Carolyn Hax Live: The chip thing

Apr 08, 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 everybody. How are you doing? Anything surprising you, about yourself, about others, about the situation we're in?

I kept thinking about the issue of gratitude from the last chat and after I typed and deleted some very sarcastic response to Facebook posts asking what I’m grateful for during this time. Clearly, I have also had issues with gratitude recently which is odd because one of my go to ways of coping is to remind my self of all the good things in my life. After pondering it I came to a realization that I wanted to share in case it helps others. My attempts at gratitude were having a side effect - negating my feelings. The more I told myself to be grateful the more my subconscious was telling me I didn’t have a right to be frustrated, angry, sad. So in this instance trying to focus on my positives wasn’t help and was making me more angry. Giving myself permission to feel grief, frustration, overwhelmed, etc. helped me move through it and not post snarky responses Facebook. I’m still working on it...

Thanks. This is so true about pushing those feelings away without first giving them a proper audience.

You also get at something I've been thinking but haven't fully formed: Being told (advised, urged) to be grateful has almost a rebound effect, the snark impulse you were feeling. 

There was a lot of discussion last chat about being grateful for what we can in these trying times. When I was teaching students about this, I’d let them know that a gratitude practice does have benefits, but they couldn’t force themselves to feel anything. What they could decide to do is look for opportunities, even in retrospect, when gratitude *could* have arisen. It’s a process of opening up, which is one reason it helps. But attaching “shoulds” tends to derail it. We can’t choose to feel it, only to look for it. It’s always a choice, and sometimes it’s a difficult one.

This is good too, thanks.

My mom has always been incredibly reactionary, and it's starting to get to me now because... well, we're all quarantined. I can't call her and say, "Yeah, I've got a lot of work to do," without hearing, "Well, calm down and don't freak out. It's not a big deal." It's driving me nuts! I'm being treated for OCD and the anxiety that tends to come with it. Before my diagnosis and therapy/medication, I had a bad time with conflicts. I would just shut down. But now, I'm so much better! But my mom doesn't seem to see it. A neutral tone conveying a difficult week sends her flying into "You're freaking out. Don't freak out and calm down." Even though I'm perfectly calm, just expressing what's going on. I guess the solution is to not tell her what's on my radar, but she likes to pry and hates when I don't say much. I'm sure there's a solution I'm missing here. I feel like I could explode the next time she tell me to calm down when I'm already calm. Then she'll turn around and go, "See, I knew you were upset!" So I'm trying to prevent that.

Have you tried the direct, "Mom, when you tell me to calm down, I feel more anxious. Would you please stop? What I do find helpful, when I share what I'm going through, is _____"--for example, when someone just asks if you're okay or if you need anything, or if you've got it under control, or whatever else you find helpful.

If you have and she ignored you and keeps saying "calm down," then you can say, "That is not helpful to me. I'm going to go now, bye Mom." 

It sounds as if some clinical intervention would help your mom, something to suggest at a more opportune time.

Good for you for the work you're doing here.

Hi Carolyn! Thanks for the great chat, which has made my infinitely more reasonable as a person. As of the chat, it's been 27 days that my husband and I have been in isolation, and largely going SO well. The only thing is, my husband has always had a habit of eating the "best" foods after a grocery trip 1) first and 2) quickly. For example, he'll just eat chips for lunch and snacks for two days until they're all gone. Normally, this is mildly irritating when I try to eat something that's already gone. Given greatly reduced shopping, it's frustrating to see all the quick, fun snacks gone by the time I'd like to have one. If I mention this to my husband, he will feel bad he accidentally boxed me out and will not eat any of that item at all anymore. He doesn't guilt me over that, either, but the problem becomes he just finds a different food to blast through (think potato chips vs cookies), ignoring the fruits or veggies he asked me to buy, or any of the more "prep-intensive" foods that I end up having to prepare when there's nothing quick left. Then he complains he needs to eat healthier. So then I feel like a nag for getting one snack but still wanting him to slow down on another, and a double nag if I offer to cut veggies for him instead. I was raised with a sibling who did this and was told "eat it before them if you want it so badly" but that doesn't seem like a healthy long-term strategy physically or emotionally for either of us, and may in fact be contributing to my sensitivity now. Am I letting cabin fever get to me by micro-managing his eating habits? Do we need to label his & her chips?!

Omg yes--label the chips.

If that's really enough, then grab the easy solution. Desperate times.

Obviously there's the potential for a bigger problem in someone who eats chips for meals until they've eaten every chip in the house and then proclaims a desire to eat better--a problem that includes both a bad-health branch for him and an I-can't-listen-to-your-BS-anymore branch for you (which you will be processing as you eat your veggie sandwich without benefit of a bag of chips, alas). But you can genuinely, reasonably decide these aren't the problems to take on right now.

Especially since, once you're out of confinement, you have a pretty effective solution available: No junk food in the house, and get your chip fix when you're out somewhere.

Dear Carolyn, I know this problem is not particularly unique -- I have seen other people write in with very similar issues -- but I am drowning under the effort of trying to sustain my full-time job, keep my household running, and put on a happy face for my kids. Before this I had at least a few hours to myself each week, including a pretty standard block of time on weekends to read in a café (thanks to my very understanding husband). Now the only time I get to myself is after my oldest goes to bed, which under the new conditions is generally not until 10 or 10:30. I have "relaxed" all the standards I possibly can without sacrificing our health and safety. My husband is struggling in a similar way, so he can't really help more than he already is. I am at a loss; I can't imagine doing this for another three days, let alone three weeks or longer. Truly, what are we going to do??

Let's see what you *can* do.

Can one of you watch a movie every night with your kids while the other one takes a night "off"? Is there a place in your home that you can treat as your Crisis Cafe, where you have a beverage and read for an hour or two?

If every other night isn't reasonable, can you go every third--movie night (you're off), movie night (husband's off), family night or no-obligations night. See what time you can block out for solitude.

That your problem isn't unique doesn't mean you aren't drowning, I'm sorry. But it does mean there are other people who are road-testing (hallway-testing?) different ideas. If anyone wants to share, then I'll gladly post.

My girlfriend and I share an apartment in which we are both on week 3 of teleworking. She is working full time, my hours have been greatly reduced, and I can admit that her paycheck is what's going to keep us both afloat for the foreseeable future. The irony is that even though I am working fewer hours, I am technically spending more of my day than usual being productive (looking for other sources of income, researching unemployment, and cooking for us both). She gets up at the same time every morning, showers and gets dressed (a lot of her job takes place over Zoom so she has to be presentable), and changes into lounge clothes after dinner. She does not like the fact that I am less disciplined about getting dressed every day. She says that seeing me in daylight wearing sweats or looking "loungey" makes her feel depressed and makes it harder for her to stay in her productive mindset. She has asked me to at least get dressed every day, insinuating that I need to do this for her because she will be paying our rent for a while. Maybe this is crazy or selfish of me, but I don't want to unnecessarily dirty outfits just to sit at home. And I think that it is a bit high-maintenance to insist that I am somehow keeping her from getting her work done. Yet I am aware that maybe we're both just stressed and it's not a good time to drum up a conflict over something like this. Is there an easy compromise?

Business casual? Quarantine clean?

I'm no fan of the idea that your sweatpants are a drag on her productivity. However, two people in close quarters making a brave effort to establish some kind of normalcy can, I think, reasonably ask for a small accommodation, just because.

And maybe I'm only saying this because I just got through telling some members of my household that their leaving their laundry stacked on the table in the otherwise clean and uncluttered dining room gives me agita every time I walk by it, but, the fact remains: Sharing a home requires granting people a lot of room to be themselves. If in that process you come across something, someone's behavior, that you try to look past or brush off but just aren't able to, then it's okay to say, "X bugs me, would you please do Y instead?"

If the answer's no, then you have to find your own Plan B ... just as she will have to if you refuse to give up your sweatpant-wearing. But seems to me that you can find something to wear that boosts her morale that's comfortable enough not to chafe.

As our kiddo got old enough to stretch her bedtime to ours, we laid down a rule that she had to be in her room an hour before bedtime. We were off duty and did not want to hear from her, it was adult time. Older kids can understand this.

I've seriously started driving my car to a park and reading for an hour (car off, window down). I'm an extrovert and this is all driving me nuts.

Just because you can't go to your cafe doesn't mean you can't get out of the house. Is there a nearby park where you could take your book and coffee for a few hours on a weekend and still maintain a safe distance from others? I have to be out of my house to get the full benefit of "alone" time; otherwise, it's all (literally) knocking at my door.

I lock myself in my bedroom. It aint pretty, but it's effective.

Road-testing might actually be a great phrase. Around here at least, drives are considered ok. Can you take a long solo drive somewhere while listening to an audio book? Or drive somewhere, park and stay in the car, and read with a tumbler of tea you brought from home? Not quite as nice as a cafe, but maybe it will do the trick.

Get two bins, one for you and one for him. Equally divide snacks between the two, both healthy and not-so. Then you each get your share and you each can ration them out however you choose.

You are a trusting soul.

I hit my telework wall yesterday. I didn't want to do this any more. The network at work kept dropping which meant I kept losing work even though I was frequently saving things. It was a very frustrating day for me. One thing that helped was messaging a friend who also has been teleworking for the same amount of time for a different company. Unbeknownst to me, she also hit the wall. Commiserating with her about our situation was helpful. After we complained and complained together, she asked if we could come up with one positive thing about the situation. We both did with lots of laughter. I left our conversation feeling more positive and better about things. The wall is still there today, but it's not looming. I guess my point is, misery loves company and so does positive thinking. Hope this helps.


This makes another really useful point, I think--that we can be doing fine and getting by, even adapting really well to the new not-normal ... and then boom. Wall. I had that rage day last week (preempted another one this morning, though it's early yet), and I had a cry day Monday, and so be it. What else is there to do.

BTW, my cry day was both eased and accelerated by Jon Krasinski's Some Good News LINK, especially episode 2. Sap city, that's where I was, crying over my freaking jigsaw puzzle. Anyone else? 

It did help that I could see my DR table from there and there were no stacks of unclaimed laundry on it. You'll be relieved to know.

I am getting up at 5:30 to have my alone/my own terms time. I get two hours uninterrupted that I once had during the day. Sometimes I work, sometimes I binge on TV. I have always hated getting up early, but two hours on my terms is worth it right now. (Kids know they have to stay in their rooms if they do wake up before 7:30.)

How old are the kids? Can you work it with them so that you’re “off duty” at their old bed time unless it’s an emergency? And honestly if that can’t work, get the kids back to bed on their old schedule of earlier bedtimes.

If it's allowed in your area what about going for a solo drive? Lots of people here in CA are going for drives to get out of the house but still have no contact with people. For me driving alone, rocking out to the music, even letting loose with some screams or crying is very helpful when I fell stressed. Maybe you and hubby can alternate. Just being alone is very helpful. Bonus points if you have a scenic drive nearby to view nature.

Hi Carolyn, Thanks for being here for all of us through this. It's been really helpful to see how everyone is coping. I've been lucky to work from home. My husband has a job that is considered a first responder position of sorts but not as intensive as police and fire or hospitals. There can be considerable contact with the public but they have scaled it back considerably to reduce the risk. My husband is over 60 so at much greater risk and they have put him on paid administrative leave. There are only a handful of his co-workers in this position. Of course, there are others who must go to work who say this is unfair. I don't blame them to some extent but my response mostly is that nothing about this is "fair". Is it "fair" that this disease affects older adults and men at a higher rate? Or Black Americans? Is any of that fair? Of for that matter, the ageism that older Americans face on a daily basis. My very capable BIL has been out of work for months and it's clear that his age is a factor. My husband didn't ask to be sent home. In fact, he's all but begging them to let him go back to work. Since I can work at home, I keep busy. But my normally industrious guy is sitting on the couch most of the day and binge watching TV. He's made it to some of his projects but it's been hard. He'd rather be at work and doing his part. I don't really have a question I guess. Just a need to vent. I'd just ask people to think before they speak. Life has never, ever been completely fair. Asking for that now is just a little too much. Thanks for reading.

Sure thing. 

I'm an "essential" worker who still works outside the house. My partner works from home and coordinates "school" for our kids. As a former long-time SAHP, I know how difficult that situation is. When I am home, I am fully involved (making meals, helping with "school", doing the bulk of the household chores, etc.) but I am not always up to speed on current household events. My partner spends a few minutes every day complaining about everything I do not know concerning the homefront and how can I be so stupid about such things, etc. I am trying to be patient (again, I totally recognize that their situation is so much harder and more stressful than mine), but I have been unable to convince my partner that "blowing off steam" in that manner is really hurtful to me. The message I get is something along the lines of "now you know what my life is like." Apart from my repeated pleas to simply ask me to do things that I may not recognize as needing to be done--and explaining how they should be done--without the added "I can't believe you're so stupid", do you have any suggestions? I have a lot of rope left, but this is really killing me.

I want to be clear--your partner is actually calling you stupid? 

If so, that is verbal abuse. Straight up. And it's not okay, no matter how much stress your partner is under, no matter how much you may be missing of the big picture.

So it warrants a direct, separate conversation, not when you're already upset about this but at a calm time (or the closest thing you have to it), when you can be kind! and compassionate! in your concern, along the lines of: "I realize you're in a difficult and thankless position, home with the kids and homeschooling them out of nowhere. It's awful. 

"It is not, however, license to treat me badly. I will sympathize, I will listen, I will try, I will listen harder, I will try harder. I will get you whatever help you need that I can possibly provide for you. But I will not be called 'stupid.'" You say "excuse me," calmly, and walk away from your partner when this happens. Conversation over till Partner cools down.

Please also consider a talk with the National Domestic Violence Hotline staff: 1-800-799-SAFE. De-escalating techniques are important things to have right now.

Your question doesn't include any concerns about your kids in Partner's care. Should it? Meaning, is Partner possibly "blowing off steam" at the kids? 

A part of me almost didn't mention this because you're so hamstrung right now, out of the house and with no other real options for care--but if you can dedicate part of your conversation to brainstorming relief for Partner, then that might ease the pressure at its source.

If your husband (or anybody) is trying to eat healthier, maybe label the chips by a person's name but also by day. So if you eat all of today's chips, there's a clear stopping point. And if you blow through a week's worth of chips and have to wait 6 days before someone gets more from the store, that's on you.

What a great idea, thanks.

While taking a break from this I switched over to WaPo's Daily 202, and the lead story today was on the musicians who have passed away due to Covid. And now I'm crying into my lunch. Just another Blursday over here.

Oh gosh I know. John Prine. "Angel From Montgomery" is one of my all-time favorite songs.

When we began telecommuting from home, the first thing I told my husband was no PJs after 10AM and before 5:00PM on workdays. It drives me nuts to see someone sitting around the house with PJs all day long. Granted I have never liked any of my family wearing PJs during the day in good times, but I usually don't say anything if it occurs. However, I knew if the current situation turns into weeks and weeks it could become a real "Woman strangles husband with pajama bottoms" headline type of issue. I didn't ask for any other concessions, just that. I really appreciate the fact the he loves me enough to do this simple thing , which reduces my stress in these uncertain times.

"Woman strangles husband with pajama bottoms" headline type of issue.

Ha. We've been warned.

Not a question, but just wanted to say that if you have family living overseas right now, maybe reach out to them? We’re not military, but we are DoD and I was shocked by how quickly I became irrelevant to most of family, once the “what’s it like to live in Europe??” wore off. Many of us have been isolated for a month or more and would LOVE to hear from family, even if phone calls/emails/FaceTime isn’t your thing.

Done. Thanks for your work.

I'm a person who has many circles of friends, from when I moved to my current city and basically joined every relevant group to meet people. And I did! And I have many wonderful people in my life. But I've realized in the midst of this that I don't like Zoom happy hours AT ALL, because the conversation just doesn't really flow, and remembered that I've spent a lot of my life doing things alone because I'd rather do something I want to do alone than with just whoever's available. Not really sure I have a question, just wanted to put it out there for anyone else who might be feeling the same way.

Zoom involves cognitive dissonance: You're with people but you're alone. I think it takes extra mental/emotional effort for everyone, but like everything else, the amount varies--for some it's a negligible amount of work and for some it's exhausting. For the latter, maybe smaller groups are the thing, and/or joining them less often.

I am somebody that has trouble stopping when eating Doritos or Chips Ahoy (sorry for the munchie trigger). My solutions don't work for the poster. My suggestion is that poster recognize this is not as easy for husband to not do as one who does not have this problem might think and maybe they can agree to a way for him to run out while she (I am presuming) does not. For example she does the shopping (so he doesn't know how much was bought), he finds a way to not see her unpack the groceries (or at least the goody portion), and she hides a bunch of the goodies They pre-agree that she will lie to him about what is in the home. She can either hide her share or hide all of hers and some of his so there is something for him when she wants to eat some of hers. It may sound silly but it also may work.

My husband is also a snacker even during normal times. All of the advice that has been said is helpful, but I do want to say that it's entirely possible that he is eating his feelings like the rest of us. One thing I've done is made more comfort meals and experimented with making homemade versions of things that my husband and I like, like baked goods. My husband can eat his feelings with some moderately healthy comfort food, and I can take an half hour/hour to stop thinking of the world by cooking, which I love to do, and having by a little dance party with my dogs while cooking. We're probably going to gain 10 pounds from all of the food we've eaten but it makes us feel better.

Love this, thanks.

I did ten weeks of strict bedrest while pregnant with my oldest son, now 21, without difficulty. I'm coming up on 4 weeks of quarantine now and experiencing daily moments where I cannot decide if I want to scream or cry. Why is this so much harder?

Because it's not something you chose, it's not for a loving cause that's right inside your own body, it's not against the backdrop of a world that is going to be generally just the same when you reenter it as it was 10 weeks before. And you're not in the care of people who know what they're doing, as your doctors presumably did. And you're not the only one in control and the only family affected. The stakes of something going wrong were high--baby risk is so stressful--but it was contained to you.

We are living the consequences of unforced errors and there's still chaos and confusion that are proving lethal. We are hunkered down for ourselves and our immediate loved ones but also for an abstract populace, and we are counting on them to show the same consideration for us. Not all are doing so. Not even all families and neighbors are cooperating for each other. And there is, again, still room for some granular uncertainty about what the right thing is to do.

And where things are working, and you're all on the same page and making healthy decisions, there's the agony of knowing/watching people suffer and lose everything. Or just struggle so much, as with the people feeling alone or the people overcrowded and overwhelmed. And watching the health-care community assume so much risk on our behalf already, then even more risk due to failures in crisis planning and action. Screaming and crying are utterly appropriate responses.

So with your comparison, it's similar in the strict confinement angle but orders of magnitude different, tougher now, in the greater environment.

This is why we're here, or why I'm here, at least. Because screaming and crying may feel necessary but they also don't feel helpful. So what helps? For me it's looking at the whole problem, breaking it down into pieces, and then seeing what parts of it I have to accept and what parts I can work on, address, actively counteract. And it's talking about what has helped, and hearing from everyone else what's worked for them. It's giving people a place to rant and feel heard. It's finding reminders everywhere that the human experience includes all kinds of seemingly unbearable stuff that we keep finding ways to bear. 

Now I'm ranting. I hope that answered your question.

I'm like the husband. Long-standing food issues. If there's junk food in the house I will eat it until it's gone. My husband, however, likes having junk food in the house, but doesn't eat it much. He just likes having it there for when he wants a little snack. So this is our solution: We buy junk food, he hides it from me and then, when I want some, he goes and gets me a single-portion size. Please note: If this wasn't an agreement that -- I -- requested, it would be a warning sign of a controlling relationship. But it was my idea, as a couple's compromise. He gets junk food in the house; I can't gobble it all up at once.

I swear we could do an entire chat on chip management. It is not easy.

We've been self-isolating since mid-January when I developed sepsis after my first round of chemo. It hasn't been as hard on me as it has been on my husband, but we are doing okay. Dealing with chemo is rough and really drains you. I have made it a point to always get dressed. There have been days when I almost couldn't get out of bed, but I did and I got dressed and I always make my bed when I get up. Those 2 things seem like victories to me. Something I can control and beat this cancer thing on. When you start the day with 2, no, 3 (getting out of bed was a victory sometimes) victories the rest is going to be okay.

I love this, thank you. 

I have eaten 100% of the two chip bags that have come into our house during corona era so far. But, if my husband’s name was on one chip bag and mine on the other, I would have only eaten one bag. It’s one thing to be a chip destroyer, another to be a chip thief.

When my sibs and I would whine “Not fair!” our mother’s answer was always, “Fair is for games.” Truth.

Except games aren't fair either. (Ask any Saints fan.) But I like your mom's spirit.

I am currently teaching "The Book of Delights" by Ross Gay in my (now online) first-year seminar at a liberal arts college. This book could not have come at a better time! Not only is his writing witty, beautiful, and deep, but the subject matter is perfect for navigating these times. I highly recommend his interview on This American Life ( Gay posits that delight coexists with the difficult realities of life, and that cultivating a "delight radar" or "delight muscle" does not mean that we are are free of sorrow, pain, or loss. I'm in awe of the way in which he combines dedication to the practice of seeking delight in the mundane, of being grateful for the beauty in the world, while simultaneously tackling very real struggles (he often writes about racism, class, and other structural inequities). Like many in this chat, I too struggle with the desire to be grateful, and the frustration/snark that pressure can elicit. Gay seems to have figured out how to thread this needle, and his work has been an inspiration for me in a rough time. (PS: I'm the OP who had to cancel the wedding a few weeks back, and reading this book as been such an eye-opener).

Thanks so much. I really loved that episode of This American Life, so I'll check out the book. 

Well, maybe. Right now I'm hiding in children's/YA fiction for my bedtime reading. Just finished "Because of Winn-Dixie," because of Ann Patchett, who reminded me in THIS why Kate DiCamillo is so great, and I've got two or three more of hers lined up in my Libby app. I am all about life-affirmation these days, though, so Ross gay fits. Thanks again. 

When my kids complain that "It's not fair!," which happens a lot, I respond with, "It IS fair. You don't like it. Those are two different things."

You tell em.

I'm not going to force anyone to put on real clothes (the one benefit of a pandemic is no waistbands!), but I think it's fair to want everyone to put on clean clothes in the morning. Even if it's just a fresh set of loungewear.

I think three loungefits are reasonable--one now, one tomorrow, one in the wash.

Could it be that gf is more upset that bf isn't showering than that he's in sweats? It's difficult to tell someone that their personal hygiene isn't up to snuff; perhaps the request for better attire is an attempt to get him back into his usual routine of personal cleanliness.

Perhaps, but I think that qualifies as a minimum standard for a cohabitant: the ability to say, "Gah, you need a shower," without its becoming a Thing.

OP can also reply when told to "Calm Down" to a perfectly calmly delivered remark. "Mom, I am calm, it is just a lot of work, right now and I'm sharing that with you." She can also choose to add (or not) "As you know, I'm working hard on controlling my anxiety and I'm proud of my progress and you are reacting as if I've not made any. Are you not hearing it? Or is this a reflex response from you?" Note - it is not confrontational (IMO) to ask this. Signed- The BiPolar who's mom asked for her to be happy as a Christmas gift

Great ideas, thanks, and a sympathetic wow to your mom's wishlist. 

As a teacher, one of the things I like best about kids is that they seem to have an innate sense of fairness. Usually when kids tell me something isn't fair, they're right. I don't think adults should just brush off kids' complaints about unfairness with trite replies like, "Life's not fair." I think we should encourage our young people to recognize when people are being treated unfairly, and speak up about it.

I like this, a lot, and I agree.

I also think, though, there are things that aren't fair about life and the ability to function in the world amid (a certain degree of) unfairness is an essential life skill.

I need to think about this to put the two together. Thanks for the provocative thought. 

What really makes gratitude turn sour for me is when it comes at the cost of someone else. Like “Be grateful that you have a job that lets you work at home while others have to go out.” Now I feel doubly bad about being trapped inside and that others are having to put their lives at risk. But when the gratitude is is more me centered “I’m grateful it’s a beautiful day, and today I have my health” it’s much more useful.

Ooh. Yes. Sounds right.

When we were little, our parents taught us that "stupid" was a bad word. (Like damn, s***, hell, etc.) I wish your in-laws taught that to your husband.

Me too.

Though we treated and still treat "stupid" as much worse than damn, s***, hell, etc. 

My older sister survived what is nearly always a fatal cancer, but the treatment gave her an unstoppable and progressive Parkinson's-like condition that eventually made her move out of our family home and into assisted living. After she adjusted to being the youngest person there and grew to love her fellow patients and caregivers, we now learn that a patient there tested positive for COVID-19. Visitors are now banned, patients are confined to their bedrooms. I'm calling her frequently and having gifts sent to her, but am scared to death, and so is she, though she's trying to appear brave to us when we "visit" her through a window. Any advice for things to say to her on the phone to help her? And for what to say to an idiot co-worker who, no matter what the situation, scolds me if I mention anything distressing and says, "Don't talk about the negative, let's just look for the positive"?

For the conversations and visits, I suggest, if she's game, either reading or watching something "together." I haven't used it myself, so not sure how good the interface is, but Netflix Party will allow you and your sister to watch something at the same time, and comment to each other throughout. A thoughtful series will give you a lot to talk about. You can also listen to the same podcast, read the same book, etc., and talk about it. Doing this will give both of you a chance to escape the fear, which can be a relief, or give her various gateways and frameworks for talking about it. It's often easier when people can "warm up" discussing other topics.

As for your co-worker, you've got a few choices: tell her less, ignore her reactions, or say, "Yeah, I've tried that, that isn't working for me right now." 

I hope your sister's okay.

Thanks for the great suggestions, but even more so for the comfort knowing this isn't as weird and unique a problem as I thought. Adding Sharpies and Post-its to the shopping list next week.

It takes a lot to be weird around here.

Thanks for taking my question (and for the virtual high five over the OCD therapy and meds. Slow work, but progress is progress)! When you say my mom may need a clinical intervention, would you mind being more specific as to the reason why? As an aside, it would make sense to bring this up in the moment, because if I mention it afterward, she'll always say, "I never said that." Not sure if she really can't remember or just doesn't want to deal. Adults are strange.


I was just picking up that Mom might have anxiety. I'd run it by your therapist before you do/say anything; I'm just an armchair quarterback.

Hi Carolyn, I have started to fantasize about divorce. I am jealous of my friends who get to send their kids off to their exes and be all alone at home for a few days every few weeks. I know that I am just overwhelmed with the current situation but these fantasies are making it hard for me to keep being forgiving to my husband every time he does something that annoys me, from mistakes like forgetting to wash the dishes, to deliberate choices he makes like taking conference calls in the family room such that I have to tiptoe around him with our 4 kids under 10, to simple habit differences like him pacing when he is thinking. How do I keep motivating myself to not destroy my marriage during this quarantine?

Here's your motivation: None of your problems with your husband will still be a problem when you're out of lockdown. 

Except the dishes, but that might settle back down into forgivability.

Please let him know you're losing your s*** and need some emergency alone time, which you then follow up with scheduled breaks, even tiny ones, a couple of times a week. 

If he says no to this, then you call an attorney.

Kidding! I kid. But, seriously, you both Really Need to be generous with each other now, and it's okay to say that part out loud if he doesn't grasp it immediately.

I hear what you're all saying about getting dressed and I just want to provide the counter-perspective as I completely disagree. I have closed my closet of work clothes entirely and embraced this new lifestyle. To put on my work clothes would feel like dress-up as someone who is continuing to work remotely (but not required to be in a bunch of meetings and also spending most of my time with my kids). I am delighted to wear pajamas every day and would be pretty irritated if I was asked to dress up for someone else's benefit. Why are we pretending everything is normal? It's not.

Fair point. 

But, I don't see it as pretending everything is normal; I see it (in the OP's case) as a matter of everyone doing their best to adapt, and this is one thing she, personally, is stuck on. 

Ha ha. Duress code. I just thought of that, and I'm making you all pay.


So, in a way, it actually -is- normal, in that we all have our stuff. 

To "Covid, toddlers, and my career": May I pass your Q to Karla Miller? This is a workplace issue, so she's a much better bet than I am. Let me know here or at my email. tellme (at)

Thankful for something other than COVID to discuss. My parents sent me to some of the lowest performing schools in my district (by test scores and FARM numbers), but we lived in a close-knit community and they didn't believe in private schools. I got a great education, had excellent opportunities I wouldn't have had at other schools. I wouldn't trade that for anything. In other words, find what's best for your child, but pay less attention to the test scores and other performance measures. They don't show the whole picture, and never will.

Uhhhh I meant to talk about this today and totally missed the Qs and comments I set aside for it. I'm sorry!

And, I agree on looking at more than test scores. Thanks.

The letter in today's column is apparently a recent one (perhaps received by you within the last month or so), so I wonder if due to the economic effects of the Coronavirus pandemic the writer's family is suffering a major reduction in income, rendering both private school and moving impossible for the foreseeable future. How would you advise the LW under those circumstances?

Same. Try the local school, give it a chance. Could be a great fit.

Hi Carolyn. Thank you so much for doing these special chats; they’ve been helping me make it through. After many years of searching, I finally found my person last year, and we got engaged at the beginning of March. He has two young children who I have fallen head over heels for, and it’s mutual! Life is so wonderful! But then coronavirus really made an appearance here, and we decided to tie the knot at the courthouse a week after our engagement before everything completely shut down. At the same time we bought a house and moved into it. The kids love the house, we love the house, we’re all so happy to be a family. But I went from being Dad’s super fun girlfriend to now being a stay-at-home-mom slash homeschool-attempter in a matter of about a week, and my head is spinning. We’re now three weeks into isolation and three weeks into being married, and I’m really struggling. I love these kids (and their dad!) with my whole heart, but being the solo parent eight hours a day while my husband works from home is just too much. I broke down over the last few days and did a lot of crying (some of it hidden in the closet), and my husband and I agreed this pace isn’t sustainable, so we’re going to rejigger our schedules so I get more support. But there’s still a part of me that thinks I’m failing by asking for more help. Like, because I wanted to be a wife and mother for so long and I now get to be, I should be able to make this work day in and day out with a smile. But I also know these are unprecedented times and it’s all so much so fast. As a veteran parent and advice giver, do you think I’m doing ok? Does the fact that I’m struggling right now mean I’m not cut out to be a parent? Gosh, I hope that’s not it. Thank you, Carolyn.

Omg. You just did the equivalent of jumping in the deep end fully clothed, when most people start in the shallow end after shopping and planning for months and changing into their bathing suits.

You're doing great. 

There will be a super moon over the US every night this week. Step outside when it is rising and know that this universe has been around for many, many eons.

Yes, yes. Thank you.

That's it for me today. Special thanks to Yu for agreeing to add these Wednesdays to her schedule at such a busy time. Thanks to everyone for stopping by, and sorry I couldn't get to all the questions. I'll be back at it Friday at noon. 

...and I'm just a fortysomething guy with no kids in the picture. That's the most inspirational thing I've read all week. No greater love, etc. You're absolutely amazing.


Oh honey, lots of us who have been married and had kids for much longer are crying in closets right now too. Welcome to the club, hang in there, find some mom friends to commiserate with, take breaks when you can get them (even if it means hiding in said closet).

Hi Carolyn. I just wanted to share with everyone the fun thing we did at our house last night. Our daughter is a high school senior and has been grieving the loss of her commencement, parties, etc. So, last night we told her we wanted her to “model” her cap and gown, which she had already picked up. When she came downstairs, we sang “Pomp and Circumstance,” and surprised her with her graduation present, a new laptop for college. There were lots of tears and hugs and we all got to forget about our crummy circumstances for awhile.

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 She lives in New England with her husband and their three boys.
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