Carolyn Hax Live: Bananas

May 22, 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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Hello, everybody. Happy unofficial start of summer, whatever that means.

On a more lighthearted note: Lesson learned from the pandemic and wearing a mask. I really need to brush my teeth more, as my breath is rank. My wife complains that the mask makes it hard to breathe. My complaint is that my mask makes me not want to! (And, yes...I have learned more valuable lessons...but sadly, this is the one I think about the most!)

I know it doesn't feel like one right now, but this is a good development.

My brother and his wife have two beautiful, healthy, neurotypical kids. They love the kids, and yet everything I see points me to the conclusion that they hate the essential reality of being parents. My sister-in-law "Rachel" complains incessantly about things that are very normal. (Yes this has been worse in the time of coronavirus, but it was noticeable and upsetting before that too.) She is also notorious for making dramatic social media posts about how hard her life is as a mom. She used to post crying selfies with captions about how tough motherhood is, though she has mostly stopped doing that (I think a friend told her it was a bad look). She has a career she is very good at, and I think it's possible she was meant to focus on that instead. My brother is a good dad but similarly full of complaints. All of this is to say, I have been thinking about it and cannot get the idea out of my head that I should offer to take the kids in. My husband and I have a bunch of kids of our own, including one with special needs, and I sincerely believe we could make room in our brood for the kids' cousins. We would not have to legally adopt them, which I assume the parents would say no to. I just think they would all be happier with the kids in our home. I am looking for a way to approach this question that doesn't alienate them forever. Or is it a completely crazy thought that I should just put away? For the record, the kids are 7 and 4 years old -- somewhat independent but still very needy. Our oldest is 14 and youngest is 3.

This is one I haven't seen before.

And my first reaction is that it's both valid and completely crazy.

Valid: Not everyone who has kids is swept away with how great it is to be a parent. Some do actually regret it, and some of their kids feel that regret acutely, even if the parents never breathe a word of it openly.

Completely crazy: is the leap from this ^^ to offering to take someone's kids. For a bunch of reasons that may be self-evident, but I'll spell out the main one, that being a bit too complainey on social media is hardly proof of wanting to give one's kids away.

The timing, though, might work in favor of producing a sane suggestion.

These are two working parents (right?) about to enter a summer without the same number of child care or camp options (right?). So, you can offer to be the summer camp for these kids. 

The benefit here is that it's something a relative might offer anyway, under normal circumstances. I've known plenty of families personally that have done some version of this--kids going to uncle's or grandma's for X weeks every summer, and it's not as a rescue mission but a gift, an expression of love. So you can offer this gift to your brother and sister-in-law and just see how that plays out. 



If the wayyy more likely scenario is true, that these parents have every desire and intention to rear their own children and could just use a breather, then there it is. 

If you're working on an accurate hunch that these kids aren't in a healthy or supportive home, then this will be an incremental step toward making your home theirs to some degree.

Last thing, which i thought of first but then blew past: I'm not sure why you included the neurotypical/special needs details. Is that just meant to distinguish that they have a "normal" experience that overwhelms them and you are happy in a situation that others normally find overwhelming?

How do you know when your feelings for an ex are completely gone? I am trying to determine whether we can be friends, but I'm afraid of ripping off the Bandaid too soon and finding that small things (like learning he's dating someone new) will be unexpectedly painful.

Wouldn't it be *expectedly* painful, because you knew it might happen?

I'm not just being pedantic. You're looking at this situation and weighing some knowns (you're over him, you want to be friends) against some unknowns (whether you're completely over him, whether a friendship would be more painful than it's worth). That's pretty much sums up the balance sheet each of us stares at before making any decision. You can't know, and I don't think there's a "completely" anything when it comes to feelings.

So you do what you can: If you find yourself wanting it more than you're put off by it, then you give it a try. If you find yourself put off by it more than you want it, then don't give it a try (yet or ever).

There's nothing that says you have to be friends with anyone, so if you're talking yourself into this in any way, maybe ask yourself why.


With both of our incomes slashed as of this month, my husband and I can no longer afford to keep paying retainers to our service providers (housekeeper, hairdresser etc) as we had been doing for the prior month. I am getting ready to send notes explaining that the money they're probably hoping for won't be coming until further notice. I know we weren't technically under an obligation to send these payments, but I still feel so crappy about it. Is there anything else I can do to help and to feel like I've done all within my power, without sacrificing our family's very small financial cushion?

I don't see why you feel the need to do more. The whole idea of continuing to pay service providers was for unaffected people to share their good fortune with the affected. That basic rule hasn't changed; what has changed is that now you're in the affected group. It's not your fault, it's not something you chose, it's just another step in a constantly evolving situation. 

That said, there's nothing wrong with taking a moment to think about ways you can be helpful that don't involve money. I think anyone of a mind to help can be helpful right now. Even just staying home is a way to help.

Carolyn, can you help with a script or some framing for parents who are pressuring us to visit them, which would entail traveling across several states? I try to hear it as "we love you and wish things were different" but at the end of the day, the CDC says avoid nonessential travel and I'm tired of having conversations about the possibility of risk mitigation when the least risky option is to stay put. We have a little one. They are mid-60s but otherwise healthy and in a social distancing "pod" with their other grandkid whom they see all the time. They are tech savvy, one still working remotely, and not socially isolated. I'm tired of trying to play armchair epidemiologist when the real issue is the emotional pressure of constantly feeling like a bad child because I moved away for work to what was, until now, a totally reasonable distance.

Have you said some version of the last part of your answer to your parents?:

"I try to hear it as 'we love you and wish things were different,' but it is emotionally exhausting for me to keep having to say no to you. Please trust that when we feel comfortable traveling, you will be the first people I see."

Then put up a wall to this subject any time they try to raise it. "I've said my piece, so I'm changing the subject now. How's [other subject]?"

The whole moving-for-work thing is a red herring. You did what did, knowing what you knew. This is about their boundaries, not your relocation.

Hi Carolyn, I've come to realize over the past few years how obsessed my mom has become with weight. None of us are skinny in the family in the slightest, but we're also not obese. When I was on the phone with her a few nights ago, she told me how relieved she was that my brother was going to be going back into work because he "wasn't moving around and probably eating too much" and something along the lines of he probably gained weight during quarantine. My brother is almost 30. This is a COMMON topic for my mom to express to me, what can I say to make her stop? I know this is about her and her anxieties about her own weight, but seriously my grown-a$$ brother doesn't need his mother bad mouthing him to his sibling. And I also am sick of how negative she is about other peoples's bodies because I know that's how she talks to herself. And I know this because the way I talked about other people's bodies was how I (mostly) used to talk to myself about mine.

Similar answer here.

First, start with an observation and question combo, next time she harps on it: "Mom, I notice you've been talking a lot about people's weight. Any idea why that might be?"

Let her respond. Who knows, she might shock the world and say, "Huh, I hadn't noticed--I should really back off people."

Presumably, though, she will deflect or rationalize. Then you can say:

"I'm not comfortable with the topic of weight. I don't want my body up for discussion, so that tells me I shouldn't talk about anyone else's, either."

She can respond to that how she chooses--she might feel judged, in which case you say you're speaking only for yourself, etc. What matters is that you no longer discuss weight with her. That's your boundary and that's your prerogative. So when she starts in on someone's weight, you just say, "Mom, you know how I feel about this. So tell me, how's [new topic]?" And if she presses, aw geez, gotta go, Mom, talk later.

Can we apply the ring theory worldwide during the pandemic? No complaining to anyone except those you are certain are suffering less than you. The number of tone-deaf news stories, opinion columns, and letters asking for advice is growing daily and must be painful for families who have lost someone or have essential workers. This is life or death for many people. We all have to remember that.

We do, yes.

But I believe you are asking the impractical, if not impossible. There is not just one form of pain that's excruciating enough to deserve airing.

We don't know where this is going, who's going to be untouched or wiped out, whether that wipeout is going to be physical or financial or both, and whether okay now is going to remain okay. There is confusion, a constant hum of menace, an earth-shakingly stupid politicization of something that has no regard for opinions, a welling up of anger at each other when that anger has no other clear place to go. There are people who are ill, who are grieving, who have insomnia, who are broke, who are feeling helpless, who are watching their kids lose the kind of experiences we all took for granted ourselves as having shaped who we are. Who gets the complain-counter ticket with the lowest number?

We actually talked about ring theory a few or forty chats ago as it relates to the pandemic. Definitely the clear dump in, dump out distinctions were toast sometime around mid-March. But I think the kindest alternative is not to expect individuals to have to live up to some standard of certainty, but instead to remain mindful that suffering is suffering, and discretion is golden. It's actually been on display by so many chatters this spring, with so many questions beginning with some version of, "I realize I'm relatively fortunate ...." I have been heartened by it. 

Hi Carolyn, I have a long-time friend who is driven, educated, and caring. She works full-time and has her own apartment in an expensive city. A few years ago she started dating her boyfriend, a sometimes musician who works minimally. She moved him in when he was “between apartments” and he’s lived there ever since. Now, this guy is perfectly nice, loyal, and she enjoys his company, but he contributes maybe 5% max to their shared rent/ bills/ food expenses. Maybe it’s mean but I’ve sort of rationalized this in my mind as her choosing to have a pet: perfectly enjoyable company, but doesn’t contribute. She says she is happy, but my concerns are: 1. She praises him with statements like, “he’s so thoughtful; I got home from work late the other night and started cleaning the bathroom, and he told me ‘you’re tired, just leave that until the morning and relax tonight’”. Yes, instead of making any move to clean the bathroom himself that he’d been sitting around using all week. 2. She says they want kids one day. I can’t help but think how much these past years worth of potential dual income will be needed/ missed when that time comes. I feel like you’re going to tell me to just stay out of it... which I’m prepared to hear. But is there any way this is a legitimate, healthy situation, just unconventional? Or am I right to want better for her, and what can I even say at this point?

Okay, let's see ... whether it's a legitimate or healthy situation is irrelevant for your purposes, since she's the arbiter of that; you're right to want better for her, of course, she's your friend! but whether that translates to your having any standing to do about it is the real issue, and the answer to that is mostly no except in a danger scenario; the income-after-having -kids thing is beside the point, based on a bunch of variables and what-ifs.

So. Here's the fun part. You don't have to worry about solving any of this! Envision a sweep of your arm wiping all that gray area off the table. 

That's because you have a clear opportunity just to be yourself and have your half of your conversations with your friend. So when she says, “he’s so thoughtful; I got home from work late the other night and started cleaning the bathroom, and he told me ‘you’re tired, just leave that until the morning and relax tonight’”--you get to say, "Wait a minute--he didn't just do it himself? Wouldn't that have been the thoughtful thing?" This is the kind of stuff friends say to each other normally, calling BS wherever they see it. For some reason, when there's an iffy partner in the picture, we friends tend to clam up and start overthinking and holding back. On a normal, micro, day-to-day, typical-conversation level, please don't hold back.

If you've already tried that and you've shut down because she shut you down, then that's your answer. A different one, and discouraging, but definitive all the same.

I grew up without really knowing my father, since he left my mom and me when I was an infant. He contacted my mom when I was in high school and slowly started making amends and becoming part of our lives again. My mom died when I was in college and he was really supportive and we started getting close. Now years later I’m a working, single mom because my daughter’s father lives in Europe and my father lives with us and is an enormous help with my daughter. Because I want my daughter to know my mom, who was the most wonderful woman ever and made me the person who I am, I have always talked about her and showed my daughter lots of pictures and videos. At age 5, she’s starting to ask question about why Grandpop isn’t in any of the pictures, stories, etc. and I feel it’s time to tell her. My father agrees but want to be the one to do it, alone, just the two of them. I have really come to love my father but one fault he has is trying to make excuses for abandoning us. I know he was only 19 but my mom was only 20. Also there’s those 13 long years before he came back. It doesn’t make him a bad person but I don’t want my daughter thinking that was okay. I talked to my ex (daughter’s father) and he asked me if I wasn’t letting my dad do this, as a way of punishing him for the past. That’s not my intention and I’d hate to think I’m doing it subconsciously. What do you think – which of us should explain the past to my daughter?

He does not get to tell your story for you. You tell yours, he tells his. If he wants to go first, then he needs to get on it, because you aren't going to wait. Let him know that the next time your daughter asks questions about the past, you're going to answer her truthfully. 

All of this can be stated gently and kindly, but be firm about it. He does not get to tell your story for you. 

Hi Carolyn - my in-laws live abroad, and are kind, intelligent people (albeit with very firm views about things). I have always been the one to share photos and updates regarding the grandchildren to them, but have slowed down / stopped recently due to the craziness of lock-down (working from home, home-schooling etc). My MIL has been hassling me over email for updates, photos, responses to questions etc. When I don't respond, she just keeps emailing (daily or more frequently). I'm generally resentful over the constant communication and the way they always expect me (rather than my husband) to respond to everything (even regarding their extended family). I have stopped engaging at all, other than sending photos a few times per week. How should I handle this? What I want is to be able to send photos and emails when I can/want to, but not be under any obligation to do anything. Thank you.

It feels like every question today is leading into the next one.

You don't need to wrestle with the bigger "they always expect me (rather than my husband) to respond to everything." Just shift the task to your husband. 

Tell him you're shifting the mom-communication responsibility to him, then start forwarding him his mother's emails. Email the mother to say you're so sorry you've been less available, it's not on purpose, though, the working from home and home-schooling just take up all of your discretionary time, so you're going to forward her emails for now to your husband.

If he doesn't answer her, then she will likely email you, and you will forward it to him. 

You can, of course, stay in touch with his family on your own schedule and for your own reasons, just because you care about them and want a strong connection to your kids' grandparents. You are merely shifting the *obligation* onto the person whose job it was all along.

Hi Carolyn, Not COVID-19 related, in fact it's a bit mundane, but you are so insightful and wise that I thought I'd ask you anyway. I broke my shoulder 6 weeks ago and yesterday started physiotherapy. I have to do several exercises, several times a day, or I'll permanently lose my shoulder mobility. The problem is that they are really painful, and I have a low pain threshold. I can't use the excuse of time, because at the moment I have plenty of it. How can I motivate myself to do my exercises? Previous experience indicates that just willing myself to do them isn't terribly successful. Thank you.

Put something "behind" your exercises that you care about. So, say, your favorite show is X, and you can watch X only after you've done your exercises.

All of it will be a trick of the mind, so if you refuse mind tricks, then you will lose shoulder mobility. Your call. But I've found the better mind tricks are the ones with rewards.

Thank you for the kind words.

I should say, immediate rewards, like watching a good show--not abstract rewards, like shoulder mobility several years from now.

I live in an area where the coronavirus numbers keep going up, and the restrictions have not been relaxed. However, it seems that none of my neighbors pay attention to local news, and pretty much everyone has stopped wearing masks, or never started. I wish I could stereotype the maskless but I can't: I live in a politically and ethnically diverse area, and the one thing that seems to unite the young and old, black and white, well-educated and working class, is a smug disregard for other people's health. When they see me in my mask they give me a look of utter contempt; it's hard to believe they still don't get that my mask protects them, not me. I'm really starting to feel anxious; it feels like everyone around me is deliberately trying to kill me. I'm in a vulnerable demographic but I can't avoid going out because I'm very lucky: I still have a job, and it's a short walk from my apartment. But I live on the top floor of a large building and even the act of leaving the building entails sharing elevators, hall and lobby space with hordes of maskless people. My building has a policy on paper that everyone should wear masks at all times and not share elevators, but it is blatantly ignored by everyone including the building's staff of maintenance workers, mailroom and management people who are supposed to enforce or at least follow those rules. I feel like I am in danger, and I sincerely think everyone around me actually wants me dead. I know that sounds ridiculously dramatic but these people know better - there are signs everywhere. I'm not the oldest person here but at 58 I'm getting up there, and there are people older than me who are also flouting the rules. I feel like I'm swimming in shark-infested waters. I don't know how to cope because it's so hard to wrap my head around the fact that no one in my vicinity has any compassion or respect for the gift of life; people without masks are effectively mass murderers. And I know you're going to scold me for saying that, and the comments are going to be full of people who think the whole thing is a joke because it seems like everyone except me thinks death is hilarious when it happens to other people.  Maybe I should get counseling. I will at some point but it's a little complicated to do so at the moment. It also enrages me that I'm the one who needs counseling because I don't want to kill other people while all the people with a sociopathic indifference to other people's suffering, including those in positions of power, are the normal ones.  And my fear in sending this letter is that you, too, will tell me that I'm crazy and paranoid and solipsistic and delusional and we're just supposed to laugh off all the death and the fact that just today a report revealed that tens of thousands of deaths could have been prevented had people been wearing masks and social distancing two weeks earlier. I'm not just writing this because I'm an outraged liberal. I am really suffering: I can't sleep, I can't function, my job performance is suffering (which adds to my anxiety because I worked so hard to get to this position and losing this job would also be a death sentence and I have no idea how long my luck will run) and I'm probably putting myself in more danger because I am so consumed with the idea that I'm surrounded by people who actively want my death. I'm crying as I write this. This is a cry for help. Please take me seriously. And please wear a mask.

It's not a joke, I'm not going to scold you, and you are absolutely right about the various calculations that had society only shut down sooner, potentially thousands of lives would have been saved. The disregard for the very clear advice coming from epidemiologists is mind-boggling, and, yes, it is likely to affect some people disproportionately. And yes, the I-wear-a-mask-to-protect-YOU concept is not exactly rocket science, so I share your disbelief that it seems to have eluded so many.

But. I still urgently urge you to seek counseling. Urgently.

No matter how "complicated" it will be to get it. 

And no matter how mind-boggling it seems that you're the one who "has" to when it's other people around you who are doing such a bad job as processing information and warnings.

Here's why: This is a two-part process, first with the information, and then with the emotions. With the exception of the projections of others' intent, you're fine on the information part.

But your emotional response is crippling you--and that's where counseling is appropriate. Please don't resist it out of resentment or misplaced emphasis on what's fair. Every precaution you're taking for your physical health is the result of a calculation using what you know and what you think you need. Please make your mental health care decisions as rational--what you're facing, and what you need to be well.

My husband and I are expecting our first child in a few weeks after trying for a long time. I thought my parents would be thrilled for us, especially given that they know that it was a struggle to get to this point. But this is whole thing has been very much... their third grandchild. This is very much par for the course as they’ve always been more enthusiastic and involved with anything my sister does. They lavished my sister with attention during her pregnancies and dote on her kids. They haven’t sent us anything for baby (money isn’t an issue but it’s not really about the gifts) or really checked in at all minus perfunctory questions like how I’m feeling. Tonight we shared the baby’s name, of which the middle is after my father, and their reaction was... maybe mild happiness before changing the subject. So I guess my question is: how do I let go that my parents aren’t going to give me the emotional support and enthusiasm that I could use right now? And more importantly, how do I navigate (that I already can anticipate) my child being the second banana grandchild?

I hope you're here live, so you can respond to this:

Is there any reason you're still in close contact with your parents, knowing (or at least having ample evidence) that they will always and forever treat you as the lesser child?

In case you aren't, some suggestions:

-The first step to letting go is telling yourself the hardest possible truth. They will not value you they way they value your sister. Ever.

-Here's the buffer, though: That's their fault. They are damaged people, if only because a person who is not damaged would never clearly favor one child over another. Never forget this. It is not your fault. You are not less-than.

-Your parents don't deserve the level of attention you have given them, especially since you are giving it to them out of a vain hope they will notice and respond by caring about you as much as *you* deserve. So, in effect, they are getting rewarded for mistreating you with extra attention from you. You can't unbreak them, but you can break this cycle by resolving right now, today, to save your warmest attention for people who show the same regard for you. If you don't have people like this in your life--it happens, especially when dysfunction has made family your main preoccupation--then now's a great time to start cultivating stronger bonds outside the family. Actually, it 's a tough time, but better now than putting it off. The family of choice over origin is a real thing and can be so beautiful.

-You have a baby coming. (Yay for you!!!) This means you have a new concern in not transferring this lifelong sense of frustration and inadequacy to a new generation. If these grandparents aren't going to be a steady source of warmth and sunshine for your child, then your child will not be spending much time with these grandparents. Understand why, resolve it, and hold to it for all your child's worth.

-Change the middle name. Seriously. It's aspirational of something that hasn't been healthy for you to aspire to. 

Congratulations, good health and good luck.



Please call a helpline *right now.* Your anger and your fear are not baseless, but I am really worried about where they might take you if you do not call an emergency helpline *right now.*

For what it's worth, the people in your neighborhood are the ones who are strange. Whenever I go out (mostly to the grocery store), in either the town where I live or the very different town where my mother's house is, everyone is masked.

Can you take the stairs? (not sure how "top" your floor is). Either way, my guess is no one else is, and, it may be worth the exercise and the peace of mind knowing no one else is there. Hang in there. And please do talk to someone - if nothing else, it will help you work and sleep better.

I just wanted to say "I am with you". I feel similar anger and frustration and also need to go into a communal hallway with maskless people just to get to the outside. If it helps, some of those people are taking in propaganda so they aren't actually wishing you ill. They honestly think you and I are delusional about the risk. Second you might look into adding something to your mask like a vacuum filter for those elevator rides. Third you might share your concern with your local health department. They might (big question mark) be willing to talk to the building management. Their job is help stop the spread. Fourth a mental health professional might (big question mark) help you score some N95 masks as a 'prescription' for your anxiety. Meanwhile I wish someone would create T-shirts that say "My mask protects you, not me" so I could wear it when I go to the grocery store and have a less confrontational way of educating people (with profits going to Feeding America).

Great stuff, thank you--and you sharpened a formless thought I had about N95 masks.

And amen to the serious propaganda problem.

You can make your own shirt, by the way--I'm sure there are others but Zazzle, Cafe Press and Custom Ink do this, right? It has been a while since I made T-shirts for ALS walks, but it was so easy and relatively cheap.


I live in a large (3000 resident!) multicultural high rise condo in Northern Va, and everyone is complying with all rules and guidelines, including masks, limiting number of people in elevators, using hand sanitizers provided in the lobby, and so forth. It's wonderful. And shoppers in stores nearby all wear masks. It is truly wonderful! How to explain this phenomenon, when so many others refuse and even fight these regulations?

This is heartening, thank you. I'm seeing strong compliance myself--but that's a very limited view because I am complying with the stay-at-home part, given my ability to work from home.

I am so glad Carolyn said to change your baby's middle name because that was my first thought. No really, change it. Congrats on your baby! This should be a joyful time for you! Please don't put so many dashed expectations on your new happiness. Let him be his own legacy of family for you.

Might the OP’s friend be seeking affirmation that the boyfriend is really who she believes him to be? By giving honest feedback, the friend then gets information to compare her feelings against.

Nicely argued, thanks.

Please keep your child away from these toxic people as much as possible. I cried when I heard my niece ask her mother (my sister) why her paternal grandmother didn't like her like she liked Cousin Andy. Kids know these things at a pretty early age.

I had to do physiotherapy twice a day following a horse accident and serious knee surgery after three months of knee immobilization. I had to work really hard to regain my mobility, but I did it. Twenty years later, it's one of the best things I ever did for myself because it got me in my body. Now, at age 68, I exercise every day and am no doubt extending my life as well as my bone density. As hard as this is to believe, this challenge is a gift. Be open to the silver linings. All the best to you.

I have a lot of sympathy and compassion for you. I agree with Carolyn's wise advise to seek some counseling, but also, if possible, I would try to not take it personally that your neighbors remain maskless. That they are being ignorant and selfish and irresponsible and dangerous is true, but if you can, resist assuming that they want you dead. Explore whether there is some way to reach out to building management and see if they can be stricter with enforcement - at least by their own staff, or tape up a sign on the elevator that asks people to "PLEASE wear a mask in the building - especially in the elevator - to protect your neighbors with underlying health conditions." See if you can take a couple of concrete steps toward appealing toward your neighbors' better natures. I agree you shouldn't have to do this, but if you can make it a personal request instead of a demand, I am hoping that it will get you some relief.

Is there any reason the broken shoulder person can't watch TV *while* doing the exercises? That would be the best motivator for me.

I can't imagine a conclusion that people are good parents but don't like the reality of being parents and the logical leap is to offer to take the kids in rather than to say "Hey, you seem like you've been struggling with being parents lately. Are you okay? Is there anything I can do?" and then *hear them out*. Because a lot of people's mode of communication is self-deprecation and complaint rather than laudatory towards themselves and it could just as easily be that the mom has gone overboard on this rather than anything else. Or they're just having a particularly tough phase that will pass and then life will be better again and they want to be able to express when stuff is going rough without people leaping to think that they forever would prefer not to continue to raise their kids. Yes, it was guano loco crazy to make that leap.

Sounds like her issue is with her *SIL,* not the 'betterment' of the kids. Lots of complaints about "Rachel" and one mention of her brother. It also reads heavy-handed that the woman is the sole parent.

You might also bring this up with your physical therapist. I'm sure you're not the first client they've had who has trouble getting motivated, and they might have some tricks to recommend.

My inclination is NOT to say more than is age-appropriate for a 5-year-old. The details can wait until the child can better grasp the implications.

Right--as always with conveying big truths to small children, feed it in simple answers to their questions, wait for follow up questions, repeat. 

Another perspective on the ring theory in the time of Covid - I had been following that philosophy with a friend of mine going through a harder time than I. After a few weeks she called me out on it, saying " I am your friend - I want to hear about your life and I can still be supportive and helpful to you." This made me realize that there was in fact something a little condescending in assuming my friend was suddenly so delicate and we now share more equally.

Agreed--so why chat only? This is useful and pretty general. Thanks.

I'm curious if you think there was any impact of gender bias in LW's perspective - i.e., if the good friend were a man who had a "sometimes musician" girlfriend that lived with him, and they planned to have kids, and presumably the "sometimes musician" would be the SAHP would the LW still "want more" for her male friend? Or could these feelings, at least in part, be the product of society's "typical" gender roles where she expects the man to provide her her female friend?

There may be, sure, which is why it's so great that we still don't need to parse any of the bigger questions. There's only regular conversation and responding on the spot: e.g., "How is it thoughtful if you're still the one cleaning the bathroom?"

To which the answer could then be: "He does 90 percent of the cleaning, this was just my job and I had been putting it off." The not jumping to conclusions, asking-questions approach can benefit all involved. 

Chatter applied this to articles and other media. That was never the point of ring theory. Ring theory is about individual communication, not mass communication.

My gut is telling me (just from the little the OP wrote here) that the Grandpop isn’t trustworthy. Something about the whole thing in totality Wants to tell the young girl, alone; makes excuses. I’m uncomfortable.

I've seen a couple of posts like this, thanks.

Holy smokes, jumping to everything will be best if the kids are raised in your family?!? I don’t like kids and am not at all suited to paRenting, both things that I didn’t learn until after I had my own kids (planned, now mid-elementary age). But I love them and am committed to them. I would think very hard about why you want to cast yourself as the STARRING hero in this story. Not the unsung hero who provides unconditional support and love to the parents and kids in your own way, eg having the kids spend several summer weeks with you. But the starring hero who is going to show the whole world how you can not only raise your own children, your exceptional needs child, And your SIL/brothers children—all without even expecting legal adoption.

Yes, this is a possibility, thanks.

The possibility range is huge here. What is OP seeing, how happy/unhappy are the kids, what is OP getting out of this? 

Or any pressure, really. Say "no" nicely once (maybe twice, if you think they have good intent) and then when they ask again say "I've already answered that." It shuts people down more effectively than anything else.

My husband grew up with a very difficult mother who his siblings didn't like and don't like now, but they never really discussed it. I remember the relief his sister felt when they discussed their issues with their mother as adults. It might be helpful for your brother to hear "Do you notice that mom discusses weight a lot?" and let him find a space to discuss what's been going on.

Also put up a wall if they ask questions or otherwise try to keep the discussion going that first time, such as "But why?" or "It's really not that dangerous bla bla bla." DO NOT ANSWER ANY QUESTIONS. That just encourages them to not hear your statement. Anything they say after you explain yourself other than acquiescence, you say, "I hear you, Mom/Dad, and like I said, we will come see you as soon as we feel comfortable doing so." This is about YOUR boundaries.

In addition to Carolyn's excellent advice, have you thought about checking in with *her* to see how *she* is doing? Sounds like while she doesn't want to get rid of her kids (hard to fathom how anyone could reasonably make that leap based on what you wrote), she is struggling in some way. The judgy comments throughout your post come through bright as day: she was meant to focus on her career and not be a mom, her friends told her what she was doing is not a good look. I don't see anywhere that you have reached out in any way to offer support. It frankly sounds like you are a SAHM who judges a working parent for struggling, which all of us working parents are these days. Have some grace.

You can post positive online reviews of them wherever it will do the most algorithmic good. That doesn't help them immediately, but it will help them when they start working again. If they have a pandemic side-hustle going (e.g. selling homemade masks) you can promote that to your network. You can write to your elected representatives to extend whatever relief measures your jurisdiction has so that your service providers are made whole.

My parents did that to me when I was twelve and it worked out great for the summer, I was just bummed that it wasn't permanent because It's no fun when you keep being reminded that you are the source of your parents misery.

Do not put an Altoid in your mouth before you put on your cloth mask. You will exhale "curiously strong" peppermint into your eyeballs.

I learn so much from you all, I am blessed.

I think the comment comparing SAHM and working moms is unhelpful. Both struggle, both are hard, even more so when you have a special need child. And yeah I think venting about your kids publicly on FB isn’t a good look because your kids will find out about that one day. Vent to a friend, your spouse, whoever. It’s Like those celebrities who post that they weren’t planning on anymore kids but now they are pregnant. Why does that need to be public knowledge?

I beg to differ. When wrestling with any difficult situation, it can be really useful to hear how you're coming across to others. At worst it means hearing something unkind without much benefit, but at best it's a chance to go back and rethink what you're going to say based on what's reflected back at you. 

Amen to the point in general, though, about pitting moms against moms, and yes to being mindful of the future audience for social media posts. Still, serious cries for help also need to be taken seriously. 

I'll say it again, the range of possibility here is huge.

In response to last week’s question of nothing to talk about. My husband and I have started reading to each other. Sometimes just for a chapter or two. But we trade back and forth. It fills the space so we don’t have to come up with topics of conversation and gives us something new to talk about. We also do jigsaw puzzles. When you’re doing a project together you can have long periods of silence and it doesn’t seem to matter.

There is something about the reading aloud that is just so sweet to me. So Merchant-Ivory. Thanks for this.

Hi Carolyn - last June, I was the victim of domestic violence. I'm safe - I fled and landed safely with my "4am friends" who helped me piece my life back together. Its been a hard year (when do the memories -- both good and bad - stop coming?) but I'm mostly just grateful. I'm wondering if you and the 'nuts have some ideas for the best way to honor the 1-year anniversary. So far, best idea I have is a $90 donation to a DV charity - symbolic because $90 was the cost of my uber the night I left. Thank you.

That's a great idea. Good for you, this is great.

I wish we could do the chat equivalent of honking horns and banging pots in your honor, like they do for medical staffs. How bout this:



Dear Carolyn: I am the original letter writer for this letter which was reprinted yesterday. Thought you might be interested in a follow up. The marriage has been chaotic for the reasons you predicted: too much drama, awful fights. I am grateful that my son and his friend have remained close through it all. One point in the comments amused me: the assumption that I am the "mom". I'm the "dad". Guess the remark about cooking lots of meals threw people. I'm the father of 2 biologic and 3 adopted sons. I don't cook fancy, but I fix lots and the guys and their friends ate it all without complaint for many years.

Yeah, I thought to correct people but forgot. Thanks for this!

Sorry the marriage is chaos.

My ex was once in a terrible accident that left him with permanent damage, including brutal chronic pain, a paralysed bladder that required thrice-daily catheterization, not to mention the loss of his main joy--creating monumental sculpture. I had a couple of herniated disks. I talked about my pain when it hit and one day said, "I can't believe I'm talking to you about back pain." He turned to me and said, "Never say that! Pain is pain." I appreciated that so much.

I appreciate it, too, thank you--except the horrific injuries. Wow.

I second the 'don't name your child after someone you don't want your child to be like!' I would also recommend finding a good therapist. I recommend this not because you sound unhealthy but because your parents modeled bad parenting. It will be very useful for you to have someone in your life who can help you avoid replicating unhealthy patterns (like letting one child feel like a second banana and others you may not yet recognize).

Yes, thanks--even just someone to run things by when you have questions, when you want an "is this normal?" check. It's invaluable. 

Have you told your dogs how handsome they are today? You haven't mentioned them in a while so naturally I'm concerned that they don't know just how handsome they are.

I have told them, but I do need to go tell them how much more handsome they've gotten since I started the chat.

Thank you for looking out for them. 

"Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle." In looking for the correct author of that quote, I learned that it is a mashup of something J.M. Barrie (author of Peter Pan) advised --- "Be kinder than necessary" -- and something attributed to Plato: "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." What a dynamic duo and a great sentiment!

I'll take it, thanks.

And thanks to everybody for stopping by, thanks Yu for staying with these marathon chats. I hope everyone finds a little bit of good to hold on to. Bye till next week.

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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