Carolyn Hax Live: 'It's the midrange that burns my retinas'

Oct 30, 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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Soooo, anything new?

I’ve been with my boyfriend for 3 years when he proposed at New Year’s and I happily accepted. Since then, he hasn’t helped me do anything to make the wedding happen. We announced the engagement to our families, and he calls me his fiancée but that’s it. He hasn’t given me a ring, though I’ve shown him the one I want. It’s an amethyst set in sterling silver so nothing outrageous. He won’t go look at wedding venues or talk to an officiant. The one thing he IS interested in is me moving in and having a baby NOW. I finished college last year and have an okay job, but I live with my parents and don’t want to leave unless it’s to move in with my husband. I know this sounds old-fashioned but that’s the way I am. He keeps saying having a baby with me is a much bigger commitment than marriage but even though that’s true it’s not the order I want to do things in. It’s tough to explain why I feel this way without looking like I’m criticizing his family since his parents weren’t married when he was born, thought they eventually did. Also both of his siblings have children and they’re not married. We’re stuck and I don’t know how to get us moving forward again. Help?

First thing I suggest is redefining what you see as "moving forward."

By this I do not mean giving in to what your fiance wants and moving in with him and having a baby. That wouldn't be "moving forward," because both moving in with someone and having a child are choices to make with full enthusiasm and no less (or full necessity and no less, since emergencies and unexpected things happen). You do not, *do not* commit yourself to these lukewarm.

If he were asking me, then I'd say the same thing to him--for the purpose of advising him not to push you on children, and not to push himself on a wedding.

You want what you want, and it's valid. He wants what he wants, and it's valid. You two do not want the same things, and that's valid, too.

So please talk to him about this, squarely. Say you are not going to move in with him or have a child with him until after a wedding. Also say you are not going to push for a wedding, because a pushed wedding is not what anyone wants. Then see where you are, see if he hears you.

You actually don't have to explain your position, but it's enough that seeing something as right for you doesnt mean you are judging what it right for others.

Also please consider there's a subtext here. I disagree that "having a baby with me is a much bigger commitment than marriage." Creating a person is a huge responsibility, but your commitment is mainly to the child. You can raise a child "together" while not speaking to each other. Not well, perhaps, but it's doable. A marriage is a commitment to your spouse. So, the commitment of marriage is a bigger commitment *of the two of you to each other* than a baby is.

And I think (a) you know this and (b) are holding out for the wedding knowing he is not 100 percent committed to you.

Please think on that and keep it in mind when you talk. This is what I mean by allowing "moving forward" to have a new definition: Define it as whatever makes sense *for you* given what you learn in these conversations. 




I've often envied friends who are on the same "political " page with their families these last 4 years. We mostly have looked beyond it, but 2020 is impossible for many reasons, but more so due to Thanksgiving. We live in MD, and it is our year to go to NY to see my family for Thanksgiving. We normally stay 3 nights or so. My family is furious that my wife and I have decided , due to the virus to stay in MD with our immediate family. Do I want to spend Thanksgiving with just the 3 of us (my wife and daughter)? Not really, it's a lonely thought after spending our other holidays with 50-70 people at dinner. My parents have said we'd keep it to just our "immediate" family , and that would only be 13 of us. We're still uncomfortable because we'd have to sleep over. I have no help from siblings as they're also suspicious that this virus is real and they live within an hour of my parents, so they're local and can go home after the dinner. We're the only ones that would be coming out of the area. How do we navigate this?

You don't. You just make your choice, and express it civilly, and let people handle it. 

In part that's just what works--be yourself and know it's not your job to control how people respond

In part that's just the only thing you can do when people decide a virus is personal. There's no arguing with an irrational view. Stay home and stay well and stay committed to loving people through mind-boggling times.

My little brother from the Big Brother program is all grown up and he’s 28 years old. He’s a great guy and I’m so proud to be in his life. He’s a vegetarian and a moderate drinker. He has a girlfriend and they’re getting serious and he wants us to meet her. So I invite them over for dinner but he had some requests. 1. His dinner must be vegetarian 2. Hers must be vegan 3. She is in recovery and alcohol cannot be served, discussed or in eyeshot (I have a bar in my living room and he’s asked me to hide or dismantle it for the evening) 4. I cannot mention he’s a casual drinker because his girlfriend doesn’t know and he thinks she might leave him Oy. I thought about it and said no. All the above makes me uncomfortable in my own home so I offered up going to a restaurant as my treat. But we can’t find a restaurant that meets all the above. He’s really annoyed with me. I want to stay in his life but I find it hard to bend my life to match his. And kinda sorta lie if his drinking were to come up in conversation. Help. Rob

The easy answer is just to let him be angry at you while you keep trying to find a venue that meets his specifications. 

The you-have-some-authority-here answer is to let him know you can't agree to abet his lie about his own alcohol use. Let him know it is his call whether this goes forward with this as part of your terms. He is an adult who is free to run his own life, but you are an adult, too, who believes lying is no way to start a new relationship.

The bend-for-the-people-we-love answer is to accommodate the dietary restrictions and alcohol-out-of-sight rule. Those are terms that wed compassion and integrity in a workable way. Yes, it's a hassle to hide your bar, but these are vulnerable people and it's not an outrageous ask. It's also not that hard to make a vegan meal. I follow neither vegan nor vegetarian restrictions myself and I make meals all the time that do, and my carnivorous kids don't complain. I'm sure people would gladly post menus in the comments if you ask.

A real-world scenario confirming Carolyn's advice: A few years ago, we went on a vacation with my husband's whole family. Problems occurred. Words were said. Post-vacation, sister-in-law shut off all communication to the family. I figured this: I couldn't control whether she chose to talk with us, but I could make it easier for her to cross the bridge if I didn't help burn it down. So, for months and months, I just kept the lines of communication open. I'd send her happy birthday messages, presents for her kids, Facebook messages with articles a note saying "Just read this and I thought you'd like it", etc. Nothing, nothing, for months. Then ... a short "thanks". Eventually a follow-up message. Enough so that now if we need to reach out to each other, we can do so without excessive awkwardness. If we hadn't talked for months, then her reaching out would have to be a huge "thing". Just responding to me was an easier step. I'm not an angel -- I contributed to the family spat as well. But I think continuing to make an effort, without expectation of reciprocation, prevented a long-term rift that would have been much harder to fix.

Great stuff, thank you. (Relating to today's column.)

How in the world do people move houses? Our neighborhood has grown denser and louder, and redevelopment of the parcel behind us means they are taking some beautiful trees down and replacing them with apartments. My spouse and I are thinking about moving to a quieter area. This is the only house we've ever owned (for almost 20 years); it was a 100 year old fixer and we restored it. I want to cry thinking about leaving it...until I am woken up at night yet again by a group of drunk people walking home from one of the many new bars (admittedly this isn't happening as much during Covid but it will again). I'm not even normally a sentimental person but I am so attached to my house and garden! How do I get over this?

Seems like a new love would help. Start house-hunting. I'm guessing eventually you will fall for one of them, and be able to envision new projects and a new connection, and that will carry you through the tough part of saying goodbye.

I could be 100 percent wrong about your particular neighborhood (and the pandemic has definitely turned people in your direction, back toward living farther apart), but in my experience you are against the grain on what you find valuable in real estate. If development is transforming your neighborhood from a sleepy bedroom zone to a walkable mixed-use community, then there's a good chance your home's value is way up. If that's the case, then you'd be going into your new location with some real buying power, which also softens a blow.

Hi Carolyn, my family moved several weeks ago across town and we are applying to daycares/preschools for our toddler. We'll be making the long-ish commute to her current one in the meantime but definitely want to switch. We have 4 possible contenders, but it feels difficult right now to make a decision when no school is allowing visits. We can set up Zoom tours with the directors at most places. I really wish we could get a feel for them by visiting in person and speaking with a teacher. All we have to decide on are tangibles like the price, the location, and their schedules. They're all somewhat different but not enough to matter a ton. I'm becoming a little paralyzed with this decision. FWIW, we are unhappy with our current daycare because of a range of issues (none of which are safety-related), so I feel like if I make the wrong choice, I am going to continue with the same types of annoyances that I am currently facing. Any suggestions for how to make a choice?

Tell each day care/preschool director you want to talk to some of the parents who have their children there. Grant permission for your number to be shared. 

That you're unhappy with your current spot gives you an easy entrance point in these conversations. You can ask targeted and therefore more useful questions, instead of just, "How do you like ___?"

Re the question in last week's chat: Why is the standard lowered to what men are expected to achieve instead of raised closer the standards that women are expected to achieve? Why can't we ever ask men to put in *just a little* more effort than they are socialized and expected to?

You can if you want, sure. But why make things worse for the better-off party instead of better for the worse-off party? For example, instead of alleviating cultural pressure on women to conform to arbitrary standards of beauty, I could argue the collective "we" have just applied more pressure on boys/men to look a certain way. That's not the kind of fairness I'm looking for. 

And remember what started this: I don't see why anyone should have to come up with a gift and a side dish and a new outfit just to celebrate a friend's life event. Presence and good manners and done. The rest is getting out of hand.

Hi Carolyn, I feel like a jerk for being annoyed at how welcoming my dad has been to his step kids and their children. My parents divorced when I was finishing college. I have lived abroad for the past 12 years. In that time, my dad has remarried and his wife has four kids who all live locally. I’ve met them a total of 8-10 times over the past few years — at Christmases, etc. They all have children who my dad and his wife are very involved in. I am pregnant with my first child (the first among my siblings and I) and I find it so obnoxious when I talk to Dad and he mentions something about ‘our seventh grandchild,’ etc. To me, it’s his first one. I think it’s great he has stepped in for these kids (their grandfather is out of the picture) and want a better attitude. I don’t love them or know them, and he seems to expect me to be excited to have this big sprawling family, or feel like my upcoming kid is just one of the gang, and I don’t. Any advice?

Just this, for now: What would you have him do?

This is not rhetorical--I'd like to hear your answer. The way I see it, he is these kids' grandparent and so he doesn't have a lot of room to behave any other way than the way he's behaving. That would mean any changes need to be on your end, in how you frame this. But if I'm missing something and you do think there's something he can and should do differently, then I'll rethink my answer. 

To the OP: We're in the same boat, with not hosting during our turn in what has been a 30-year tradition, because the visiting relatives are from out of state (and have not been taking precautions, though we didn't rub that in.) It's disappointing to have their "Oh, really, why not?" reactions, which almost felt like gaslighting -- and that is even after I had a very bad bout with Covid months ago that isn't finally resolved. My thought is: People have chosen to respond to the stress with blinders on. Hopefully by next year, their view will widen and this blip will be forgotten.

And if not next year, then the year after, or five from now, or whatever.

I'm glad humans are capable of holding contradictory thoughts, because I am at once working hard to live only in this moment and to take the long view that humans get into and out of all kinds of stuff and still manage to find their way back to love and humor and each other.

It's the midrange that burns my retinas.

Last week, my spouse left town for a multi-day trip with the rest of our family. I didn't know anything about the trip until I noticed people packing. When I asked about it, I was told "I didn't say anything to you because you aren't going and you don't need to know." When I said I might have wanted to go had I known about the trip, my spouse said, "You can't get out of work, so it didn't matter." In thinking about it, other things like this keep happening. I now have half the space in my drawers that I used to have, because "I need the space more than you." I have come home to a half-empty bookshelf because my spouse decided my books "were just taking up space" and threw them out. I feel blindsided and confused. I guess I'm out of touch. But when I ask my spouse what I can do to be more fully part of the family, the response is always "I'll let you now when you need to know something." I tell my spouse that I'd like to be part of family decisions, and the response is "I've spent a lot of time figuring out what has to happen. Why do you always argue with me?" What do I say to that?

I say you call 1-800-799-SAFE (National Domestic Violence Hotline) or 1-800-656-HOPE (RAINN) and tell the staff (1) you think you might be a victim of emotional or psychological abuse, (2) ask how you figure that out, and (3) ask what to do about it. What you write is very concerning, because it sounds as if your spouse is abusing their power to dominate and control you. If you don't think you can safely call, then please do a risk assessment at MOSAIC.

Please get help soon, from a safe place, and take care.

Perhaps you might point out that his proposal (and thereby asking for a wedding) with no followthrough gives you some hesitation about his asking for a baby and what his followthrough on the parenting front will look like. Because if that isn't giving you pause, it should, and at the very least, he needs to be clear with you how the two would be different, and you need to believe what he's saying - not because you *want* to believe it, but because you DO believe it based on your knowledge of him, yourself, and your individual and combined history.

Excellent point about follow-through, thank you.

I empathize with you in that you'd expect your dad to be a little bit more excited for you – his own daughter having a baby! However, your dad comes off a whole lot better than my mother-in-law who has pressured us and my brother and sister-in-law with increasing intensity to have a baby so she can have a "real" grandchild, despite the fact that she is already "grandma" to 5 of her husband's grandchildren.

This gets at both sides with impressive efficiency, thanks.

I know that it's very different when it's REALLY not your choice due to a pandemic, but some food (/turkey and mashed potatoes) for thought: when I was in middle school, we moved for my parents' work, and after years of big family Thanksgivings, it was just the three of us. Over time, I have grown to love those Thanksgivings. We have since moved back to an area with a lot of family, and I kind of miss the ones with just the three of us. It won't be the same for you this year, especially with these circumstances, but look on the bright side: you're not dealing with traveling and you can make exactly what you want to eat (and if your daughter is of legal age, you can all have morning prosecco and watch the parade, maybe my favorite thing about the holiday now?).

Thanks. An enthusiastic up-vote for making something new of holidays when the old thing isn't possible. I think it's a balance of not pretending everything's great and yayyy ISN'T THIS ... um ... GREAT, AREN'T WE HAVING FUN NOW?! and also not dwelling on what you're missing out on. Just a, "Here's to old times, here's to weird times, here's to us," attitude. Or "Here's to me," if you're flying solo. 

Not to mention (or, actually, to mention), why continue to reinforce gender-based stereotypes in any way, shape, or form? Or any stereotypes, of any type?

Maybe I've been reading this column too long, but fiance pushing for "moving in and baby NOW" sounds like a flag of a controlling relationship. Does your fiance respect you, your choices, your job? Is he expecting you to stay home and take care of the baby/ies? Are there health reasons for an immediate try at baby? Is he suggesting more laid-back wedding ideas (e.g. city hall) or balking on planning entirely?

Excellent catch, thanks--a baby is one way for abusers to cement their control. Though, to be fair, so is marriage. I've mostly seen women use pregnancy as a control tactic, but there's no reason it can't go both ways.

I don't know where you are, but if there's a significant Muslim population around you, look for halal restaurants. They generally have veg/vegan options, and alcohol is haram. Doesn't solve the problem of being asked to lie about your Little Brother's alcohol use, but does solve the venue issue.

I may have been reading this question all wrong, but it is totally possible to "move houses". It's complicated and expensive, but if the OP is really attached to the physical structure, there are companies that will hoist up a house and drive it to a new "home". I've seen houses as big as a three-story Victorian wobble through the streets. Perhaps I'm way off base, but this is an option.

You're right--plus I love the wobbling house image.

That could be my husband -- down to the detail about the parents and siblings! I was different, though, in not caring about marriage. However, because of some legal issues we *needed* to get married before the birth of our kid. 2 kids, and 15 years later, I can tell you that my husband does NOT like making big decisions. He wanted to buy a house together, wanted kids, even wanted me, but a big part of him wanted to leave his options open (even though he would NEVER admit it to himself). And, even though we did get married (I organized everything) it took him a solid 4-5 years for him to actually choose the life we built, and until then, he completely disengaged when big events happened (like the whole first year of our first kid). There's such an emotional difference between seeing yourself linked to a life-partner vs. just living together. I was blindsided and lonely and eventually angry. I tried to work constructively on our marriage, but it wasn't until I was apartment-hunting (for him, because !@$*! if I was going to move out after all that) that he came to terms with his ambivalence and CHOSE to be my husband. Now that he actively chooses to be my husband, it's a night-and-day difference. And, people always tell us that we're the perfect couple, but I'm still working on getting over my hurt and resentment. Don't put yourself through that!

Fascinating perspective, thank you.

My husband and I are in Arlington, VA. My sister lives 3 miles from us. His mom and sister and brother-in-law are a half hour from us. 4 houses are having 4 separate Thanksgiving dinners. Stick to your plans to stay in MD and do not travel.

You are heroes, all of you. Thank you. 

Carolyn, I am a 69-year-old divorced retiree with two adult daughters -- one lives five miles away from me (let's call her Alice); the other lives five hours' drive away ("Patsy"). Alice's husband was diagnosed with cancer last September and died in April. During that time, I helped care for their toddler twins. (They were 2 when their dad died.) Since the virus shut down the twins' preschool in March, I have become a full-time granny nanny while my daughter works from home. (I arrive at 8:30 am and leave at 6:30 pm, cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, Zooming with their preschool, taking them to the park, reading, doing art projects, etc.) I have been happy to help my newly widowed daughter, but it's exhausting and the stress of caring for toddlers is affecting my health -- dangerously high blood pressure that could result in a stroke, according to my doctor. I have begun walking each morning, eating a healthier diet and trying to reduce stress. Patsy wants me to join her family, along with Alice and the twins, for Thanksgiving, but I would prefer to spend the four-day weekend resting and recuperating. She tried to get Alice to pressure me into making the trip, accused me of using COVID-19 as an excuse, said I have been neglecting her children and said she is "hurt." I told her I would probably come for the longer Christmas/New Year's season, but she is alienating me so much that I am reconsidering that. What can I say to get her to understand?

"I am neglecting your children, you're right, and I understand why you are hurt. I would be, too. in your position.

"The problem is that my blood pressure is dangerously high and I am at risk of a stroke. I need the rest if I'm going to keep being all my grandkids' grandparent.

"I would like to make up for the time with you and your children that I have missed, as soon as I am able. This is my promise and I plan to keep it. Thank you for understanding."

Then, don't argue or defend or explain further. Give Patsy time to deal with it. Don't react to her bad behavior by withdrawing from her life even further. I see why that's tempting, but I think the same message applies to you now as in the column today, and I'll bring back James Carville's delicacy to drive it home: It's the covid, stupid. We're all stressed and not our best selves right now. Any grace we can give to each other, even/especially to those who aren't able to scrounge up any grace for us in return, will help us get through this. Even if it doesn't feel like that at the moment.



Carolyn - thank you for being a steady presence in such an unstable time. My MIL came over yesterday and told me that a project that she had been working on (which she was heavily emotionally invested in) looked like it wasn't going to happen. I said I was sorry and then had to run off to deal with kids. She then told "David" (my husband/her son) -- before she could finish listing her reasons, he started asking "well did you try to resolve it with A, or B, or C?". After she left I told David I thought it came off as (a) trying to give advice when she wanted to talk about her disappointment and (b) sounded like he knew better than her since he was asking before she finished talking, assuming she hadn't thought of it (she has experience in the area the project is in, he has none, and she really wanted this to work and tried everything reasonable). David said he was just curious and wanted to know about all the different options, which I believe is genuine (he really is somehow interested in everything!), but he doesn't know when it's ok to ask questions and when he should just listen. This is just one example, but happens when David and I talk, and with others sometimes too. Am I out of line to suggest he sometimes hold back (e.g. wait until they are finished and then ask himself if they want advice/delve deeper or just sympathy) since in his mind he is just inquiring and interested? Or do you have suggestions for how he can tell if it's time to ask, or time to wait?

Thank you for the kind words.


You are not out of line to say to David, when he starts asking you all of his problem-solvey questions: "Thanks for trying to help, but I'd prefer that you just listen right now as I figure this out myself."

But you are out of line in trying to coach him through his conversations with other people, unless he has asked you to do that for him. If his mother doesn't like his way of grilling her, then she can tell him that herself.

I hope you both have a good eye for irony.

Hello! How should I consider asking for some kind of blessing from my girlfriend's parents? She and I very recently decided that we want to get engaged and married. Yay! I'd simply planned to propose sometime soon. However, my family's asked if I've talked with her parents to ask for "permission" (for lack of a better word... they grew up in another country where family consultation and permission is more required). I hadn't planned to. We're adults (30), make responsible decisions, have been together for many years, and (mostly) it's our life and her answer to give. It feels silly to ask for their permission, but they are also a bit traditional, so I think that asking for blessing satisfies our convictions and avoids creating a sore spot. What should I be considering?

Ask your girlfriend how she would like you to handle it with her parents. It's her call.


I think that OP is mourning what could have been. From her point of view, these people must seem like strangers and interlopers getting between her and her dad. But the truth is, the OP lived abroad for 12 years. During that time, her father did not magically go into suspended animation. His life continued on, and during that time, he formed these genuine attachments to these other people. He may have done so even if she had NOT gone abroad, but OP would have had more of a chance to get to know them. Instead, it all feels overwhelming now to try to get to know them all at once. This is not to beat up on OP for going abroad, but to help her recognize that our decisions almost always involve tradeoffs, and our choices often have unforeseen consequences. OP can choose to try to get to know these people on their own merits, and maybe she will come to like or even love some of them over time. (Or not.) Also she should keep in mind, the woman's children didn't choose her father or her, either.

Really useful, thank you. Plus, as some others have pointed out, the fact that the coming grandchild is not the first/only means there's a whole generation of potential cousin fun to be had, if/when OP warms to the idea of them.

No kids of my own, but have been with my husband for 18 years. His two daughters each have 2 kids - 3, 2, 1, and 0. The daughters are devoted to their mom (I had nothing to do with the divorce) and are somewhat cool to me. I have my own avoidance issues from a childhood with a narcissist mom who doesn't speak to me. That being said, I try ever so hard to think of myself as a "real" grandma to these little ones, even though I don't really feel "genuine". My husband and I are definitely "second tier" family if you know what I mean. The girls seem to think of me as a real grandma - so I guess I don't have a question other I indeed a "real" grandma?

Yes! Yes you are.

And there are no "tiers." There are just different relationships, between different people, who bring to them different compatibilities and experiences and flaws and strengths. So please just bring your strengths and effort (and good sportsmanship, never minimize its power) to whatever relationships with these kids they or their parents make available to you. I realize the legacy of your mother's abuse is significant, but if you can remind yourself to keep it simple with these kids, then you might surprise yourself at how rewarding the connection can be. Even if it's just one or two visits a year.

One year a friend and I were both going through very stressful times at work and we decided to get the take-out , precookedThanksgiving dinner from the local grocery store. We set everything out on the table and treated it as a buffet as we watched a movie marathon all day. It is one of my favorite Thanksgiving memories, especially at a difficult time.

Occurs to me that breakfast, brunch, lunch at restaurants that don't even serve alcohol, is an alternative. It's also a less formal and possibly more relaxing activity for a first meeting. Vegan, that could be tough depending on where you live, but so many restaurants have fruit and salads on their menus for lunch.

Vegetarian here with how I’d handle it, fwiw. Anyone in this scenario can eat a vegan meal, so just make that. Cover the bar with a white tarp and put an old paint can on the tarp, say you’re “working on a project,” no one needs to know the project is meeting her. Don’t lie about his drinking, that’s a shot too far.

Indian cuisine has a wide variety of vegan, vegetarian, and meat eater options. Also I've been to plenty of dinner parties where drinking is not a topic of conversation. Maybe think of different topics like her hobbies, your hobbies (unless those involve alcohol like wine tasting), his hobbies (ditto), funny things your dog did, your weird neighbor Greg, etc.

Absolutely true. But it might be nice if you could say to your future ILs, "My parents are old-fashioned enough that I'd like to be able to tell them that we have your blessing." Without making a big thing of it.

I agree that it may be out of line to coach the husband through conversations with other people, but if I am doing something that grates on other people, I would love for someone close to me to give me a gentle heads up.

Then tell them that, please. Make a point of notifying and then occasionally reminding the people closest to you that you want them to be your source of a "gentle heads up" when you're alienating people in ways you may not intend.

I recommend "What" questions for the other parents and talking to multiple parents. What do you like about it? What would you ideally wish were different? How is different than other places your kids have been? Bear in mind most won't want to openly criticize the people caring for their little ones for fear it would get back to them but what they say will either jibe with what you want or it won't. Some parents might like a school that emphasizes preparing for future school and some parents might think little ones need to mostly be playing as one example. I had a friend who switched daycares because her kids came home too clean. It sounded weird until she explained it but then it made sense. Her kids were normally very active and she said if they were regularly playing freely in sand (as she thought appropriate for their age) there would be sand stuck to them somewhere frequently.

First of all, been there. My mom died when I was in my mid-20s (after close to 30 years of marriage), and my dad got remarried less than 2 years later. From the jump, he was completely enthusiastic to blend the families, and - painfully to my siblings and me - pretty much never wanted to talk about my mom. It was hard. My advice, though (assuming that your stepmother is a good and loving person), is to try to get past the jealousy and be grateful. If you live far away, it's a real blessing for your dad to have close family with him - now, and as he ages. My dad passed away two years ago after a long illness, and I don't know what I would have done if my stepmother and step-siblings weren't there to help him. (I live out of state, as do my siblings.) Plus, they and his step-grandchildren gave him great joy over many years. And my kids love their step-grandma and cousins. I know it's hard right now, but try to think of it as adding to, rather than subtracting from, the love your family shares.

From "Hannah and Her Sisters": "The heart is a very, very resilient little muscle. It really is." Pardon the source.

Thank you for your story.

You are a person in these people's lives, you love your stepgrandchildren and they love you, so what label is needed?

Ethiopian cuisine also includes a lot of vegan dishes (the Ethiopian Orthodox are pretty hardcore about Lent)

Making a vegan dinner is not that hard. There are some great soup recipes that are vegan (think potato, squash, or lentils). Add a salad and maybe some bread or rolls (homemade?). You can put butter on the table and if they don't want it no problem. Also, fresh fruit or a sorbet for dessert if needed. Notes for the soup - use a vegetable stock not chicken or beef. Just keep it simple.

All good, except no need for butter--serve olive oil.

Chickpea stews with rice are the teenage-boy approved dinners in our house that no one even thinks about as vegan.

The first Thanksgiving I spent alone was a revelation - I had to keep reminding myself that I didn’t have to hew to a particular schedule, make a particular dish, do anything I didn’t particularly want to do. Years later, my Mom and I had a similar Thanksgiving, after I’d moved in to take care of her - it was a revelation to her as well, after all her years of fulfilling everyone’s Thanksgiving dreams and wishes. There’s joy to be found in even the moments we most fear and even dread, if we just keep our eyes and our hearts open - and, in the end, it is just one day. If we’re lucky and careful, there will be others.

Could you and/or the chatters share some anxiety resources? I've reached out to multiple therapists but they all have waiting lists right now and making it through the next week is going to be a challenge.

I'm signing off soon so I'll encourage chatters to address this in the comments, when they're open (usually 5 to 15 minutes after I finish). Or on FB, which might have a couple of commenters already.

Here are my suggestions, all under the umbrella of Really Small Steps:

-Take care of your body. Eat moderately, exercise regularly, get your rest.

-Take care of your soul. Streamline as much as you can to keep positive people and experiences close to you and draining people and experiences away, at least for the time being. 

-Occupy your mind. Idle thoughts are the raw material of anxiety. If you have reliable ways to stay occupied--hobbies, work, chores, friends, causes, music/books/TV, meditation, faith--then now's the time to line them up in your schedule from end to end.

-Believe in perspective, even if you can't quite have it right now: Bad times pass, bad feelings pass, change is constant. You don't need to Solve Everything--you just need to get through the worst feelings to the place of the not-as-bad feelings, where you will have many more resources available to be proactive.

In case it wasn’t completely clear, your spouse’s behavior is bizarre and completely wrong. Do not forget that you should not be treated like this.

I have anxiety. This Rilke poem helps me: Let everything happen to you. Beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.

Aimed towards anxiety in kids, GREAT for adults. Lynn Lyons FlusterClux podcast.

Carolyn, you called people heroes for staying at home in a pandemic and I literally started to cry. People are losing out on special traditions, and it's unfortunate that some see that as selfish, because staying home is an act of generosity to all of society. To pass along this positivity, I think that Patsy and Alice's mother also is a hero for everything she's done, but also for recognizing that she needs a rest, and for standing up for herself. I wish her a lovely turkey-cranberry-potato meal, a nice glass of wine, and some blissful quiet.

She is, thanks for saying so.

Anxiety is almost always about the past or the future, so focus on finding grounding techniques that bring you back to the here and now (which is the only place you have any control of, after all). Some people swear by deep breathing, but I prefer a “Name 5” exercise, in which I first name 5 objects I can see (without comment — that’s important!), and then I name 5 sounds I can hear. This focuses my mind and forces me to be still enough to listen. Sometimes I need to babe 6 or even 10 sounds before my anxiety starts to subside. If I can catch my anxiety and intervene when it’s only at a level of 7, it’s a lot easier than if I let it mount to a level 10 before I try to ground myself in the present.

I’m firmly in the camp of not asking the bride’s parents permission. But I have friends that like the tradition. Ask her what her preference is and respect it. I had this conversation with an Ex and he told me that he didn’t care if I didn’t like the tradition because and would ask my dad anyway because “it’s a good reason for me to get a beer with your dad” and the only reason I didn’t like it was because I was “trying to be a feminist.” We weren’t together long after that...

Thanks--a little something for everyone here.

Oh--and there is no "try." 


Hi, I put in the question about my dad being super active w his new family. I did not mean to come off quite like such a glass bowl! I know i wouldn’t have him do anything else. I think it just feels like a disconnect. I told him I was pregnant and he said ‘oh you’re step sister is too - it’ll be twins!’ And I’ve met her maybe four times? Yes also given away some of my baby clothes and toys (Which I was saving for my own kids) to these other grandkids, which made me go cry on the bathroom. This pregnancy feels so new and special to me and it’s just one in a line to him, I guess. Those kids all live locally and I’m 3000 miles away, so they’re going to know him better, too.

Okay, yeah, he gave you a crappy first reaction, I'm sorry. But it does sound as if it's a heartfelt enthusiasm, that, yay, the cousins will be the same age! If it's any consolation, a lot of first reactions to big news are weird, disappointing, off. It's not just you and it's not just in this kind of situation.

Anyway. It sounds as if he is completely immersed and has no conception of your not being so. More a failure of empathy/imagination on his part than a "just one in a line to him" situation. He just doesn't *know,* on a gut level, that you don't know them. He sounds extremely literal.

It may not be worth the hassle, but you can ask for your baby stuff back, if your dad knows who has it. "When they're done with it," you assure him, of course, since presumably the kids using stuff now will have outgrown whatever it is by the time you're ready for it. A side issue, but a sympathetic one.

Meditation is medically proven to help. Headspace and other meditation apps teach meditation techniques — the former is offering free mediations specifically for election anxiety

I second the name 5 grounding technique, which my therapist has me do if I start spiraling during a session. If I start spiraling when I'm on my own, I visualize a spiral going backwards and that helps ground me as well.

Please listen to Carolyn and make those calls. Your husband is literally forcing you to take up less space in your own home, marriage, and life. That's not normal, reasonable, or loving, whatever he might say (and however he might try to suggest YOU are to blame for feeling how you do.) His treatment of you is not ok.


And thank you, and everyone else who stopped by. That's it for today. Happy Nulloween and I'll type to you here next week. 


Oh, I meant to post earlier--someone sent a work question to a recent chat, which I sent to Karla Miller, which she then answered, about a federal employee running out of "empathy and patience" for working parents. Here you go: LINK. Thanks, Karla.

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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