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Carolyn Hax Live (February 17)

Feb 17, 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 morning. Sorry for the last-minute schedule change.

I realize this is a problem inherent in hearing only from one side of any issue, but I wonder if the husband in today's column was saying the same thing you did. When I first read the letter, he sounded like what you said: a disengaged bystander. But your response nicely articulated why it was important for the wife to stand up for herself (at least initially) and then I realized there was another way to read the husband. Maybe he did have an epiphany about the inappropriateness of his parents, cheer his wife's realization that she could put words to it, and encourage her to use them (at least initially). The wife is basing her request that he speak to his parents on the (normally understandable) perspective that, as you affirmed, the communication path is usually spouse to his/her own parents. She (again understandably) wants that affirmation to take back to her husband. Either way, whether he was actually dismissive or actually said the same thing you did, I hope she takes your advice to heart. Learning to stand up for ourselves is a skill that reverberates. I also hope her husband stands ready to support her because it's not an easy skill to master later in life.

Thanks, I like this perspective, thanks.

What I was looking for but didn't see in the (admittedly brief) letter  was some indication of support from the husband. Had he said, for example, that standing up for herself here would be much more effective--but of course he'd stand up for her when appropriate and back her up as needed--then I'd get the sense the husband was taking the same position I did.

You're right that the letter might have been slanted to serve the LW's argument, but I do hope that something as basic as, "He said he'd back me up but that I should take the lead," wasn't too hard to say, even by someone looking for sympathy or her preferred answer. 

Dear Carolyn, My son and daughter-in-law just had a baby, our first grandchild. Baby is doing well, which is wonderful. The issue I have is that a lot seems to have changed since when my kids were babies, and it's hard for me to keep up. I formula fed my kids and that worked out fine for everybody, but my daughter-in-law insists on nursing even though the schedule is really intense. We had to get a shot for whooping cough when she was pregnant, the baby can't co-sleep on mom... I could go on and on, but it just seems so much more then I remember it. I think you are going to tell me my role as Grandma is to say nothing and let them parent however they want, but is there any way to tell them that babies aren't that fragile and maybe they are making this harder then it needs to be?

Nope. I'm sorry. The easiest way to make new parents' lives easier is to boost their confidence, which means no correcting unless there's imminent harm.

And not imminent harm as you self-justify it afterward when your input is received poorly, but imminent harm as a review panel of disinterested veteran parents would agree constituted imminent harm. 

Consider this, too. You see this as "so much more than you remember," but I doubt you were all casual coolness when you "just had a baby" yourself. You're seeing with eyes of a pro, which your son and daughter-in-law will have themselves soon enough.

And this, last one: Babies "aren't that fragile" until they are. Breastfeeding is hardly radical, whooping cough has reemerged as an issue and co-sleeping has some casualties, all presenting risk-benefit calculations that new parents must make for themselves (while emotionally jagged and sleep-deprived and managing the baby learning curve). Arguably they're overdoing it, but that they're being conscientious isn't open for argument at all--and isn't that the better way to be, thoughtful and present? Unless they go really deep into the woods, hold their hands or hold your peace.

My father passed away very suddenly several weeks ago. Though he had to cope with being a single dad my entire life (my mom died when I was a baby) he was the best dad any guy could ask for. He had a lot of relationships with women over the years but never re-married and pretty much kept that part of his life as separate from me as possible. I was in my home town clearing out my dad’s things (he was the ultimate pack rat) when I stumbled upon evidence that the woman he was seeing 25 years ago, when I was in high school, got pregnant and left town, apparently to avoid gossip and to give the child up for adoption. I was absolutely floored since my dad, who I was very close to, never told me any of this. I do remember this women since she was much younger than my dad and not really his type at all. I did some sleuthing (I’m a police officer) to locate her but found out that she died 3 years ago, having never married but leaving behind a daughter who I believe has to be my half–sister! Ironically, my sister and I both live hundreds of miles from my home town but less than two hours from each other. I want to reach out to her through social media and try to arrange a meeting but my girlfriend thinks I should let sleeping dogs lie. I have no idea what her mom told her about her father but I strongly believe she has a right to know about him – and me. However, I have absolutely no wish to upset her or her life. I’m really torn on this but my heart is telling me to make contact. Any advice for me? I have no other siblings and very little family left so that may be clouding my judgment here.

The main problem here is that you're the one deciding what is (or isn't) right for someone else, which is inherently flawed. You can't know what your maybe-sister ("Missy") would want, but Missy can't decide what she wants without your deciding for her that she'd want to know.

The only way to navigate this that makes sense to me is to give Missy as much control over this as you can, and that means letting her know and then backing off far enough to give her room to decide what she wants to do with this information. So, reach out, but not to arrange a meeting. Say you stumbled across this information, think you and she might be siblings and would like to talk to her if she's willing. 

 

Good luck to you both, and I'm sorry about your dad.

 

 

Hi, Carolyn I live with my husband in a 750 square foot apartment in an expensive city. I'm an introvert and I hate having houseguests for more than 1-2 nights, but my husband has made it clear that his family's visits are priorities -- when his sister and her kids come to visit, we give up our bedroom and sleep on the futon because they can't fit in our tiny guest room (and a hotel is too expensive). I'm in the midst of one of these visits and I find it very difficult to get energized because I'm thrown off routine. I'm embarrassed to think I probably come across as peevish and unwelcoming. They only come once a year for 4-7 days so can you give me any tips on how to have a better time during these inevitable visits?

I reflexively balk at "my husband has made it clear that his family's visits are priorities," because it's your home too. 

But: You have priorities too, yes, which he honors? Which you can think about, mantra-like, during these visits?

And: Once a year! You can do that. I know of introversion, but I also know it doesn't wipe out all marital obligation to rally when very rarely called upon to rally.

Can you plan to visit your family for part of these visits? Maybe your husband or his fam will take it wrong, but look at it (and frame it for others) this way. You like his family just fine, presumably, and it's the relentlessness of the visits that cramps you. So, enjoy them for the day or two that your invasion-patience holds out, then get away to see your family for a couple of days. Meanwhile (this is the clincher) they get to enjoy their immediate family member one-on-one. This opportunity is so valuable to so many people, even those who love the person their sibling or parent or child married. 

If this isn't possible, then my best tip for getting through it is to schedule time out of the apt. Be with everyone for lunch, leave for a few hours to ... do whatever it is you have to do, rejoin the group for dinner.

Both of these are things I hope your husband will support, and can easily support, in exchange for those 4-7 days out of your comfort zone.

I have known "Sarah" for half my life. We are now in our late twenties. I came out as a lesbian two years ago to her and am currently dating someone. I knew that Sarah is a conservative Christian, so I have made sure to be careful around her regarding PDA. I basically told my gf we should act the same around Sarah as we would around family. The occasional kiss on the cheek/hand-holding, nothing more. Recently, my gf and I asked her out to dinner. She initially replied maybe, then about an hour later told us that she would come if we "chilled with the pda" and added the caveat, "I would ask the same if your gf was a man." I was shocked and am angry. I don't really know what to do. I have been very careful around her, and was shocked at her request. My family is unsupportive already so I hide a significant amount of my life already (they know but refuse to talk about it) and don't want to have to hide around my best friend. Any advice on how to proceed?

"Would you? Ask the same thing if I were dating a man? Because I am already extremely careful about my PDA around you, and that's something I *wouldn't* do if I were dating a man. I would just be myself without even thinking about it. That's a privilege you don't grant me. So if we agree that both of us have to compromise a little here, then I've already done so."

Then say you don't expect a response, but instead hope she'll give this some thought.

... and I suggest all this with the full conviction that, no, technically, you don't have to compromise, because her beliefs do not carry an obligation for you to sugarcoat who you are. Bystanders have begged handsy straight people to "get a room" since forever, of course, but that can't be cover for people to complain that they're "okay with gay people but sick of having it in their faces" or whatever wording the Bigotry Lite Brigade is currently spewing.

So. If this incident is enough for you to rethink your best friendship, then that's your prerogative and don't let her or anyone else tell you otherwise. My suggested words were intended only to build on your foundation of 1. apparently wanting to maintain this friendship and 2. already adjusting your behavior. If that still holds, then please consider gently saying no, you've compromised enough.

Things have changed, Grandma. What you describe are all the current recommendations from the medical community. It sounds like your son and DIL are doing their best to adhere to the standard medical advice for new parents and not at all being unreasonable. Be grateful your grandchild has loving parents who are doing their research!

From one grandmother to another: Your role is to love the baby and support the parents as best as you can. Believe that they are following doctor's orders and suggestions and making the best decisions that they can because they also love their baby and want to raise him/her to be a well and happy individual. You can answer questions as/if they ask them, but please remember that things have changed in the world a lot since your children were born. From a grandmother of two granddaughters (4 & 8) whose mother was born 40 years ago.

In addition to Carolyn's suggestions, schedule things - age appropriate - to do during the day outside the apartment. Don't need to be expensive: visit a park, free exhibits, visit tourists attractions, etc. Does a child like trains? visit a train station.

And if you accidentally step on a northbound express to the next city, call them quickly to assure them you're okay and will be back around bedtime. ish.

About ten years into my marriage I discovered that my husband had lied to me about a number of significant things throughout our entire marriage. After a lot of soul searching, I decided to stay in the marriage - but really only for the sake of our two small children. Deep down I have lost all respect for him and it can be a struggle at times to even be his friend. I try my best in front of the children, but my eldest is getting to the age where she is noticing that Mom just doesn't get excited about Dad. Valentine's Day was a perfect example -- he bought me chocolates and a card and I didn't do anything. And I'm fine with that. The problem is that I don't think my kids are. I haven't said anything to our children about the mistakes that their Dad has made but when they see that I don't get excited about the things that he does for me, I think they see me as the 'bad guy' and him as the 'good guy'. Am I making a huge mistake for staying in the marriage for their benefit? Sometimes I feel as though I am sabotaging their future relationships by not modeling the relationships I hope that they will someday have.

What did this soul-search entail? Did you talk to your husband about what you had discovered? Did he have any kind of explanation for it? Is he remorseful, un-, trying to do better, defiantly staying as-is? Did you and he go to marriage counseling, with a therapist who specializes in family systems, one you found after careful research? Did you go to counseling alone?

I don't want to say anything definitive about your decision, pro or con, from the safe distance of my office chair with so little to go on, but I am comfortable saying this: Staying when you know you can't be affectionate toward your husband in even a platonic way is problematic at best. Yes, worry about the kids. Yes, take another look at your decision. Yes, please seek face-to-face help from someone trained to guide you through.

Another thing hubby can do for his host-averse wife is plan some day long treks w/ the fam that she can have some excuse not to attend. Then use that time as alone time in the apartment. It's a solid compromise that lets everyone's priorities work (and hopefully the guests' too, as they will get to do some worthy sightseeing).

An important life lesson that younger people need to learn for themselves (yes, I did, the hard way) is that friendships aren't always forever. Also, sometimes it's better just to drift apart rather than provoke an argument: in this case, "Sarah" will know why even without the OP spelling it out.

As a parent of two young children myself, I really really hate hearing "but I didn't do it that way, and my children turned out fine." It always comes from someone well meaning, but who parented decades ago and thinks parents these days are too crazy about things. Lots of things have changed since then. And yes it is so much more, because we KNOW more. And yes, your children turned out fine, but please remember that some children did not make it, and those are the reasons we are choosing to do things the way we are. Co-sleeping, whooping cough, etc. have killed children. And knowing that, we could never forgive ourselves if any of those things happened to my children. So please respect our decisions even if they do seem like "making it harder than it needs to be". Part of our parenting journey in this day in age IS trying, trying too hard, failing, not trying hard enough, failing, and figuring out that balance.

I've posted a few responses to this already, I know, but you say it so well. Thanks muchly.

 

And with that I have to run. Thanks again for rolling with the time change, thanks as always for stopping by, and type to you here at noon 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 washingtonpost.com. She lives in New England with her husband and their three boys.

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