Carolyn Hax Live: 'Fred-and-Ginger-in-one'

Jun 28, 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, happy Friday. Reminder, there won't be a chat next Friday, because historically even the crickets don't show up during Fourth of July week.

Hi Carolyn, I‘m submitting early because I won‘t be around during the chat. My wife and I have a healthy and happy 11 month-old little guy. I gave birth to him and she is staying home with him. My problem is that it feels like she doesn’t trust me to keep him safe whenever he is with me. She constantly hovers and tells me what to do. It‘s frustrating because not only is this my child, too, and I have pretty good instincts about what he needs. But also because I was a nanny for many years, followed by a degree in developmental psychology. So, I definitely don’t lack the credentials. Sometimes I just let her say her thing and leave it at that. But some of the time what she demands I do is very unreasonable (e.g. don’t bathe him when I’m not there). I get angry then and tell her to please trust me. Then she gets upset because I don’t do what she wants me to do. I think we‘re emotionally too involved. Can you give me a good line I can calmly say that is nice and appreciative, but firm? Thanks! BTW, I love the chats and read them religiously. I‘m almost through the archives.

Thanks! Though maybe it's me she doesn't trust.

I don't think this is a good-line-to-fix-it-all problem. Unless she magically responds to: "I am his parent--not his deputy parent." 

I also don't think you are *both* "emotionally too involved." You are responding to the fact that her fears are interfering with your bond with your baby; your level of emotional involvement in being concerned about this sounds exactly right. (Though expressing your anger can't help, which I'll get to in a second.)

So please treat this as an emotional problem your wife has that is already serious, and has the potential to become more so if you don't treat it as such. 

I suggest a two-pronged approach. First, put yourself in the position to care for the baby solo on a regular basis. Arrange your schedule so your wife has activities out of the house at least once or twice a week--or, parental bliss, where you take the baby out for an activity and your wife has the home to herself. Both elements of this are key: You with baby alone, and on a regular basis. It has to become habit for your wife to get out of the way. Plus, it'll be healthier for her to keep/re-establish the part of herself that isn't an extension of marriage or family.

Second prong, professional mental health care. If she won't get evaluated for anxiety and/or depression, then I hope she will at least agree to go to a good marriage counselor or reputable parenting course. The two responses you say you use, "let her say her thing" or get angry, are introducing alienation while leaving the core problem in place. Anger especially means you're bottling till you can't help reacting, vs. responding with care and purpose.

In fact, till you get help, please make this your mantra: "I am [Baby's] parent." Calmly, firmly, as you continue doing your parenting job.


In the interest of being thorough: Obviously there's the possibility, always, that your version of things isn't accurate and she has a valid fear that, say, you will harm the baby when you bathe him. But I think we can rule that out as too unlikely to be worth addressing.

Yes, that was a terrible question to choose as my opener. I'm sorry. At least this week the crickets were here to keep you entertained for the 15 minutes.

Hi Carolyn - I've recently started dating someone wonderful. He's extremely caring, considerate, thoughtful, and loving. We have many values that align, and I'm really excited to grow a relationship with him. Here's the "catch" - he's divorced, with kids. I'm single, never been married, no children. I'm finding it hard to come to terms with what it would be like to be a stepmom to his children, and how that would impact my life. It's giving me pause to want to continue to build a relationship with him when I know eventually he will want me to step into the "mom" role. Full disclosure - I do want to have children and know I will make a great mom, but I was hoping it was 2-3 years down the road, and not 6 months. I really would like to continue to date him, but I don't think it's fair if I cannot accept all of his situation. Then again, I feel like my fear may be unfounded and I would miss out on a great relationship. Your input (and that of the 'nuts) is greatly appreciated. - Scared Potential Mom

Why can't it still be 2-3 years down the road? I say just admit to him that you're (still) a bit freaked out by his having kids, but you want to keep dating him--you just need to proceed even more slowly than slowly.

At least then he's not guessing at what's on your mind ... and he has the chance to end it if he's not comfortable with your discomfort ... and you won't be blindsiding him if you decide one day that you're not willing to become a stepparent. Hits on all the important points, far as I can tell.

I do caution against the FOMO perspective on dating. Stay because it's good now, not because it has the potential to become something you'll regret not having. The latter triggers our tendency to pretty up our interpretations of reality to fit the story we've written, when our best bet is letting reality tell us exactly what it wants to say. It can be hard to keep a clear mind, but it's worth trying.

Carolyn - my family is very lucky to have a vacation home. It is now owned by my grandmother. When she passes it will go to her four daughters. When all four of them pass away it will go to my five cousins, my brother, and me. This all goes to say we are a long way away from owning the home. My oldest cousins have babies. They want all of the third generation to contribute to paying for a repair of the stairs down to the beach which they say are unsafe for their kids. I have a lot of thoughts on this 1) I don't currently own this home or make any of the rules or decisions about it, so why would I make an investment to improve it? 2) Personally I am only at this house a handful of days a year and can make it down to the beach with or without stairs. My brother and I both feel this way but the rest of our cousins seem to feel we are cold and uncaring to the babies in the family. My brother and I are already setting aside money for the house when we eventually (and maybe never, who knows what happens?) take over the house, but we don't feel obligated to pay for stuff now (unless the elder generations cannot pay and ask us to directly). Also, if I was the one with a baby and my cousins didn't have children, and I cared about some baby related home improvement, I would unilaterally pay for it and not expect my younger cousins (one still in college!) to help foot the bill. I want to hold my ground on this but I am concerned that my cousins are going to ostracize me for my dissent.

Nothing will get me on your side faster than an other side that weaponizes guilt.

That reflex of mine, though, misses the issue of timing. You say if you were the one with kids then you'd pay without dunning the other cousins, and that position is morally necessary for you not to pay, so it's a good one to take--but that leaves open the possibility that the parent-cousins get hit with an expense that benefits all but costs only them simply because the stairs failed just as they most needed them. So there is a valid fairness argument to be made for everyone pitching in.

So I wonder why the grandmother and the daughters aren't part of this conversation? Or the daughters and all the cousins, if your grandmother doesn't need the stress of property management. 

That's something you can suggest to your cousins: that you all think bigger about planning ahead for this house, and handling the maintenance. These family homes that get handed from one owner to a few owners to a lot of owners can be many things--family oases, cash cows, shambles, freaking nightmares. It depends on the willingness of all to have tough conversations and to weigh each person's needs against the needs of other individuals and the needs of the group. And of the property. I hope the third generation is open to using the stairs as stairway to this kind of planning.

As for the stairs--what about a "usage fee" approach? Each income-earning 3rd-gen member chips in $X to an upkeep fund for each night spent at the house, in perpetuity, or at least until the ownership situation changes. That way students and rare visitors aren't unduly taxed.


Hi Carolyn, I’m a millennial feeing overwhelmingly hopeless lately. Between the children suffering in concentration camps, impending climate disaster, and a government that is utterly ineffective and in the control of a handful of people who make me feel terrorized on a daily basis, life is feeling meaningless to me. I am afraid to have children. I am worried that nothing we do matters anymore. I am upset that everyone is buried too deeply in their online worlds to be able to tune into how urgent these problems are. I am not seeing the point in anything and to “think positive” and try to feel better seems impossible without going into denial and pretending things are okay when they’re not. What can I do?

Sigh. What we do always matters, to us if nothing or no one else, though interconnectedness amplifies our actions in ways that I think we fail to appreciate. Every person whose life you touch, even if you just graze it one day in passing, is affected by your choices. So instead of living in a macro place of hopelessness, please make a conscious effort to hold yourself in a micro place of purpose.

This is not denial. This is living life on what has been the normal human scale since there were humans. Living in the "online worlds" is so recent as to be a nanosecond's worth of history.

And, with all due respect, I think the "online worlds" phenomenon is as guilty of your stress over urgent problems as it is of providing others with a place to hide from those problems. Your exposure to climate and immigration and federal governance and other issues is disproportionately high--at a spike, I'd say--relative to even a couple of decades ago when 24-hour news was in its infancy and people still had to go into the room that had the TV to get blasted by more information than they could usefully process. We've gotten to the point of immediate and constant access to information without proportionate access--not even close--to ways to do something about it.

So. First thing I suggest is unplugging. Not permanently, just for a period of time until you feel less overwhelmed and anxious. Be local, be present, be productive, be generous with your time and effort toward your immediate environment. And when you do go back to paying attention, schedule daily limits and breaks.

With all your newly freed up time, have a nice long date with Steven Pinker. LINK. Mix some data-supported optimism into your information diet. He is excellent and persuasive on the gap between what we perceive to be wrong and what actually is, and therefore the gap between what we perceive to be helpful and what actually is. 

Then, if and when you're ready, and when your news-binge disorder feels reasonably and sustainably under control, pick one or two ways you can work toward the general good that will allow you to see the impact of your efforts. 

Also, I say it last but it should come first, please check in with your primary care physician. It's not unusual for external anxieties to be internalized into clinical ones.


My husband and I are always the first ones on the dance floor at a wedding and the last ones off. However, at the last wedding we went to, one of my friends filmed a group of us dancing and, oh my god, it turns out I am a TERRIBLE dancer. Not only do I have zero rhythm, apparently I have a habit of aggressively contorting my face as I sing along to the song. My husband said he thinks my dancing is “adorable” but kind of “terrifying until you get used to it,” while my best friend just started laughing hysterically when I asked her if I was a bad dancer. The problem is that now I’m self-conscious, and I have a dinner dance coming up with my stuffy law firm - should I avoid the dance floor? Try to take lessons? Threaten to dance at every firm meeting unless they make me a partner?

OMG you are awesome. I am so sorry you're self-conscious now, and I hope it's something you can compartmentalize away.

In the meantime: Yes, avoid the dance floor at stuffy work functions, which I'd say to any ambitious employee at a judgy workplace, even to a Fred-and-Ginger-in-one; yes, take dancing lessons (because they're not just useful, they're fun); and yes, give your husband a hug because he sounds awesome too.

I am single and 8 months pregnant. The father is someone I do not know well, and when I told him I was pregnant he told me to get an abortion. I have not spoken to him since, but I did have a lawyer send him a letter about child support. Yesterday I was shocked to hear from my lawyer that the father's lawyer contacted him and said the father plans to seek custody! My lawyer said there's basically nothing I can do to keep the father from at least having visitation, and he might win primary custody. There's even a chance I might have to pay child support to him! I am shocked by this and feel like this man I barely know, who didn't even want my baby to be born, is trying to steal my baby from me. My lawyer is advising me on the legal side, but what do I do about my feelings of hatred for this man who now may be in my life for 18 years?

Wait. It's not "my baby," it's his baby too.

I realize you're surprised and upset because of the stakes. I understand why you're seeing this as a loss vs. a gain. However, his having expressed that he would prefer not to become a father with you right now doesn't just obliterate his right ever to be a part of the child's life, now that the child is on the way. As the person bearing the child, you had the last word on choosing to carry to term, that's how it works--but when the baby arrives you are both parents of equal standing, at least until/unless a court decides otherwise.

That's what I suggest you do about your feelings of hatred: Look past them to see another human being whose child is about to be born. You don't have to like the idea of spending less time with your baby, and you don't even have to like this man, but you do have to respect that he has every right to be involved. "Have to," that is, if you want to make any peace with him and with the circumstances--peace I beg you to make ASAP for your child's well-being. 

Do talk to a good family therapist, to get help with your anger, fear and anxiety, and to work on ways to navigate your relationship with your child's father.  Also see whether it's possible to keep this legal process from being adversarial. It might be too late for that, or the father might not be acting in good faith, but at least find out what's possible.

I also hope you will discard the "18 years" framework and see it as lifetime, because holidays and milestones and growing families don't respect 18th birthdays as the end or beginning of anything. 

Upshot: Your child has a father. Please do whatever is necessary to embrace that.

One problem isn't that the OP doesn't have a line to say calmly. It's that the OP isn't saying the lines she already has nicely and calmly. I know that's why Carolyn's answer addressed the anger, but I'm not sure the point was made clearly. Instead of letting wife say her thing and letting it roll off until the OP's irritation and frustration boil over into anger, there are any number of things the OP could say nicely and calmly. In fact, I think the OP should say several different things nicely and calmly instead of looking for the one magic line. As things are, OP's wife is all hovery and possessive of the parent role and OP seems fine with it (from the wife's point of view) until suddenly she isn't, and she snaps. Suppose instead that OP had a whole range of nice, calm lines: "Thanks, I've got this." "I'll think about that next time." "I need to finish this up before I can talk about that." "We're fine. I've bathed babies." The problem isn't that the OP doesn't have the right lines so much as the OP doesn't seem to have the nice, calm part down. I agree about the other parts of the answer, especially one-on-one time without the spouse and the spouse having some free time for her own battery recharging. I just think part of the problem could be that the OP is either accepting the interference as if it's okay or blasting her wife for interfering, thus giving mixed signals to her wife. So yes, speak up, calmly and confidently with a whole range of answers. If she doesn't like the answers, "I hear you. That's something we'll need to talk about, but not right this minute." And so on. Your own confidence that you have the right to say and do these things is the key. Your tone of voice will reflect that.

One of my kids has an acquaintance who needs a place to go. She's a gay kid whose parents are moving this summer, and they've told her she won't be going with them. She's 16 and they're not interested in hearing from her again after they move. We've met her once, but I'll be damned if a kid is going to sleep under a bridge while we have a whole house. So now, what do we need to know?

You don't need to know this, but I'm crying a little.

You need to know if she wants to live with you. I'm going to call her Tess, because I can't call her the acquaintance or the kid or the gay kid.

You need to find out what you would need to establish legal guardianship, since you're going to have to handle Tess's school permissions and medical decisions and so on. Calling the school is where I would start, and/or your local child services. And of course you'll need to try to talk to Tess's parents.

You need to talk to your own kids about what's happening well before Tess moves in, and give them a chance to say out loud how they feel, especially if they aren't fully on board. It won't change your decision (unless there's a valid danger), because needs outweigh wants and right things are right things and you're the parent here, but kids facing a significant change at home need to know they can speak up and be heard and respected. Talking to a family therapist for a session or two, whom you can then have on call as you navigate this, wouldn't be the worst idea. Teenagers present specific challenges anyway, having one foot in adulthood and the other in childhood, but kids who come from seriously unhappy and unhealthy environments can have added emotional stuff to navigate, which means you likely will, too. The best way not to be undone by it is to know it's coming and have your resources for it lined up.

You might want to let Tess know that in your eyes, she is part of the family and therefore both subject to family rules and entitled to family privileges--but also that if this feels like too much for her all at once, then she can treat this as a visit till she's comfortable with the arrangement.

I'm sure others will have suggestions and opinions, but my last one is, thank you. Thank you for showing up when someone needed you to.

My father recently told me that he wishes we were closer like I am to my mom and he asked me if I blame him for their divorce and other things. I truthfully said no but haven’t told him the real issue because I’m not sure if it can be fixed at this point. As soon as I turned 13, my dad became really dismissive of me. Any time I got angry at anything he’d turn to my mom and ask if I had my period. He never wanted to hear about my life – what I was reading, thinking, who I had a crush on, what my friends were saying, not anything about me. He’d sit and listen to my brothers for hours when they talked about their teenage lives though. I was no different from my brothers, if anything I caused much less trouble but he acted like I was an air-headed, emotional teenage 24/7. Now that I’m 23 and have a job he can relate to, he suddenly acts like I’m an actual human person who has ideas and thoughts worth hearing. It’s insulting. Should I tell him all of this? Is there any point?

Yes, there's a point to being honest about what you witnessed and how you feel, because without it you have zero chance of ever becoming close. Being close to someone means you know you can be honest with that person. It might not happen with your dad, of course, but you might as well try.

So yes, you should tell him, but not "all of this" as presented.

Here's the issue: Your account mixes in projections that could hurt your effort emotionally. "As soon as I turned 13, my dad became really dismissive of me"--that seems pretty straightforward, as does, "Any time I got angry at anything he’d turn to my mom and ask if I had my period." (Yikes.) But then you say, "He never wanted to hear about my life." That is a projection. You don't know what he wanted or was thinking. He could have felt, for example, awkward and terrified around you when you hit puberty. That doesn't excuse the factual failure of his not talking to you while he'd listen for hours to your brothers--that part isn't a projection--but if you provide a reason that doesn't jibe with his reason, then he could defensively reject what you're saying as untrue even though 90 percent of it is true, and you could get angry at his rejection and quit the effort to reconcile.

Also a projection: that his sudden recognition of you as "an actual human person" is a result of your having a job he can relate to. 

You might be right about all of your projections 100 percent. That's not what matters. What matters is you'd be deducing correctly, which is not the same as knowing. So don't say what you don't know.

Instead, stick to the facts. Describe what you witnessed and how you felt--those you can speak to 100 percent--and ask him to explain what he was thinking. Write it all down first if that helps you get the facts and feelings straight, and let it sit, then go back and read it over, and so on, as you figure out what you want to say and what you hope to accomplish.

Thank you to the person from last week who wrote in and said, "If I say to myself, "I don't want it to be like this," I can release grief and sadness, even imagining myself crying when there's no space for that." I meditate and generally get a lot of relief and comfort from that. But not this time. Then I read your comment and immediately teared up and finally could get rid of the anger I've carried for weeks. Weeks! I've been spending my days yelling at and arguing with people in my head. I knew it was based on my perception of unfairness but I couldn't move past it. This helped so much. I could finally just feel my grief over these situations and not worry about reacting or trying to change something I know I have no control over and that I know won't change. Thank you Friend!

How late is too late to send a condolence card and a donation towards a scholarship fund? And any advice on what to say? A good friend's son passed away earlier this year and I did not send a card or a donation towards a scholarship fund. At the time, I was broke and super stressed and thought I would catch up in a month or so economically and send the card then. But, sadly, never did. I'm in a position now to send a donation, but don't know how to go about doing so.

A good friend! Lost a son! Yikes. It's never too late, but don't put it off a day longer.

Say you were unable to give sooner but it's your privilege to give now, and you are so sorry for Friend's loss. Don't volunteer any further explanation for your absence because there's no valid excuse anyway, it's just words. If your friend asks you directly, then say you can't explain your emotional paralysis and would go back and undo it if you could.

What you can do, whether you spell anything out or not, is be there for your friend now. The time immediately after a loss is often filled with supporters and compassion, and then ... a tailing off to a trickle, and then sometimes nothing at all. Make yourself available to hear your friend's grief, and, if possible, share your warm memories of the son. 

From here, too, be diligent about remembering the days of his birth and death so you can send a note or remembrance of some kind. 

I realize now this answer assumes you didn't offer condolences at all at the time, so if I'm wrong about that, my apologies.

I say go ahead! Maybe try to sneak in a dance lesson or two first, but if you've loved dancing all along, don't let that video ruin it for you. If you were actually horrible, someone would have said something sooner.

OP, you and your husband sound awesome. don't stop dancing. that is all.

I hope you never stop dancing!! This made me laugh out loud and is perhaps the best post I've seen on any chat. No one looks good dancing unless it's choreographed and the dancers are professional, so keep it up. It obviously makes you and your husband happy.

Thoughts: How much of the general upkeep are you contributing if any? If the cousins wanted to sell would you be included in that decision? Would they split the proceeds? Are you on the deed?

Thank you for the response re: boyfriend not buying a gift. In particular, thank you for this statement, "What matters is how you feel about it, of course, and that’s why gift questions matter. They’re a piece of a larger sense of feeling loved and understood, which is everything." That also applies when someone says they do not want to make a big deal about birthdays. If someone you care about wants a birthday bash (or Valentine's, or Christmas, or Flag Day, or whatevvvvver) or loves breakfast in bed, or needs a mushy card, then you honor what that person enjoys. If, on the other hand, someone you care about really doesn't groove on any of that, and says so, believe them. Please. Otherwise, you are just imposing what you think they should want, not conveying that you love them as they are. Said another way, you are being selfish.

Oops, hit post when I meant to add a reponse:

It could be selfishness, but that seems too conscious to me--maybe self-centeredness or self-absorption is more accurate? As in, a person is aware of his or her own preferences, but hasn't progressed emotionally to the point of understanding that others might not share said preferences and might instead want other things. "Immaturity" works, too. Some people who make big birthday fusses their honorees don't happen to want can truly believe they're doing something generous.

My in-laws are on the sleazy side and I wish my husband would stand up to them but if he won’t, I will. Their business got in some trouble years ago and to get quick cash they committed identity fraud and opened up credit in my husband’s name. We didn’t find out until it caused major headaches for us when we were buying a new car. They apologized with a flood of crocodile tears and how their back were against the wall yadda yadda. That mess also delayed us buying a house for years. They climbed out of their financial difficulty and offered us cash to make up for what they did (we refused) but I cannot forgive them for all the trouble they caused us. Our children are 4 and 6-years old now and my in-laws want their SS #s to start bank accounts for them. I’ve put my foot down since this would be asking for trouble. My husband says this is traditional for grandparents to do in his family and we are hurting their feeling and I need to “forgive and forget.” It's true I havne't forgiven them but that’s not why I’m holding firm on this issue. My husband says we can give the info to them and monitor our kids accounts, etc. Why not head that problem off and not start in the first place – right? Isn’t giving them this info a terrible idea?

Yes, it's a terrible terrible idea. Horrible. 

Zillions of grands manage to be generous with their grandkids without their SSNs. You open the accounts and steer them there. Or, have them open a 529 with their socials and they can change the beneficiary later (if I understand the process correctly).

The bigger issue IMO is that your husband is still enmeshed with parents who essentially stole from him, and from you. There's work to do there, which you obviously know, but it's also fair of you to say he needs to do that work before you'll agree to anything regarding his parents. "Hurting their feelings"? Egads. I'm sorry.

My mother-in-law is a dear sweet woman and very attached to our daughter, “Kristie”. They ride horses together, my in-laws bought her a horse and maintain it and everything. Actually, they’ve both been unbelievably generous to our children and to us. Kristie will be starting college this fall and my mother-in-law is distraught about it. She had encouraged Kristie to go to the small, nearby college she went to but Kristie is anxious to try her wings and chose a college almost a thousand miles away. Now my mother-in-law is looking to buy a condo in the same town as Kristie’s university and stay there during the school year. She’s saying this way they can still ride together and it will be “good for Kristie since she won’t gain weight or feel lonely.” My father-in-law is furious, my husband is just saying let her do it, she’ll get sick of it really soon, and Kristie is in tears to me because she doesn’t want to be followed to college but won’t tell her grandmother no for fear of hurting her feelings. She is looking to me to solve this problem. On one hand I think this is a good chance for Kristie to learn how to set boundaries, on the other, maybe she’s too young for this kind of fight? I also feel bad for my mother-in-law. She isn’t close to our son, she has no job or hobbies other than riding, she doesn't have many friends, her husband still works a demanding job, as do me and my husband, and so in a way I understand why she’s doing this even though on the surface it’s crazy. What should I do?

I'm typing this around my jaw, which is on my keyboard.

"[G]ood for Kristie since she won’t gain weight" is an advice-columnist's jump scare. Cheezus.

Your mother-in-law is a mess, and yes, Kristie does need to learn to set boundaries, but I'm going with "too young for this kind of fight," because we're not talking about, "Gee, Grandma, I'd love to see you but this weekend isn't good for a visit." This is a grown woman trying to coopt a newly adult granddaughter to fill the emotional hole that is her life. Yikes.

Unfortunately, your husband is a mess, too, or else he would have stepped in already to protect his daughter. 

So you need to tell your husband that if he won't put his foot down here, then you will--then count to 10, and if he doesn't act, then you do it. "You're lovely, your affection for Kristie is lovely, but this is Kristie's time to spread her wings," or whatever cliche will give this convo the best chance of having a sunset backdrop to it in your MIL's mind. You can't technically stop her, but you can (after warning Kristie beforehand that you're doing it) tell her Kristie herself wants her independence now. 

I didn't mean to make this Close Every Answer With a Therapy Referral Day, but, yeah. I'd run this by a pro.

Hi Carolyn! Last week my husband and I got an invitation for a cousin's child's Bar Mitzvah. That part of our family is spread across the opposite coast and it would have been great to go, as we rarely see them. BUT the event was, literally, five days from when we received the invitation. I can't help but see it as a gift grab (or did they completely forget about us?) and I'm disappointed that my cousin would do this. I'd like to send a note that says, "Thanks for the invitation, I would have been there if I'd had time to make plans!" Is that terribly snarky?

Yes. Just send your regrets.

Yikes, 2:42. Though I hope I made up for the slow start ...

Bye all, have a great weekend, thank you for stopping by and weighing in and generally being great, thank you Teddy for your patience, and I'll see you July 12.

It might also be worth encouraging your wife to ask her doctor about Postpartum Anxiety or Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I know that I suffered from PPA/GAD and subsequently found it difficult to trust anyone (including my husband) to do basic tasks related to raising our kid. Her need to keep her child safe (even from the letter writer) has maybe moved beyond typical levels and perhaps seeing a doctor/counselor/therapist could help her achieve a more reasonable baseline.

Well, she's not postpartum, but yes to the anxiety evaluation, thanks.

Or do something about it. Volunteer. Donate to politicians who want to fight against children being kidnapped from their parents and put in prisons. I find unplugging and ignoring these huge issues to be part of the problem. People don’t really do much until it impacts them personally. Be the change!

Yes, but even the most active activists need rest. Cycle out, regroup, cycle back in. 

Do not give them the kids SSN. ALSO freeze their credit. I’m not sure I trust hubby not to cave.

omg, Elaine Benes, is that you?

First thing I though of.

Even if your in-laws were trust-worthy, it would be better not to share your kid's SSNs. Constant data breaches and other incidents (seriously, they are in the news almost weekly) make clear that today's world is not what it was, and we all need to be careful with our personal information. As parents I would argue that we need to be even more careful with our children's personal information, as it isn't ours to begin with. Your husband is putting his parents feelings above his children's security.

MOM should open the account and grands can put all the money they want into it..... but the Grands don't get to open it. I'm with you too, Dad needs to set some serious boundaries. Stand your ground, Mom.

It's incredibly offensive to accuse a person with reasonable concerns of having a 'news binge disorder'. We need more people to understand just how urgent the problems mentioned are, in order to fix those things before it becomes impossible. Telling this person to ignore the news and 'be more positive' is just a form of burying your head in the sand, and encouraging that kind of ignorance is what got us to this point in the first place.

I certainly didn't mean to offend. That's also not what I advised. I advised a break, that's it, then perspective, then limits. People who are too anxious to see a future are not going to be effective at much of anything. 

Your in-laws committed a felony. You may not have taken legal action, but what they did is completely unacceptable and they're lucky you didn't press charges. If they want to support your kids, there are other ways that they can do so that don't involve handing them the keys too.

May I suggest that you replace the “strange train” metaphor with something less cliched? I just cringe every time I read it! Maybe “strange journey” or “long and winding road”? Or let the Nuts chime in! I’m sure they’ll have lots of clever ideas.

I could. I always balk because I see it as a long-ago producer's delightful bad dancing. 

This kind of projecting into the future about inheritances is unnecessary and tears families apart (and drives me a bit nuts). Focus on now (these toddlers probably won't be toddlers by the time this generation inherits). Yes, have the conversation with the current owners (grandparents) about safety concerns and the need to repair the stairs. It's not just a family issue--depending on the location there also could be public access via those stairs.

First, you are a superperson! Thank you for taking Tess in. Second, it might not hurt to talk to a group like PFLAG or find a LBGTQ+ group in your area to reach out to to find resources to help Tess process this all. She may feel like you're doing (her/him/they?) a big enough favor that (he/she/they) don't want to burden you with their problems. But I bet Tess will need someone to talk to. And the local PFLAG or another LBGTQ+ group would know where to start - and even free resources if you can't afford to pay for relevant services yourself.

You may have already thought of this, but be prepared for Tess to be at a developmentally different stage from your similar-age kid. That's true of any set of two different kids, of course. But it's even more true of a kid who hasn't had a supportive home situation: in some ways, she's likely had to grow up faster than your kids have. Being without a safety net forces self-reliance. She's still a kid in some ways, of course. But she may also chafe at some of your house rules, and find it hard to trust that you have her best interests at heart. And while it's tempting to say you should apply the same rules to all your X-year-old kids, that may not be the right approach - so you may have to work out how to treat the kids differently, but not unfairly. Echoing Carolyn: thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

I hope the poster who feels the world is on fire feels warmed by the bonfire of love being offered to Tess. This is the real world, where one person, one family, reaches out and saves one life.

Beautifully said.

I wish there was some way to prosecute or fine or do SOMETHING about parents like this. Jesus. I hope you can get her emancipated ASAP so these awful people can't even claim her as a dependent and she isn't bound to their income when it comes time to fill out a FAFSA and it's college time (if she is going). Also make sure she has her social security card and birth certificate if possible and if she has bank accounts I would withdraw anything in there and start an account ONLY in her name at a bank that the parents are not aware of.

"Calling the school is where I would start ..." She should start by calling a lawyer. The school will probably not talk to her since she has no legal relationship with Tess at this point.

The call to the school isn't for solutions. Schools have (in my experience at least) numbers handy of people who handle this stuff. It's one-stop address-book shopping. Thanks for the chance to clarify.

Chatter sounds like a quality person. But I suggest taking a measured approach. The first thing is to confirm with Tess and her parents that this is the actual plan. The second is to ask Tess if she wants to move in. The third is to hire an attorney. The school district is not in the business of assigning guardianship. I wouldn’t talk to the school until you have to register Tess for classes.

Consult a family lawyer (of which I am not one) and consider the possibilities of legal emancipation for Tess and a power of attorney / medical power of attorney for the 'adoptive' parents. Without one or both of those things, decisions for Tess that must be made by 'parent or legal guardian' will be a stumbling block with the people who never want to see them again.

She did have a choice to not have the father of the child involved -- she could have never told him she was pregnant, or following that, never sent him a lawyer about child support and never talked to him again. She could even have said, when asked "I don't know who the father is." Perhaps that would have been too disingenuous, but the choice was there. And she made the choice, instead, to try and involve him in the child's well-being. So unless there is an active reason that she rarely talks to him, or abuse of some sort that she didn't include in her letter, it seems like the father is actually a decent guy who realized that the baby was going to be a real person who he was connected to, and he's making the choice to be an involved parent rather than just a source of extra income. She can reward that decency by trying to settle outside of court -- though talking to a therapist first to understand where her emotions are coming from and what she wants from her options is probably a good choice.

Thank you, I meant to address the part about contacting for support vs. leaving the "father" space blank.

My dad called me when i turned 21 to see if I wanted to have a relationship with him. I told him the facts - he didn't want visitation or to pay child support after my parents divorced, he was abusive to us both physically and emotionally when he and my mother were married, etc. He hung up on me and never would contact me directly for the remainder of his life. So, be honest, but don't have expectations that he can meet you where you are.

Carolyn, Carolyn, Carolyn, The father to be does not want the child. He was clear about that. He is threatening to take the child in order to scare off the mother. A custody battle could break her financially. Further, he's likely to try to slam her in court--what "good" mother gets knocked up by a near stranger. (Of course, this applies to women only.) Generally, the one with the deep pockets and ability to pay for attorneys wins. So she may be going through the hell of pregnancy only to have the baby taken from her. This guy is bad news.

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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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