Carolyn Hax Live: Accidental glass bowl

May 24, 2019

Advice columnist Carolyn Hax will be online to take your comments about her current advice column and any other questions you might have about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

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Hi everybody. Today's chat is brought to you by Verizon Wireless, which just slowed down my hotspot because its definition of "unlimited" is actually, "unlimited until you actually use it in an unlimited kind of way, at which point we choke it off." I am on the road today so my remedies are limited. 

Ahh, 2019. Good thing you're so cute.

I submitted a question to the chat a couple weeks ago about my husband cheating on me while I was pregnant and just moved to a different state and I wanted to give you an update. Soon after I sent the question my water broke early and I went into premature labor. I ended up being hospitalized. The doctors were able to hold off labor for two weeks and I just delivered my son prematurely at 32 weeks. He is currently in the NICU but he's doing okay. My sisters have been amazing and have flown down to take care of the kids while I was hospitalized, and I was able to see a therapist while I was in the hospital, so I've had help coping with all the changes. Unfortunately my husband still isn't involved. Other than the first night I went to the hospital, I have not heard from him. I plan to get a lawyer once everything settles down, but my first focus is taking care of my baby. Thank you for your advice and thanks everyone for your comments of support. They say bad things come in threes but I'm hoping things will work out.

You're welcome, congratulations on your son, and thank you for sharing this news with us. To use the phrasing of a chatter past, you are a freaking warrior.

I know you don't want to be one, and it took the craven actions of someone you trusted to put you in the position of having to be one, but you will always, always, have this: When life asked you to deal with staggering challenges, you answered. And you can remember this later on, when future obstacles seem insurmountable. Or when your awesome sisters need you, or others in your orbit do. You'll likely get through this tougher -and- more empathetic.

I'm proud that you chose this forum to cry to, lean on and inspire . Check back in any time.

My 8 yo shared that his Little League teammate told the team that he “only plays baseball so his dad will like him.” When you watch the kid play, it is clear that he is desperate for his dads approval of his baseball play. But it is not clear dad has any idea that his kid thinks he has to play for his dad “to like him.” Should I tell the dad what my kid reported? Sorta heartbreaking if dad truly doesn’t know . . . But not really my business. . . But the poor kid thinking that. . .

Uuuuugh. 

I'm going to semi-answer, semi-crowdsource this one, because the answer part is with some trepidation. I have been in your position *to a degree,* watching a kid here and there over the years who is clearly playing only because a parent is so invested. I have also never said anything, because I agree with you that it's not really the business of bystanders outside the family.

You are in a different position, though, because you have facts. The kid actually said it out loud.

I don't know that it changes the not-your-business calculation--I still don't think I would take it upon myself to alert the parent--but I do think I'd file it away for if the opportunity ever arose to say something. 

I also think you can accomplish more than you realize by talking to your kid about it, asking how s/he responded to this friend; how he feels about the idea of playing to please a parent; making sure your kid knows that playing is up to him or her; and, after the conversation, asking if s/he'd say anything different to his friend now. I realize 8 is so very young, but these two 8-year-olds, respectively, just proved themselves self-aware enough to admit to daddy-pleasing behavior, and emotionally astute enough to report this as concerning to you. They're *on* this, apparently more so than the dad in question. So maybe your 8-year-old can support this friend. "Have you told your dad that?" is not crossing any lines and not beyond the age.

Maybe s/he's not ready for even that, and so be it, nothing wrong with it--but at least talk to your kid about ways to support a friend who is sad. It's a learned skill.

And I probably don't need to add, opine away. I always appreciate your ideas, but in this case I have a less formed opinion than usual. 

During last week's chat, you wrote: 'Actually, you're losing your friends because they've chosen a crappy, transactional way to treat other people.' Can you expand on what you mean by this? What is a 'transactional way to treat people'? I'm old and maybe I should know this, but I don't...

It's spending time with people for what goods/services they can deliver, vs. just the pleasure of their company.

So, in the Q you're talking about LINK, the friends were more interested in meeting men than they were in OP's company, and the OP was deemed an obstacle to meeting men, so OP was cut out of the plans that involved meeting men.

To be fair--and as many commenters pointed out--if OP was giving more attention to the people hitting on her than in the friends she arrived with, then there's plenty of responsibility for the problem to go around.

If that's the case, though, then good friends would say this to OP and give OP a chance to handle the male attention more respectfully of the friends' feelings. Then if OP kept it up, they could be transparent again and say they're sticking to dinners/movies/etc. with OP.

But I digress. If you are friends with people because they have a beach house/cool toys/status/etc., then that's transactional.

 

A good friend of mine is going through a really, really hard time, and I see that his husband is getting burned out on playing the caretaker/firefighter role pretty much nonstop for months now. I'd like to offer some sort of help to the husband, but we are not nearly as close and I'm afraid my friend might see this as a sort of betrayal (without going into specifics, there are times when the husband's account of what's going on differs from my friend's, and the husband's is much likelier to be true). How can I do this? I'm afraid of what might happen to my friend if he loses his main support system, which is reason in itself for me to want to back the husband up.

Seems to me you can figure out some way(s) you can help your friend (things that not coincidentally would otherwise fall to the husband), and offer these to  your friend directly. That way you're helping exactly as you deem necessary but not muddying any loyalties.

And if your friend refuses, then you can say, ahem, that this will otherwise fall to the husband, who is going through this with him and no doubt needs a break "almost" as much as your friend himself does. So ask him please to let you provide this help.

As with the baseball kid problem, I think you can also file this somewhere handy in case you see an opportunity in conversation with the husband. I think there's an important distinction between seeking someone out to say something and taking advantage of a natural opening to say something.

We need a meddling scale that codifies degrees of intrusion. 

Dear Carolyn, I have stage IV cancer and don't have long to live. My son and his family have invited me to live with them. I would like this as I live alone. The problem is they live about an hour and and half away from where my medical services are. The area is remote and doesn't offer much in the way of medical help. I'm still driving and can get to and from appointments but when I become to ill to drive, I will be relying on them. There are ambulances for emergencies, etc. and both of them drive but I don't want to be a burden. I'm having a hard time sorting this out. I know I don't want to be alone. Thank you

I am so sorry you have to deal with this. 

I also think it's lovely that your son and family have offered you a home, and that you want to be with them, and that you are are mindful of how much you ask of them.

So my advice is to find a way to make the professional-care aspect of  it work well enough for you to be with your family.

What's missing from your calculation is that your son/fam will, when you become too ill to drive, have to make the journey to *you* if you stay where you are. It seems as if it's a wash--they either drive you to appointments or drive themselves to you (and then to appointments, possibly). Plus, if you're so far away and living alone, their worry burden will likely be significant.

Further, your condition says the nature of your medical services has changed or is about to change. You're not being treated for a cure or an extension of life so much as for comfort and quality of life. Maybe their remote area is a care desert of all kinds, but I suggest you at least look into the possibility of hospice services local to him.

Last thing, kind of an extension of the prior one: Being there for you can be their privilege, not their burden. It can even impose a burden to deny someone's offer to help. As my mom's backup end-of-life caregiver, I know whereof I speak. The kindest thing she ever did for me was accept my help.

 

I think this is a good suggestion. I recently had a similar experience with my daughter. Her friend confided something in her that my daughter then told me about. It wasn't something where I felt like I needed to step in (like abuse). I put myself in the position of having another adult come to me with something like this, and realized I'd feel pretty weird about it. Without having been involved in the conversation, and without having much interaction with this friend or her parent, it's really hard to judge what is going on. For all I know the parents and their daughter have been discussing, and she is just talking to my daughter for an outlet. So I encouraged my daughter to encourage her friend to talk to her parents, and to be supportive of her friend when she needed to talk. For this situation it seemed like the best course of action.

I would wait and watch. Observe the dad. See how the two of them are with one another. Look for signs that the dad really does need the kid to play ball to approve of the kid. Look for signs that the dad loves the kid no matter what. Be aware that you can only see what you can see in public and tread carefully. If the dad really needs the kid to play ball to approve of the kid, that's not a dynamic you want to get involved in as a person who doesn't know the dad.

Could the OP also mention this to the coach? If the OP's kid isn't ready for a talk like that with the friend, the coach may be able to intervene. I doubt they would want a player who isn't invested in playing, or at least the coach might want to be aware there could be a problem.

I do like this, with one caveat--the escalating crazy (is "entitlement poisoning" a thing?) in youth sports has put mostly volunteer coaches in some impossible positions. I don't know if it has shown up in any recorded numbers, but I bet recruiting of coaches and refs/umpires has gotten tougher over the last decade or so.

Maybe a fwiw, "keep an eye on this" conversation.

Wow, everyone was unbelievably hard on the poor woman who wrote in today, calling her a control freak and treating her as though she’s her family’s only *real* problem. If you make your household woman bear the full burden of childcare, doctors appointments, and running around, you can’t then turn around and act salty when she has the nerve to try to schedule in her version of fun, too. She wants more than just work, kids, and “leisure” (which means...what, if not attending Broadway plays? Is Netflix in PJs the only true form of leisure?) She is prepared to accept that she and her husband want different things out of life but if that’s the case, she’s not sure she can live happily at his speed. That’s a tough crossroads to be at, and the responses don’t address that. Meanwhile, it’s unlikely that he’s putting even a fraction of the emotional labor into this that she is — while she’s fretting about what will make him/them happy, what will make her happy, how she can negotiate everyone’s needs to promote the whole family’s long-term emotional health including her own, his contribution is limited to pronouncements of “I didn’t like that” after the fact. And while she can stop planning vacations, for sure, what about literally everything else? If she handles allll if the daily logistics, what exactly is he doing for “the kids,” anyway? This woman is unhappy in her marriage, and the advice she’s getting is “do only all the drudgery planning only and drop the attempts to get some fun in your life.” That can’t be it. I hope she goes to some plays with friends.

That's a fair criticism, it's not good when there's a piling on in the comments, and certainly dropping from her chore list the one thing she actually wants is a solution that needs a better PR rep.

But having read a lot of the comments myself, I noticed the closest thing to consensus that I've seen in a long time: Exhaustion. It was tiring to read, to imagine--and the family sounds tired. And there were name checks that hinted at an agenda of a "should"-driven childhood being orchestrated, vs. a "want to." 

The culprit, too, isn't just the LW's expectation of elaborate plans. A significant contributor is the nature of modern childrearing, as in, the unrealistic expectations thereof. Too much going on at school, too much going on after school, too much expected at work of parents who work outside the home, too much intrusion of school and work expectations into down time via devices, too much of a winner-takes-all mentality with spots in "good" schools and homes in "good" neighborhoods with "good" schools and spots on "good" teams and chances at "good" internships and aaaaaaaaaa. All this as a whole other subset of families is trying not to get evicted and to get an education in a failing school and to go to the bathroom with any sort of dignity where half the bathrooms are locked. It's vile.

But this family has what I thought was a pretty clearly expressed immediate need: to chill. After a deep breath or 12, I hope the two of them (parents) can downsize the expectations and structures of the other parts of their kids' childhoods, and then rebalance the delegation of chores between them, so they can then have some energy left to do something nice. First things first though. 

 

I had this mom. As a family we were alway doing, traveling, learning, expanding, improving and studying. I took piano, clarinet, ballet, drama, learned to garden and lived in a perfectly clean house with delicious healthy meals served every night. It was exhausting. I was 28 before I realized a vacation could be sitting in a hotel room watching cable TV for several hours. At 47 I still have to talk myself down from the idea that if I'm not improving, studying, learning, serving great meals and excelling in all ways that I'm worthy. Please Mom, chill. Please. I make duty visits to my parents twice a year and call on birthdays. It's just too exhausting to do any more.

Thanks for this. 

Kevin Spacey may be off people's watch lists, I understand, but "American Beauty" is devastating on this topic.

Tried to be friends with an ex-boyfriend and just couldn't do it; the feelings were still there and I found it difficult to watch him move on with his life without me as a major part of it. I made the mistake of telling him this and now, though my feelings have faded, he continues to hold me at a weird, lordly arm's length, telling me (and others) that he's doing me a favor by giving me space. Is there a nice way to say "Uh, actually I'm over you" that seems believable?

"Thanks, that did the trick." Not that he'll get it--you will, and that's what matters.  Congratulations on shedding this one.

How do you decide where your kids should go to school? My son is a kindergartner at the local public school and we love the diversity and deep community vibe there. The actual teaching/class time has been fine, but nothing special. I've heard next year might be more rigid, strict and academic, and that worries me. I think our son is quite smart; he's particularly good at ideas and conversation. But I'm not sure those are the things that are stressed at this school, which has to cater to a lot of different needs and focuses on testable outcomes. I want to support public school, I don't want us to be those parents who bail, and I hugely value the ethnic mix there. On the other hand, I REALLY don't want my son to lose his love for learning because it's not viewed as "cool," which is my hunch about how things are at this school. Money considerations aside, how do you decide what's the best school for your kids, while also keeping a societal obligation in mind? It seems like every family has to navigate this on their own, and it's so hard! Thank you.

Our approach was: We stay where we are until something tells us it's time to go. 

"Societal obligation" is a red herring. The educational value of a school lies in everything about it: the curriculum, the teaching, the peers, the facility, the extracurriculars, the quality/quantity of the homework, the intangibles of the community (diversity, social curriculum, govt/taxpayer/donor support, etc.), the ability to meet the particular needs of your child. When all of these add up to a good education for your child, then you're all set; just about every school will be strong at X but weak at Y, since some things are mutually exclusive.

When you see stuff you don't like, then you first try to work with the school to see whether it can be responsive to your needs, and then, if that effort comes up short in a way you think will be detrimental long-term, you start to research alternatives.

It can be really tough to navigate, but it doesn't sound as if you've hit the serious stakes that some families do, like with persistent bullying or a nosedive in performance.

I dropped out of my grad program with only a few credits to go because I felt that the workload was sucking all the fun out of my life and forcing me to miss some fun times with friends. Well, about 6 months later, it seems the Happy Hour Every Night phase has abruptly ended for my whole friend group, and now I feel like an idiot for letting my momentum drift away and not just finishing my education when I was that close. I should definitely grovel my way back into my program, but every time I think of doing that, I get stuck on what a loser I'm going to sound like when I explain that I left to play with my friends. Can you help me get past that obstacle?

"I left for personal reasons, and I'd like to return." Growing up isn't pretty. But, it's good.*

Plus, the sound-like-a-loser potential isn't diminishing with time, it's amassing armies, so the sooner you get on it the better.

 

 

*It's also lifelong, alas. Assuming my sense of time is accurate, I am unable to go more than a month or so without an "I can't believe I have to freaking admit this about myself" moment of some magnitude or another. My goal in life is not to erase them, but instead to keep them small. Ish.

"If you are friends with people because they have a beach house/cool toys/status/etc., then that's transactional. ..." GOD I WISH I could be transactional ... How have I gotten to this age (Carolyn -1) without ONE SINGLE FRIEND WITH A BEACH HOUSE? Yeesh. The most exciting things my friends have to offer are stories about their visits to the podiatrist.

You're just using them for the referrals.

I am confused as to why you reacted so strongly to the LW whose husband told her that whether they continued with a pregnancy was her choice. Isn't that what we have been strongly saying throughout my lifetime? My body my choice is the dogma of the woman's movement... Just a few days earlier you stated exactly that to a male LW who very much wanted his gf to have an abortion. You came down very strongly stating that any choice/opinion he had was made when he had sex. Why the difference?

BF was treating this as 100 percent her decision, 0 percent hers.

I see it as 51 percent her decision, 49 percent his. 

Oversimplifying, but that's the idea. It's her body so she gets the final say, but that's not the same as the only say. A couple who produce a child within a relationship owe it to each other to talk about this fully and transparently, to make the best, most respectful decision possible for their circumstances.

here's an analogy: To make a law, it's incumbent upon both legislative branches to debate it, rework it, test the ideas before making them final. They don't kick the whole thing to the executive, "You deal with it,"  just because that branch has veto power. Ya?

 

So much depends on the dynamics of the teams and the parents, but when my son played baseball, the moms were a really tight group. Dads may have come for games at that age level, but usually it was the moms at the practice, encouraging their own and the other kids. If it were me, I would probably try to mention something casually... "Johnny loves his dad so much - you know what he told my son the other day?" and present it as a minor, interesting, not necessarily negative manner.

When I was 10 (two years into dancing competitively) I told my ballet instructor that I only did dance because my mom said I would get fat if I didn't keep dancing. My mom never said this to me, I was starting to become really self-conscious about my body at that age and my mom was vocal at the time about women's appearances ("wow Susan's gotten big" type stuff, stuff she outgrew from the 90s and would be horrified to say now)--the dance instructor called my mom and told her that I should stop competing because she was worried about my mental health! I didn't want to stop dancing! I was just 10 and dealing with weird thoughts! Sometimes kids say stuff in an attempt to work out how they're feeling. Maybe he really does want his dad to like him. Maybe he was sharing an insight with his team to justify why he's been playing badly. I wouldn't get involved!

Great point, thanks.

For the person who asked I will ask a few questions. Would you want a parent to tell you? What is the worse thing that could happen from saying something? That the parent might be miffed with you? That he might say it's none of your business? Is being uncomfortable telling or with someone being miffed so terrible?

The classic way to communicate with someone else on an issue like this is to wear the problem yourself: In other words, for the LW to say to the other father, "Let me ask you: My son's really settling into the game, but he knows what a big fan I am, and sometimes I worry that he is only playing to try to please me. Have you had to deal with this, and do you have any advice?"

I wonder if the kid said it out loud so that someone could help him address it. I really hate to leave a kid just carrying such a big crappy thing without support. And *absolutely* if my kid thought he had to do something so that I'd like him, I'd want it to be gently and non-accusatorily pointed out to me. I don't want to be an accidental glassbowl, and I have no doubt that I will be sometimes. I want people to show enough care for my kid to help us both.

A year ago I had a secret relationship with my son's soccer coach. I was under the impression that his relationship with his wife was on the rocks. At the time my relationship was less than great with my husband. I went ahead with the secret relationship even after being approached by his wife who suspected. I brushed it off and said we were just friends. Basically, I lied and my relationship continued to blossom with coach. So now, years later, I am OK in my marriage, and I am feeling less than great about the harm I have caused for another family, and my own. I am wondering if it is appropriate to apologize to coach's wife even after all this time? Would this cause a bigger stir than necessary? I know that apologies and forgiveness are important, but is this just a little beyond the realm of apologies?

It's a lot beyond the realm of apologies. The only reason to apologize would be for the wife to feel better, and I feel pretty comfortable guessing that the best the wife can feel is in not thinking about you or this bad episode in her life. Your parachuting in from the past to remind her of you would not accomplish that. To reckon with the harm you did--which is a good impulse--your best bet is to look forward. That doesn't just include the obvious, of not doing something like this again, but also putting your energy toward a greater good. Doesn't even have to be related--just, a decision to be a purposeful part of the world in some way you're equipped to do that. 

This isn't just advice for you, either, but for anyone, since we're all going to do damage somehow to someone, being human and all. So it's on us to renew our focus, when we're in a position to, on efforts to the good.

I am getting married in the next year and my fiancee and I have been butting heads regarding changing my last name. I have the typical arguments regarding not wanting to change it for my career and brand recognition, but it is complicated by the fact I work for a large multi-national organization and have spent close to a decade building my career in this organization under this name. I am also the last in my family to have my maiden name and we believe it will die off with me. My fiancee does not sympathize and believes it is because I don't want to go through the hassle of going to court, changing all my documents, etc. and he argues that if society forced the male to change their name, he would do it no questions asked. He acknowledges that short of putting a gun to my head, he can't actually make me do anything, but he is quite upset that we will not "look like a family" on paper. I am unsure of what else to tell him. Help?

" if society forced the male to change their name"?

Society isn't forcing you to do it, either. And it's disheartening that he's okay with your paying a significant personal price to feed an "on paper" perception that is decades past being expected. It's even more disheartening that he treats you as disingenuous--you gave your reasons! He has decided you're not telling the truth. Wow. If he doesn't think you're being honest then he shouldn't marry you.

If he wants to "look like a family," then his name change would accomplish that as surely as yours would.

Whatever you decide about the name is your business but please don't budge on his accusations of dishonesty. Right now he's a no-go--there's no happiness in a marriage to someone who doesn't take you at your word.

Must go. Thanks all, have a great weekend and I hope to see you here ... not next week, I'll be traveling, but the Friday after.

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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