, so you say, "I'm sorry, I can't speak for them."

Carolyn, I was shocked to read the letter from the wife who just learned that her husband is transgender, because I find myself in the exact same situation. I've been trying to keep the marriage together to provide some stability for our kids and give myself time to adjust, but I don't have any better idea what I should do now than when I first found out. As with the letter writer, my husband is thrilled that he's finally found his true self, and just seems to be resentful that my feelings are very different. He thinks that because, inside, he's still the same person I married, I should just be able to adjust to having a marital relationship with a woman. I assumed that we would be married for the rest of our lives, and travel after we retire, and spend time with our grandkids, and.... And now I have panic attacks when I think about getting old alone. I realize lots of people get divorced and are fine, but I'm just blindsided (still! after months of trying to adjust). I tried talking to a therapist, but he didn't have anything to say that I don't already know. He just kept saying that I need to decide whether I want to stay married or not, but he didn't seem to have any insight on how to make that decision or what to do in the meantime. I did not find Straight Spouse Network to be helpful because they don't have in-person meetings near me, and their online group for women of transgender spouses doesn't seem to be active. I haven't been able to find an online support group, so if you know of any others, please let me know. I think what might be hardest is that I can't talk to my husband about this. He seems to completely not understand how devastating this is to me, because for him it's liberating. I feel like I have lost my husband and my best friend at the same time. I'm not sure if there's a question here, but I'd appreciate your thoughts.

I'm so sorry. 

PFLAG might be worth a try; it's a much bigger group and likely has a better-developed help network. (LINK)

As for how to deal with your loneliness in this decision, this jumps out at me:

"He thinks that because, inside, he's still the same person I married, I should just be able to adjust to having a marital relationship with a woman."

I'm surprised he doesn't see the logical fallacy in that. Per his logic, since he's the same inside, shouldn't he be able to adjust to being a man?

He is living proof that gender means something. It can be fluid to a degree, and it's certainly not a fixed entity (as in, all women are This, and all men are That), but it is not exclusively a matter of internal or external expression. It is both. Again, as proven by his own choices.

Now that he has reconciled his formerly conflicted self into someone who is fully female--and good for him, it takes serious courage--you, as a heterosexual woman, have the same entitlement to be unconflicted in your gender and sexuality by being a woman who is not attracted to women, your spouse included.

Not that you need his permission to think this; you don't. You don't even need him to grasp how devastating this is for you, though that would certainly help. At this point it sounds as if what you need most is to get unstuck where you feel stuck. If that is in waiting for your spouse to understand and support you in this transition, then please try on the idea of not waiting anymore for his emotional support and just choosing what you need your next step to be.

For what it's worth, this also got my attention: "I assumed that we would be married for the rest of our lives, and travel after we retire, and spend time with our grandkids, and.... And now I have panic attacks when I think about getting old alone." It wouldn't be an unusual reaction for you to be experiencing some anxiety or depression as a result of all this life disruption. You said you talked to a therapist, but if you didn't specifically get screened for these two conditions, then it might be worth a trip to do so. Watching a future evaporate and then not being able to envision a new one could be not just a bummer, but also a symptom.

Take care and good luck.

Cool, thanks--I'm way behind in my podcasts, so I'll skip ahead.

This situation hit home for me, in a different way. In college (more than 30 years ago), I roomed with three other girls that decided, as a group, that they didn't like me anymore. They actually stood in my bedroom doorway, while they thought I was sleeping, and talked about how much they hated me, and everything they didn't like about me. (I got up, and said next time please do this when I'm not home, and never spoke to any of them again.) The three of them had also decided to move out and not renew the lease...without telling me. This is still painful to think about. All of this to say...people can be extremely cruel, and this kind of abandonment really really hurts...for a long time.

A painful reminder of what people can do, especially when under a group spell. I'm sorry you went through that, and grateful you spoke up.

At one of my grandmother's houses ( I had three) there was a special area with unique toys for my brother and me to play with. It kept us away from the stuff we weren't supposed to touch. I still remember it. We thought it was the greatest. We thought this grandmother was the greatest. She was.

I feel we do a disservice to everyone when we only present a perfect picture. I have a private, large group of friends, and we spent 2 days sharing photos of what our shoe/coat/backpack landing area looks like, as well as the inside of our vehicles full of more kid stuff than kids. Your SIL got a picture of your real life, and your real life is meant to be lived, not ashamed of. Find some close friends, and practice opening up to those you can trust to love you as you are. You might never imagine what a relief it can be!

If I'd seen this earlier, I'd have posted my Shoe Basket.

Awright, that's all I've got. Thanks everyone, 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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