Carolyn Hax Live: 'Sunk costs'

Jan 10, 2020

Advice columnist Carolyn Hax took your comments about her current advice column and questions about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

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Hi! Five minutes early, is this thing on?

I may be the 150th person to suggest this, but I encourage Don't Even Play a Therapist from today's column to speak with the spouse's chemo nurse and doctor. Many (Most? All by now?) cancer centers have social workers and other specialists who can help patients and their stressed out families through this trying time. They have a lot of experience dealing with these specific kinds of trauma, and the fact that it can be "packaged" as part of treatment may make it easier for the spouse to agree to get help.

I think "all," but yes, thanks. It is the first step here. Also see below for my reasoning on the group idea:

I wanted to second your suggestion for support groups, for the patient and the caregiver. I think sometimes people minimize the role of support groups, since they are cheaper, easier, etc... compared to individual therapy. But sometimes peer interaction is actually what is more helpful than individual therapy, and more therapeutic as well. Having said that, someone truly mentally ill or suicidal is best treated individually.


Hello Carolyn, My husband and I really *cannot* stand our grandchild. The child is loud, intrusive, screams, runs, climbs on the furniture, demands attention, interrupts, cannot sit still..... and she’s A GIRL!!!! Usually this behaviour is associated with ADHD boys. Her behaviour seems to us to be at the far end of the distribution for “generally see” female child demeanor. We find even 20 minute Facetime chats exhausting. Usually, my husband will excuse himself after 10 minutes. All we want is to receive the 2 minute videos that mobile phones can take, still photos, and to send checks for birthdays and Christmas. Our DIL’s parents seem to be just fine with and perhaps even adore and encourage the child’s behaviour and so we’re glad to defer all the holidays and so on to them. Can you suggest a tactful way for us to keep our sanity? It’s possible that perhaps she’ll improve with time or medication so we don’t want to shut the door completely.

Oh this just hurts my heart.

I understand and appreciate your honesty.

But all of those "ADHD boys"--and! girls!--or sub-clinical but highly energetic kids, or otherwise quirky kids of all kinds, need to be looked upon with love by the world just as badly as calmer kids do.

More so, I'd argue, when they're not as easy to be around. Especially given that anxiety and depression and other co-morbidities present non-neurotypical kids with extra emotional challenges--even when their circle of support is wide and fierce--the love of their people is an essential counterweight to generally unwelcoming messages from many parts of society. Strangers tsk-tsk their parents; teachers sigh and send these kids into the hallway; peers drift away from what they don't understand.

It's not all dreary, of course--there are times and places where big energy is just the right thing--and often the minds are as sharp and crazy interesting as the bodies they're in. But the dedication of people in the inner circle is still just so important.

So while I do, again, understand, and sympathize, I beg you to find a way to meet this grandchild where she is--to use the parlance du jour. By which I really mean, get the show out of confined places where furniture and sitting and not screaming are the norm, and take it on the road to play gyms, parks, (age appropriate) hiking trails, water parks, climbing gyms, whatever you can find that allows gross-motor *release.*

Then, delight in this child's joyful movement. Then, delight in the company of the more reasonable, well-exercised child.

Trust me on this. And do try. Write back after you've given it a chance to work, so we can discuss a Plan B if needed.

Dear Carolyn, My boyfriend "Ryan" and I got together eight years ago, at the tail end of college. I moved to DC to be with him while he started law school, and have built a career and a little community for myself here. I believed we would eventually get married, but after asking him about it a couple of times last year, I now think he's sort of agnostic on the question and does not want to deal with it anytime soon. But I am 30, and I want kids. I told him I should probably move out and explore my options, and his immediate response was "No, we can talk about marriage this year. We will probably get engaged next year." My gut is telling me that this is just an effort to preserve the comfortable life we have together, but I am tempted to accept it, because eight years feels like so many sunk costs. I have friends who complain daily about the dearth of available dating options in this area. Can you help me figure out what to do next?

Can we time travel back to when he says, "No, we can talk about marriage this year. We will probably get engaged next year," so you can say on the spot, "That's bull****."

Because it is, and it needed to be said. Still does, but maybe in a different way now that some time has passed.

In case it needs spelling out, here's why it's BS: This is your life and his *together.* His even thinking it's up to him entirely to decide the schedule of what comes next is BS. Plus, it's BS in how nonspecific he is--"We can talk about it this year"? Oh we can, can we? Or you can stuff it somewhere really uncomfortable, how about that.

And it's BS in the utter bloodlessness of it all. Are you emotional partners, the closest people in each other's worlds, the sole occupants in the innermost circle of intimacy? Or are you contestants in a suspenseful contest, strategizing to see if you'll win a marriage certificate and a baby and still keep most of your personal goals intact.

I urge you to get some air here, to create an opportunity to be somewhere else, out of the shared home, to be yourself on your own terms for the first time in eight years. See for yourself who and what you have become during these crucial developmental years. Taste the foods you stopped eating because you're with him, watch the shows and performances you stopped watching because you're with him, wear the things you stopped wearing. I say this not as an indictment of him, but as a nod to the reality of shared living. Let yourself see clearly what you lose when he's not around, and what you lose when he is around.

That's when you'll start to see whether you even want to marry him.

"Sunk costs," by the way? As an argument for putting up with unhappiness? I just can't.

Either your life without him is a dull ache that nothing else can really ease, or it's time to let your career and little community show you what else, and how interesting, and how *excited to be with you,* your life could be.

I work a boring, demanding, but well-paying technical job. My joy and passion is my art, I make a little money selling commissions on-line and I've been dying to do it full-time for years. There's near-by shop willing to do consignments for me if I can commit to a regular schedule - which I can't while working full time. When my husband and I paid our house off two years ago, we talked it over and agreed if I could save a significant amount of money out of "my money" (we use a "yours, mine, and ours" system) then I could retire early and do my art full-time. It took a lot of sacrifice and hustle and I'm nearing the "magic number" but now my husband is stalling. He's pointing out all of the things that could go wrong and asking me to keep working until at least age 60. I'm devastated but I don't want to do this if he's not on-board since he would be the one working full time at his equally demanding job so we would have health insurance and to keep paying into our retirement nest egg. I know that doing my art full-time would cut my salary by a factor of ten but I've been so looking forward to this. I'm devastated. There's no way to cut back at my job - it's one of those all or nothing positions and there are plenty of people dying to take my place. Husband keeps saying, "It's only 4 more years" but those 4 years stretch out in front of my like an eternity of drudgery. What should I do?

Can you get a part-time job--not in your field, necessarily, in fact I'm thinking hourly, service sector, that at least adds some cash and comes with benefits? Starbucks, Trader Joe's, Costco ... these are just the ones I've heard about. That would leave a lot more hours for your art than you have now, but would also provide at least a "things go wrong" safety net so your husb doesn't have to lie awake in what-if terror. At least the same degree of it.

It's worth looking into, no? And another talk-it-over session, updated with current realities?

I am fortunate that my 90yo mother is both financially well off and still physically able. Her mental capacities are starting to fade. For several months now, she has told me and my 2 siblings that she'd like to give each of us $10K, as she'd like to see us enjoy part of our inheritance now. As she puts it, "I have it, it's just sitting around, why not give it to you?" All 3 of us are anxiously awaiting this money, as we can use it for bills or projects that we've been putting off. Then she'll drop hints that she wants a visit or a better Christmas present or more phone calls, that she's lonely, that all her friends have died. Then she'll admit her memory is fading. And then nothing happens for a month, and she starts the process all over again. You've been clear in the past that its her money, she can do anything she wants with it. But we all get the distinct feeling she's dangling this "gift" in front of us, in hopes of getting attention. And then she doesn't follow through. Any suggestions on what to say to her?

Sigh. Yes  its her money, she can do anything she wants with it. She's also 90, she's slipping mentally. Might as well give her the benefit of any and all doubt.

And give her all the time and attention you can reasonably manage, whether she's dangling a gift or not, because 90 and slipping.

Certainly you also can say, when she mentions the gift again: "That's so generous of you, Mom. Do you need our help to make that happen?" I'm only 53 (and slipping, alas) and sometimes the paperwork phase is enough of a nuisance to keep me from doing something I'd otherwise have done right away. It's not ghoulish to offer this kind of assistance *once*; it's not even 100 percent self-serving, since, assuming it's a gift she genuinely wants to give, you'd be helping her accomplish something she'll feel good about doing.

If she doesn't bite on your offer, though, then please, please stop "anxiously awaiting this money." That's an emotional rock in your shoe. Instead, write off the whole idea of ever seeing it, thank her sincerely for the thought every time she mentions it, and give/keep giving her all the time and attention you reasonably can just for the sake of it.

In fact, go all out and assume her longevity means her fortune will eventually be consumed by her care. You will like her, and yourselves, and the outcome, a whole lot better if you expect $0 from her during her life and upon her death, and let anything you receive above that figure be a lovely and welcome surprise.


I’m engaged and planning our wedding but my mom is very down on big weddings. She thinks they’re a waste of time but especially money. My fiancé and I are paying for just about everything but each set of parents has given us about $2000. We’ve expressed enormous gratitude for that and it wasn’t something we asked for. In spite of giving us the money my mom is constantly telling me that we should just elope now and get started on our family right away. She hates weddings but is very interested in grandchildren. I've talked to her about how important a nice wedding is to us and how much I would appreciate her support. She always promises to do better and to at least be polite about it and then the next day she's back on the anti-wedding train. Because of this I wasn’t going to have her come when I try on dresses next month since all she has to say about them is what a waste of money they are and how ridiculous I am for getting one. My future MiL is thrilled for us and is very excited about my gown so I was going to invite her and my sister to come with me. My sister is telling me that this is an important moment for a mother and daughter and our mom feels left out and is upset that future MiL is coming and not her. I’m sure she feels left out but I know she’s not interested in seeing me try on wedding gowns. My sister says if I don't have our mom there I'll regret it forever. My fiance says I should just ask her since she’ll probably say no but I think it’s more likely that she’ll show up and try to talk me out of a big white dress or be critical the whole day. What would you do if you were me?

I'm thinking utter bluntness on this one: "Mom, I'd love to have you come dress shopping. But if you breathe one word of wasted money or eloping, so help me, I will send you home. If you need time to think, then take it and let me know."

Plus, it'll probably be the closest any of us gets to one of those great movie scenes where the underdog finds her snarl.

Hi Carolyn: I signed up for online dating again yesterday and I can already see why I give up so easily. Most of the conversations are one sided. I ask a question and they reply with a one-word answer. I ask another question and they reply with another brief answer. They don’t elaborate or ask questions about me. There is no back and forth. I lose interest quickly and move on to the next person, only for the same thing to happen. On the rare occasion that someone can hold a conversation, there is usually some other reason that it won’t work out. Their divorce isn’t final yet, they’re in an open marriage, only looking for a hook up, they smoke, they hunt. I’m a non-smoking animal lover looking for a one-on-one relationship. Do I just need to lower my standards?

Yikes. Never.

Dating a-la-carte just might not be a good fit for you. The most reasonable current alternative is to expand the number of places you show up in person where you have a possibility of meeting other people--and since you have deal-breakers, choose places where people with the same deal-breakers might congregate. Animal-rights causes. Politically like-minded causes. 

Though, I should add--the benefit of meeting people in person vs shopping for people online is that you see the entirety of a person, which can make an argument for someone's suitability to you that you might not have been able to come up with yourself.

I want to cry reading this. That could have been my daughter -- very, very skinny end of the bell curve for ADHD. And you know what came along with that? Ridiculously high anxiety. Because what's more terrifying than not being able to control yourself or trust your own brain? She would work and work and work SO hard all day at school to sit still, concentrate, behave -- and then she would just melt down at home, completely, utterly exhausted from the effort. She knew she was different. She wanted desperately -- more than anything in the entire world -- to prove to her teachers and friends and family that she was a "good girl" and would do what she was told. And she just could not, no matter how hard she tried. And this is the best part: you know what made her behavior and anxiety worse? Judgment and disapproval from people she loved! When she had a teacher who understood ADHD and knew how to manage it, she blossomed; when she had a teacher who clearly thought it was all modern bad parenting, she got more and more anxious, which made it harder for her to concentrate, and she had an absolutely miserable year. If you love your grandchild and actually want to try to help her, then please read some books about ADHD, so you really understand that this is not about "bad behavior" -- these kids do not have a filter, and they have to work a LOT harder than everyone else to develop one. My own DD has grown into an absolutely delightful, responsible young woman who is now a freshman in college in another state and managing quite well on her own, thank you very much. And I wouldn't trade her for anyone else in the entire world -- nor would I trade the effort and struggle it took me to understand her and help her grow into this great person. But if you're not willing to do the work, then please just stay away so you don't add to the list of judgmental, disapproving people in her life who she can constantly disappoint. Send a check on Christmas and birthdays and be that vague generic "grandparent" figure in the background. At least you'll never know what you're missing.

A PT job is a possibility, but do those *really* come with benefits? Also, I'll be honest that at age 56, I'm worried about being on my feet at work for hours then coming home and trying to paint and sculpt. But I'll look in to it, thanks.

Valid concerns, but not preemptive, I agree. You won't know what's possible till you look. Plus, you don't have just one configuration for a regular day. You could work X days and paint and sculpt on Y days; you could paint and sculpt in the morning and go to work on a later shift; you could be a driver, so, no standing. This is something a lot of creative people have faced, so it's going to sound glib to suggest you get creative, but ... I'm actually looking at it as if I had a marketable creative pursuit waiting for me if I could only stabilize it a bit financially, and I think I'd be willing to look pretty hard for the right PT gig.

I wrote the chat last summer about leaving my boyfriend "Steve" after waiting for marriage for 2 years and 3 proposals. Steve had pulled something similar to LW's BF. telling me getting engaged was "a goal" and only accepted my proposal after I moved out. BTW I did NOT go back to him, I started dating someone new on NYE's and even though it's much too soon to say where this may go, I'm excited and hopeful like I haven't been in years. LW I'm a year older than you. Don't cling to less than you want because you're afraid of what isn't out there. It's better to find out! And you're worth it.

Carolyn, thank you. But my husband will be 80 this year and I have a neuro-muscular condition. Water parks, rock climbing, hiking, etc., are all not feasible.

I'm sorry to hear of your mobility issues. It's not all a lost cause, however.

A lot of these places allow for kids to roam energetically while adults plant themselves comfortably in a seating area. Even adults with mobility issues. Our kids went climbing (like, 6-story walls) and I've never climbed; learned to ski and I don't ski; learned to skate and I'm a yard sale on blades (I did try, and got better); have been to a half dozen different trampoline parks on which I've sproinged not once; splashed through acres of water parks attached to hotels while I sat all day reading a book. The kids come back and have a snack and say hi and share a giggle and then go off and be highly energetic kids. It's a way to stay close. It's a way worth finding. If your granddaughter is young enough to need a chaperone at these places who can keep up, then let the parents do that for you or hire a teenager.

Penning kids into your spaces seems easier but in the end there is nothing easy about it, as your original letter makes clear.

I am the proud grandfather of a toddler who open-heart surgery at 4 months, and is 100% recovered. Needless to say, he is the light of my life, but lives several hours away, so I love my infrequent trips to see him. My daughter and her husband, despite their scary start as parents, have done an amazing job in parenting, allowing him to essentially be a little boy with no restrictions (ie, pets, contact with other kids, playing outside). My problem is that my wife (not my daughter's mom) refuses to get flu shots, and my daughter is fairly insistent on taking (what I believe are reasonable) precautions. I support my daughter's decision, and firmly believe in flu shots as providing "herd immunity" for those more at risk (the young, elderly, immune-deficient, etc). In essence, I have left the decision to my wife: get a flu shot, and join in the next visit. Or don't, and stay at home while I make the visit. I feel this is a reasonable choice for my wife to make, and that I will not be upset if she chooses the latter. Comments?

Sounds like a simple and elegant solution. Good for you for not getting sucked into emotions where the facts can mange just fine.

And yay for the successful surgery. That must have been terrifying.

Thank you for answering my question during the Holiday Hootenany on December 13. I'm the LW who wrote about her stupid loud family picking on her quiet husband. I took your advice, showed him the chat, and asked how he felt about it. You were right, he didn't care, he actually thinks it's funny since they're a bunch of alpha males and he's...well he's not. But it makes him feel like a part of the family that they can joke around with him. It still irritates me and I'll have to admit I drank a bunch of eggnog and told my brothers off, and my husband had to be the one to run interference instead of me haha. But we survived. Thank you Carolyn! Your advice was spot on!

This is hilarious.

I found out last night my FIL has prostate cancer when I overheard my husband telling my children. This caused a minor uproar as my husband slipped it into a conversation about something else. The uproar got louder when our children found out that my husband has know for a year or more, but didn't share the information with them. My reaction was a quieter version but basically the same uproar: my FIL has CANCER and my husband has know for over YEAR and didn't share it?? When alone I told my husband that I was surprised and hurt he hadn't told me, and he got defensive and justified his decision by saying "it is slow growing and not a big deal in older men." There is no indication that FIL or MIL asked that it be kept quiet. I'm not sure what to do with this. Earlier this year my mom was diagnosed with a very slow growing breast cancer which she had removed. I shared it with my husband, and then told our children with her permission. So it wasn't as if over the last year there wasn't an opportunity to talk about his father's cancer. I don't know why he chose not to share this information, and now my brain is spinning. Does my husband think I don't care about his father, or that I won't have his back, should he need it? I can keep pushing and probably get an apology, but I don't think he really feels there is anything to apologize about. Maybe prostate cancer in older men isn't a big deal, and I'm not an advocate for sharing EVERYTHING, but this seems like something that should be shared. I'm not even sure what the question here is ... except should I just let this go?

There's a lot here that just depends, on ... how he is, how you are, what he was thinking, whether he was thinking at all, whether stuff like this happened before in some other form, etc.

So here's what I've got:

You're right, of course, that he should have shared this with you right away.

And it's understandable that you're framing it in terms of where you stand and how you feel. As in, "my FIL has CANCER and my husband has know for over YEAR and didn't share it?" And, "Does my husband think I don't care about his father?" Reasonable positions. 

But, I suspect whatever his reasons were for not sharing, and whether withholding was intentional or un-, are entirely about him. Either he's in denial, or out of sorts to the point of verbal paralysis, or thinking he'll get around to it eventually, or whatever.

You know him, there's a lot of context here for sure: Is this a plausible take?

Two years ago, my wife went back to work after being a stay-at-home mom to our 3 children for 10 years. The transition was rough and it caused a lot of tension in our marriage. We were constantly fighting over chores, meals, daycare and school pick-ups and drop offs, after school programs, teacher’s conferences, and the like. The quality of our sex life suffered too. I didn’t think it was all worth it and asked my wife to consider quitting her job. She barely makes enough to clear the costs of commuting, daycare and after school care. She refused. Things got to the point where we agreed to go to therapy and my wife spent a lot of time researching therapists and lined one up for us – we were supposed to start this month. As the time for therapy got closer I thought of all of our friends who went through this process just to get divorced in the end. It made no sense to me to waste all that time, effort and money so after Christmas I told my wife we should simply separate, start divorce proceedings and get a fresh start as soon as possible. You would have thought I’d suggested sacrificing one of our children. I am now staying at my brother’s and my wife refuses to speak to me – we’re communicating by text only. My children are distraught and my wife is not doing what’s best for them right now. What do I need to do or say so my wife will calm down and look at this whole thing rationally? I know I should have prepared her better for my announcement but what’s done is done and we need to move forward. How do we do that?

You are the one not looking at this rationally. Your friends all divorced so why not you? Are you serious? 

And you're basically choosing divorce as a solution to stressful logistics and *sex of diminished quality.* Wow. Because she wouldn't make it easy and just quit her job.

You do realize how severely SAHPs careers and financial prospects are compromised when they opt out of the workforce to raise children? And therefore how much she'd be giving up beyond just the money you see as so inadequate, if she dropped out of the workforce again? 

You do realize what you're putting your kids through, yes? And what you've decided is enough to justify splitting their household? YOU are not doing what's best for them right now. Maybe your wife isn't, either, but the only way to solve problems is to solve your part of the problem, and you're not even seeing that you have one. I'm just gobsmacked.

Here's the formula for dividing the childrearing labor when both parents work: You do 100 percent, and your co-parent does 100 percent. Just look at it that way and stop finger pointing and bean-counting who "should" be doing what. You should be fighting to *do* the pickups and dropoffs and conferences and medical appointments, not get out of them. These are your kids and they're halfway or more out of your daily care already. 

Start there. The first part of enlightenment is extracting head from dark place.



Related to your column today, another option is inviting the family for pizza and board games/cards at your house. It will reduce the boring talk since you’ll have a focus, but still allow you to interact. I’m also wondering what scintillating topics you’re adding to the dinner conversations...

Love this--board games/cards are unsung heroes. Thank you.

I'm a 7 day home delivery customer, which comes with a digital subscription. I'm logged in to the Washington Post app. I click through to the chat, and get a block demanding that I create a new account or sign in. But... I am signed in. Why can't I access the chats via the app without waiting until I get home to look up my user ID and password? I'm signed in... but still blocked.

Chats have separate sign-ins. Sorry for the hassle. 

I am a mother of two grown boys. Both have mental health issues including addiction. To say the least the last few years have been challenging. I came to the realization that I may never have grandchildren. That is disappointing but their health and well being trumps any other feelings I may have on that subject.

I recently found out that one of my sons had a one-night stand with a woman he knew but was not in a relationship with. I have never met this woman. She got pregnant. I found out by text that I had a grandchild, born on my birthday of all things. I was stunned. I cannot deny that child, she looks just like my son.

I have several problems ... first, unprotected sex? Not telling his father and I when he knew this for 9 months? Telling via text? Really? I am fully aware that someone who is an alcoholic can make bad choices, but he was raised better than that and he is smarter than that. I think shock and shame has prevented him from divulging this information to ANYONE except his father and I. The longer you let the secret go on, the harder it is to discuss. Denial, it'd a beautiful thing.

But here is my real problem - he wants nothing to do with this woman or the child. He has met the child and says he "feels absolutely nothing" for her. The woman says she wants/needs nothing from him. She is just giving him the choice to be in her life or not. He has chosen to "not".

What about us? What if I want to be in her life? How does that work? I feel like he has given me Sophie's choice. Not to mention how disappointed I am that my son isn't even attempting to do right by this child. The woman has told my son that I am invited to meet this baby anytime.

This is where I am now, paralyzed. I just put it out of my mind until it pops back in again. Denial is a beautiful thing ... I have to make a decision. My husband, good man, will go with whatever I decide. I think he could pretend this isn't happening if he wanted to. I cannot pretend that there isn't a grandchild out there. A child that needs a father more importantly than a Grandmother.

How can I be in her life without him being in her life? Is it my job to force him to do the right thing? What if I get attached and the mother takes her away? The decision is whatever is best for that child and I am not sure I know what that is due to these circumstances. I haven't told a single soul--that is why I am asking you. I need your advice, please. Ghost Grandma

Wait--the mother "told my son that I am invited to meet this baby anytime"? Then go! Meet the baby. Be present, not pushy, and see whether you and the mom can find a loving, respectful place for you in your granddaughter's life. The rest of it you can just figure out as you go.

BTW, you say "I have several problems" and then list " ... first, unprotected sex? Not telling his father and I when he knew this for 9 months? Telling via text? Really?"

These are not your problems. They just are, and they're behind you, and ahead of you is a baby. You are the adult who can manage the awkward conversations about your son or frustrating forms of communication or even a broken attachment if "the mother takes her away." Babies, meanwhile, can't have too much love and support. So go offer love and support.

I submitted a question to the chat a few months ago about starting to develop feelings for my daughter's father (we had broken up around the time she was born). In the end, I didn't have to do anything, because he brought it up himself! We had a long discussion about how it would change our co-parenting relationship and what would happen if we broke up again, and that ended up leading to him talking about marriage (!!). For now we're taking things slow and re-building our relationship. I'm cautiously optimistic that things will work out, but for now our daughter is over the moon that her parents are having family dinners and putting her to bed together. Thank you so much for taking my question! I really appreciate it :)

I'll take cautious optimism any day--thank you so much for writing back.

Hi, Carolyn. My sister in law asked to open a checking account for my children about 6 months ago so she and her parents (her parents-the grandparents- live out of state) could deposit $$ into their accounts easily. I believed this was for birthdays, Christmas, and occasional gifts. However I have just learned that she has been depositing upwards of $250/month for the last 6 months into both of my daughter's accounts. Shame on me for just realizing this, I knew there were occasional deposits but nothing like this. I'm a busy mom that doesn't have lots of time to monitor everything I should-big mistake on my part! She is a single professional woman with no children of her own. She is great to my kids and would do anything for them. However, I am not comfortable with this. I feel like this is setting them up for failure believing they do not have to work to earn money. I was not raised in such an environment. My husband, and brother to my sister-in-law, does not agree. He feels if she wants to help them I should let her and that I should say nothing. I am fuming inside (at both my husband and his sister for thinking this is ok and not getting my permission to give them this amount of money). I need some advice on how to approach this calmly and confidently as well as see if perhaps I'm blowing this out of proportion. I don't feel I am, so need to bounce my thoughts off someone else. Please advise.

Can we just change the whole conversation? Keep the money, steer it to 529 (college savings) accounts instead. Like, today. Everyone happy, nobody spoiled, educations enabled, tax savings achieved. 

Yay to the grandfather for holding the line here, but I just have to clarify that one does not "believe" in flu shots as providing herd immunity. It is established science -- despite what some would assert.

As an economist, I need to chime in and explain what "sunk costs" means: It means that you should NOT consider the costs you've already paid but should focus on the future. Simple example: You buy an expensive food, taste it, and decide you hate it. If you hate the food, you shouldn't eat it, whether you paid $100 or $1. Relationships are more complicated, but the principle still holds (and is consistent with your advice): Decide what the best decision is for your future, regardless of how long you've been together.

Right, learned this in Ec 10. Gone is gone. Thanks.

I'm female, but I was the "Ryan" in my previous relationship. My ex wanted to get married and I was always incredibly ambivalent about it. He proposed after barely a year together and I felt so much pressure from him, my family, friends, society to say "yes" that I did. We got married...I knew on my wedding day it was not right, but I did it anyway. Fast forward, we got divorced because he cheated, but it was honestly a blessing in disguise. I realized I was never happy throughout the entirety of that relationship. Five years later I'm in an awesome relationship with a guy who lets me move at my own pace - we're open and honest about what we want/expect from each other and the relationship and if/when that changes, we talk about it right away. I guess my point is - anyone who feels pressured or ambivalent isn't going to be happy. You don't want to be in that spot. While I was that person, I totally lost myself in that relationship and looking back, I would do a lot to get those 12 years of my life back. Cut your losses. You deserve someone who WANTS to be with you. Promise you can do it - and, while it will take time, you will be so much happier and fulfilled with your life and whatever relationship comes next.

I'm your husband. I didn't tell people I was moving or that I was pregnant or getting married or getting a new job. That's just not who I am. I don't like talking about feelings or what I'm supposed to feel and don't. If I'd gotten this news, I wouldn't have shared it with my husband either. In fact, I have gotten news like that and haven't shared it. It's partially because I think my husband doesn't really like my family (although he'll never admit it) and partially because I don't want to talk about it. It is what it is, and talking won't change that. (A not very typically feminine approach, I know.) There's not anything anyone else can do, and I don't need my husband to do anything for me anyway. I deal with things the way I need to deal with him and so does your husband. If you make a big deal out of this, he's just going to feel bad because of what he's "supposed" to do/feel.

Indoor trampoline park. Saved my sanity many times. I got a lot of reading done and ADHD child got a lot of exercise.

They're amazing. Plus go-karts, bowling, hands-on children's museums--thank you, Kid City and Port Discovery (where I actually once discovered a small child, 18-months-ish, alone in the four-story "urban treehouse," yikes)--I'll post other parent-sparing energy-burners if people send them in.

My brother in law did this in September. Met with the therapist one time, decided it was too much trouble, and bailed on a 10-year marriage. My sister is doing her best to pick up the pieces, but her children are devastated, and he had decided to have no contact with any of them. I wish he could see the devastation he left behind, but I comfort myself with the knowledge that my sister and her children have loving people surrounding them. He, however, has no one. Do the work, go to counseling. If it still doesn’t work out, at least you can look your kids in the eye and honestly say you did your best. Right now you’re doing your worst...

My neighbor growing up sounds like your son. He has met his daughter once. His parents pick her up from preschool once a week to give the mom a break and get to know this awesome little girl. Apparently the mom and grandparents have never discussed their son's behavior. They just go with it. Your son has chosen to be a jerk-- you can chose to be the bigger person.

My wife’s favorite “aunt” (technically, a distantish cousin) has been a loving, doting, babysitting, very involved grandparent to her son’s child — without there being any relationship between between her son and his child for many years. (The grandchild is now a young adult and he and his father have started to connect.) This can work. Just take having a grandchild as a blessing. Mazel tov!

Do NOT try to get your son to "do the right thing" or be more involved. You can't make him be the father you think that child needs. Your choices are all about you (and your husband if he is willing), the child, and the child's mother. Leave your son out of it. If he changes his mind later and decides that he wants to be in his child's life, that's a whole other phase that will be challenging for all of you. Don't try to force it. AT ALL.

Great point, thanks for spelling it out.

And go to counseling anyway, because you love your kids and want to do what's best for them, whether it's staying and working things out or divorcing but doing so in a way that's least traumatic for them. And considering how selfishly you've acted, you're not the best judge of that.

I'm raising a little girl just like their grandchild; in fact, I have two daughters and one son all active, intelligent, almost totally without filter, creative, and mostly unable to sit still. My father was mobility impaired for several years, and really didn't understand my kids. But he loved to watch a movie with them. Maybe, since the families live close together, the parents could take the kid to a playground before visiting to get the wiggles out, and then share a kids' movie and a meal with finger-food that can be eaten while watching. If the little girl has had time to run around first, she might be able to settle and watch, and maybe even get some snuggles in sitting next to the grandparents. The grandparents can have an interaction they can tolerate or even enjoy (though be prepared for a running commentary on the movie), and the granddaughter will be able to make memories she will always have. As the child gets older, a similar idea might work with board or card games. My kids played uno for ages with my father, and my son ended up with a lasting love for Calvin and Hobbes after reading them with my dad. My dad is gone now, but those moments were treasured by both him and the kids. --Active kid mom

Listen, I love weddings and traditions as much as the next gal, but if your mom doesn't come dress shopping you'll "regret it forever"? Methinks that you and your sis may be putting a little too much importance on really, really mundane activities, just because they're tangentially related to your wedding.

Right, yes, I missed that. Thanks.

I can see the OP's concern about being on her feet all day at a part-time job then trying to be creative. Another option is registering with a temp agency. Many of those jobs are admin in nature so more likely to be at a desk. May not pay as well but may also provide even more flexibility in that you can turn down assignments. Or work a three-month gig, save the money then spend two months with no gigs and focus solely on your art.

Someone should contact the developers. Not a problem if you're signed in on the website through a browser, no additional sign-ins required.

I've just been told they're working on it, thanks.

The only thing missing from the “extract your head” response is this: Your wife, apparently by mutual agreement, did a lot of work finding a therapist. Which you then unilaterally decided was useless, because your friends got divorced. So you made her jump through all those hoops, then are floored that she what, isn’t grateful you decided all her work was pointless?

I have a granddaughter with ADHD (the sexism of the letter is astounding) and it costs her a lot especially in terms of peer popularity. She doesn't get invited to many birthday parties or sleepovers which dominate the social life of her mid elementary school peer group. A child like this is desperately in need of people who think she is wonderful and grandparents have a duty to be those people. Figure out situations where you can beam on her while she runs off the energy. Since you are elderly insist one of the parents comes along to help manage, but pick things like climbing walls where you can praise her, smile at her, and let her direct that energy. A few loving adults makes all the difference.

You're not crying, I'm crying. Well maybe you're crying too. Whatever. Thank you. 

All this and his question is how to make his wife CALM DOWN????

Yes, yes it is.

Please keep your distance from your grandchild before she figures out that you cannot stand her. My MIL only "likes" one of our three children, and it's apparent. So much so that I limited contact and told my MIL I was doing so. When our kids are old enough, we will let them navigate what kind of relationship they want to have with their Grandmother. Until then, their Grandmother receives pics and holiday visits - that's it!

Yes, this is the important other side, if they can't find a way to see her light.

Perhaps he didn't share because he knew you would freak out. He could deal with his Dad's illness but not your anxiety about it?

My grandmother also had mobility issues, so she figured out what she could do, largely based on being able to sit and watch us. Paved driveway - move the cars and pass out sidewalk chalk. Kick or throw a ball with us while sitting, and have us chase all of the wide ones. Fast-food restaurant (or other place) with play area - sit and eat and let us run around. Take us through the car wash (free from a local business) five times in a row because we loved to watch the water drench the car. Also, have you thought about shorter chunks of time? Instead of one 20-minute conversation a week, for example, what about two 5-10 min ones?

Okay, that's it for today. Thanks everybody for making it so nice to be back, even if some of that pleasure came in the form of an opportunity to vent a possibly bottomless supply of fury. Have a great weekend, and type to you here next week.

The question about their son saying grace and what to do about it really hit home for me. I’m not Christian, my husband is a lapsed Protestant, and his parents are deeply religious. They not only say grace before every meal, they sing it. And not just in their house, in our house when we are all expected to join in. I never liked it but it didn’t bother me as much as when I had two kids. I was worried that the kids would imbibe their views, that they would always want to carry on the tradition whether their grandparents were there or not. But I didn’t want to rock the boat and say something: and neither, more importantly, did I have the support of my husband to do so - he thought our objections should be confined to more important things (like refusing to take the kids to church and enroll them in Sunday school). But It turns out that none of that has happened yet (kids are 13 and 9.5). They sing grace when their grand parents are here, happily and joyfully. They stop when they are gone. They have no interest in exploring Christianity or the church (insert other anecdotes here about continuous passive-aggressive religious outreach from my MIL) or any religion. They seem to have realized every family’s traditions are different. And I’ve kept my relationship with my in laws free of unpleasantness if not entirely free of my mental irritation.

Ooh, I meant to post this earlier for some happy balance. Thanks for sharing it.

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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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