Carolyn Hax Live: "Like the movie Memento"

May 05, 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. 

Hi Carolyn, My husband and I are unable to have more children due to illness. My brother's wife just had their third child this morning. I'm happy for them, but I am also struggling with resentment, self-pity, and sadness. I love my brother and sister-in-law, but I'm not sure why they have kids. They spend as much time away from them as possible and put them into daycare the minute they're old enough. (She's a SAHM so it's not for work). I know it's unreasonable, but I'm really struggling with "it's not fair!!!" Any thoughts on how to feel good again? I know it isn't some giant conspiracy in the universe, but that's how it feels.

I'm so sorry you're not able to have the number of children you'd like, and I'm sorry illness is the reason. Randomness like that does have a way of feeling purposeful when you're the one on the wrong end of it.

A portion you do have control over is your attitude, as you know; you mention your "self-pity," and that you're being  "unreasonable," so clearly you're on to your own contribution to your unhappiness to some degree.

But there's something in your lament that hit me really wrong, and I'm going to point it out even knowing it might just be your pain talking: To equate putting a child in day care with negating the purpose of having a child is an ugly charge to make, even in grief. A child is not a 1 or 3 or even 21-year enterprise, it's a lifelong commitment, journey, experience, pick your word. If there's a two-year stretch between, say, nursing and preschool where a family is well served by using day care, then I'm not going to judge them and I hope others wouldn't, either. You do your best as a parent, that's the job description. Sometimes that means you stretch to do the best thing for your kids and sometimes it means you just do what you do to get through.


It's natural to turn your sadness and anger onto a nearby target like your brother and sister-in-law, but it's not the way you're going to feel better. On the contrary, it's a way of rewarding those feelings with a sense of superiority--which of course will ultimately feel false to you because you're just tearing somebody down.


Please instead seek remedies in the positive. Find a good, compassionate therapist and do your talking (and raging) in the shelter of his or her office. Take faultless care of yourself through restorative means--physically if you can (yoga or dance or cardio or hiking or ___), and artistically or spiritually regardless. Music, art, thoughtful and uplifting theater or TV. Immerse yourself in the children you have.

A lot of people stop having children before they really want to, and find ways to see their families as complete. I'd likely have another myself if I hadn't started so late; it's different, of course, but it's a process of acceptance in its own right, and part of it includes seeing other people's fourth children as having nothing to do, whatsoever, with the absence of a fourth in my home. 

Time helps. Scratch that, it's huge. Your grief is clearly still raw. 

But that also means you have a chance to take a healthy approach to it before it hardens into something more tenacious than it needs to be. Get the help (if therapy isn't an option for access reasons, try, because you do need to reckon honestly with the dark thoughts you're having. But even though this sounds contradictory, also look your inner finger-pointer in the eye and say "No. I won't do that. I'm better than that." And actively embrace the idea that love is your most profound ally--against injustice, anger, illness, unfairness, or just giving in to the feelings of envy and resentment we're all susceptible to.

I'm seeing what looks like a follow-up answer by CH without the original Q&A.

Apologies! Some technical difficulties and, by that, I mean it was my fault. If you refresh the page, everything should be back in order.

I decided to run this chat like the movie "Memento." Good luck.

I decided to put some distance between me and my BFF after she really let me down over a major life event. Before that we were super close, sharing our days via texts and e-mails; we've had some cordial enough, brief interactions since. I understand why she did what she did, but miss our closeness and sharing. What can I do to get it back after being the one to say "see ya?"

You eat dirt.

Explain that you took time you (thought you) needed because you were upset, and now you're not (as) upset, and the distance has also allowed you to see how much bigger the friendship is to you than this one incident, and so you ___________--with ____________ being what you're requesting of her. Do you want to meet for coffee? Hope she'll accept your apology for your reaction? Want to know how she feels about the whole thing? Want her back in your life like the old days?

You can go a bunch of different ways here, with many different tones. She, too, can have a bunch of different reactions, from sooo happy to be forgiven to furious that you chose distance over trying to talk things out.

So choose your approach with as much thought and integrity as you can muster. That way if things don't go the way you had hoped, you won't be saying to yourself, "I should have apologized myself instead of complaining that she didn't apologize," or, "I should have started slowly instead of expecting instant reconciliation," or, "I shouldn't have been so cautious, I just have just hugged her like I wanted to," or whatever else. Be true to yourself and vulnerable despite whatever fear might be holding you back.

A few years ago (after we were married) my husband took a new job to “scratch an itch” about working in a particular field. I strongly objected to the job, which is in a field I have long been morally and vocally opposed to, but supported his choice. At this point, I feel like the itch has been scratched and it is time for him to find a new job. He disagrees and wants to continue in the job indefinitely. This divergence of views is causing tension in our relationship. What do we do?

You take or leave, I'm afraid. This is who your husband is. Can you remain in the marriage, all in?

If not, then you tell him that's how serious this is for you, and you take preliminary steps to get out.

I'm at a loss as to how to put roots down and make a home. I've been moving around nationally and globally every 2-3 years, both within and between jobs, and I think it's affected my ability to feel at home anywhere. I really want to commit to a place, which means committing to a job typically (I'm in a niche field, not a lot of options in a particular area, at least not in an area I like). I'm finding that really hard to do because advancement in my job usually requires moving or changing jobs. I'm also having a hard time committing to a partner as well - I'd like to, but each relationship ended for individually good reasons that collectively makes me look like I probably have commitment/trust issues. Therapy hasn't yielded any insights deeper than what I'd see in a women's magazine. I've even bought homes with every intention of making a go of it, only to have my job (or divorce in one case) pull me away within 3 years. Where do I even start in settling down? Drifting around is beginning to numb me.

Find the common denominator to your moves, and change it. Different line of work? Or, sacrificing advancement for permanence?

Choosing anything fully and permanently means, automatically, sacrificing something else, because you can't have everything. Moving for a career means sacrificing roots in one place; roots in one place mean sacrificing moves to advance your career; choosing this place means you never put down roots in that place; marrying this person means not pursuing or even getting to know all those other people. It's fine not to choose for ... well, forever, but once you decide you're ready to choose, then you need to start weighing one vs the other and making up your mind. That is, unless one of the choices is so appealing that it makes up your mind for you. It sounds as if you haven't had that particular bit of luck, which is okay--it just means you have to be more mindful and deliberate in your choosing. 


Your pain is palpable and I'm sorry for it. But I would also suggest you give your brother and SIL the same grace you'd want. Maybe this was a surprise pregnancy. Maybe the baby stage is particularly stressful and they put their kids in daycare because it is a safer option for them. It is a cliche but it is true: you don't know what challenges others are facing. Be kinder than you have to be.

Our Granddaughter lived with my wife & me from seventh grade through her graduation cum laude from university. She promptly moved 2900 miles to live with her mother, where she has sat, immobile, for the past 12 months - no resume, no job search, nothing. This drives my wife crazy, as we spent countless hours tutoring, helping, advising, & keeping her on track with schoolwork to maintain her full-ride academic scholarship. Before my wife explodes, do you have suggestions on how or what we can do to persuade an uncommunicative Millennial to at least check out jobs in her very in-demand career field before her degree is utterly worthless?

Short answer, not much. No unless you can get there, maybe.

Longer answer, is it possible your granddaughter is depressed? And/or has emotional problems or a learning disability or both, some condition(s) that maybe necessitated your being so involved in getting her through school in the first place? And if so is long-distance intervention feasible?

Incomplete answer that holds the most promise: Where does "her mother" fit into this? Why did your granddaughter live with you and not her mom for that formative decade, why is there no mention of working with the mother now to help your granddaughter, is there some connection between being in her mom's home and being in developmental quicksand?

To many gaps in the story for me to offer much more. If you're willing to fill them in, I'll have another look--possibly in next week's chat or via Facebook.


Dear Carolyn, I've always needed a good nights sleep to function, at least 8 hours but ideally 10. I would like to have kids, I've always pictured myself with kids. I'm starting to feel a real longing to get pregnant and have a baby, but the sleep deprivation terrifies me. My husband and I sort of think parents might be exaggerating this a little, sleep deprivation is torture. If parents are really getting no sleep, how do they care for their kids? Or go to work? Right now our loose plan is to formula feed with a night nanny every other night. My husband can do the night feedings every other day, but needs to catch up sometime. When I say this to people who have kids they tell us it will never work, at some point I will be up all night. I feel like my husband and I would be spectacular parents if we are rested and this is a remedy. I need somebody objective to weigh in -- is it possible to arrange your life to get a full nights sleep with babies and little kids?

With enough money you can arrange just about anything.

For those who cannot afford a night staff for ... let's say 4 or 5 years after the birth of a child, there will be sleep loss. The littlest babies can be up every two hours. Older babies can get you up 2 or 3 times a night. A baby who gets up just once a night can be the sort to be WIDE AWAKE! Hiiii! Ready to par-tay! At 3 a.m.!  Some babies are super duper sleepers and get the through-the-night thing down early, but some just don't. I had one who woke up for the day, rarin' to go, between 4 and 5 a.m. You can blame me for that for not wrangling him better to conform to my habits, but, this was over a decade ago and the household has changed dramatically and he can get up as late or as early as he wants now and the kid is still an early riser. 

Point being, when you become a parent, you become the caregiver to individuals, and individuals have their ways and needs and tendencies over which you have a little say but nowhere near complete say. Plus they are helpless for an astonishingly long time, which means that you are on the spot to give them what they need. You can't make a toddler not vomit at 2 a.m. or have night terrors. So, your sleep becomes your second priority whenever the stars align that way.

And you work and care for your children tired, and you take breaks where you can to make up for it, like trading off nights with your co-parent. You do what you need to do because that's what you signed up for.

All of this is an answer way more polite than I wanted it to be after the,"My husband and I sort of think parents might be exaggerating this a little, sleep deprivation is torture." Right. Okay.

I think that the grandparents need to approach this from a position of concern, not control. Could it be possible that the granddaughter needs/wants space from the grandparents after so much managing of her life and school work during her high school and college career? I think it clearly came from a place of love, but "countless hours tutoring, helping, advising, & keeping her on track" sounds like A LOT of management and control by grandparents, especially during college. Maybe she just needs her space, and maybe she's not being open about what she's actually doing (waiting tables, etc.) because it does not live up to the grandparents' expectations.

Excellent thinking points, thank you.

I'm really curious about what the job/industry is.

Stripper? Lobbyist?

I'm really hoping the "major life event" was in the illness or death categories and not because she wasn't there for you while you were planning a wedding or even baby shower. If not, you might really want to think hard about how you approach her, because there is a thousand and one reasons why a friend might not meet your expectations in that regard. Having said that, a lot of people find it difficult to support friends during difficult times as well because they don't know what to say or do, so you might want to go in with an open heart and open mind when you approach her for what she did to cause your distance.

It may seem counterintuitive, but one of the best ways I've found to deal with the grief of not becoming a parent is actually to embrace my friends and family members' children and form relationships with them. I may never be Mom, but I can be Aunt, and while it doesn't take away all the pain, it certainly eases it. Can you do that for your nieblings without bashing their parents?

Again, some good and constructive thinking here, thanks. Though I'm sorry for whatever circumstances brought you to it.

About 10 years ago, when I was 16, my father left my mother for a much younger woman and moved away with her. This was a shock to the whole family since there had been no signs of trouble in their marriage. My sister, “Beth” was 12 at the time and my brother, “Ben” was barely 4. The girlfriend didn’t want to deal with a little kid, so after the first time Ben didn’t go on visits to Dad with us. Later when he was older, he chose not to go and no one forced the issue. Dad came up only for special occasions like graduations so they never got the chance to really know one another. Recently, Dad broke up with his girlfriend and moved back to our area. He is very contrite and wants to establish stronger ties with us kids. Beth and I are giving him a chance but Ben wants no part of him, even though Dad is still paying child support for him. I’m trying to talk Ben into seeing our dad but he says I’m the only “father” he has ever needed – with the age gap between us I have been his surrogate father all of these years. The thing is, I’d be very glad to give up that role and just be Ben’s brother. I’ve tried to enlist my mom in this but she says it's entirely up to Ben. I don't think she cares either way, since she has a boyfriend and has long since moved on with her life. But while my mom can replace an ex-husband, Ben can’t get another father and I feel like he’s making a huge mistake. I keep trying but Ben is stubborn and Dad is really hurt by his rejection. How can I bring these two together?

First, I just want to say all the stuff I hope your mom and dad have been saying all these years but I fear they haven't: I'm sorry you were thrown into this position at such a young age, through no choice of your own; I'm impressed by how you've dealt with it, obviously showing great love for your sibs and managing a lot of responsibility with grace.

And on this foundation of love and responsibility, I hope you'll build an understanding that it's not your job to bring your brother and father together. If they are to work this out, it is going to be on their time, their initiative, their terms. The answer for Ben is obviously no on that right now, so accept it and affirm that it's his decision, you're not going to pressure him.

You can urge him to keep an open mind in the future, though. And you can reflectively listen to him to counteract some of the stubbornness; people dig in when they feel they aren't being heard. So, hear him: "I can see you're angry that he left." "I hear you say you're frustrated that he expects to be your father now--not because he wanted to but because he broke up with his girlfriend." There's a lot of fuel for a lot of anger there, and unless your brother has (and you have) a means of working through it, reconciliation will be difficult if not impossible.

That doesn't mean it is/was/ever will be your job to be Ben's "father," though. His relationships with his dad and with you are actually not connected, not dependent on each other, not mutually exclusive to the point that your being a father figure leaves no room for Ben to have his father in that role--or that Ben's embracing his dad at some point will mean you're laid off from your job as stand-in Dad.

Your relationship with Ben is yours and his, independently, and it's up to you two to define and maintain it--and allow it to evolve--as it suits you best. 

So you can just be Ben's brother because that's what you are. When Ben says you're the only "father" he has needed, in fact, tell him how much you appreciate his saying that--it is a lot of love and trust--and also say plainly that you're his brother and always will be. Happily. Proudly. Make it a good thing but make it only what it is and nothing more.

This whole situation screams for family therapy. Now that you're 26 and plainly feeling worn by the decade of extra responsibility, I suggest you look into it--for you to start.

Hope this helps, if just a little. Check back in sometime?

That was a column answer, not a chat one; thank you for bearing with me, those who are still here.

Actually it was a bunch of long ones today. 

It was ok after the first. But was so awful after my 2nd that I would fall asleep at my desk, at stop lights, basically any time I was idle for more than a few seconds. Turns out I had sleep apnea. After a sleep study and finally getting used the bipap machine, I was no longer the walking dead. I was like you prior to children, I needed at least 8 to 10 hours sleep a night. You might want to consider a sleep study.

I once explained to a sleep-loving friend that you can get as much sleep as you want with kids, just not consecutively. If getting your 8-10 hours in 2 hour chunks is ok, you'll be fine. If you need it in a big block, you'll have a harder time.

I just want to thank the poster who just now introduced me to that word. This chat opens my eyes every week.

Best advice from our pediatrician was to accept that the house wasn't going to be perfect, and sleep when the baby does. Do not use that time to clean, do laundry, etc.

Not everyone is sleep deprived with an infant. I was not. If you breastfeed and co-sleep, you will never have to get out of bed during the night. By the time your baby is two months old, nursing your baby at night will feel the same as just tossing and turning a bit. I used to get 8 hours of sleep a night straight through before I had a baby. After I had the baby, I would wake up every few hours to nurse him, but I just stayed in bed longer (i.e., 10 hours total) to make up for the interruptions. Also, nap when your baby naps. In the first 6 months of his life, my baby used to nap 4 times a day, and so would I.

I'm answering this and the prior in one: You're right, not everyone is, and not just because of the baby's nature, but the parent's too. Not everyone can nap (when the baby naps or ever), or get back to sleep easily when awakened. So much of mastering (or at least wrapping one's mind around) parenthood is about knowing oneself and then working with what you've got.

How do I respond to family and friends who feel my husband and I married too fast? We dated for about 10 months before marrying. We had a courthouse ceremony, and a number of people have made a point of letting me know they disagree with our timeline. (Their concerns are not specific concerns about the relationship or my SO; fyi. They just think everything happened too fast.) I could care less what they think, and I am not trying to convince anyone. But what the is forcefully polite way to respond to their "concerns"?

"I don't recall asking your opinion." 

Maybe someone more kindly disposed toward busybodies like this will have an answer less forceful and more polite, but that's what I've got. Congrats.

Have to go now. Thanks all, 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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