Carolyn Hax Live: A baby shower without the mother?

Jul 12, 2019

Advice columnist Carolyn Hax answered comments about her advice column and questions from readers about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear in an upcoming column.

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Hi everybody, happy Friday.

Last night I was trying to talk to my husband about something interesting (or so I thought) that had happened during my day. I caught him visibly zoning out, and to my utter chagrin he said he was having a hard time focusing on my story and that furthermore he often wonders why I have chosen him as my audience for certain things when a close girlfriend would be better. After getting past my initial hurt, I started reflecting and have realized that he's right, since we've all started getting married I've slowly moved away from talking to my buddies on a regular basis and instead relying on him as my main source of conversation and companionship. I can't remember the last time I talked on the phone to anyone, let alone meeting up at a coffee shop. But THEN it dawned on me that maybe that's exactly what marriage is, or is supposed to be. Now I'm going in circles and am not sure whether to revisit this discussion with my husband. Am I wrong to try to rely on him as my most faithful listener, or should he work on trying to be a better listener for me?

OMG please just call your friends. 

There's more to this, of course, but when there's a solution just sitting there for you, take it.

As for the other stuff:

-Your husband's response to you wasn't as kind as it could have been, she understated, but it sounds like he did you a favor with his candor. Now get out and circulate. 

-There is no "supposed to be." There is what is. And your "is" tells you that relying on your marriage as your only source of conversation isn't sustainable.

-Any plan that involves "or should he work on trying" is a no. You wrote in, so presumably you've read a few of these chats? There are two ultimate nonstarters here: plans that involve changing someone else's behavior (since you can only change your own), and the word "should." All you can do is what *you* can do, so, call your friends.

It might take some effort to revive your friendships, by the way, if you've neglected them for a long time. Not everyone forgives or forgets being dropped for more convenient company.

My husband and I became pregnant earlier this year and decided to have my mother host our baby shower in DC where my parents and most of our friends live, while we live in New England. Now 30 weeks pregnant, I just received a diagnosis that puts me at high risk for complications including stillbirth, and my doctor says I shouldn't travel. The shower is in less than two weeks. Other family have already made arrangements to fly in for the occasion. The options seem to be, cancel the shower, or move forward with just my husband attending. Would guests feel weird about attending a shower where just the father was in attendance, and celebrating the (hopeful) arrival of a baby whose mother couldn't be there due to possible complications with the pregnancy? --To Cancel or Not to Cancel

I don't think it's a great idea for your husband to travel in two weeks, in case you need him. Right? What if you go into premature labor, or doctors decide to induce/C-section early?

The most direct solution is just to cancel--it's  not as if people are going to blame you. Guests with nonref tickets can travel anyway or try to get them changed. 

Most important thing is to take care of yourself.

I work as a guidance counselor. Due to extenuating circumstances, I took in a 17 year-old boy to live with our family. He is a good kid who got bullied and had a terrible home life, and I think of him as another son. Here's the tricky situation: my actual children have started to resent him. If he helps around the house, they loudly complain that he's sucking up; if he gets better grades, they get hostile and jealous. Over the summer he worked several jobs, and after a long heart-to-heart he finally confessed it was so he could earn enough money to move out when he turns 18. This breaks my heart. My husband tells me I should just let it go, but I'm so angry and disappointed in my children. How can I approach this? Any advice would be appreciated.

What about a counterintuitive approach: Instead of focusing on your disappointment in your children (I do sympathize--I'd be upset too), try sending more love their way. If they're just feeling threatened and acting out, then your giving them some purposeful, focused one-on-one time could help alleviate that.

If that's the case, then, presumably, in time they'll either soften their view of their foster brother or they'll be more receptive to your message of acceptance. That's when they might listen to the idea of helping him as a way to enrich their own lives, not just his.

During this more-attention phase, focus on listening. It might be that your kids see a side of the boy that you don't. Not to suggest he's manipulating you--though that's possible--but instead that he's also capable of resenting your kids as they are of resenting him, right? Or having other difficult feelings? And maybe some of that is coming out only for their eyes and ears, not yours. And of course it's possible your kids are as simply at fault as you think they are.

There's just a lot of room for this to be more complicated than you realize. Hard to go wrong with a listen-first approach. 

I am hosting a dinner party. The guests, all people I otherwise love, have informed me of their dietary requirements: a vegan, a gluten-free, a lactose, a nut allergy, and a vegetarian-except-for-fish. I am not making this up. Am I a bad person for feeling deep homicidal rage?

Um. No?

I know you're kidding, but there's nothing unlovable, please tell me, about people who have food issues. The gluten-lactose-nut people have bodies that reject these things, which is no fun, and the vegan/pesc crowd may have made choices out of principle vs. reactions, but once established those choices can involve bad reactions anyway because bodies adjust.

Which we could debate all day vs. the Laws of Good Guesting, which say you eat what you're served with a smile, but even if the hard-liners win the debate, I can't see feeling great as a host when my guests can't enjoy their food.* And when the whole point of my hosting them was to show love through food.

Conveniently, there is the internet, where one can search "vegan dinner party" and find a bunch of options without nuts or wheat. A bean or chickpea stew with rice feeds all.

 

*Yessssss, I know, occasionally people will be less on the bad-reaction end of the scale and more on the high-maintenance end, but, really, there is nothing to be gained by trying to suss out which is which and gotcha the "fakers." And what you lose could be your friend's health and safety. So, search engine, creativity, dinner.

 

And no homicide please.

Here’s my thought about the baby shower. Re-schedule it until later. These are very hard circumstances, and I would imagine people (esp. close friends and family) will understand. My son was born at 32 weeks, and he’s 13 months now and doing great. I am sincerely praying for you, your husband and your baby. Please try not to stress about this. Best of luck.

Dear Carolyn, My office has an option for working an extra hour Monday through Thursday and leaving at noon on Friday during the summer. Pretty much everyone does this, it’s a great perk. Last week I ran into my supervisor’s wife at the bank and mentioned how fast the summer is going and we will be missing Summer Friday’s soon. She was confused and it was pretty clear she has no idea her husband is participating. I realized my error too late, I thought I was making conversation. My boss called me into his office and confirmed that his wife didn’t know about leaving on Friday. It is obvious to me now he wanted me to apologize for telling her, but during the meeting I was flustered and confused. I also don’t think I have anything to apologize for. My boss has been normal towards me, but I’m scouring every email and interaction now. I feel like I messed up but I don’t know how to fix it now.

Not to profit from your pain, but this is the summer Friday of chat questions.

A margarita in paragraph form.

Anyway.

You did nothing wrong and have nothing to apologize for.

Your boss screwed up twice: 1. lying to his wife and 2. calling you into his office when he got busted for lying.

Since you've had a week of normalcy since the Incident, it might be that he has figured out that you did nothing wrong. Lie low and be the ideal employee, just in case.

Office experts I'm sure will have something to add?

 

Hi Carolyn, My first cousin "Mimi" divorced her husband last year. As a divorcee myself, who hated to see a loved one go through hell unnecessarily, I reached out to her before the divorce was finalized to provide the names of marriage counselors and a few words of encouragement about trying to repair the marriage. Where I was coming from was, my marriage wasn't great but I think we could have worked on it, and I live with regret that I chose instead to return to single life in my late 40s. I think I was lazy. I was not implying that Mimi was being lazy, but that may have been the message that came across anyway. What I have since learned is that Mimi's divorce was her answer to several years of emotional abuse, which she is just starting to talk about with our family. I feel awful for inadvertently suggesting that she stay married to an abuser. She hasn't shared this with me personally, though. Should I apologize, or just mind my own business from now on?

I'm a little stuck here. 

I think if there's a non-awkward way to tell Mimi, without any mention of knowing what you know, that you've replayed your conversation with her a lot in the past year and you regret seeing her situation through your own lens, then you should do it.

But not if you're doing it just because you now know about the emotional abuse. Even if her divorce were an amicable one by two healthy people who grew apart, your "few words of encouragement about trying to repair the marriage" would still have been presumptuous. Even if you think your experience allows you insight that a specific person might be able to use, you still need to be mindful of what you don't know about the other person's situation--which means prefacing any advice with a faithfully kept promise that you won't give any unless asked.

So, I guess the stuck part is that I'm not sure if your aha moment of minding your business has gone this far yet? Or if you're just seeing this as a situation-specific oops.

The expectant mom who can’t travel to her baby shower because of complications might consider a “virtual” shower using FaceTime or Skype. No need to cancel in the Internet era. Just a suggestion.

I'd rather eat an airline change fee for a party at a later date than fly in for that, but, is that just me? Maybe it's worth asking around. I haven't seen a super-successful virtual-guest arrangement firsthand.

Hi Carolyn, Once, years ago right after college, I had a boyfriend who was disliked by most of my loved ones. Levels of objection ranged from slight to significant, and it caused friction with my family and in my social circle. He eventually dumped me, and with distance and perspective I saw that he was obviously a terrible match for me (and one who treated me poorly in public, which is why people disliked him so much). Now I'm in my mid-30s and have a lot more confidence in my judgment, but I find myself in the same situation again. My mom, my siblings, and two of my closest friends do not like my boyfriend of about a year. He is very kind to me, but he has a polarizing personality (a little sarcastic, mostly in a self-deprecating way) and they've each told me in so many ways that they hope we don't end up getting married. I feel comfortable making my own decisions, but I keep returning to the memory of that past relationship, which it turned out was a total mess that everyone could see but me. To make my question very simple, how can I tell whether everyone's objections to my boyfriend are worth a hard look? (For context, I have disliked plenty of my friends' SOs, but I believe the relationships are right FOR THEM.)

To make my answer very simple, what's with the polarizing people?

I take your point that not everyone is going to like everyone's choice of mate, and what matters is that the relationship works for you, but since you're asking: Please ask yourself bigger questions than, "Is this the guy?" Spend some time with a good therapist to explore what your emotional comfort zone is, and what you get out of these relationships with "one-person people"--i.e., men who don't mix well with others. 

Maybe you'll find that seeing it as a pattern is just a false alarm. But if there is a pattern, it can be a dangerous one, because it 1. isolates you in your relationships, 2. with men who, at a minimum, show signs of having a mean streak.

Hi Carolyn, Avid reader, never actually asked you a question before but find myself in a conundrum. I am recently engaged and deciding where to have my wedding. My future mother in law is contributing some money to help us pay and is insistent that we have our wedding in my fiancee's hometown. My fiancee and I live in the D.C. area and would much prefer to have our wedding here -- it is more convenient to plan our wedding here, our lives are here, we have a strong friend base here, and we really like the venue. My future M-I-L has been relentless in trying to get us to agree to have the wedding in my fiancee's hometown, at venues that we do not like and that are significantly more expensive than our local option. This has included guilt-tripping my fiancee that it will devastate future M-I-L if the wedding is in D.C., telling us that no one will come to our wedding if we have it here, and pretending to not hear my fiancee when she tells her that we would rather have the wedding here. My fiancee is feeling guilty because she is an only child and her dad is deceased. To make matters worse, a family member has informed my fiancee that I simply do not get where my future M-I-L is coming from and that I need to be more sensitive to the fact that she is a widow. Any advice you have would be much appreciated. Thanks so much!

Yikes. Decline the money, have it in D.C., prepare yourselves to ride out the emotional crapstorm. Her being a widow (or anything else) affords her zero claim on lives that aren't hers to run. The sooner you lay out in a clear and loving way that you are having your wedding your way, and then *do not budge,*  the better I like your chances for keeping this controlling person and other controlling people out of the ensuing marriage.

You're going to have to establish boundaries, so you might as well do it now, when the dotted line is so easy to see.

And yes, I realize that declining money and having a D.C. wedding are almost ludicrously at odds with each other, but if it means a mac-and-cheese reception in a public park, then so be it. It'll be worth every noodle.

 

This would not work for me. Sure, she should maintain friendships and talk with them too, but to me intimacy includes being able to talk about things and having my partner interested in me. If I couldn't have that intimacy in my marriage, then the marriage would not suit me. An alternate source of getting these needs met would not substitute for their absence in my relationship. Now, maybe talking with her friends is a fine substitute for her, in which case great. But I think it's also worth her considering whether her husband can meet what she needs out of a relationship.

True. 

But I'm grateful for a chance to flesh out my answer: I didn't mean for her friends to be the alternative to intimacy in her marriage, but her chance to restore it. I saw the husband as possibly, even likely, overwhelmed by being her entire social life. Her circulating a bit could then take the pressure off him, and give him room to find her conversation interesting again.

Certainly it's worth giving the marriage time to rebalance.

I also think there's nothing wrong with recognizing that a long marriage has its challenges, and it's not an insult or a mark of failure to recognize a need to keep things interesting.

It sounds to me like a good family counselor is needed ASAP. If the kids are treating their foster brother so badly, there must be something going on (and it might not be that big a deal to an outsider) that a therapist could sort out. It would be sad if the boy who was bullied and had a terrible home life also got pressured to leave the stable home that he was lucky enough to find. I speak as a longtime foster sibling.

Good suggestion, thanks.

Actually, given it is two weeks out, everyone who is attending from out of the area has non-refundable tickets, the price difference is huge (try 900 vs 200 for a recent flight I scheduled), plus hotels and vacation time. Do I think pregnant guest of honor should go ? No... But she should be very aware of the fact that she had a major ask/cost for people, so apologize and be sensitive to that. Do not expect a do over, and I would not want to set in my overpriced hotel room to skype a onsie opening...because that would make it abundantly clear that you didn't consider what you were asking of me to begin with.

Hey there Carolyn, Love your chats and have been a regular reader since middle school! I'm wondering if you've ever been able to figure out WHY, for the love of God, people who are otherwise civilized and well-rounded and respectful of boundaries take such a bizarrely keen interest in others' love lives and plans to marry/have children. I mean, I get why my own parents wonder where my current relationship is headed--they care about me and my future, they know I'd like to have a family someday, they will presumably enjoy being grandparents. But WHY does the stranger I met at my best friend's debate-watching party take it upon herself to interrogate me about my plans to marry and procreate with my boyfriend? What's in it for her to care, or pretend to care? (For context, she is married and pregnant.) To be clear, I am not asking why people ALLOW themselves to ask rude questions. I am completely on board with understanding that rude people exist. What I want to know is why, in her mind, the answer to that question is even interesting, making it worth the rudeness of asking. Will her opinion of me change depending on my answer? Does she actually believe that I don't get enough societal pressure to settle down, and that she is doing me an important service by providing that pressure? Does she want to rig our social dynamic so she looks like the one on top by the most important metric? Or is it just sincere curiosity/concern for my well-being? (But I'm a stranger!) I am asking you because I know you read a lot of letters, and may have an understanding of this phenomenon that goes deeper than mine (currently I think these people are being insecure jerks who want me to validate their life choices).

Thoughts:

1. All of the letters on this topic (seriously--if not all, then 99.5 percent) are complaints that people ask these questions, so, where are people seeing a market for them? I'm as mystified as you are.

2. When you don't know what someone's motivation is, the response that makes life almost universally better is to ascribe the kindest possible motive to their curiosity. In this case, your nosy stranger is ... trying to make conversation! Good? Does that work?

3. Once you've decided on a forgiving motive, answer accordingly. So, in this case, your nosy stranger isn't trying to shame you or one-up you, but to get you talking. So, use the question to steer toward a topic you want to discuss. "I get asked that so much! When you're married and expecting, is there a new question you get asked all the time?"

You get the idea.

My wife and I had it really hard the early years of our marriage after I got laid off and she had a really difficult pregnancy and couldn’t work. It took us a long time to recover from this and we struggled for years. When I say hard, I mean accepting WIC, figuring out which bills you could NOT pay that month, rolling pennies to buy milk for the kids, and taking handouts from my parents. Unlike some people I see no need to romanticize those times - they were the worst we’ve ever had so I do my best to forget them. My wife likes to pretend to herself that there’s something noble about us having lived through that – maybe because she grew up really poor I don’t know but I still get sick to my stomach and humiliated thinking back on those early days. Because of that, I never talk about or discuss it with anyone. Luckily we’ve both gotten good jobs, have moved up and put all that behind us. Or we could if my wife would just stop talking about it. We were at a party with many of my work colleagues present and I found out she was sharing stories of those days with one of the women present. I’m angry and humiliated by her actions. She thinks she did nothing wrong and that I’m overreacting. Am I? I think my reaction is very natural and human. Is it reasonable for me to forbid her from sharing these stories where anyone I socialize or work with could hear them?

Oh my.

Your reaction is natural and human.

But using it to justify "forbidding" your wife to speak of something is not okay.

She is her own person and you do not get to control what she says. You can certainly say why you aren't comfortable with your colleagues knowing your history, but she is also free to disagree.

I also am not comfortable with your binary presentation of your views on sharing. You suggest your wife "need[s] to romanticize" those times and see them as "noble"--while your response is about full-on shame and concealment.

Can't it just be that it happened, it's a fact, and it's going to come up organically sometimes? And can't it be fine to treat it factually when that happens?

No one who lives through any difficult experience incurs an obligation to educate others about it. If you don't want to talk about it, then you don't have to. Your prerogative. But there is something to be said for the destigmatizing benefits of your wife's willingness to talk about it. Falling on hard times isn't something that only happens to certain people. It's a risk we all face. 

So is there any chance you can reframe what she's doing? Instead of some annoying refusal to let you forget about this time--which is how you seem to be treating it--can you choose to look at it as a demonstration of your wife's unusual social strength? To be able to talk about this time without worrying how others will judge her is, I hope you can see, a little badass, especially if you're in an environment that leans 1-percenty. Or even a lot badass.

Possible?

I could even argue that your discomfort with the topic says you're the one who won't leave it behind, emotionally speaking, at least.

Stuff to think about. Maybe check in again next week, since I'm about to sign off?

Last year I found out that my husband of five years was cheating on me. He knew that this is an absolutely deal-breaker for me so he shouldn’t have been surprised when I kicked him to the curb and want nothing to do with him. His parents died recently in a car accident and I’m very sorry since they were kind, wonderful people. I sent my ex's sister a Mass card and a condolence note. She’s now contacted me several times to ask me to see my soon to be ex-husband (divorce isn’t final yet) since he’s lost, falling apart, and could really use my support. I’m stunned at her nerve. Isn’t this a huge ask on her part? I don’t want to tell off a grieving woman but she’s trying to help my ex use his parents’ death to emotionally manipulate me. I just responded that I’d rather not see him and she responded back that it would mean so much to the whole family who still loves me. I’m trying not to reveal my white-hot anger but it’s time to get blunt with her – isn’t it?

Wait, what?

I understand your anger at your cheating husband. I;m stunned, though, that the sudden deaths of your mother- and father-in-law haven't even dented the wall of anger you've put up. "Tell off a grieving woman"? I know you're saying you don't want to, but that's even an option? That you think "she’s trying to help my ex use his parents’ death to emotionally manipulate me" is also just so dark.

I am sorry I got to this so late in the chat--but in a way, maybe it's better I can't give a fuller answer: I urge you to find a good therapist, and get some counseling for this anger. You are of course entitled to choose not to talk to your ex, but I find it striking that you don't seem to to feel any sympathy at all, just rage.

 

 

Oof. That last comment on this topic was ... weirdly strident and judgy regarding someone who is understandably focused on trying to make sure she doesn't lose her pregnancy. Of course the mom-to-be is going to be apologizing to her loved ones for whatever Plan B they come up with. But this isn't "whoops, I don't feel like coming." It is a potential life-or-death scenario. If someone canceled a wedding you planned to attend because of the death of a parent two weeks before the ceremony, would you write that the bride "should be very aware of the fact that she had a major ask/cost for people, so apologize and be sensitive to that"? Sheesh.

I saw it as a please-don't -use-the-video-option argument, but, point taken, thanks.

Of course you should decline the money and the emotional blackmail that comes with it. As an olive branch (or consolation prize) maybe agree to have her host a reception in your honor -- after the honeymoon -- in her hometown? Then she can pay, have her friends etc. Win-win?

Why humiliated? You and your wife did nothing wrong, life simply pitched you some curve balls, which you managed to deal with (ultimately) successfully. LW needs to figure out why he thinks it's shameful, because there's NO SHAME in it.

Yes.

I survived the aftereffects of an abusive childhood thanks to foster-care-like relationships. During my late teens, the mother of a friend served as a kind of surrogate mom. Later, two older women did the same at different times in my 20s and 30s. Each time, I was unable to have a positive relationship with the children -- they resented my relationship with their mothers. Unlike the letter writer's kids, they took great pains to make this clear to me alone, never their mother. They knew I'd never "tell" on them -- I had too much to lose. Many years later, I befriended a woman in her 40s who was like the children of my surrogate mother. Without knowing my background, she volunteered that she was an "awful" daughter, who demanded a lot of her mother and resented sharing her with anyone else. She said it took a long time for her to outgrow the insecurities that lead to her behavior and that she and her mother now enjoy a close relationship without the old rancor. The power of love is an amazing thing. It transformed me, even at the small doses I received, even with the resentment and slights that came with it. It allowed my friend and her mother to stay close, in bad times and good. I hope the letter write will find comfort in the long view. I hope she knows that her foster son will benefit from her care for many, many years in ways that no one can foresee right now. I thank her so much for what she, and many other women, do for kids who don't have loving families of their own.

Weeping. Thank you. 

Red Line 4:30 pm Wednesday July 10th. Sat next to a decent looking guy who was knitting. Then he turns to me and very quietly says "its my own damn fault. I made a hat for my first cat years ago and now they ALL want hats." So I said "Well, I can see why, you do nice work.' And he replied "HA! Tell THEM that!" Happy Friday!

This was going to be the best thing ever, until I saw the ^^ prior post.

But now it's just the best last-post ever.

Thanks everybody (special thanks to all the producers pinch-hitting for Teddy today), have a great weekend & type to you here next week.

This is actually a golden opportunity/test for you and fiancee, but especially her because it's her mother. If she can't stand up for herself/the two of you now, I would seriously reconsider the marriage. Do you want to share your life with someone who lets her mother direct her decisions on childbearing, childrearing, buying vs renting, which job to take, where to live, how to vacation, and everything else? After all, she is a widow, so she gets her way!

I think she should ask "do you just not like him or do you think he treats me poorly?". If it is the second, ask for specifics. Unless she has unkind friends/family they are likely speaking up because they think he treats her poorly. I have friends whose boyfriends I don't like but who are good boyfriends so I stay quiet, it is when a guy is treating a friend badly that I will speak up.

Wherein the boyfriend's mother "admitted she planned to prove Cleo’s allergy was fake." https://live.washingtonpost.com/carolyn-hax-live-20170915.html

The answer to a crowd of food sensitivities is a build-your-own taco bar.

No, it's the answer to everything.

I understand the point about wanting to have a partner that is interested in you but I also think there are people out there who have plenty of conversation about things that do not rise to the level of intimacy. If the LW is wanting to talk to her husband for more than 30 seconds about how Rachel at work has a new haircut and how everybody says it is soooo cute but then Becky decided that she might look better with bangs...... and ugh! That's where the other conversational outlets can come in really handy.

Yes, more of what I was getting at, thanks.

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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