Carolyn Hax Live: 'Diaper Rodeo'

Mar 02, 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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Is this thing on?

Good. Okay. There were problems with the forum today. If you submitted a question earlier (i.e. before this morning) then you'll need to resubmit it. My apologies.

And, hi everybody who still has power.

I'm getting married. That's awesome. However, my parents want me to ask my brother to be my best man. The idea of letting my brother, who's spent his whole life being the biggest jerk he can manage, stand up and give a speech about me makes me want to break something. He outed me as gay in high school (I'm bi, but that was hard to explain to an idiot who wanted to beat me up in the toilets). He told everyone that I was the reason he was in a wheelchair because I pushed him downstairs once (it was not). Mum convinced me to put hand controls in my car so he could learn to drive, and he crashed the car on purpose after he had a fight with me. I get that part of it is that he got into the habit of putting me down to prop himself up, the sort of school where dudes try to beat up because you're gay isn't a great place to be a chair. However, he's also a jerk and a bit of a bully. Obviously I could just say no, but my parents are really invested in the idea of 'Jamie' having 'this opportunity'. I think it is because he doesn't have many friends, as I mentioned he's a jerk. They say that they won't come if I am so 'ashamed' of my brother (I am, but only because he's going to say something terrible). At the moment I want to cancel everything and just elope. Meg, my fiancee, thinks we should get married and my parents will eventually come around. They, I assume, think the same thing about me and I just want to make a point. If my brother needs a kidney one day, he can have it, but I'll never be close to him. Any ideas?

Say no to the brother as best man, let your parents have their fit if that's how they choose to handle your showy display of mental health, and please please consider talking to a good family therapist about your family. Because, wow.

 

And if I just answered the plot of a movie that everyone has seen except me, then please treat me gently. Thanks.

I just typed out a response to a query about a past column, but I'm not posting it till i get a chance to read the original col, which will take a sec--no link provided. I'll start on another Q in the meantime.

I.e., I haven't stopped to do my knitting. There will be answers momentarily.

My best friend, “Pam” and I have been friends since college, and run a small catering business together. We were married the same year and have children who all grew up together. While Pam is still married, I’ve been divorced for years. I love Pam like a sister but she’s a little rigid in her thinking and I think she’ll disapprove of my current relationship since the man, “Gary,” is married. His wife lost interest in both him and sex years ago and has looked the other way when he sees other woman as long as he’s discreet so it’s not like we’re doing anything really underhanded. Pam knows I’m seeing someone and has been pushing to meet him but I haven’t told her he’s married because I’m afraid she’ll freak out and won’t accept that the current set-up works for all of us: me, Gary and his wife. Since the wife is an occasional client (that’s how I met Gary) of our business, I don’t want to risk introducing Gary to Pam without telling her the whole story. I'm reluctant though since I can’t predict how well she’ll take it and once I tell her it’s a done deal. What’s the best way to handle this? Should I keep stonewalling her or come clean?

"I'm dating a man who is in an open marriage. Is this going to be a problem?" Proceed from there. Good luck!

Don't give in. Cereally. My mom wanted me to change my sister from a bridesmaid to "co-" Maid of Honor with my best friend. (we also were not close, long story.) Mom pushed and pushed, in the name of welcoming my black sheep sister back into the fold. I didn't do it, but I did give in and have her be a candle lighter, AND do a reading, AND remain a bridesmaid. All that, and she still wanted a "solo" dance with my Dad.... to "Butterfly Kisses" (a VERY father/daughter mushy song.....) AT MY WEDDING. I've regretted all of it. Fast forward? My parents still favor her to the point that she recently got married, and I found out about it on Facebook. My own parents didn't even tell me in advance. RESIST, my friend. It's your life.

Your second letter got me thinking. My sister owns a few apartment buildings and my mother lives there rent free. My mother plans to give my sister slightly more in her will. Our brother is angry about this, he wants my sister to just charge our mother rent. My sister thinks our mom will spend the money on medical expenses anyway and doesn't mind missing the rent. My brother thinks my sister is doing this to get credit of some sorts. It's annoying. What do you think?

Your brother needs to stop bean-counting and start living as a fully fledged human being. And if there were some way an advice columnist could get a writer to get a sibling to do this, then I'd have published a book on it and retired on the proceeds. I'm sorry. 

I will keep a good thought about his discovering, soon, that our spiritual side is some of the best factory-installed equipment we have and that we shouldn't ignore it just because we can't be bothered to read the manual. Kind of like Bluetooth.

 

This is what I tell myself when I'm confused. I tell myself this, a lot.

Does it work? Asking for a friend.

Hi all -- I'm the chat producer here. Carolyn just lost power because the nor'easter storm hitting the east coast at the moment. I'll post here when there is more information.

In the meantime, I can publish a few responses from readers about the dilemmas already posted above. Send away! 


In the process of writing this note, it looks like Carolyn may be getting power back! So, the situation is still "unfolding" like any broadcast newscaster would say.

Your advice to the husband frustrated about his wife’s procrastination was good (as always) but it also seemed one-sided. The guy was clearly looking for concrete advice about -how- to talk about his feelings with his wife. It seemed to me you didn’t really answer his question. Is there a reason why you didn’t address this? It seemed like your answer was sensitive to the wife’s feelings, but totally ignored the husband’s feelings. His frustration is completely valid, and he should be able to verbalize to his wife how her behavior affects him. Dollars to donuts he feels for some reason that he cannot, and that’s partly why his frustration is so acute. I was really surprised that you did not touch on this at all. A chronically procrastinating spouse, especially one who will not admit that they are procrastinating, can leave the other spouse feeling incredibly pressured — as though they are always left holding the bag and that if they don’t take care of things the family needs, it won’t get done. It can leave you feeling like your partner does not have your back. Maybe you haven’t experienced this. If they can’t talk about it, it will corrode the marriage. Why did you leave that part out of your otherwise great answer?

I didn't "leave that part out." I think the path to dealing with the feelings is to deal with the source. So, if the source of the wife's behavior is a medical condition vs. a purposeful choice, then the feelings about it would be completely different, no? And if the wife then refused to either get screened for a possible diagnosis or if she got a diagnosis but refused to seek treatment, then that would point to yet a different type of feelings about it. And of course if there's no diagnosis and it is a purposeful choice, then the set of feelings and options for dealing with them is something else entirely.

Just as you wouldn't get angry at someone who is simply not tall enough to reach a high shelf--right?--there's no basis for anger in someone who can't do something due to an emotional or mental obstacle to doing it. 

So, you turn your attention to identifying a cause, and then, once you've done that to the best of your ability, you sort out the feelings accordingly. To skip to the end here would have been premature.

 

I love traveling to see my friend & her spouse + kids, but I get massive anxiety whenever a meal is involved during my stay. They never hire a babysitter and insist on bringing their super little kids with them to nice restaurants, where we unleash screeching, singing, running and loud iPhone cartoons on other diners. They are oblivious, I've even seen them change a diaper *at the table* of a fancy French bistro. I offer to cook, get takeout, even beg for the nearest chain restaurant whenever I can, I'm so tired of the glares. PLEEZE tell me what I can do to mitigate this!

Well, you either tell them the truth or you keep being part of the problem.

Anyone want to take a shot at some phrasing? Here's my entry: "I know when I go to nice restaurants I have a problem with kid noise, but I'm fine with it at family-type restaurants. And I'm saying this as someone who loves your kids like they're my own, as you know: I'd just feel more comfortable if we went to Diaper Rodeo."

By the way, I don't anticipate ever recovering from the mere knowledge of the tableside diaper change, so please know the diners who witnessed it are in my thoughts.

Hi Carolyn! I figured if you’re willing to talk about peoples Facebook problems, you’d might be willing to talk about this one? Pretty please? It’s been a haunting pickle for a few years now. I’m 37 and chronically single. Sometimes I enjoy it, sometimes I don’t but I make the best of it either way and have for a while now. I am feeling over it though. Enough of the self love and acceptance crap, I want a family. I have love to give.... someone else. There is only one man who has ever loved me for who I am, who knows my charms and foibles, my challenges and quirks, who has seen me at my best and worst and daily and still accepts me and wants to build a life with me and he is my best friends ex-husband. He actually became her ex because he had realized the above and decided he couldn’t be part of a marriage when he was in love with someone else. They were my favorite couple and dearest friends and it broke my heart when this happened. I thought he was crazy. I thought he was fantasizing. I tried to talk him out of it and tell him we had no future. I thought he’d get over it. He didn’t. He maintains that he has always felt this way about me. 10 years. She miraculously doesn’t blame me ( because its’ not my fault) and we have continued our friendship while he has moved away. It’s been 2 years since their split and he checks in every now and then to see if I’ve changed my mind and am I ready to accept his love and run away together? I still say no. Because I couldn’t hurt her like that.... but the truth is I want to so badly. He is a really good person and I believe we would make a great team, and a wonderful family and I am so tired of being alone. I realize that loneliness is a powerful motivator and I am trying to acknowledge and work through that. I have no illusions about anything being perfect or happy ever after. I just wonder if this is my shot at lasting love and am I giving it up to keep someone else happy?

What does this have to do with Facebook?

I can only answer you from my own perspective here, which means it could have, give or take, zero relevance to your situation: If my husband left me out of love for my best friend, and if he had been honest with me about that, and if two years had passed since then, and if my best friend felt the same love for him that he feels for her, then I would want them to be together.

Hell, I'd stand up for them at their wedding if they didn't think that was too weird, just to inoculate them against any nasty judgments the public might make about the slow-motion wife swap. 

If you're reading this and thinking, yeah, it's easy to have utterly unsubstantiated heroic ideas about what you would do in a utterly hypothetical situation [demure cough], then I don't blame you. But I'm saying this with some history to back it up. The two-year ... intermission is key. There's been time for all parties to heal.

I agree with you that loneliness is a bad reason to want this pairing to happen, but love is a good one. 

 

After the changing-the-diaper-at-the-French-restaurant-table letter, no one would blame you for just knitting for the rest of the chat.

It's possible that letter even put me off knitting.

I'm pregnant and have come to the realization that I need to be a stay-at-home mom. My husband and I had planned for me to go back to work, but I now realize staying home with the baby is something I need to do. My husband is not being supportive at all. He said that if he had known he'd be supporting three people he would have waited to try to start having children until he was in a better place in his career. I think that's cruel -- he's effectively saying he doesn't want the child I'm now carrying, he wants some future hypothetical child in some future hypothetical time when his career is better. I know men can't understand the emotions of a pregnant woman but are there words of wisdom I can give him?

Yes, please, anything that replaces words of emotional blackmail and hyperbole. He's not saying he doesn't want the child you're carrying, he's pointing out that you bait-and-switched him.

Which is also not helpful, even though it's closer to the truth than what you're charging.

You two had a plan; that's good. You conceived a child; that's great for you both, congratulations. In the process of your pregnancy, your perspective changed; that's normal, though it can often mean introducing some strain to existing plans and the people who made them. These are all fine and normal things.

So please treat them as such instead of treating them as plot points in an opera. Start by doing some repairs on your language:

You did not realize you "need" "need" (duplication yours, not mine) to be a SAHM, you realized you want to. Your husband is not being "cruel"; he is responding to your change of perspective with a concern he has about finances. It is not a crime against feelings to say out loud, "This could be a problem, since we made this plan based on two salaries, not one."

I could even make an argument that it was cruel of *you* to respond to his concern by accusing him of being unsupportivejust because he didn't immediately embrace your new plan. The guy's trying to tell you a truth about how he feels! He's under different pressure now. Again, this happens sometimes, people and their goals do evolve as circumstances change. But to deny people their feelings in response to such changes, and to deny them the time they need to process it all, is unfair.

If you'll indulge me in the fiction that I'm advising you both, then I urge both of you to back away from your own catastrophizing impulses, and work to be more flexible in your thinking. You both now are much better informed about your own needs and desires than you were a mere few months ago--so, recognize that, and start doing the difficult, loving, patient and necessary work to reconcile your new visions of how your family life will be.

And, not for nothing, "men can't understand the emotions of a pregnant woman" has put me off my knitting too. You are not a category, and you are not a hormone vessel. Neither is he. Sentient beings unite.

 

One that had been adapted from a column -- I'm the one who wrote in about the wife who sabotaged her chances for a dream job. And, the comments, wow. First of all, all the folks lambasting me for being a controlling man -- I'm a lady. We're both ladies. Second, for all the folks talking about how "obvious" it was that this was my dream job, not wife's: I had no knowledge of this job until wife brought it up. All of the "dream job" descriptions came from her. Your point about this potentially being anxiety or ADHD: we saw a couples therapist, and therapist thinks wife has a mix of generalized anxiety and depression. I've always suspected this, but this was the first time a third party said it out loud. I'm hoping wife will decide to follow through with some therapy on her own.

Me, too. Thank you so much for the follow-up. The extra facts come in handy, as facts typically do.

You have to find it in you to say no. Don't beg for the nearest chain restaurant, tell them that you're taking them out to Chain Restaurant tonight. They want to go to Fancy Place, you say, "I would love that. Let's plan that next time I'm in town so you can get a babysitter." And don't budge. They don't do babysitters? "Oh, well, in a few years when the kids are older maybe." The main thing is that you have to get over the idea that expressing your wishes is rude, that you have to beg for what you want, and that you have to go along with their ridiculous plans.

The main thing is that you have to get over the idea that expressing your wishes is rude, that you have to beg for what you want, and that you have to go along with their ridiculous plans.

 

I just loved the main thing so much I wanted to see it twice. 

Plus, Restaurant Monsters is my new band name. 2 for 2.

Hi Carolyn, I was talking to someone back in college (~5 years ago)- there was mutual interest but it eventually amounted to nothing. Although I wanted a relationship she did not, which was understandable. We parted ways and have not been keeping up with each other outside of a few glances at social media posts. Fast forward about a week ago and the same individual reached out via social media in what seemed like a harmless, let's catch up manner. We've been texting nonstop ever since. Currently, she is overseas for work and returns in a few weeks. Am I merely an emotional/boredom crutch for her while she's on her assignment or is there something that she seems to be wanting to rekindle?

Assume it's the least unless and until it shows up on your doorstep as the most. That's about the limit of my divination skills. Sadly.

Much as we missed have a second hour with you last Friday, we appreciated Teddy taking the time to answer some of our questions, suggestions and complaints about the technical aspects of column-commenting. Hope this will result in improvements in the comment and chat software.

I hope so too. And thank *you*--the specific suggestions from regular commenters are gold. Please do speak up if you'd like to have another session sometime. 

From today's column: Just keep posing ideas as questions — “Do you think . . . ?” ------- He will know they are not questions. My family does this, as if I'm too dumb to know what they're really doing. Not helpful.

Then say so, then say what would be helpful.

 

I'm always happy to switch to the other side of the advice I give, which the column format doesn't really support.

 

I take issue with the notion that framing things as questions equates to treating people as if they're stupid, though. It's a gesture of respect: I have thoughts, but you have the last word, so I will address whatever you have presented to me but I will do so in a way that clearly defers to you. 

 

It is also a gesture of respect to respond to something that bothers you by saying so and why. "I find this conversation frustrating." And then: "I'd appreciate just having someone to listen," or, "I would rather work this out on my own," or, "I'm well aware of how you all feel, and I respectfully ask you to drop it," or, "If you have a suggestion, I wish you'd just say it directly." 

 

The calmer and more specific you can be, the better.

It would be worthwhile to sit down with your fiancee and really explain to her how engrained in your family these issues are. My wife comes from a loving, supportive family, and I come from a family like the letter writer's. It has been a problem at times that my wife has a hard time grasping that, No, on a lot of issues my parents won't ever come around. You guys will be better off if you both have an understanding before you marry that "they'll come around" may not be realistic in this family.

Yes, yes, thank you for the catch.

Where did it go?

It should be there now. Thanks for letting us know.

 

I have a fifteen year old son who is obviously bright, but hates school. My husband and I can't helicopter him to success because A - we don't want to be helicopter parents, and B - he has developed ninja-like skills when it comes to evading any attempts by us to monitor schoolwork and homework. While we believe that "actions have consequences" is the best motivational tool (he's an athlete), it is demoralizing to watch him be okay with just skating by. He's smart, but assumes that everything school related will suck. He has been screened for depression and learning disabilities, and falls in the gray area for both. Up until last year saw a psychologist and a tutor regularly, but stopped seeing them because he resented both and it just seemed like a waste of time and money. And for what it's worth, his grades and behavior are right where they have been for the past three years. We've told him we'll pay for whatever help he needs, but he has to tell us that he wants it and will value it. I guess I'm okay with with the steps we're taking, but how do I get over my disappointment that he isn't curious about learning? I know that the plans I had for him as a baby were waaaaay over the top (Heisman trophy winning Rhodes scholar) and love him for who he is, but I can't get over the feeling that he's going to regret the missed opportunities, and my disappointment that he has no interest in anything academically related.

Following the path you lay out for him could the the reason he misses his opportunity to figure out who he is, what he cares about, what he's good at, what his purpose in life is, and what vocations/avocations make best use of these talents and interests.

 

So please widen your perspective as you watch him grow. That's the best remedy I know for disappointment--being open to the beauty of what you have.

 

It might help also to accept that you've made your point. Points. And to get him where he is, you've done some dragging, some of which all parents must do at times. But to drag someone along you have to be out front, and there comes a time when you just can't be out front anymore. You have to step aside and see where he takes himself--supervising closely, of course, but more in a catch-when-falling role where before you were inclined to push. This isn't only about your son and his specific ways of going through school. It's part of the natural evolution of your role as a parent--the scary part when you start to let go and see whether you gave him what he needed.

Actually needed, not "needed" toward a Heisman.

Calling it a day. 

 

Thanks all, thanks Teddy, and thanks Post for paid vacation time: I'm off the next two Fridays to rest and regroup (the column will be off for only one week). Hope to see you here again March 23. 

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 washingtonpost.com. She lives in New England with her husband and their three boys.
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