Carolyn Hax Live: "It's all word vomit."

Jan 12, 2018

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.

Business first: I'll be at a hockey tournament with my kid next Friday, so no chat. I might try to schedule one on Thursday if I can make it work. Stay tuned.

I'm not sure why you bothered to respond to this person. My parents were equally irrational and controlling about their kids, and they certainly didn't care about being logical or consistent. My mom even prided herself on that, saying, "When you have kids, being logical doesn't matter because it's about protection and safety! You'll understand when you have them!" I do have kids now, and I still don't understand. That person wasn't writing in for advice but rather to show what crazy lengths she'll go to in order to be a "good" parent. Oh and why did my mom act that way? She assumed all adults would rape her daughters the minute she wasn't around.

I'm sorry. That must have been hellish for you.

I answered that one because it wasn't the only response I received with that same argument--there were what I considered a disturbing number of them. (Arguably one parent taking such a fearful approach to raising kids is disturbing.) And it felt wrong to just file all those letters away quietly as if their writers had a valid point.

Maybe my answer won't get through to any of them, but if there's a chance it gets through to one, then it was worth it to me to try.

Your column today was about retirement. Here is another question along the same lines. My husband is a hard-working man, and also a caring and loving husband. Our relationship is absolutely wonderful. However, there is something that I fear may soon destroy all this happiness. He is going to retire in a couple of years, which will be several years before me. He is very much looking forward to filling his time with fun activities, like traveling, skiing, hiking, hobbies, and things of this nature. He deserves all that as he has been working long hours for many years. However, I am afraid that I will quickly become resentful of me having to go to the office every day while he would be enjoying a never-ending vacation. I know I should not think this way, but I also fear that it may be hard not to. I am sure a lot of women married to older husbands somehow find ways to accept this kind of arrangement, but what if I can't? My job is fairly boring, but pays well, so I will have to stick with it, especially when he retires and is no longer covered by insurance. I have considered changing my field of work to find something more enjoyable, but anything I would like will bring much less money, fewer benefits, and also it would require retraining. How do I handle all this?

I don't think there's any magic answer, or any answer really besides talking about it. You can say that in theory you understand how much he deserves this after a lifetime of hard work, but in practice it will involve his "filling his time with fun activities, like traveling, skiing, hiking, hobbies, and things of this nature" as you go to work every day at a boring job just to make this possible for him.

The answers you can come to from here aren't necessarily great; what is he supposed to do, stay home and do nothing so you're both bored? Structure his will so he can finance your retirement in return? Then what--you can go off skiing during your post-work years without anyone else's feelings to consider?

But getting the feelings out there will give you both a chance to anticipate them in your planning. Maybe a new line of work is the answer, for example--you have a few years to think about it with an eye to health benefits and flexibility vs. size of the paycheck. Maybe he sees himself (or could see himself, with prompting) also taking on more household responsibilities so that his retirement benefits you both. Maybe his free time will allow him to plan more elaborately and include you in many of his activities. Maybe talking about it now will make him mindful of your feelings when the time comes so that he doesn't unwittingly rub his freedom in your face.

Or, maybe just hearing yourself say them out loud will help you see that your feelings aren't worth acting on beyond getting them off your chest. He will have his time and you will have yours, health permitting for both, and the happiest way to handle that is to treat it as a misalignment vs any kind of injustice.

My husband and I are planning our son's bar mitzvah. We've set a budget for about $10,000, which is enough for a catered luncheon with a DJ for the kids after the service. My son and the kids will also be participating in an activity the next day. Over the holidays, when visiting my in-laws, they mentioned that people flying in for a bar mitzvah expect to be fed. They think it's outrageous that we're not providing dinner on Friday night, dinner on Saturday night, and breakfast and lunch on Sunday. When they heard of our budget, they said we need to bump it up to the $30,000 - $40,000 range (my father-in-law doesn't believe in casual food - only fine dining and expects everything to be top shelf). We told them that we didn't have that kind of money to spend on a bar mitzvah. My mother-in-law is demanding that we feed everyone or she won't come. My husband told her that's her decision. What else can we do?

Hug your husband. His was the perfect response.

Dear Carolyn, Everyone (close friends and family) wants to know why my five-year relationship just ended, as my partner and I were living together and actively making plans to get married and start a family. "We just outgrew each other and are happier apart" suffices for some who ask, but not the ones who know us really well. Can you clarify why I should not tell people that my partner was a lowlife and a thief who stole thousands of dollars from me within six months--a fact I have so far kept to myself in an attempt to be fair to him?

Why do you need to be fair? Or, I should say, why would the truth be unfair? Is there some question about his guilt?

Did he commit a crime for which he can be prosecuted?


If you just don't want to get into it with anyone, then feel free to tell the people who knew you well that he turned out to be a really bad guy and you're not ready to talk about it. That's your prerogative--to protect you, not your ex.

Hi Carolyn - I am trying to track down a personal essay I once read, and I am reaching out to you because I am at my wit's end and thought maybe (just maybe!) this would ring a bell for either you or one of your readers. It was an essay about how her not having children wasn't an active decision because having children was something that never occurred to her. There was an extended metaphor involving how she similarly didn't choose to not move to South America because it had never occurred to her to do so. This essay really spoke to me, more than anything else I have ever read about not having children, and yet while I thought I saved it it seems to have disappeared. Any help on finding this would be so very appreciated!

Sounds vaguely familiar, but that's all I've got. Anyone?

My father retired several years before my mother. He took advantage of the time by indulging his love of cooking. He tried all the recipes he'd ever wanted to try and made my mom a lovely meal every night. Also, my mom commuted on the Metro so dad drove her to the station every morning and picked up up every evening. She felt a little pampered.

Ah--pampering. Lovely way to buffer hard feelings that doesn't preclude a retiree from having fun. Thank you.

Hi Carolyn, Our daughter "Annie" has moved back home at age 33 to save some money while doing postdoc work and teaching college courses. She works hard and studies for fairly grueling hours, and she contributes a more than fair amount of money to household expenses. Our daughter "Bonnie" has moved back home at age 29 after a sudden breakup, bringing our 15-month-old grandchild with her. Bonnie works but does not earn much money, and we are encouraging her to save it (instead of giving it to us) because we know she wants to live independently with her child as soon as possible. When Bonnie is not working, she is mostly tied up with her baby. Neither of our daughters really contributes to the housework, but they are good housemates and we are really happy to have them both home. The problem is that resentment has built between them because Annie is aware that Bonnie does not pay "rent," and feels that she has been given a pass simply because she has a child. (Complicating things is that Annie would like to have a child, but doesn't feel prepared to do so without a partner, and is too busy with postdoc work to date much.) Bonnie feels judged and looked down on by her sister. My husband and I are often caught in the middle, and the tension that builds in our household sometimes leads us to regret opening our home to both kids. One or both will probably move out within the next year. Until then, how do we cope? Do we intervene or stay out of it?

Two things. 

1. Annie is being shortsighted. Good families don't take care of everything equally; instead they commit equally to taking care of needs. That means if Annie needs X she gets X, and if Bonnie need Y she gets Y, because what exactly is accomplished by handing Bonnie X just because that's what Annie got? I use the term "shortsighted" because neither you nor Annie nor Bonnie knows what is in store for everyone, so for all you know Annie is five years out from needing XYZ all at once--and the pissier she is to Bonnie now, the more leeway Bonnie will have to give back all the grief Annie's giving her now, plus interest. Which I hope she won't do because that's petty, but still.

2. Annie is paying her way but you're giving her, to use a tired expression, rent-free space in your head. You decide how your resources are allocated, you decide which kid needs what, you decide what's fair. If Annie doesn't like that she's mooching off you on less favorable terms than her sister is, then she needs to either take that up with -you- or move out. Resenting Bonnie for it is misplaced and unfair. 

So, time to sit down with Annie. State your policy clearly: Different kids, different needs, same commitment to meeting needs, with the understanding that life is long and bean-counting serves nobody. If she's not willing to trust that your home is a supportive one and that your judgment is good and that things will even out in the end, then she can take her complaints to you, and even propose other solutions, or forever hold her peace--because you will not stand for tension or hostility between the siblings.


I once dated a very nice divorced woman whose kids were extremely upset that she had divorced their father. Finally she told them he had been pocketing the payments from his insurance clients and also had embezzled $70K of her inheritance. It was a tough, tough moment she said, but they stopped being upset with her. Person who broke up should indeed let her friends know more or less what happened.

Dear Carolyn, My husband lost his father in 2015 and his mother in early 2017. He has two sisters, both local with families, and he loves them both but has never been good at keeping in touch with them except as absolutely necessary. This past holiday season (without my MIL) was the first time we did not see any of them even once, and I realized it's because even though both sisters reached out to try to make plans, my husband never quite committed or passed along the information to me. It used to be that his mother would communicate with all of them, making sure that family plans were made and held to. I'm wondering how to step into a new role among my in-laws so that my husband's laziness in this department doesn't cost us precious time with the rest of the family. Is it appropriate for me to ask his sisters to start communicating with me directly if they want to make plans? I don't even have either of their phone numbers. We have always communicated through my late MIL.

If you *want* to take on this role, then yes, ask the sisters to communicate through you--after running it by your husband first, of course. Just ask him for the sisters' phone numbers and say why. 

If he says he doesn't want you to take this on, then be sure to ask him why. It could be anything from not wanting to stay close to wishfully thinking he'll actually do it himself--and your response will have to change accordingly to reflect what he feels. Good luck.

Hi Carolyn, I have a 6 month old and 2 year old and I work from home. My husband has no job and has been doing the domestic duties since my maternity ended, but we just put our youngest in daycare, so now both kids are cared for while he tries to re-enter the workforce. These past few months his behavior has at times been really hard to take. He complains about the brief periods of time when he has to handle both children at once, he complains about having to change particularly gross diapers, wipe up spit up, manage the toddler's outbursts. He says I don't do enough housework (I do some but not as much as him), and that because my job is easy and I work from home I should be able to do more. He gets mad when I sleep in a bit in the morning instead of helping him get them ready for daycare, even though I was up breastfeeding at night. Our marriage counselor says we need to hear each other out and not get defensive when the other spouse complains, but I can't help but feel angry about all this resentfulness. It just seems as though men, or at least this man, is not cut out for child care duties and I don't know how to help him get over the difficulty of raising young kids. Any perspective you can give us would be greatly appreciated.

A couple of things.

If he's actively looking for work, he could be unusually stressed and even depressed or skidding into depression. It is a tough, tough spot to be in.

It's also a tough, tough spot to be in when you're caring for kids those ages. I know you know this because you're living it, but you're also seeing it through the lens of your own contribution and seeing his as lacking. So, isn't it also possible *he's* looking at it through the lens of *his* own contribution and seeing yours as lacking? One constructive way to think about this, in my experience, is not as a potentially 50-50 distribution of effort. There's so much effort that you each have to give 75 percent to be doing your half. No, it doesn't work mathematically but it does emotionally, and that's what you need right now. Think love, not math.

And, this is age-old--the employed-for-pay parent thinking the primary-caregiving parent "is not cut out for child care duties," or making too much of how hard it is. Just don't. And blaming his chromosomes is just as offensive as if he said you suck at the breadwinning thing because you're female.

And finally (for me; I'm sure there's more others will add): You're working from home and caring for kids, and he's caring for kids and looking for work. So, you're both home. When you need to complain or offload some stress or just howl at the moon, you complain and offload and howl ... where? At home. To each other. It's normal and understandable but it's not good for you to release toxicity in a closed system.

I don't think it's better necessarily to go off with your friends and complain the whole time about your husband, but it would help both of you--I suspect a lot--if you made an effort to introduce some outlets or add to the ones you already have. Think of what recharges or refreshes you and give yourselves *and each other*  permission to build those things into your schedule. You need to sleep in sometimes. He needs to sleep in sometimes. You both need to get yourselves to a place where you can encourage the other to sleep in sometimes. And to want to be with each other while a caregiver watches your children. 

Hi Carolyn, I'm sure this has been covered around here at some point. What's the appropriate response when people (some I know, some I don't) express surprise that I'm "only" x weeks pregnant and feel the need to tell me I look bigger than that? I think sometimes it's meant as a compliment, sometimes it's meant subversively, and sometimes it's literally just word vomit. It definitely doesn't make me feel good (and it's certainly not new information!).

It just doesn't matter. It's all word vomit. Repeat this as a mantra in your head: It's all word vomit. It's all word vomit. It's all word vomit. It's all word vomit. Keep repeating it when your public pregnancy becomes public parenting and the forehead-smackery hits a whole new level.

The not feeling good, by the way, is also the result of a really nasty little side hustle by the body shaming culture. You are incubating a human! Who cares about the size and shape of the vessel? Who thinks the vessel has full control of its size and shape? I mean really--to be pregnant is to feel hijacked by alien forces. You crave foods you don't normally even like? What is that?! So please see the nefarious invitation for shame for exactly what it is and say no.

You can also take self-contradictory, could-be-worse solace in the moment I enjoyed when pregnant with Gus, when a well-meaning salesperson asked me if I was having twins because I was so staggeringly enormous (my words since I can't recall hers exactly). "Ah, no--I'm just still twin-size from the last two."

Mazel tov, by the way.


Hi Carolyn, my husband does not drive. He's had his learner's permit multiple times over the years, but always let it lapse. He's taken exactly one driving test, which he failed. He told me he would have his license before we got married...oh whoops, wedding plans overwhelmed him but he'll TOTALLY get it after the honeymoon...oh whoops, catching up at work after a vacation overwhelmed him but he'll TOTALLY....etc. I don't want to have children with someone who can't drive them (or an extremely pregnant me) to the Dr. in an emergency. I don't want to stay married to someone I don't see as a competent coparent. He finally booked another driving test last night (after I prodded him and he saw the look on my face when he tried to brush me off) and I'm telling myself to hold on and see what the results of that are. But at this point, I'm fed up. I know that he's struggling with severe anxiety over this and that's mostly what's holding him back, but he's also not doing anything to address his anxiety because he has a severe mistrust of therapists and he doesn't see the value in self-help books or self-directed treatment workbooks or....anything except just not doing anything. I don't want to divorce him, but I know at some point I might have to bite the bullet and do it anyway. But when do I hit that point? How do I know it's not worth holding on and being patient anymore?

I know that he's struggling with severe anxiety over this and that's mostly what's holding him back, but he's also not doing anything to address his anxiety because he has a severe mistrust of therapists and he doesn't see the value in self-help books or self-directed treatment workbooks or....anything except just not doing anything.

I get your focus on having a future co-parent who can drive to a doctor's office in an emergency--it's important (if workable around where there are taxis and Uber/Lyfts). Either he addresses this or has a reasonable bypass for it.

But there's a much broader need here that you touch on in the above description. A parent needs to do what a parent needs to do--and sometimes it's uncomfortable or unwelcome or targeted straight at a person's areas of maximum vulnerability. But a parent needs to get it done anyway. In a way, parents are first responders writ small, and they need to barrel through their own needs and fears and reservations to do what their kids need sometimes.

To raise kids with someone as unyielding and paralyzed as you say your husband is sounds incredibly difficult and frustrating. Even though the details are different, the point is very similar to the one in the Emma story (see link above): Parents owe it to their kids--and co-parents--to find a way to manage their mental health well enough for it not to become a major obstacle to the family's health. 

So I suggest you make that the topic of your conversation with your husband. Not, "It's time to talk about getting your license," but instead, "It's time to talk about your emotional health, and what you're willing to do to manage it." I feel for your husband. If his answer to this query isn't one you can live happily with, though, then that's when it's time to go.

My wife occasionally picks fights with members of my family of origin, especially my sister. What am I supposed to do about that? The general guidance is that protecting my spouse from my FOO is my responsibility - they're my family, not hers - but it was my wife that started the whole mess. My mother died last year; she was cremated. Her ashes are in a box on my sister's mantle. She will eventually be buried with my father, but he's in a National Cemetery and there's a long lead time before that can happen. When we visited my sister, my wife went on at length about how my sister is disrespecting our mother by having her ashes in a plain wooden box on the mantel, rather than in some fancy urn. Sister did not take wife's opinions well. She's furious. Wife is demanding I step in and defend her. My selfish view is, you started this, it's on you to finish it. What should I be doing?

No! Agh! You're halfway there in not defending your wife for her awful (*awful*) remark about the ashes--and you're completely there in identifying your "you started this, it's on you to finish it" view as selfish.

The other half you need to cover is that, to use your terms, you need to protect your FOO from your wife. Wow. If I had any standing here, I'd be "demanding [you] step in and defend" your sister.

So. How's your marriage otherwise? Is your wife as abusive to you as she is to your family? Taking a hard look at the person you married is the most important answer to your "What should I be doing?" question. People who think it's their place to dish out unsolicited criticisms "at length" and to demand loyalty are rarely healthy themselves, and they're almost never pleasant companions. Don't fall in line with miserable expectations just because you got the idea somewhere that it's what marriage is "supposed to" mean.

Taking your word for it, will read after chat. Thanks!

See if you both can come up with a 'workday' schedule: decide who does what and when, even if he gets up early instead of you because you were breastfeeding all night. Your life is probably lacking structure. One of the benefits from working from home is that you can pop on a wash and then go back to work. But it's all too easy for your days to flow by without any real shape. Also - I got claustrophobic just reading your letter. Get! Outside! Go for a walk! Join a gym - get moving outside the house. One of you work from a coffee shop some of the time.

Hi, Carolyn. I’ve been reading your columns and chats for years...they’re great. Based on last week’s post and others I’ve seen in your column about twins, I would be grateful to get your perspective on what sorts of questions are appropriate when either someone tells you she’s pregnant with twins or you meet a parent who has twins. I am an identical twin myself so to me it’s just natural to inquire as to whether twins are identical or fraternal. I have no interest in how they were conceived but merely like making twin-related small talk. Do I need to stop asking the identical/fraternal question? It seems people are far more sensitive to these sorts of questions than when I was growing up. Thanks for clarifying.

FWIW, I don't think it's that people are more sensitive, but instead that with more platforms for communication, people get any question in higher volume now. Being asked something once is lovely and a chance to connect; being asked the same thing hundreds of times is stressful.

I don't want to advise you not to ask, though, or else a chance for connection is lost before the other person ever knows it was there. I suggest: "May I pry, or do you have question fatigue?" You can also add that you're a twin yourself--maybe they'll want to ask you some questions. 

Never heard this one before. But I like it. Possible name for today's chat?

I'm all for it, of course.

Do you really want someone like your husband on the road? I grew up in rural Long Island in the 1970s with a mother who only drove for a few years - my father basically bullied her into getting a license. (My husband doesn't drive, but it's DC so it's not so much an issue, though I wish he would navigate). My mother was lousy driver - timid and nervous she had several accidents, she would have had more if it hadn't been for the good sense of other drivers. I really think she was better off the road. We managed fine - my father was occasionally resentful but mostly just got on with it. There were a network of friends who collected me in a pinch and even rural LI had taxis. I would talk to him more about *why* he's so reluctant to get a license. He's doing everything he can not to get one. This might be a dealbraker for you, but I'm not sure the answer is for him to get behind a wheel. If he's like my mum, you probably don't want him driving your children around. It would not be safe.

Excellent, thanks. (And thanks for "dealbraker.")

Not to be a total downer, but my dad was planning to retire in less than a year, my mom was fretting about what it would be like having him home 24/7, and then my dad suddenly died. I guess what I'm trying to say is if/when your husband retires and starts in on his hobbies and personal pursuits, be grateful that he is there and has a plan on what to do with his time that will make him happy. The alternatives are much worse.

It is a total downer, and it also needed to be said, thank you. I'm sorry about your dad.

If I ever find out my kids are keeping my ashes in a fancy urn, I'll be pissed. They know I'd rather be in a plain box or, hell, a coffee can. Cuz, you know, I'll be dead at that point. Wife is out of bounds in this situation.

Chock full o'Nuts? Please?

I'm with you.

Figuratively--not literally in the coffee can.

LW, your husband is not going to learn to drive. He has been shouting this at you, but in an indirect way. Plenty of adults don't know how to drive, or don't even own cars. They are called city dwellers. They raise kids too.

Yes--thus the part in the answer about workarounds. So the focus need to be the anxiety, assuming it outlasts the driving issue. Thanks.

Why in the name of mittens doesn't the OP simply refuse to tell strangers how many weeks pregnant she is?

There's that, too. To each his own mittens.

Okay, time to go. Thanks everybody, have a  great weekend, and type to you here either next Thursday or the following Friday, depending on how well I hit my deadlines. (With a bat, preferably.)

In This Chat
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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