Carolyn Hax Live: "No bag of giggles"

Sep 22, 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.

My sister is 25 weeks pregnant and was just put on bedrest. She is able to work from home and they don't have any older children or pets. My brother-in-law asked that we all come around when possible on lunch hours, nights, and weekends to help keep her company. Our aunt made a schedule for people to stop by complete with bringing meals. I feel like I don't understand this. My sister isn't supposed to move around a lot, but my brother-in-law is surely capable of making dinner and doing laundry. I'm fine hanging out with my sister but doing it on a schedule just feels weird. Is this normal? It feels like everybody is freaking out but I googled it and bed rest is super normal.

It's not uncommon but it is extremely isolating, so scheduling visits might seem a little over-the-top but it makes a lot of sense. That way she doesn't have five people dropping in for lunch on Tuesday followed by zero human contact besides her husband for the next 20 days.

It's easy to look at the meal schedule also as over-the-top, but a closer look reveals its pragmatism as well. People will be dropping by but your sister can't actually host them--she's resting. Her husband presumably will be at work during lunch hours, yes? So he can't feed the guests either, or the patient.  So it makes sense for people to "self-host" by bringing something, and to keep your sister from having to get up to feed herself.

Even if these weren't justifiable in practical terms, I'd still say just to let it slide and follow any instructions only to the extent you can endorse them. E.g., sign up for the number of visits you think you'd generally make on your own, without being told to, and bring only what you'd normally bring, not what you're told to. Adhere to principle without spelling out that that's what you're doing.

My husband has had to travel for the past several weeks. We have young kids. I haven't missed him at all. Not as a partner and not even helping with the kids, since he doesn't do much. He is a good dad, but he and I constantly bicker when we are together (both of us are to blame for that). Maybe we could improve our marriage if I could find a way to bring this up to him, besides "it's easier not to have you here." But marriage counseling is not going to help because he can out-talk any therapist.

That's some heavy contempt you're nursing there--and anyone familiar with John Gottman's research on couples LINK can tell you that contempt is the single most toxic emotion you can bring to a relationship.

You can get counseling on your own to work through this, and to find some ways to tell your husband how you feel that aren't hostile. You can also work on some strategies for addressing the division of labor so that you can cross it off the list of reasons to resent the man who is supposed to be your partner (and whose relationship with you is the primary model you're providing your children). 

Short version: Less bitterness, more work to make it work.

Even if your differences are irreconcilable, finding a more respectful, cooperative, positive tone will bring dramatic improvement to the example you set, no matter what next step you and he decide to take.

 

Dear Carolyn, My 22-year-old niece just told me that she and her 35-year-old boyfriend are eloping next week. This is a relationship that has been deeply opposed by my niece's parents for years; they object to the age difference and many other aspects that they view as unsavory. My niece told me that they are inviting only the people who have been "supportive" of the relationship, which is how I came to be invited. The problem is that while I haven't been vocally opposed to the relationship (it doesn't seem like my place), my attitude is far from one of support. I actually hoped and assumed the relationship would run its course, that the nightmare would end for my sister, and that my niece would finish school and then start dating age-appropriate people. So now I am not sure what to do. The most pressing problem is that I am now keeping a huge secret from my sister, with whom I have always been very close. The second problem is that I don't know whether to attend the secret wedding or not. I'm also not sure if it's the wrong thing to refrain from telling my niece that I too am worried about the choice she's making. Any advice?

She's 22! She's an adult. What's "unsavory" about her marrying a man of 35? 

I get it, they've been together for "years," but if she was 18 when they got together, then that's concerning but she was still an adult who was free to make this choice. If there's more to it, then please fill me in, but otherwise I'm rooting for Jane and Mr. Rochester myself (who by the way were significantly younger and older than 22/35, respectively).

As for the secrecy, that's an issue--one you can dispense with in a very straightforward way. "I'm touched to be included in your wedding. However, I will not keep such an enormous secret from my sister." Tell your niece you will give her a two-day grace period in which she can tell her mother of the wedding herself, if she chooses, but after that you will not refrain from discussing it.

If your niece bounces you from the guest list for that, then you also solve your problem of whether to go as well.

But, really--unless you're holding back something huge, two adults are getting married. Period. Just stop.

Thank you so much for today's column. I say this as someone who has been pursued for over a decade (!!!) by a guy who unironically insists that he's friends with all of his exes because it's a sign of maturity. I get it. Being friends with the ex means you're totally grown up and awesome and can deal with anything. But this sentiment is littered with the arrogance that the other person doesn't have a say in all this and whatever caused the breakup is irrelevant. Ugh. For the record, the reason I'm not friends with that guy is because he was a jerk when he dumped me and I moved on by cutting him off. The more he texts me (3-4 times/year), the more I know that his contact has nothing to do with me as a person and everything to do with his ego and "perfect record" that is forever blemished.

apologies for the silence. The storm up here seems to be playing havoc with my cable. Connection is spotty. I will try to work through it but if it doesn't get better I might have to end early.

It wouldn't do any good. Niece already knows that a lot of people don't like the idea, and it hasn't stopped her from planning to elope. Go, or don't go, but come to grips with the fact that people live their own lives and make their own mistakes.

The problem I would have with that is it sounds like the aunt made the schedule without even asking LW when she's free or what she's able to bring. If my sister were on bedrest I would gladly visit her and bring her whatever she needed, but I would absolutely push back against someone telling me I had to do it on their schedule.

Sure, but I think you might be jumping to a conclusion--you can "make a schedule" even when it does include people choosing their own times.

Hello, Carolyn- I work a full time stressful job with long hours while my husband is a stay at home dad (which I never agreed to and thought he was going back to work 4.5 years ago). I have tried to hide my resentment from my tween daughter, but tonight I was exhausted and frustrated after I worked 14 hours, ate cereal for dinner, did a load of laundry, helped her with her homework and cleaned the litter box while my husband sat on the couch with his phone. When I said good night to my daughter, I told her I hoped she found a hard-working spouse someday that would allow her to have a stress-free life and spend time with her children. I truly meant it and I have thought it many, many times, but I so regret saying it to her and now I don't know how to unburden her of my adult problems that I never should have told her. I feel awful. Ugh.

The way to unburden her of your adult problems is for you to unburden yourself of your adult problems. 

You made the snide comment because you're just slogging through an emotionally untenable situation, step by grudging step, without pursuing some clear way to fix it. The fuel keeping your guard up around your daughter was finally depleted.

Will be easy to fix, no, of course not. Even if you choose divorce, you'll have the inert spouse off your couch but it will likely be expensive. Still, even that is better than impotent rage as you alone work, cook, clean, parent, repeat, from alarm to bedtime daily.

Plus, there are other avenues that might make that drastic a step unnecessary. Is your husband depressed? Or otherwise limited by a condition that has gone undiagnosed? Is his behavior passive aggression that, while unacceptable, stems from a grievance with you that's as legitimate as your current grievance with him? Have you gotten couples' counseling or family therapy of any kind?

This remark to your daughter is your dead canary--telling you the marital environment is too poisonous for you all to survive it. Take emergency measures, please, and soon.

 

Can you weigh in on kids birthday parties? We have hit the age of the full class invite. Yet, I am unlikely to throw a full class party. Or maybe in a few years. Is it bad form for my kid to attend if it’s not a close friend and she didn’t/won’t be inviting the kid to her (very small) party? Is it okay to decline just because we need family time? How much say should the kid get in attendance?

No, you don't have to throw big parties;

No, you don't have to skip big parties just because you don't throw them;

Yes, it's okay to decline just because you need family time;

Yes, your kid should have some say in deciding whether to go, of course.

Please always be mindful of the feelings of the child for whom the party is being thrown. Apply as needed.

My husband and I are almost at our wit's end with our 4 (almost 5) year old. She will not listen to anything we say. Everything is a fight. I feel like the only way to get her to do anything in the morning is to resort to yelling and then I feel horrible the rest of the day at work. It's the same way at night. She won't listen to my husband and often hits him. She's also overly aggressive wanting to hug and kiss our 6 month old and won't listen when we say to be gentle. When we take the baby away she then gets almost manic. She is lovely otherwise but these days that's more like 10% of the time. I am completely exhausted and stressed by this. Any thoughts?

I realize there could be something serious going on here, but it also sounds possible that your 4-year-old is just acting 4 and you haven't caught up to that in your ways of dealing with her.

First, stop the yelling. It is not the "only way." 

Second, give her much more say in her life than you're currently giving her. Short version: Instead of, "Put on your coat, we're leaving!," say, "Do you want your coat, or your jacket?" Options, not orders. And when you get "no" to both, then you decline to make it a tug-of-war. "Okay, then, no coat," and you let her go outside without it (but bring it with you).

Kids fight you so! much! less! when you give them age-appropriate control over themselves.

Instead of "Be gentle!," too, you can *show* her how to care for the baby properly. "You love the baby, that's very sweet--sit down here and I'll let you have the baby in your lap."

Third: Read up. A great, great guide for breaking this power standoff is "How to Talk So Kids will Listen, & Listen So Kids Will Talk."

If this is more serious than willfull-4-y-o pushback, then talk to your pediatrician. Also, PEP classes (Parent Encouragement Program) can help you understand where your kids are developmentally, and therefore how to set realistic expectations of them.

Huge red flag. I still remember that feeling after a business trip over fifteen years ago. I wasn't "happy" to see my boyfriend at the airport. Did I do anything to fix situation? No. Married him as then felt that same feeling years later after he'd been away. Eventually divorced. The truth will follow you around. It's mean like that.

Yes, I agree completely. 

I do think that the marriage and the child mean OP has to work at getting past that feeling first, before answering to it. Thanks.

I have been together with my partner and her two children ages 13 and 11 for three years. We recently bought a house together. The 13 y/o daughter has been at odds about my relationship with her mother since the beginning. Her 11 y/o son have a pretty good relationship. He recently traveled with me and my extended family enjoyed him. I am making an effort to be patient with the daughter. She says I annoy her, and when I ask for examples she will say I laugh too loud or I chew with my mouth open. I have worked on chewing with my mouth closed and laughing less loudly. My partner would like me to take a more active role in parenting her daughter, however I am reluctant because setting limits or making reasonable requests are usually met with indifference or hostility. I have attended family counseling in an effort to resolve the problem. Do you have any suggestions? I am committed to making this work for all of us.

My main suggestion is to say, welcome to the magical world of living with a 13-year-old.

Every parent of one chews wrong, laughs wrong, sets the wrong limits, and makes the wrong requests at least at least once daily, and is intimately familiar with indifference, hostility, indifferent hostility and hostile indifference. 

Being/having a stepparent adds a layer of awkwardness that will require extra delicacy, but otherwise it is the job of the 13-year-old (and thereabouts) to start to differentiate and stand apart from family, and as important and healthy as this transition is overall, it's no bag of giggles when you're in it.

So my suggestions are on a few fronts: 1. talk to your partner about limits you both agree on and want to set consistently. Have a light touch. 2. recede into the background where you can. All parents need to do this when kids hit this age anyway, to be where they can find you if needed but otherwise out of the way. Save intervention for the few areas of agreed upon limits. 3. play the long game. If you don't demand to be loved today, there's a better chance you'll be appreciated tomorrow; 4. Be the mature one. Make sure the kids have a safe and healthy home environment, and worry about the details later.

If the family counseling didn't cover ways to handle this transition and distinguish between a healthy teen Heisman and an unhealthy one, then give it another try. 

 

Be careful, too: You've demonstrated that if your partner isn't "partnering" as you need him/her to, you shouldn't work through it with them, you should grow resentful and snippy. Part of having a great partner is being a great partner.

Our son's third birthday party is Sunday. We told him he could invite three friends (remember advice we read (here?) that said invite as many kids as the age) and he immediately responded "Larry, Curly, and Moe." Well Larry is having his big party on Saturday and we're going. But Larry's parents have plans on Sunday and can't bring him. Just found out Curly's in the same boat and not coming. So we'll have Moe and her little brother. I'm sad for him that 2/3 of his party isn't coming, but am trying to treat this as a learning experience (just because you invite people doesn't mean they come). Fingers crossed that it all works out ok.

He's 3! He won't even remember it. 

There's another takeaway available, too--with a three-guest party, assuming the degree of the friendship is mutual, you can plan it for when the three are available.

 

That advice is pretty much airborne by now, btw, about no. of guests = age ... but, really, when the invite-a-few-close-friends party option is available, it's a great one at any age. 

Could also be sibling issues. My kids are the same age apart. Older kid was great until younger one was about 6 mo old and started crawling and invading her turf. She could be feeling a loss of control. Giving her some choices, as Carolyn suggests, is a good idea. And also make sure she gets some intentional, undivided parental attention.

ding-ding-ding, thank you.

Also applies at any age. Even fully grown. 

Several months ago I was placing an order through my Amazon Prime account & a coworker asked if she could order some things as well. Since I had my items coming to the office I said it was fine for her to add some things to my order - at least it would save on the number of boxes coming to the same location. Now she regularly asks to use my account so she can get the free 2 day shipping. A one off when I was ordering something as well seemed fine to me, but now I feel like she's taking advantage and I'm enabling her to cheat the company. Having allowed it, though, how do I put a stop to her use of my membership?

"This was fine for a shipment or two, but I'm not comfortable with it as a regular thing." Because choosing not to let people take advantage of you is something you're allowed to do.

Or, say your renewal is soon and bill her for half the fee.

(Teddy's comment, btw: "Wow, what a 2017 question.")

they were fictional characters and do not support a principle very well. if we want to look at fictional love for guidance, check out romeo and juliet who died.

What a 2016 sense of humor.

You can tell your neice something similar to what I told my brother when he moved in with his girlfriend and told me not to tell our mom: If you are mature enough to do this, then you should be mature enough to tell your parents you're doing it.

I am having issues with my soon to be sister-in-law, “Sue” and her role in my upcoming wedding. My future mother-in-law asked that she be included in the bridal party and I agreed for the sake of family harmony. The problem is I am planning to have a smallish wedding party, only three plus my sister as the maid of honor. Two of the four are out of town and can’t help much and Sue isn’t really stepping up to the plate. That leaves my poor sister to do everything. I know Sue’s wedding was very small and laid-back but our wedding is anything but that. The bridesmaids need to fill their traditional duties if this is going to work. Sue doesn’t seem that interested or invested and I think she only agreed to be in the wedding for the same reason I asked her. It seems silly for both of us to be doing this out of a misplaced sense of obligation. Would it be alright if I had a frank talk with her to see if she’d be just as happy bowing out and letting one of my friends take over? The dresses haven’t yet been ordered but will have to be soon so it’s now or never. And if she does agree, how do I best break the news to my fiancé’s mom since this was all her idea in the first place?

So, your biggo wedding depends on the unpaid labor of your friends? 

That's what you need to rethink, not the inclusion of your fSIL.

I'm a step-parent of two teenagers, and when things started to get messy, I read Parenting Teens with Love and Logic. I didn't agree with everything they discussed, but it really helped me to understand that behavior that I thought was aimed at me as a step-parent was really pretty typical for most teenagers. It helped me to avoid taking things personally, and it gave me some guidance for how to proceed. Also, it helped me a lot to have more empathy for the kids, who are trying to figure out the growing-up thing as well as the divorced-parent thing and the having a step-parent thing. It's not easy on anyone. Good luck and hang in there.

I haven't read the teen version of L&L, and the series has some flaws that have led me to recommend only the first in the series, so I post this with a caveat in addition to your didn't-agree-with-everything--however, I chose to post vs leave this in the queue because your "avoid taking things personally" should be the guiding light of anyone in this position. Thanks.

Amazon allows you 5 (I believe) people who can attach to your account for shipping purposes. Then you're just DONE! When a coworker asked, I just added her to mine. I don't know what she orders, but I figure with 2 small children and working full time, she can use all the help she gets.

I believe if you believe, thanks.

Okay that's it for me. Sorry for the technical snags (if that's the worst of my storm experience, I'll take it). Thanks for stopping by, 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 washingtonpost.com. She lives in New England with her husband and their three boys.

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