Carolyn Hax Live: "How embarrassing for the Ivy League"

Nov 03, 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.

Hello! Any suggestions for avoiding the ever fun "When are you going to get pregnant?" questions? Husband and I are actually trying; haven't been as successful as quickly as we'd like and had some hard times (really really really early miscarriage; not even comparable to many women, I know, but it still hurts), and talking about it is stressful and painful and not fun. We're at "that stage" when we "should" be having kids according to my in-laws (have a house, been married for a number of years, have steady jobs, etc.). We told them once to stop asking because of the reasons listed above, but they insist that they want to "be there" for us on this journey... only problem is, their form of "being there" just makes things worse. My mom had a really hard time getting pregnant, so she's super sympathetic, doesn't push, but lends an ear when I ask. MIL, on the other hand, talks about how much easier it would've been if we started trying years ago, how she got pregnant SO QUICKLY with her two sons because she started in her early 20s, etc. I don't want to and don't need to hear any of that, so I've actually gotten up and walked away when she's continued on despite my asking her to change the topic. Problem is, with Thanksgiving coming up, I'll have her AND all her family backing her up (grandmom, aunts, etc.), and I'm pretty sure it's rude to stand up and walk out on Thanksgiving dinner. Any suggestions on how to shut this down before it even starts?

No, it's not rude to stand up and walk out of Thanksgiving dinner in response to being grilled on a topic you've already asked people to drop. It's completely appropriate.

When they "they insist that they want to 'be there' for us on this journey," it's also perfectly within the bounds of good manners to respond: "The best way to 'be there on this journey' is to respect our request not to keep asking about it. When there is something to share, we will share it."

If you get pushback/resistance: "Pushing this will make you a difficult part of our journey, not a joyous one. Please respect our position."

Pushing you is rude. Responding civilly to being pushed is not rude.

I hope your husband agrees to be the one to convey this message. To leave it to you to be the messenger will invite his mother to treat you as the "problem," which for obvious reasons is so unfair to you. Your MIL is the problem right now; if your husband won't draw a line with her to protect you, then he becomes part of the problem. Given that you already have an emotional weight on you--I'm sorry--I hope he sees that and intervenes accordingly. 


BTW, I answered that as a bigger situation in progress, but please know that with first-time when-are-you-having-kids questioners, it's appropriate (and arguably long overdue) to say, "I know you mean well, but for many people that is a painful question."

My son is 20 months old (I usually say almost two because I find the month measurement so annoying, but his age is particularly relevant for this question). He is an absolute joy, but he is not in a great phase for going to restaurants (which I am totally fine with, because that's totally normal). We have strategies for dealing with it; we pick family-friendly places; we tip 30%; and I try to be really cognizant of not ruining the meals of other patrons. My husband is just not really in tune with dealing with this, and doesn't really care (to the level I think is appropriate) about our son's behavior in public. I hate dining out because I feel like it's exhausting and I don't get to enjoy it at all. This week, he arranged with his best friend for our families to go out to dinner (they have a 4 month old). They went back and forth on timing and whether we were going to go out or have dinner at our house, and it resulted in dinner at a restaurant at 7:30 (despite my plea to do casual carry out at our house). Our son goes to bed around 6:30, because he is just a complete terror after that. My husband thinks this dinner is going to be fine and "it's fine if he stays up late one night." I think this is completely unrealistic and is going to result in me having a miserable night chasing my son around a crowded restaurant because it's Friday and everyone goes out on Friday and it will be past family-friendly time. I had a terrible week at work, and an already exhausting week at home with Halloween and a funeral viewing. I suggested he just go without me and our son since the timing was so bad, but he said that completely defeated the point of socializing with our friends as two couples. I would LOVE to socialize with our friends, but this is not going to happen with an almost-two year old an hour+ past bedtime. I'm at a loss for what to do here... I don't want to be a jerk and put my foot down and stay home. I don't want to be a shrew and pester my husband to participate in the shrieking child wrangling at dinner. I don't want to let my kid run wild and unfettered as a manipulative "I told you so." We can't move it earlier because of work schedules for both me and the other couple. Other than just taking toys and a tablet, ordering a glass of wine and sucking it up, any suggestions on how to approach this? It's not really about my kid (as he's just acting normally for his age) but how to deal with my husband.

Why don't you get a babysitter?

I realize the baseline problem is that your husband is being obtuse, but it is really really okay to tackle that problem on a week when you aren't already drained.



BTW, a useful response to remarks like, "it's fine if he stays up late one night," is to agree with him--"yes, of course he'll be fine with one late night" (because agreeing with the part you can agree with is a persuasion-aid), and then make your  salient point: "Of course he'll manage one late night--I, however, will be miserable wrangling a tired kid when I'm already tired."

That doesn't guarantee he'll change his mind--people who want what they want are very hard to budge, and he's his own kind of burned out right now--but it will at least make the specs clear that his getting this will be at your expense.

I grew up poor but worked my way through college and was able to get into a very prestigious law school so naturally I am used to be around people who come from a very different background than I do. Recently I started working with a man, “Jack” who went to that same law school, we hit it off immediately and started dating. For the most part things have been absolutely wonderful – until I met his extended family at a wedding, that is. His family is old-money rich whereas I am pretty much the opposite of that. His mother has always been nice to me (his father is dead) but his aunts, uncles, and cousins made it very obvious that they did not approve of me and made many sly digs about me and my background throughout the evening. I knew the best way to get through it was to ignore the insults and appear unruffled but I am not interested in being around them again. I didn’t think this would be a problem since they live pretty far away and Jack sees them at most once a year but now his mom has invited me to Thanksgiving which is more of a family reunion and means being around all of those snobs for an entire long weekend. I’d rather stay home and do Friendsgiving but Jack is really pushing it, asking me to give his family another chance and pointing out that we will be staying with his mom who is really looking forward to it. My job is super stressful and I could really use that time off to relax while this sounds like it will be anything but relaxing. What should I do? I need to give an answer soon and I’m really torn.

First of all, if anyone has standing to be disapproving, it's the person who rose up from nothing on her own merits over the people whose biggest whoop-de-doo accomplishment was being born.

I certainly don't encourage going into any situation with this attitude; it's just a different form of snobbery. However, there are benefits to indulging it on a onetime basis. For one, it can help you see that "lion's den" is wildly inaccurate; it's more like a toddler's playpen. Mature, thoughtful, decent adults recognize that the intellectual underpinnings of snobbery don't withstand even the shallowest scrutiny.

And, it can help because the solution isn't to "appear unruffled," it's to *be* unruffled--and the shortest distance to that state of mind is to understand that people who have to put you down for any reason, but particularly based on your origins--i.e, something over which you had zero control--are people who feel insecure enough to need the extra height from stepping on someone's back. It speaks to their character, not yours. 

So maybe none of this changes the fact that you see these people as unpleasant company, but I do think it can help to frame them as unpleasant company more to be pitied than feared.

I also think it's really important to discard this disapproving attitude as soon as it serves its reframing purpose, because if you indulge the thought that they're all a bunch of overprivileged placeholders, then you risk stereotyping them exactly as you feel stereotyped.

And I think that going for Thanksgiving with Jack even though you'd rather stay home and wax your scalp would be a useful step toward seeing whether "absolutely wonderful" really does apply. 

Besides, the mom is the thing--if she's cool, then you can do this.




My boyfriend has a teenage daughter who I get along with, very well in fact. I think he's a great dad but he has to travel a lot for work so he doesn't get as much time with her as he'd like. Her mother is just awful. And I know that is typical new girlfriend thinking the ex-wife is awful, but she is. She's causing her daughter so much anxiety that she's getting sent to the school counselor. Both he and I have told the kid that if while dad is away and she can't take her mother anymore, she is welcome to call me. I can take her to her dad's until he comes home. It may not come to that, but I'm worried about what will happen if I'm ever confronted with her mother. She awful. She lies. She keeps things from her ex. The suffering she's put both her kid and her ex through is just flat out nasty. I don't know if I'll be able to hold my tongue. She's repeatedly called me some very awful things despite the fact that we've never met face to face. Any suggestions on how to keep my cool? I really want to tell this witch off.

You obviously care about the daughter, and the best way to show you care is to keep your cool around her mom. Telling off "this witch" would be about you--specifically, you'd be putting yourself at the center of the mom-daughter drama--and it would make things so much harder for the very people you're trying to help.

You can do by far the most good here by being quiet and steady and pleasant and easy to deal with. And that includes being (as) easy (as possible) for the mom to deal with. If you find yourself face-to-face with her, be the model of calm. Do some reading on "nonviolent communication" to get an idea of how to de-escalate tense situations. 


Hi Carolyn, My husband and I are on a tight budget, so when there is a non holiday event on my side of the family, I usually travel solo. Some family members usually ask where he is and I tell them the truth- he had to work. (Which I feel is all the info they need.) Recently, I traveled to a 60th birthday party for one of these family members, and I was met with little comments: " Where's your husband?" " Oh, I guess we'll never see him" etc. This really bothered me since it is a sacrifice for either him or I to travel. I don't feel like I should have to explain my finances, however I felt really judged by them. Do you have any advice on how to shut this down, because I love my family but, at this point it makes me not want to visit?

Maybe their tone-deaf comments have soured you on these family members, but if not, then you could genuinely say: "You'd see him if you came to visit us--and we'd both love that."

Otherwise: "I wish you knew how badly he wanted to be here."

Either way, brush off the rest as more your discomfort than theirs--because if you felt good about going solo (i.e., if you had happier reasons for his not being there with you) then you would brush these comments off. Sometimes it's just hard.



What?!?! "I don't want to be a shrew and pester my husband to participate in the shrieking child wrangling at dinner." Expecting your husband to parent his child does not make you a shrew

I have a friend who's confided in me about her fertility issues. I often have acquaintances ask me if this friend and her husband are planning on having kids. I never know how to answer these questions. I usually just say, "Maybe. I'm not sure. I haven't asked them about that." Do you have any other ideas, or should I just keep going this route? Ugh, why do people ask these questions? I never ask people these questions. It's rude and none of my business.

Your answer is fine. Couldn't hurt, though, to advance the cause a bit: "I've learned that hard way that prying into anyone's family planning is a bad idea."

You’ve had a long week and a funeral. Why isn’t your husband the one chasing the kid at the restaurant?

Hey producer person (I forget your name, sorry!). The chats link does not show today's chat. Of course, it could just be me, but I had to go to Facebook and get the link from a Carolyn post. This is the page I mean. Usually today's chat is on top,

Producer person here. Hopefully this means I get my own Hollywood folding-chair. 

Anyways, thanks to those who have reported this. We just resolved the issue but I'll keep an eye out in case this happens again.

Don't forget the megaphone and the beret.

Thanks so much for your response!!! Unfortunately, husband won't be the one to convey the message; I've asked him to after I walked away from a conversation before and he declined, saying he wouldn't be comfortable doing so (he's much much much quieter than I am and really hates any type of confrontation/disagreement/verbal unpleasantness; he really does have fantastic qualities that outweigh this fault!). That language is really helpful, though, I think I might email something ahead of the holiday saying that. My problem is I get heated easily, so walking out tends to be my go to instead of losing my temper, and then I never get the chance to respond how I would like. But I was so caught up in my head imagining how bad it was going to be, I couldn't even think of a reasonable response like the one you came up with; thank you so much for that! And I have told some of the closer first-time askers something similar to what you said; none of them have asked again.

I appreciate this follow-up, thank you.

I am also concerned, looking ahead, about your potentially co-raising a child with someone who "really hates any type of confrontation/disagreement/verbal unpleasantness." I am completely on board with the idea that different people bring different strengths and weaknesses both to their romantic partnership and their partnership as parents, and often you'll have to pitch in for each other when one is more able to accomplish something than the other.

But being able to express yourself during a difficult or awkward time is not optional--not in a healthy parent-child relationship. Raising a kid often feels like one difficult or awkward time after another:

"No, you can't stay up late";

"Where do babies come from? I'm glad you asked, here's how it goes";

"Yes, your younger brother made the travel team you got cut from, I know you're feeling bad about that"; 

"No, Mr./Ms. Teacher, it's not okay that my son is being singled out for having ADHD, and the list of accommodations explicitly states that he get a *discreet* check-in during longer assignments."

So a more retiring co-parent certainly can be, say, the homework supervisor and behind-the-scenes calendar keeper while the more outgoing parent takes meetings and makes phone calls--absolutely. I'm all for it. But the parent job automatically and regularly requires both parents at times to be able to hold their ground under sometimes overwhelming emotional pressure.

Do you know who exploits the gap when one parent won't step up? The kids. And they're on to you younger then you'd ever believe, walking all over the non-confrontational parent at the expense of the spinier one. To the ultimate detriment of the child him- or herself.

Plus: What if, kids or no kids, you end up incapacitated in the hospital and he's the one who has to speak for you. What then?

Therefore, it would be absolutely fair for you to make the point that there are times in every marriage where "I wouldn't be comfortable" is not a menu option. When his mother--and his ongoing refusal to intervene--is causing you significant pain? That sounds like one of those times. But that's up to you.

Just a suggested follow up from this morning's column -- sister needs to be told to quit leaving herself in the middle with her nephew.

I thought about taking even longer with that answer, but changed my mind.

IF your husband isn’t as bothered by his mom’s questions as you are, why not assign him the task of keeping her updated with the understanding that it means she can’t talk about it with you? He is presumably more used to her style of “support” and has more distance (at least hormonally) from the trying to get pregnant stress. Mom gets her news, you get your privacy, and husband gets a helpful job. (I suggest this only because it sounds like you’re ok with folks knowing the details of what’s going on, you just don’t want to discuss it yourself - if that’s not the case, then disregard this advice!)

Regarding above post, I'd like to know why that question and the one regarding why are you still single are almost always address to women and not always to guys. If the second question were addressed to me as a still-single guy, I would reply, why do you care, and what are you doing to help me over that hurdle?

Because society is more inclined to recognize your inherent worth when you're male vs. peg it to your status as spouse or parent.

Thank you for noticing. That's the only way it'll change.

What is the name of the book that you recommend often for adults to read to help them learn how draw boundaries with their parents?

Lifeskills for Adult Children, by Woititz/Garner. Think of it as boundaries 101--very basic place to start.

How do you respond to family in the Northeast with Ivy League education stereotyping Southern colleges as not up to par?

How embarrassing for the Ivy League. 

I have had the month from hell. I discovered my husband--who travels most of the week-- haas a porn addiction that could have bankrupted us had I not caught it by sheer happenstance. The crisis has been averted and we are both in therapy. But the strain of these events has taken a toll. I can't hide my discomfort about being with my husband, and friends are noticing. Ther hasn't been any overt nosiness, just gentle inquiries about my well-being. I don't want to hurt my husband by broadcasting this mess (never mind my personal embarrassment).. But how do I respond to well-meaning questions?

The rules of deflection are the same, even when the degree of hell feels hotter than ever experienced (sorry you're going through this): "Having the month from Hell--I'll be okay though. Thanks for asking."

A friend and then co-worker went after me when I was Exec Director of a nonprofit she wanted me to head and helped hire me, mainly because I was in the spotlight and she no longer was. (I'm female as well and I think she also resented the attention I was getting from men in my role, even though it was non-sexual.) I resigned from the position because it didn't pay enough for me to stay in a toxic environment and do battle with her. She intensified her aggression toward me and it was all rather hellish. We live in a small city in a red state and are in many of the same liberal groups, so we are often at the same events. Each time we have been, she has done things to get at me because she can't let go. One thing is interrupting conversations I"m having with men and then taking over the conversation. (She's been doing other little things as well.) Even the men notice what she's doing (and most know about the situation.) How do I push back without stooping to her mean-middle-school-girl level? How do I get her to stop?

Sounds as if she's the one getting burned, no? Given that others are noticing? Whenever possible, let natural consequences do the hard work, and let people make asses of themselves.

Don't do it! Otherwise, you are teaching "mom" that she can harangue her way into getting whatever she wants at the obvious expense of others (note this will continue if/when child(ren) come along).

It sounds like you're putting a lot of pressure on yourself to manage what other people think---your husband, folks in the restaurant, even Carolyn (I'm sure she wouldn't have thought twice if you said your baby was 20 months old, without apologies!) Outside of this single incident, I hope that you can let yourself off the hook for that a bit...parenting a toddler is exhausting enough

Hear, hear. Thanks.

A word of caution: it is never the case that one former spouse is the absolute worst and the other is blameless. They chose each other for a reason, and they may have more in common than you think. I'd be very cautious about becoming part of this family.

I can endorse the advice for caution, and awareness of two-way streets. Heartily, even.

But there are some legitimately awful people who don't show their hands until well into the relationship. The people who get suckered into marrying and/or reproducing with them have been through enough hell, and don't need to live under a cloud of suspicion ever after. Use due diligence in choosing partners and be mindful of our own tendencies to kid ourselves--that should do it regardless of the specifics of a love interest's history.

Time to go. Thanks all, thanks Teddy, have a great weekend and type to you here next week.

Babysitter would be a great idea, and if I had known sooner than last night that this was the plan, I could have pulled it together. Re: the other comments, my husband is great and does more than an equal share of parenting, but he just has a higher tolerance level than I do for rowdy behavior, so he doesn't recognize the need to intervene at the point that I do. Thanks for the suggestion to deal with the bigger issue at a later date. I ran out on my lunch break to get some new table-friendly toys and will just get through it tonight. Maybe kiddo will surprise me and be a delight, maybe I leave early and let my husband get a ride home. Who's to say... tomorrow will come either way.

There you go. Thanks for checking back in, and good luck :D

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