Carolyn Hax Live: Canine Mondays (July 21)

Jul 21, 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. 

There's a Wedding Hoot and a Holiday Hoot, but can there be a Vacation Hoot as well? After the disaster that was this year's annual family beach gathering, I'm in a "misery loves company" mood.

Hoots are big tents. Feel free to submit it for the holiday one, or just send it in now for some midsummer commiseration.

If it makes you feel better, I've been on vacation this week with the family, and one of us reached his breaking point at the top of a family-friendly Adirondack peak, which means we can safely assume the meltdown had an audience of dozens of happy families and also echoed for miles. 

Dear Carolyn, I work at a regional branch of a major corporation with about 100 employees, 10 on my team. Earlier this week we had a meeting where management said they were considering allowing people to bring their dogs to work and they were open to comments on the matter. People got really excited, especially 3 people on my team who have dogs. I do not like dogs. I'm not allergic, I just prefer not to be around them. Service or therapy dogs are trained and that's something I would be fine with. What I'm picturing with employees bringing their dogs to work is very different, much more chaotic. I want to approach them with my concerns, mostly that this is a workplace and I think this benefits people with dogs enormously but is asking a lot of people who don't like dogs. I am worried about backlash, that it will come out that I am the buzzkill who didn't let anybody bring dogs to work. I am considering asking management to designate a few days a month, every other Friday for instance, as a dog friendly day but not to make it daily. Would this be a good way to approach this problem tactfully? People treat dogs like their kids so I know I have to proceed with caution.

How about suggesting a trial period of, say, canine Fridays, so you can see how it goes--and plead fear of distraction.

FWIW: I am pro-dog but I am amazed at how inconsiderate people are when it comes to allergies. When I see someone with a dog in, say, a regular retail setting, I am amazed the management allows it. There should be some places where it's understood that all people need to be able to go without fear of a reaction.

Dear Carolyn, I have two step-children, ages 17 and 15. They switch off weeks between our house and their mother's. My husband and I have been married 3 years and have a 6 month old daughter. I am really sad about the lack of affection between my step-kids and my daughter. They never hold her or play with her or ask to feed her. They basically pretend she isn't there. I don't expect them to nanny our daughter, but some affection or even noticing she's there would be so nice. My husband says to just give them time, but it's been 6 months. He also doesn't do much to encourage all of us to do things together. It's like he spends time with his older kids or the baby but not all of us at once. I want us to be a family and it doesn't feel like we are now. My husband's ex-wife is polite but distant, when our daughter was born she didn't even say congratulations or ask how it went, she was just all business about switching the older kids schedule a bit. I am sad about this, but you can't force affection. I would like to know how to encourage affection, though.

When I look at this as a problem that started 6 months ago, give or take, my focus goes to your husband. His not approaching your family as a single unit seems like both the easiest explanation for the chilly reception to your baby, and the source of the easiest solution. Get him on board with the single unit idea and you'll slowly, naturally promote more of a bond.

But when I look at this as a problem that can't be isolated to the past 6 months, then I think we're closer to the truth here, whatever that may be. Because any blended family issue is going to have a backstory that includes the dissolution of the kids' family of origin, the formation of the blended family, and the three or so years of family building that preceded the birth of your child. 

If there are seeds in that history of the alienation you're seeing now, and if you planted them yourself, helped in any way to nurture them, or even just pretended they weren't there, then you're accountable here too. I don't have enough information, obviously, to say whether you played a role here--but the fact that you make no mention of the emotional conditions into which you brought this baby, absolute zero, certainly gets my attention. If you weren't invested in the emotional cohesion of this family before you had your daughter, then it would be a bit rich for you to be expecting emotional cohesion now that it's your own child who gets shorted instead of just his.

So, ask yourself whatever hard questions you need to ask yourself about how the "before"--yours, his, theirs, everyone's--brought you to this "after."

Then bring that insight to your husband, along with ideas for how to fix it. The best way to encourage affection is to show it, and the best way to show it is for its own sake, without defensiveness, and without any notion of a quid pro quo.

Hi Carolyn, My brother got married in April. My parents, husband, baby and I are -currently- on a two-week-long vacation with him and his new wife "Sandy," our first group vacation since Sandy entered the picture. We are all sharing a rather large house with multiple bedrooms and each couple has plenty of time to themselves. Yet my brother and Sandy are behaving as though their boundaries are deeply in danger on this trip, and it's annoying the heck out of, well at least me, but I suspect everyone. For example, Monday night my parents watched the baby, and my husband and I invited my brother and Sandy to go for margaritas with us. Instead of "no thanks," or even "no thanks, we're going to [alternate plans]," we got "no thanks, we need to insist on some space tonight and also that we stick to doing what the two of us want to do this week." It was very unexpected, since we don't see them often at all and didn't feel that our invitation was forceful enough to warrant that kind of response. They gave a similar response the next time we invited them to do something (although they invited themselves along to something else we did earlier that day), so we stopped inviting them to things. This morning, I brought the baby into the shared kitchen for breakfast and the two of them immediately vacated, saying "sorry, we're trying to find a spot for just the two of us to talk." Setting aside my feeling that this is Sandy's work, since I've never had any issues like this with my brother (but it's his prerogative if this is the kind of marriage he wants), do you have any suggestions for how I can talk to them about the way they're phrasing these things? It's not that I care whether or not they do things with us this week (and they are, for the most part), I just don't like the implication that we are boundary-tramplers. Or, tips for enjoying the next 9 days with these people, and not taking this personally?

They: "no thanks, we need to insist on some space tonight and also that we stick to doing what the two of us want to do this week."

You: "Hey, no explanation necessary, we take 'No' for an answer."

Or, "No problem--it's an invitation, not an order." Or even, "Okay then, more for us" or "Suit yourselves" or "Your loss!" or similar, the breezier the better.

Meaning, you set your dial to the cheeriest "Hey, whatever!" you've got. The kindly purpose is to let Sandy and Bro off the hook they perceive themselves to be on. Think of it as being willfully superficial in your interpretation: Aw geez, they feel so bad about saying no to us that they think they have to explain, so let's make sure they know it's okay.

The less kindly purpose, though valuable in its own right, is to signal to Bro that any territorialism around their couple time is coming from inside the house. Set out clear evidence that you are being respectful and are not, not, not intruding on their space.

If indeed Sandy is a controller, she is laying groundwork to have your brother to herself, and that can trigger an impulse in you guys--Bro's people--to grab onto him for dear life. That only plays into the hands of someone possessive. Instead, be present while being, again, vocally and demonstratively hands off. And cheerful about it. This is the trail of breadcrumbs you leave your brother if and when he needs it, if and when he's ready to use it.

Dear Carolyn, Every year on my birthday my husband and I do an activity together, something simple like going to a museum and dinner. Sometimes I'll do a happy hour with friends a few days before or after. I have a friend who is in a long distance relationship, and I'm not a fan of her boyfriend. She announced that my birthday is when her boyfriend will be visiting next and she wants to do a double date on my birthday. She ended the conversation with 'let me know what we're doing', and has brought it up multiple times since. I really don't want this, I want my low key birthday with my husband, but this is the only day they have free and she is very excited to celebrate together. You've talked before about how as adults we need to calm down about our birthdays, and I don't know if I'm being too defensive of how I want to spend 'my' day. Do I just suck it up and spend the day with the glass bowl? Reluctant Birthday Girl

I've also talked before about how we get to decide how we use our own time. When she "announced that my birthday is when her boyfriend will be visiting next and she wants to do a double date on my birthday," you had every right to say, "I'm sorry, I already have plans for my birthday--but let me know when he's in town next for sure." And it would have been well within the limits of decency to say this, too, even to your bestest friend ever.

You can still say it, even though stalling this long will make it more awkward than it needed to be. Just say, "I should have said this upfront--we have longstanding plans on my birthday. I'm sorry to disappoint you--but please do let me know next time your boyfriend is in town."

There are usually several principles that can be applied to any given situation. The one you rest on is the one that honors your integrity best. There's nothing wrong with having the birthday you want. There's also nothing wrong with setting it aside for a friend. It becomes something wrong when you make a choice because you think you're supposed to, but don't actually believe in it, and then just go miserably through the motions, thereby serving no one.

Something to keep in mind: With few exceptions, the best time to deliver a difficult "no" or to have a difficult conversation is as soon as possible after you realize it needs to be said. Waiting just gives you a whole new awkward thing to admit on top of the original one--and it's often the stalling that winds up coming between you, not the original one. It's the emotional equivalent of the cover up being worse than the crime.

And, ah, happy birthday!

Dear Carolyn: I've been working at my company at my job for 14 years. We started a new, huge project so there are some new hires and new structuring. We are divided into 4 groups of about 10, each with a team leader and there is one person who leads the team leaders. This person used to be my direct boss and we had a great working relationship. I've been on my team for about 3 weeks and I'm having a hard time with my team leader, who is just out of business school and is the same age as my kids. She doesn't do anything specifically insulting or difficult, I just have a really hard time taking a 25 year old seriously at work. I went to my old boss and asked to be switched to a different team, and he told me no, and that there is no reason not to listen to my team leader. I like my actual work and my co-worker's so I want to stay here but it's difficult for me. How do I take my team leader seriously so I can continue to work here?

There is, in fact, according to what you wrote at least, no reason not to listen to your team leader. So quit indulging these hard feelings before they cost you your job.

Imagine how you'd feel if she asked to have you transferred out because she doesn't like working with someone her mother's age.

Ageism is ageism. 

Hi Carolyn, My girlfriend recently mentioned, in a very respectful way, that my relationship with my female friend K makes her uncomfortable, using reasonable examples (certain instances of physical touching and things K has said). We both acknowledge that K (who is single) has an often-seen tendency to cross lines with the married and coupled men in her social circle (oddly, not the single ones), but I had been somewhat naïve and hadn't noticed I was one of them. My question is what to do now? My girlfriend asked me to talk to K, which seems like a recipe for creating drama where there isn't any. I am capable of just sort of boxing her out of my life, but that seems cruel, and making a statement the next time it happens would probably embarrass her (or both of them, if I bring my girlfriend into it).

The possibilities you list are all, to my eye, about the symptom of K crossing the line, intended to keep her on her side. 

But what about the underlying ailment? There's no "oddly" to the part about K's cozying up to the coupled people. It's quite common and usually indicates one of two things--that K wants no part of intimacy and sees paired off men as "safe," or that K gets a power jolt by making inroads with other women's men.

Both point to a K who isn't terribly healthy, emotionally, though what ails her does matter. Someone who can't handle being close is much more sympathetic (and of course a better candidate for continued friendship) than someone who needs to step on other people to feel good about herself. 

You probably know her well enough to know which one it is, if you think about it. You probably also can make a case for distancing yourself either way, because at a certain point the specifics of someone's neediness become secondary to a lack of interest in being part of it anymore. 

Either way, I suggest that the next time K crosses a line, you speak up. It can be gentle so as not to embarrass her unnecessarily--a gentle, "hey--stop," or even, "What are you doing?" People have been gently but decisively enforcing boundaries against unwelcome advances since the dawn of such advances, no? So start enforcing with K. Maybe when a good enough friend has the courage and presence of mind to hold the line, she'll get the message about how often she crosses it.

It's also worth reflecting on the fact that one's supervisors are only going to keep getting younger (or seeming like it) as one ages. Resenting it is like battling against the tide.

If you haven't been around babies much, they are intimidating as heck. I never would've asked to hold a baby at age 16!! I think the first baby I held was when I was like 30 and my best friend basically shoved her six-week-old baby in my arms. I had no idea what to do with it. (And learned fast, and I love that kid.) So if you're waiting for teenagers to ask to hold your baby as a sign of family could be a long wait.

Possible, thanks. 

As a potential "Sandy" here, please keep in mind that some of us need time and space away during family visits, despite the best intentions of family members. And if they only married in April, your brother and "Sandy" may have agreed that a two-week family vacation months later would include a lot of alone time--they're newlyweds! Plus, not everyone is a baby person.

Okay, but, anyone in this situation: Please just say "No, thanks." (And on the other side, take "No, thanks" as an answer.) Alone time it built into the adult autonomy package. Giving a disclaimer is not necessary or helpful.

They JUST got married. 3 months ago max. Probably, they should have gone on vacation alone, but didn't realize how they would feel this soon after the wedding. I wouldn't get into worrying about the wife being controlling just yet - its her first family vacay remember? - and just be cheery and inviting and let the rest roll off your back. Worry about wife being controlling if it continues beyond the first few years/first few vacations.

The older I get, the younger my colleagues are. I've worked with older bosses, younger bosses, and same age bosses. I recommend that this worker pay more attention to the work at hand and less to what the leader looks like. A younger person has energy and vision and fresh eyes that can open up discussion and solutions. An older person has experience and judgment and skills that, if not stingily withheld, can move the project forward successfully. This worker is at risk of being seen as an inflexible old fogey that everyone has to work around.

Right. And even if the younger person fails to bring even " energy and vision and fresh eyes," it is still the employee's job to make the best of it.

To compound on what Carolyn suggested, you may want to nip this in the bud while it's still new and while you have lots of in-person examples to point to when you catch your brother alone sometime and just say "hey, you seem a bit chilly, have we been trampling on your space? it seems like you keep needing distance from us this week." Don't mention Sandy, don't mention any of your own theories/conclusions. You never know - maybe they are fighting or dealing with something heavy and private, maybe Sandy is uncomfortable around babies. Could be anything but if it were me, I would have this conversation now.

I agree that she has every right to spend the day as she wishes, but she should be mindful that the friend is very likely to see it as a snub, if she passes up a relatively uncommon occasion to spend actual couples' time with the friend and her BF in order to go out with the husband she sees every day.

Then we go to yet another principle that can apply here, in this case on the friend's side: Don't look for reasons to take offense. And another one: Don't assume your feelings and standards ("She sees him every day!") on an event apply to anyone else's. Likewise, I can choose to stay home vs going out, and that doesn't mean "I chose my dingy old living room over seeing you"--it means I chose to stay home over going out. 

And back to the OP, another principle: OP is responsible for her feelings, and her friend for her own. OP needs only to be polite in making her choice.

I could do this all day!


I'd also ask you to consider the situation from your step-children's point of view. You say you're not doing stuff together as a family and I get how that feels bad for you. I can see how a father & approaching-adulthood kids who only spend half time together would want to spend time with them that's not dominated by a baby. And it might be a little painful for the kids to consider that this baby is there with him 100% of the time, which they aren't. Make the best of the time you all spend together but recognize that alone time for them is okay, too. I'd also suggest that it's pretty normal for children, especially teenagers, to not spontaneously interact directly with a baby unless at the sustained encouragement of the parents, particularly if they aren't around the baby full-time; if you're waiting for them to "ask" to feed her, maybe consider what you can do to be encouraging without pressuring (e.g., "would you like to hold her?").

I'm surprised the LW seems to have this expectation that the ex will become her new best friend or something. If the ex is not trying to drive a wedge between her kids and their new half-sibling, be thankful.

It's gotta be Canine Mondays. People are already happy-ish on Fridays. But dogs could be a major asset on Mondays...

I -could- do this all day, but won't. That's it for now. Thanks everybody for stopping by, thanks to Jess for filling in again, and I hope to see you here again next week. Have a great weekend.

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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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