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Carolyn Hax Live: "Yabba dabba doo"

Jun 16, 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, I'm contemplating starting a long distance relationship with a guy I met a few months ago at an event through an organization we're both part of. We've been texting non-stop for a few months and have had a couple in-person dates. I'm waiting to really decide until after we see each other this summer during a week-long event we're both going to for the mutual organization. The issue is we live about 8 hours apart by car, and both like where we live in terms of community and job options. I've done long distance before and know that the end result is either we break up or someone moves. I'm the person who never made final decisions about where to live and what to do based on who I was dating -- I traveled a lot because I wanted to, and found a place to settle down where and when I wanted to, and I may have considered if I was dating someone, but they didn't hold as much influence -- but now this guy seems worth at least contemplating it. Do you have any advice for helping me either make that decision or how to go one step at a time without jumping to conclusions just because at some point that conclusion will have to be made? (We're both late 20's if that helps.)

I can't really weigh in on much of this because it's such a personal thing. One person's happiness could be hugely dependent on location while another could already be open to a move just to shake things up and so why not? Plus there's the obvious X factor of how good you two are for each other. Maybe you really really fit, and maybe you're just enjoying a pleasant time with someone ... pleasant.

There is one thing I do see that would apply to anyone in with your set of facts: If you pursue this, it's not just that you will eventually face the who-moves-for-whom decision; you will also have to make it without ever having lived in the same place. That is an essential body of information and you just can't get it from visits. So, one of you will be moving based solely on a whole lot of what-ifs. 

You really have to be game for it to pull it off, so that's what I'd be asking myself if I were in your spot right now.

Hi Carolyn, We have 11-year-old identical twins (boys) who are shaping up to be wonderful and very different little guys. They both do well in school and in their other activities and seem to enjoy what they do, but "Dylan" is pulling ahead a bit in certain things, particularly the sports they both play. What we are finding is that even though "Cole" enjoyed the sports equally when they were both brand-new, he loses interest and starts wanting to back out as soon as Dylan in any way pulls ahead of him. We have tried to address this by putting them on different teams, but logistically we just can't keep them completely separated, or they would both have to miss out on some time spent in these activities. What are we supposed to do, let Cole join and quit teams as he pleases, or switch him to something Dylan is not playing even though they both LOVE (for example) soccer? This is the sort of thing they don't prepare you for with the twins manuals (and yes, we read quite a few).

If your boys were not twins, just regular old brothers with some years between them, then you'd have them on different teams (because you'd have to) and you'd either find ways to get them to everything or you'd accept the consequence of their having to miss things every once in a while.

So why don't you just choose to treat them as regular old brothers, not twins?

I'm suggesting it in terms of logistics but it works well in other ways, too. Your boys are two complete, whole, distinct people. They deserve to be treated as such. And if they're like my identical-twin 14-year-old boys, the fastest way to annoy them is to treat them as half of a set. Taking advantage of the twinning as a chance to drive less or plan less is not fair to them, not when they would benefit from being treated as regular sibs would--and putting in the effort to do that sends them the message that you see them as unique, distinct people.

That, in turn, eases the pressure when one advances beyond the other in a sport or a subject. There will still be comparisons and rivalries--just like any regular sibs--but it will be an order of magnitude less intense than the implication of, "He's using the same genes better than I am."

(more)

This can still put you in a tough position--say, with soccer, where both love it, want to play and are presumably chosen for the same level team.

In that case, it can help on a simple, practical level to encourage playing different positions, where practical, so they're not directly competing. And it can help to value and reward contribution and hard work over stardom. You have to be subtle about this part, since kids see through it if it's just a way to make your bench kid not feel bad. But consistently showing that you value hard work, showing up, being supportive, etc, then the message does tend to stick.

And it can help on a broader, more conceptual level to be consistent in the message that different people have different strengths, and also that life isn't linear; being good at X now doesn't mean being good at X forever--or that, even if it is a forever thing, it still doesn't mean a person has cracked the code to life eternally and for all things.

This is where it's so important for parents to cultivate their own connections to their kids. When your relationship to a child is unique, then you lay a foundation for that child to see himself as an independent--of his brother, of his brother's successes, of success in general and of others in general. Consistently nurture individuality as it emerges.

Carolyn, What do you think the "recipe" is for men to continue to stay close to their children after a divorce? I have witnessed over and over again men moving onto their next relationship and the relationship with their children gets moved to the back burner.

The recipe is for men to stay close to their children instead of pushing them aside in favor of a new relationship.

That is, if you're the divorced man.

If you're the one dating a divorced man, then you can choose not to get possessive of his time, and be encouraging and understanding of the importance of his staying involved in his kids' lives.

If you're the ex, then you can choose to set aside your anger and be as cooperative and flexible as possible when it comes to visitation.

If you're the kids, then you can do your kid thing and love your parents and recognize the divorce wasn't your fault in any way.

If you're society, then you can value fatherhood as much as you value motherhood.

Does that cover it?

Does one of you have a job that can be done remotely at least some of the time? That way you could spend longer periods of time together to figure out the relationship before having to make any significant decisions.

I live overseas with my husband and two boys. My sister visits often due to work travel and generous vacation benefits. Sounds great - especially as I have no other family menber who can visit as often and I would like my kids to know my part of the family. Problem is my sister. Her visits cause extreme exhaustion for both my husband and I. She doesn't help or take care of herself in any way while visiting. So in addition to juggling work and 2 kids we find ourselves with another kid to cook for clean after and entertain. I have tried being more direct - asking her to set the table or pick up her stuff - but it doesn't work. I am now not being as welcoming for when she offers to visit and will try to limit the time she can come (I can take 3 days max before I go crazy). What else can I do?

Have you tried being direct-direct, vs. just "more direct"? 

"Your visits are really important to me, and I love that my kids have a chance to know you--but between work and kids I don't have the energy to be a host in the traditional sense. What I'd really like is for you to pitch in as if you're a member of the household. Would you be willing to do that? Another option is a nearby hotel, but I'd rather make it work with you here."

As I was typing this, all I could think was that if you could say this to her without her getting defensive, then you probably would have long since done so--or, even better, she would have had the self- and other-awareness to recognize that you don't treat working parents of two kids as your chef, maid and concierge on your travels.

But, since you're already in the process of cutting your sister off by silent means, you might as well take a shot at keeping her close through communication means.

 

My sister and her wife, “Sue,” will be visiting my partner and me this weekend. I’m looking forward to seeing my sister, but I am feeling anxiety about Sue’s visit. Sue has a habit of making comments about my weight and what I’m eating (commenting on my portion size, how many helpings, my weight, how often I exercise, etc). I’m not interested in getting in a fight about it and really want to see my sister. Any suggestions on an effective, short statement or come back after the first comment to try to cut her comments off at the pass? I’m really happy with my weight but always end up disappointed and feeling fat and unhealthy by the end of a visit.

"My weight is not interesting to me. Let's talk about something else." Repeat verbatim as needed.

I also like reflecting it back on her. "You have a lot to say about my body."

Would it feel right to talk about it with your sister first? Just a "hey, she brings this up a lot and I'd appreciate it if she didn't, so any suggestions?"

My husband and I, both unhappy in our jobs, have determined that with some strategic penny-pinching, we can live on one salary for awhile. The question now is, whose salary? The argument for husband quitting is: he's been in his job for longer than I have, and unhappier for longer, too. He has no idea what he'd like to do next and feel like he needs a total mental break and reset in order to figure it out. The argument for me quitting is: I have a side business that would continue to bring in a few thousand dollars every month even if I quit my day job. I also genuinely enjoy cleaning and cooking, and I would be happy to take on the lions share of housekeeping and errand-running, which I think would improve the quality of both of our lives. (Husband readily admits he is would not agree to do any extra housekeeping if he was not working). I know I'm biased, but I think that the arguments for me quitting are stronger. Husband feels the same. Do you have advice on how to move forward?

I can't answer objectively because I think your husband's comfort with assuming absolutely no more of the household weight if not working is so profoundly entitled and glassbowlish--to you specifically but also to the whole idea of equal human worth--that I couldn't take his side even if it had other merit.

I would also be very suspicious of granting a "total mental break and reset" to someone who apparently prioritizes himself above his spouse and the marriage. What personal quality does he have that you can treat as a guarantee that he won't make this "break" an indefinite one? Besides his not having quit already, which, to be fair, is significant.

Also to be fair, you are (though not as starkly) likewise more focused on your interests than on his or your marriage's. It does serve him and the marriage that you'd still earn side money and take over household management, but it's doing what you already want to do, not taking one on the chin.

A healthy marriage is one where each of you is stepping up to sacrifice and is arguing the case for the other to quit, no?

At this point the suggestion I'm leaning toward is that you both come up with an answer that isn't a complete quit-and-live-off-the-other. I'd be interested to see what you both would come up with if you, say, set a dollar amount you can get by on, cut it in half and say each of you can quit when you have a firm plan to bring in that much money for the family. Part-time work, piece work, cutting back on your current jobs, etc., with any extra time used for regrouping or job training or coming up with concrete plans for  Of course this could have serious implications for insurance and benefits and be unworkable on that alone, but why not do the work to find out? Character test included.

 

I would like to challenge the OP's presumption that men put their children on the in favor of new relationships. When I remarried, I read a great, research-based book called Stepfamilies: Love, Marriage, Parenting in the First Decade, by Dr. James Bray and John Kelly. It introduced me to the concept of "divorce activated fathers," men who actually tune into their parenting when they are forced to do it alone. As a mother, I know that divorce made me a more mindful parent. I recommend the book as a way to shed stereotypes and objectively view one's own role in the old family/new family dynamic.

Thank you.

Disclaimer: haven't read the book myself.

Just a friendly reminder to today's LW - not all kids like sports. As a kid with no coordination or speed, I hated them - competitive, team, individual, or otherwise. My parents had me try a few and I was generally miserable. However, I managed to have plenty of friends through other activities - music, art classes, and things like that. I think your kid will be fine, but just remember the doesn't need to like sports to get there.

When my daughter was trying to make a pillow from a craft kit she grew quite frustrated because her sister was having an easier time with her craft. I was surprised to hear the one who was further along telling her sister that she shouldn't worry because she was in the practice stage and would soon get to mastery. I asked where she had heard that word and she told me that her teacher said that when we learn something new we start with awareness, then we practice, then we get to mastery. Knowing these phases seemed to help.

This is a very useful way of thinking, thank you,  one that's mercifully making its way into schools and, I hope, homes.

It's part of a larger shift toward a "growth mindset"--not sure which part of that phrase needs the quotation marks--and away from a "fixed" mindset, where we treat intelligence and ability as innate and unchangeable. The growth mindset (assigned reading: "Mindset" by Carol Dweck, but there's a little industry around these ideas now) is based on the fact that brains change according to the effort we put in, and therefore being "bad at math" isn't a fixed quantity, but instead one that can be changed with targeted effort.

Anyway, I hope I didn't butcher a book-long concept into a useless paragraph.

And yay for your daughters, both of them, for putting the concept to work.

Anyone who has been enduring ongoing comments about her weight, eating habits, exercise regiment, ad nauseum, and didn't shut that down immediately with a firm "No comments about my weight. If I want your opinion, I'll ask for it," and is afraid of "getting in a fight about it," needs a solid lesson in boundaries. If she's putting up with these outrageous boundary violations in this area, she's almost certainly doing it in lots of other areas, too. Time to consider one of Carolyn's favorite books, "Lifeskills for Adult Children."

Hi Carolyn! I kept my last name when I got married, and my husband has a hyphenated last name (MIL's surname-FIL's surname). We're discussing starting a family, and this last name issue is tripping us up. There are many valid answers here - using his full hyphenated last name, hyphenating my last name with ONE of his last names, using my last name, trying to combine names into one unholy hybrid, etc. Each of these options has its pros and cons, and each pack a distinct emotional punch in some way. Are there any other Nuts who have navigated something like this? What was your compromise?

What does each of you *want*? I can't see a good solution that doesn't start there.

Hey Carolyn, There's a festival I go to every year for a week in July, that I love. It's my one unplug, rejuvenate week that sends me back to real life feeling like I can really dig into everything I want and need to do. And last year, my girlfriend of several years dumped me, while at that festival, the second day in. (I'm also a woman.) It sucked, but stuff happens, right? I just found out she's planning on attending it again this year. It wasn't her wheelhouse to begin with - she only went to spend time with me and was clear on that - and I'm confused and angry and upset. It's small enough that completely avoiding her isn't an option, and mostly avoiding her is going to be a constant, week-long drain of dodging and looking the other way. But I've been attending for five years, and I know people and events I look forward to all year long! I need to de-stress, and I'm not sure what to do - skip it because it won't be what I want, and try to find something else to do with that time? (I already took the PTO, but I haven't bought my ticket yet.) Try to line up some kind of game plan to give myself maximum space and make the best of it? I have a few weeks to decide, but finding this out yesterday is sending me into a tailspin.

That sounds weirdly inconsiderate on her part. Very in-your-face, especially for the dumper vs dumpee.

Is there any chance you can frame it as *your* festival, where you go and do your thing without regard for where she is at any given time? It might be badassery you have to fake until you make it, but it could be liberating.

--Proposed Script--

You: "Oh, hi." [resumes festivalizing already in progress]

 

My daughter has been asked to be a bridesmaid for her boyfriend's sister. She wants to say "no" because if she doesn't end up marrying the boyfriend, the sister won't want to look at her in wedding pictures for years to come. I think this is silly since she and the boyfriend do plan on marrying eventually. What do you think?

I think this is silly because she indeed might not marry the boyfriend, but that's the sister/bride's problem to anticipate, not your daughter's.

This is such a small thing, but it's so annoying. I am the primary cook in our house, because I enjoy everything about it and my husband does not. I try not to repeat a single recipe within a three-month period, which means I sometimes have to get creative. I cook roughly 4 times a week, and almost every meal takes at least an hour to prepare. Yet my husband's go-to compliment, when he likes something that isn't especially fancy, is "I like this, it's nice and simple." To him, if something is served cold or is pureed, it is "simple," because he has never tried making most of the recipes I use. If I were serving tomato soup out of a can, this wouldn't bother me, but it really, really does. But is it okay to say so? I feel like such a prima donna asking to be recognized for the effort I put into cooking for us, but can I?

"Is there another adjective you can use? This was actually complicated to make.

"And yes I'm a prima donna, but I'm the prima donna who made dinner.

"If you're looking for alternatives, I'll accept splendid, yummy, dazzling, spectacular, surprising, delicious, delectable, heavenly, exquisite, tasty, yabba dabba doo, or 'hot damn I'm spoiled.'"

You might as well go for it.

I have a rule with my kids. Barring injury, they need to finish the "season," be it soccer, dance class or an afterschool class they signed up for. Once they are done, they never have to do it again. But once they have signed up, I think it's important that they follow through and don't quit. This is especially true in a team setting, where the team may need your child there simply to have enough kids not to forfeit (I speak as a coach as well. :) ).

Agreed, thanks for the catch.

Carolyn, thank you for your answer to today's LW. I was on the other side - the kid who could rarely reciprocate. I was the oldest of a chaotic family whose parents were simply financially and emotionally out of their depth (but loving, not abusive). My best friend in elementary school was an only and I was frequently invited on family outings, long weekends, and vacations. They are still some of the best memories of my life, as an oasis of calm and the chance to see how a family could operate differently. I don't think we reciprocated more than a handful of times over six years, if that. Fifty years later I have very clear memories of them and have incorporated some of their ways into my own family. That mom was a working mom, so it can't have been easy, but her extra efforts gave her daughter time with me, and kept me from being overwhelmed and overstimulated at home. Maybe if today's mom thinks of it as community service it will help? Because it was an act of loving service to me, even if that long-ago mom didn't know it.

This is beautiful, thank you.

That's it for today. Thanks all, have a great weekend and see you here next week.

Apologies again for the tech difficulties. I know people are working on it as of last week, but I don't know more beyond that. I appreciate your patience.

 

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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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