Carolyn Hax Live: 'NO NOT COMIC SANS!'

May 11, 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.

Dear Carolyn, My husband has a twin sister who he is friends with as well as siblings. I like her in small doses, but sometimes her personality comes on a little strong. I’m expecting our first child and I’m 22 weeks. Since we announced my pregnancy she has treated all the decisions we are making now and in the future as joint decisions between her, my husband, and me. Everything from the brand of pre natal vitamins I use to circumscision to baby names to car seats is treated as a joint decision. At the 20 week appointment we asked my MIL and my mother if they wanted to be there to see the ultrasound and the gender and they agreed. Sister came along as well and at the end when I was making my next appointment she wrote it down as if she was planning to attend. My husband is annoyed at this as well, but right now he gets less of it because he’s not pregnant. At first, I handled this just by saying neutral things like thanks for the tip or article, we will consider it. But now she contacts me daily about the baby and made it clear she expects to be in the delivery room. My husband and I both feel a little smothered by this, but her intentions are very good and we don’t want to hurt her feelings. I also don’t want to spend the next 18 weeks handling her on top of my pregnancy and I definitely don’t want her in the delivery room. How can we go about this?

Oh my, no. 

There's never a bad time to set a good boundary, but the better time is always sooner. I realize shouldas are evil, but I think I can safely say that bringing a baby into the world appears to many as an open invitation to get up in your business as far as you'll let them. Thus this is not a problem that ends here,  thus going back to rethink your choices will be useful for next time. So take this shoulda and apply it hereafter: Nip these intrusions early.

And acknowledge the difference between a little bystanderly  intrusion and a full co-opting of your authority. While I am a huge fan of the neutral reply as polite deflection, there are times when the lines are crossed so far, or the lines themselves are so important, that firmer limits are necessary.

Coming along on the appointment uninvited, for example--that was a time for your husband to step in and talk to his sister. Writing down the appointment! Just no--*out loud.* "[Sister], this was a special occasion--future appointments are not group events."All of those vitamin-car-seats-circumcision discussions she invited herself into also pointed to  the need for a twin huddle. Each one, yes, can be dealt with neutrally, but in aggregate they presented you with a serious problem and therefore an opportunity to catch it early. "Sis, I love that you're excited about this baby. You'll be such a great auntie. But I'm not comfortable opening up our decisions to family review like this." As soon as the picture was clear.

(more)

It will be harder now and there will be more occasion for hurt feelings, since the time lag has allowed her perceived investment to get bigger and bigger. But that also means you don't want to stall any more. 

She might take it best from her brother--at least, it might help to keep her from seeing you as the only reason she's being asked to step back--but this might not be the time for the Big Talk. Since she's giving you so many opportunities, you might have better results with Small Talk(s). Meaning, you respond (and/or your husband does) in the moment to one of the big boundary crossings, and then you see if your message gets (a) received at all; (b) applied only to the circumstances at hand; (c) recognized as applicable pregnancy-wide.

If she goes to (c), then, yay. You're done. If you get (a) or (b), set a firmer boundary at the next opportunity and see where it goes. If she gets upset, then it's time for the full we-love-you-as-a-sib-and-auntie clarification session. As in, not as a third parent. 

I am a high school teacher and gearing up for the end of the year. Another teacher at my school just sent everyone an email explaining that this year, our final exams fall during Ramadan and we will most likely have fasting students. She has offered to come in early on those days to administer early exams for those students, so that they will have spent less time without food and water (our school's A/C is inconsistent at best). She does not want to announce it during our morning loudspeaker announcements and has instead requested that if we think any of our students would appreciate this, to discreetly talk to them. I understand her concern because my school population is incredibly diverse. Picture for the 2018 election results that half of our student body was jubilant and the other half fearful for their safety. I would guess our school would get phone calls from parents saying that "minorities are getting special treatment" their white, Christian kids would not get. However my concern is that I feel weird sussing out which ones of my students are Muslim or not. I really have no idea unless a student has mentioned it to me or they've used my classroom for prayer. It feels weird to me to appraise my students appearance, last names, etc. to make a guess at who is Muslim. I want to offer this to students but not in a discriminatory/offense manner. Do you have any suggestions?

Why can't the school make the early-exam accommodation available to all who sign up? Then you can announce it instead of profiling it, which is the kind of terrible idea that makes other terrible ideas recoil in slack-jawed horror.

If the kids are like most high school students I've known, the crack-of-dawn option will not be pounced upon by people who don't have a good reason to pounce. But if it is, then you just need some more volunteer proctors.

Hi Carolyn, As a parent what are my obligations to help cultivate a good relationship between my daughter and her paternal grandparents? My husband is not close to his parents. There has been no abuse or fight over a major issue. My husband and I are just really different than his parents, we live different lifestyles. We live in an urban area they live in a rural area, we have white collar jobs they have blue collar jobs, we're liberal they're conservative, etc. So far my husband is only willing to accommodate his family visiting for one weekend a year if they stay in a hotel. We do not visit them. Each visit causes my husband a fair amount of anxiety so I have not pushed to give them more visitation time. His parents are unwilling to try technology like video chatting and my daughter has no interest in talking on the phone. How do I help cultivate a better relationship between my daughter and her grandparents? The grandparents periodically express some frustration over not having a better relationship with her but I'm not sure what I can do to help this issue. Sending her to visit on her own is not an option, they're a plane ride away and the area they live in isn't the sort of place that I would leave a multiracial child without parental supervision.

Maybe I'm being obtuse, but "We live in an urban area they live in a rural area, we have white collar jobs they have blue collar jobs, we're liberal they're conservative, etc. " and not being close are emotional apples and oranges.

Maybe there's more to it that you didn't include, thinking the contrasts sufficed as discordant shorthand? (Please tell me we haven't come to that.) But if not, if it's just city vs country mice, then seeing that as extra work vs. unworkable is one thing that cold help this issue.

And also in that case, the strict one-visit-per-year limit seems more cruel and unusual than healthy and warranted.

And cheez, "no interest in talking on the phone" is not an excuse. Please teach your child that remaining connected on a grandparent's terms is an act of love (and barely registers on the effort scale, seriously).

Now, if we're to extrapolate from "multiracial child" that your husband's position is a boundary he enforces against racial prejudice, then some of this makes sense--except perhaps the grandparental yearning for more grandchild time and the "no ... fight over a major issue," which both go against the bias theory ...

In any case, if this were about race, why wouldn't that be in your first line?

So I've pretty much got this: If your husband's anxiety is about the place and circumstances vs. the people, then I won't say it's your "obligation" to encourage him to invite his parents more--ultimately it's his parents, his call--but it would be a question worth asking him, whether you and he have put the guardrails too far back.

If his anxiety is about his parents themselves, then I think your obligation is to be supportive of what he needs. 

I hope, though, that he made it clear to them the reason(s) he's keeping them at arm's length. Assuming they should know by now is not a substitute for specifics, and not knowing why is hell.

 

 

So my son is about to graduate high school. He is 18, a very good kid, and so far, has given me very little reason to worry. He wants to go to the beach with a few friends this summer. Basically, the friends are a boy and 2 girls who have been his best friends all through high school. The boy and one of the girls have recently paired up as girlfriend and boyfriend. My son and the other girl are just friends, but I think that they might be tempted into a relationship as well, given hormones and opportunity. I like all the kids, but I am really afraid that this trip will involve sex, and that freaks me out. But I also know that it will happen eventually regardless, and I don't want to be the mean parent who denies these really good kids whom I have known for years some well deserved fun. They are all adults, but just barely. Any advice or insights?

"Eventually" meaning, if he's so inclined: already, or next month, or Freshman Week if he's college bound. Sex does not wait for beach trips. 

It also wouldn't hurt for you to consider how old you and his other parent were when you first had sex. 

And it wouldn't hurt to reflect on your experiences at 18 and do a retroactive risk assessment: Was sex the biggest danger you flirted with? Or was it substance abuse, inexpert driving, mindless acquiescence to group stupidity, illusions of immortality, naivete about peers ... I don't know. Seems to me that biological urges have the lowest actual-risk-to-parental-dread ration. But YMMV.

Full disclosure: I've regarded the HS-grad beach-week tradition with existential dread since before I had kids of my own, mostly because of the risk in aggregate of high concentrations of not-fully-ripened impulse controls. But if that's not what this is, if it's just four friends at the beach--even two young couples at the beach--then try deep breathing and honest fear-reckoning as you come to your answer. 

I need your advice on my sister. She’s 18. She got homesick at college this year and is definitely depressed. I think she recently started antidepressants. She had a brief relationship this year, and has reacted poorly to the breakup. She has told the guy, several times, that she’s going to kill herself. Even saying that it is “in progress”, which hasn’t been true. She’s told him she’s pregnant, then says she had abortion, to then says she’s pregnant again. This has been going on for a couple of months. Clearly she’s seeking his attention and lying. There’s no chance they are getting back together, he thinks she’s absolutely crazy. But he contacted me because he’s afraid she might actually hurt herself. I’ve asked her about it and her response is that he’s lying. He sent me screenshots, so I know he’s not. Our family walks on eggshells around her. She has a temper and lies constantly. I’ve caught her in silly lies recently, so I can’t believe her all. She will be home from college soon. I feel like this all needs to be addressed, but no one in my family will do it. What should I do?

"Crazy," please, no--"mentally ill," quite possibly. A lot of serious mental illnesses start to present in people as they transition out of adolescence and into adulthood. Therefore it's not uncommon for people to show their first serious symptoms--of depression, bipolar disorder, BPD, schizophrenia, among others--while they're away at college. It's also not uncommon for the first pass at treatment to be inadequate. For example, a script for antidepressants when there's something bigger or different going on.

As a sibling, you're in a tough spot. To get your sister a full mental health screening is a parent's job. But, your parents might not be aware they have such a clear responsibility here. Oddly enough, it can be hard to figure out what to do about (what seem like) lies and drama and temper eruptions, yet easy to figure out what to do about the much more serious problem of an illness (call the doctor). So push for the easy.

I don't think it's too much responsibility for a sibling to assume to lobby your parents to at least make an appointment with the family doctor. Ideally they will also read up on different illnesses and symptoms at www.nami.org, or, even better, call NAMI's help line: 800-950-6264

This will be my first Mother's Day as a mom, and I'm already not enjoying it due to the pressure I feel to balance time with my husband/baby, time with my own mom, and time with my in-laws (including both my husband's mom and his stepmom, who cannot be grouped together). Everyone is local, so there's no card/phone call easy way out fix. My husband is fine with disappointing pretty much anyone except me and wants us to just shut ourselves in to celebrate alone on Sunday, but I would feel terrible doing that to our moms. My mom and mother-in-law have already both called me to try to parcel out my time (really the baby's time), but if I say yes to everything they've requested, I'm left without a moment of downtime all weekend, and barely any time to be alone with my own new family. I know it won't be like this every year (the landscape of the family will shift, the newness of the baby will wear off), but I feel so depressed thinking about how a day that's supposed to make me and others feel good is inevitably going to lead to someone's feelings of disappointment or overexertion or rejection. Do you have any good suggestions?

Say no to everything. Not because it's Mother's Day and/or Your Day or whatever, but because that's what you want right now and you feel like your life is out of balance and you want to focus on your husband and baby. Love sometimes gives orders, yes, but it can also take them. And the adults you disappoint can handle disappointment. Be fierce. 

I am a high school teacher. My department chair "Ken" occasionally makes laminated signs for everyone in our Social Studies department to hang on our walls. He uses some special cardstock with random images of historical figures and scenes. My problem is that Ken likes to use Comic Sans font and more often than not his signs include a typo or grammatical error. If these signs were not made with the special cardstock, I wouldn't hesitate to reprint my own. I am tempted to, but fear is holding me back, of rooting through his office when he's not there to see if I can find where he keeps the cardstock. As we are right now, Ken has made a few offhand comments about where the signs are, and I've brushed them off with that I've been so busy grading but getting them up is on my to-do list. What should I do?

NO NOT COMIC SANS!!!

Tell him you found a typo and ask if he'd like you to reprint it for him. Everyone needs an editor.

Repeat as needed.

My daughter is a freshman at an expensive private high school. She has become best friends with a wonderful girl who is at the school on a scholarship. My daughter's friend is passing her classes but not getting great grades and has been informed that she is losing her scholarship next year because she didn't meet the minimum grade standard. Her family cannot afford the tuition and they are planning to send her to the public school in their neighborhood next year. My husband and I are lucky enough that we can afford it, so we offered to pay for her tuition, but her mom told us she wouldn't feel right accepting that. I think we should fund a scholarship at the school, urge our daughter's friend to apply, and then pull some strings to get her chosen for the scholarship. My husband thinks we need to take her mom's "no" for an answer. This young lady is both the best friend my daughter has ever had and a bright young girl who could really benefit from this school, which has far more resources to help her get college scholarships than her public school would. Should I keep trying on this or is my husband right that I've done enough?

Short answer: Your husband is right that you've done enough. Any more risks interfering in this family's business.

Long answer, there might be a bigger problem here, beyond this one friend, that your compassion and cash could help address. How well does this school support the scholarship kids? Obviously the correlation isn't 1 to 1, that a lower-income student automatically presents an achievement-gap problem. However, that correlation is quite common, disturbingly so in 2018 America, especially if the prior school is an underperformer--and if this friend is representative of such a gap at this school and if the school uses its scholarship money in hopes of closing such gaps, then a parent of means might be able to do some lasting good by kick-starting (or helping to enhance) a tutoring/mentoring program for kids who need it, particularly kids coming in as freshmen to a new school with radically higher expectations than their prior schools. (Now -that's- a sentence.)

Okay, so this is kind of answering a different question from the one you asked ... but maybe going to the school, citing the example of your daughter's friend, and floating the idea of a program to support bright kids who have first-year adjustment struggles--a program for which you offer seed money--could also become a non-meddlesome way to make the case for the school's giving this friend another chance. And boy do these schools listen to people who walk in with money, alas, unless they already have so much they can afford not to. 

I think you were joking, but as a graphic designer, I'm taking this at face value. Thank you.

Joking not joking. Teddy agrees.

what does YYMV mean?

It means everyone needs an editor. 

YMMV.

Another decision point to consider: Who's paying? The OP's son is technically an adult. Presumably the others are as well. If the parent is not being asked to sign a lease or pay for any part of the vacation, maybe it's time to come to terms with newly adult children learning to make adult-style decisions.

Yes, exactly this, thanks. I assumed it meant a parental signature somewhere, but that wasn't a fair assumption.

Sometimes you have to tell relatives to get out when they butt in to your medical appointment. And sometimes you have to get the staff to remove them. Don’t ask me how I know this.

My sincere condolences.

I had my first baby two weeks ago, and my husband and I dealt with a version of this while I was pregnant. He's very close to his sister, who's a veteran mom, so he spent several months assuming I appreciated all his sister's input and inviting her to provide it--when in fact, I really wanted to experience being a first-time mom, including the clueless decisions and mistakes, without being constantly reminded that someone else knew better than I did. My husband was shocked to hear this, but quickly reversed his approach once I found the words to say so. Good luck!

Congratulations! On the baby, and on finding the words, and to your husband for being willing to pivot.

I find your column very enlightening and liked your advice to the woman whose friend’s fiance was touching her leg under the table. You said just tell him out loud to remove his hand. A woman in our set of friends initiates touching and chumminess with my husband who returns it, but not to the level of seriousness of the leg toucher. We know from this woman’s parents that she is in a long term affair with a married man. I don’t believe my husband will go beyond public chumminess (flirting) with her but I do believe that he is intrigued by the fact that she is interested and available. The last time this happened we were having dinner around a table so I could not avoid being a witness and I was definitely uncomfortable and annoyed. Part of that feeling was the difficulty of deciding is this random harmless flirting or did it go beyond. If I find myself in this situation again should I handle it right then or later in private?

Thank you for the kind words.

"This situation" being your husband's openness to having an affair, yes?

Because that's the only problem if you're okay with random harmless flirting.

Of course even the affair isn't a problem if you're open to that, too, and the flirting is a problem if you're not okay with that, so I guess I need to be more clear here ...

Please ask yourself: 

1. What behavior here you find problematic;

2. Why;

3. What if anything is within your power to change;

4. What's the best way to try to make those changes. 

So, for example, if you think your husband is crossing a line, spell out your concern (later in private). Say you're not angry, or accusing, you're just wondering.  Does it intrigue him that Scarlett is interested an available? Radical honesty isn't always a gotcha--it can also be an invitation for others to use the same.

 

Although the writer claims there are no major issues keeping her partner and parents (and therefore grandchild) apart, there may have been issues with the parents prior to the marriage. I am assuming the letter writes is a different race than the son and perhaps the parents expressed concerns to him prior to the marriage. This happened to my brother and his wife (also a different race) never knew. Once they married, my parents came around and build a strong relationship with her. My brother never forgot the initial reaction, and maybe that's what's going on here as well.

Right--but that would be a "major issue" to me.

Still breathing--just reading for comments to post.

Good answer from CH! My 2¢: "I think we should fund a scholarship at the school, urge our daughter's friend to apply, and then pull some strings to get her chosen for the scholarship." As someone who has worked in Financial Aid: it doesn't operate that way. A donor can initially offer some preferred selection criteria ("a person of color from the South" or whatever) but it's generally non-binding and certainly isn't at the level of the individual student. To be clear: once funds are in-hand the school decides the use of its resources.

Yes, thank you, I should have flagged that. It's also a boundary-crosser.

Can you ask the doctor's office to change your appointment day/time?

Yes, definitely reschedule, thanks.

A possible solution to Grandparent Access's problem would be to schedule a family vacation on a kid-friendly cruise (or similar venue). Grandparents get to spend time with the family, son and daughter-in-law get a break from city v. country stress, and granddaughter has a good memory with grandparents and parents together.

Yes--but only if it's not just the same anxiety for the son with a different view out the window.

First, do the fasting students or their parents want early time for exams? Second, if they are old enough to be fasting and sacrificing for religious reasons, they must understand why they are fasting-special treatment may not be appropriate to them. Shouldn't it be the fasting students or their parents who raise the concern, not just an individual teacher?

Or, the school could take the initiative, offer an accommodation--to everyone, in fairness--and the people it is meant to help can decide and say whether it's helpful or not. We really needn't be such Darwinists all the time. 

I think inviting both mothers but not the twin sister to things might be a particularly hard boundary to draw. LW and her husband can choose to draw it anyway, of course, but I would consider making things either mothers+twin or husband-and-LW-only.

Wha? Why? Grandmas, not aunties. Done. 

I mean, there are other sibs, too--shouldn't including the twin mean every sib gets invited? Maybe they can get timed tickets like they do for Vermeer exhibits and butterfly rooms.

How about "no spectators at appointments" as the easiest line to draw. Maybe that's just me.

If there's convincing evidence (e.g., her messages to the boyfriend) that your sister has threatened to kill herself, that might suffice to get her involuntarily committed for 72 hours' observation in a psych ward.

Yes, or at least a call to the student dean's office at school. Thanks.

If it's been a REALLY long time since you've been in a relationship, and now you have a possibility that you're feeling pretty ambivalent about, how do you tell if that's because you're just not clicking in the right ways with this person (who on paper looks great for you), or if you're so set in your single ways that you can't even picture it anymore? I honestly can't tell if my lack of enthusiasm is a sign, and a sign of what. Help, please.

It's a sign you're not enthusiastic. Please take it at face value and don't push for more of this person. When more is called for, the MORE light will light up. And probably flash and buzz and stuff. Not to scare you or anything.

Remember, postponing difficult discussions never works: awkwardness delayed is awkwardness magnified.

"awkwardness delayed is awkwardness magnified":

I love this so much, I'm going to misspell it and print it out in Comic Sans.

My firstborn isn't a hugely social creature so beach trips didn't come up during HS. He is now a college sophomore and is away at the beach for the very first time with a group of friends. Even though he is 20, I'm still anxious about it. Even though he's been to Europe multiple times, traveled solo in the US, etc. Perhaps you never stop worrying?

Oh. Great.

My mom died, I have a <1 year old, and I just don't want to do anything. I completely lost it yesterday at a sweet Mother's Day card they sent home from daycare. Can I just turn off the radio and TV (and *&^& facebook) and bury myself under the covers every Mother's Day from here on out?

Of course. But you won't need to. Maybe this year, maybe next year, maybe at odd times when you least expect it--but the "lost it" phase does pass. Hang in there, love that baby. I'm sorry about your mom.

This is almost word for word what happened to my sister when she went off to college. It was a lot to deal with for all of us, particularly my parents. I tried to compensate by being "perfect", and ended up with some anxiety and a mild eating disorder. All this is to say that it might not hurt for you to have someone to talk to about this that isn't your parents.

Good thought, thank you.

I'm surprised and disappointed you would give that answer without mentioning that the parent should underscore the importance of taking contraception along.

Perhaps rightly so.

But for what it's worth, I don't think that's something I've ever done. 

I hate to say it, but at my school it absolutely does work that way, at least if the donor is wealthy/generous enough. At my school money talks to the point that if this LW is making a sizable donation and tells the dean she wants her daughter's friend's tuition covered, the dean will make it happen.

Sigh. Feared this. Thanks.

re: "definitely reschedule"- I assume you don't mean just secretly change the time and have SIL show up and them not be there, right? Cause that would be passive-aggressive and a bridge-burner? It's just insurance in case she tramples your wishes. So you'd say "sorry I didn't speak up sooner, but I'd rather it just be us." Assuming you don't tell her you've rescheduled- it's secret boundary-crossing insurance?

Yes, this is a supplement to my answer on setting clearer limits on the sister, not a replacement for it.

"We know from this woman’s parents that she is in a long term affair with a married man" I dearly hope the woman's parents aren't trying to subtly clue in you in that the married man is your husband.

=:-O

Okay, tank's empty, that's it for today. Thanks everyone for stopping by. Have a great weekend, and see you next week.

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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