Carolyn Hax Live (November 6)

Nov 06, 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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So, anything new?

Kidding aside--I hope everybody's okay. I know a lot of people have been through the wringer, watching nearly 70 million people renew their vows with a "Gift of Fear"-worthy abuser and gaslighter.

I like to look for Zuzu in Nick's cartoons, I love that she's there so often. And when I saw her outline today, for a moment it just made me so happy and took my mind off of everything roiling and my raging election anxiety. So, thank you, Nick! We remember Zuzu with you.

I'm so glad to hear this, thank you. Miss my boo girl.

Oh boy did today’s letter stir up some feelings for me. I took sort of a break from my father after my mom died almost a year ago because of the way he treated me during her hospice. I live close to them and was glad to help out since my father could do nothing for my mom, said he didn’t have it in him. It was mainly on me, sometimes my aunt and the hospice nurses. I asked my brother to visit and help out and he and his girlfriend came and treated it like a vacation. They never stayed with my mom for more than a few minutes and my brother refused to do any of the homecare. When I’d asked him to do anything to help like wash his own sheets even he’d ignore me and my dad would say it was his vacation and couldn’t I just do it. My dad never thought about me, working full time, and spending every night at their house. My aunt was my only relief in those days. I checked in with my dad but hadn’t seen him much this year because of the pandemic. Over the summer, we finally met at my aunt’s house. She has a big backyard where we could get together safely. I tried talking to him about how he treated me and at first he denied it, but when my aunt backed me up, he said he was grieving at the time and he a good reason for doing that “if he really did”. He made me the bad guy for even bringing it up. I was crushed and haven’t spoken to him much since then. Like today’s letter writer, is there any reason not to cut my toxic father out of my life entirely?

Since I can't really answer that--only you know of any reasons, in the end--I'm going to answer a different question. By asking you one. (I'm also not trying to be cute about it, I'm sorry):

Is there any reason to make a final decision about this?

You can continue, as you have done, to decide as you go whether there's room in your current moment for a relationship with your dad. The next call, you can decide whether you feel like answering it. The next call you screen, you can decide whether to call back or text him or just not respond. The next text, you can decide whether to respond, ignore, delete, block.

Etc.

For sure, this can be exhausting. It's one tough decision after another.

But you can also treat this as a temporary state of affairs as you wait for the "right," bigger decision to come to you.

Since you're asking, it sounds as if you're close but not quite there. That's okay, nothing wrong with not being sure, and it's okay not to force yourself to decide once and for all.

I won't reread the Q since I'm taking too long already, but I don't think you said anything about therapy--it might be helpful as you process this. Esp since your brother's behavior suggests there's a family pattern here, and you've spent a lifetime on the wrong end of it. 

I'm sorry about your mom.

My former workplace had over a thousand employees, about half female, and I was hardly the only woman who didn't color treat their hair. I am still "more pepper than salt" but I do have a good deal of gray, and the texture, once smooth, is now quite grizzled. My new workplace has about 30 employees, mostly women, every one of whom either dyes their hair (or is young enough not to need to. That said, a good number of the younger employees actually do dye their hair (blonde or red)). This wouldn't bother me at all, except it is a frequent topic of conversation, and in addition to sidelong glances, I've been directly questioned about it. I'm not sure what to say. The truth is, I've never been fond of "mutton dressed as lamb"; it seems to me that most people who dye their hair because of age are fooling themselves, not other people; and so I decided to "age gracefully," rather than try to fight the passage of time. But I don't want to insult the other older women (sorry if I just did, by asking the question). I've been saying, breezily, "oh, I've never dyed it" but that's not really an answer to "why?"; also, it's not even true, since I did used to dye my hair pink or blue on occasion (didn't you love the 80's?), just never to cover gray. Any suggestions from you or the peanut gallery on what to say next time the topic comes up (which it does at least weekly)?

1. where the fox do you work that this comes up ever, much less on a weekly basis?

2. there's no need to bring counter-judging to a judging party.

3. "I like it this way." Every time, verbatim. I'm too cynical to say it's a conversation-ender, but, at least if someone does see that as an opening to disagree with you, then you can point out that they're disagreeing with you on *how you feel about something,* which is just big-smile and smh territory.

 

 

Some people have a hard time saying “I’m sorry” even when their apology could end a lot of pain on both sides of the conflict. In your opinion, why?

Because some people's senses of self are too fragile to risk any admission of fault, frailty or vulnerability. They must keep up the facade of being tremendous, the best ever. It's extreme self-protective behavior that matches the extreme degree of emotional need to matter, which can never be met.

And you're right, it perpetuates a painful situation not just for the person being wronged and denied validation or amends, but also for the person committing the wrong--arguably more so, because the person who can never admit fault or apologize eventually becomes the loneliest person on earth.

In my opinion. 

See, "Can I just cut ties with a father who blames me for pointing out that he mistreated me?" above.

Highest percentage outcome of that scenario: OP will heal and make other connections, while estranged father will wonder why nobody calls anymore.

"I've earned every one of them."

Yes.

Yep. Therapy. If only to have someone professional to dump out to, about the men in OP's family. (Personally I see no reason not to cut them both off permanently.)

When the abuser is a spouse or SO, it’s “Red flags! Run!” When the abuser is a parent, sibling, or child, it’s “Reconcile or you’ll regret it!” You don’t have to reconcile with an abuser, whatever the relationship.

Who says that? Not here.

I hope. I do have 22 years' worth of transcripts out there dying to come back to haunt me. 

I think there's often baggage from childhood and FOO that sets this up.

Ooh, right, great point--the child who felt the world crash down after every minor error will definitely be slow to own anything. Thanks for the catch.

Hi Carolyn, it's Karla! Thanks again for sharing my parents-vs-childfree-workers column last week, based on a question from one of your readers. If that reader is out there today, could you ask her to contact me at work.advice.wapo@gmail.com? (As always, her anonymity will be respected--I just need to follow up and ask about a detail I wasn't able to confirm before.) Thanks a mil!

Done.

And in case the OP missed your answer, here's the column and the follow-up. To say this is a big issue right now is to come out with my understatement of the month only a week into November.

(If anyone's confused: Someone posted the original question to my chat, and since it was a workplace issue and a great question, I forwarded it to Karla Miller, who writes a column for The Post's business section.)

I quit my job in January because of a new manager. I had applied for the opening as our department head, but he was hired because he had an MBA and more of the “right kind” of experience. He struck me as nothing more than a smooth talker but he made a lot of unrealistic promises and our VP was taken in. While I was reporting to the new guy it became clear that he expected me to do my job and his and that he didn’t know half the things on his resume and couldn’t bring in any of the new business he’d promised. I couldn't take more than 6 months of that, so I left. I got a new job right before the shutdown hit. Because of the nature of my work my hours have been reduced but my new company has made working at home as easy as possible for us. We all remain working from home for the rest of the year and probably the first quarter of next year. My old company contacted me recently because they fired that fraud and they want to offer me his job. It would be a lot more money than I’m making now but my husband doesn’t think I should take it. He says if they mistreated me before they’ll do it again and that we can tough it out until things pick up in 2021. I miss my old job and coworkers and would love to go back but my husband has so much more work experience than me. He’s probably right about my old company, and I should turn them down but I don’t want to. I’m losing sleep over this. How do I make a decision?

Take the job you miss with the colleagues you miss and the promotion you deserve and the significant raise, and if the company mistreats you again, then try to use your improved standing with the company to change the culture and your situation for the better, and if that doesn't work, then leave again, possibly using your improved stature to get an even better new job than the one you have now.

Did that sound like what your judgment is telling you?

If no, then treat whatever part of this you disagree with as your own opinion and judgment, not your husband's. Own it.

If yes, then why are you overriding your own view in favor of your husband's, just because he has "so much more work experience than me"? 

He has more work experience, but you have 100 percent more experience working at this company than he does. You have 100 percent more experience being you. 

Include your husband in the conversation, sure, and weigh his insights appropriately, but then YOU make the decision that feels right for YOU.

I suggest you make the decision you want, keeping it to yourself at first, then see how you sleep.

My best friend is a really great gift-giver. I know that she plans gifts really far in advance and always dedicates so much time and thought into them, and I am really grateful for every gift I have ever received because I know how special they are. I know she enjoys gift giving and it is clearly one of her primary love languages. The problem is I just can't keep up. I've never been a good gift-giver. I struggle with coming up with ideas and usually at the last minute I resort to utilitarian “everyone needs these” sorts of gifts. It’s just too much stress for what supposed to be a joyful time. This year is already stressful enough and I don’t think I can do it. Would it be okay to tell her I don’t want to exchange gifts this Christmas or any more going forward?

You could, but that's a pretty blunt instrument to solve a delicate problem.

She's great at this. She (apparently) loves doing this. So, solving the old asymmetry problem with your gift exchange would create the new problem of denying your friend a chance to express herself. (Again, apparently, since I'm going just on what you've described.)

So why don't you just talk to her about a Plan B? Best friend, right? Think of something you're good at or enjoy doing, like, making plans or finding cool restaurants or organizing or whatever, and come up with a way to make that your gift every year. So she gives you the great gift she spends weeks imagining for you, and you ... treat her to dinner at a new place or dog-sit for her on zero notice three times a year or take her car to be inspected. Yes?

Or, possibly, she hears this and says YES, let's opt out, the gift pressure is awful. She might surprise you.

Or, also, she might hate these two ideas and prefer you keep the exchange going even though it means she gets garden shears and a bathroom trash can. 

Know that if you go back to your old job, your co-workers won’t be your co-workers. They will be your subordinates, an entirely different relationship.

Possible, thanks.

There has to be more to that story because of her statement "He says if they mistreated me before they’ll do it again." Hiring someone else, even if unqualified isn't being mistreated. It was a mistake on the companies part and the rectified. Now, if there is more to the story than her husband might have a point. But, simply hiring someone other than his wife doesn't constitute mistreatment in my view.

My first husband and I divorced 30 years ago, after a 10 year relationship and marriage. His children and I weren't close, and I was wife #2 of 3 or 4.In all the years since, my Stepdaughter emailed me to tell me her Dad had died, 10 years ago, and nothing since. We didn't have a great relationship, they lived far away and only visited in the summer through our marriage. As I age, I realize I have pictures of their Dad, and a couple of things their paternal grandmother had given me. I am trying to downsize and let go. Should I send these items to the kids? Or should they go in the Donate box?

Putting myself in the kids' place, I say box up whatever you have and send it with a nice note that you found these mementos and thought they might want them.

Basically, I don't see the harm in sending a box and I do flinch at the idea of someone throwing away pix of my late parent that I'd love to have.

But, if someone sees the harm I don't see, please weigh in and I'll post. 

OK, maybe "mistreat" is strong but the VP asked me what I thought about that guy and I was honest about all of the qualms I had and presented hard data as to why his claims were so completely unrealistic and they said, thanks but let's make him your boss anyway.

Yeah, I wouldn't call that mistreatment. I'd call that failing to see your value, which means it's possible they've fixed that the hard way and now see your value. That's something you can take up with them as you weigh their new offer.

It takes a lot for a company to admit they made a mistake in a hire of that level. Hiring is a long and tedious process. They want you back. Ask for the moon and negotiate until it's a win-win.

As someone who loves giving gifts and is constantly on the prowl for something perfect for my loved ones, I don't care about receiving gifts at all. Perhaps the letter-writer's friend is the same?

Wow, "watching nearly 70 million people renew their vows with a Gift of Fear worthy abuser and gaslighter"? That's incredibly hostile toward those who are good, decent people who may have different beliefs from yours. You are basically saying that they are not welcome here. To quote you, wow!

My comments are about the person. I take no position on the political beliefs of the people choosing the person.

But the mendacity, abusive tactics and gaslighting are on daily display, extensively documented by people on the inside--and it's not a sides thing, it's a behavior thing. Watching people--many of them "good, decent," yes--look the other way on the behavior is acutely painful. It's emotionally similar to the experience of having a close friend or family member date (or worse, marry) someone abusive, and you're sitting there watching it and wondering how it got to this point.

I suggest you read "The Gift of Fear" with an open mind and see how many of the behaviors track.

I did this! I explained to my Dad that I had put up with his behavior because I respected that he'd tried to give me a good life, but that I wasn't going to expose my kids to verbal abuse and I wasn't going to tolerate that treatment of myself. Yes, he was flabbergasted, and yes, he tried to gaslight me and turn it around on me. But, I was able to stay calm and tell him that I meant it and I was here if he wanted to try a new way. And, he did! My kids have fond memories of him, and I was able to have a new kind of relationship with him that was better for both of us.

Good for you, and thank you.

Hi Carolyn! Thanks so much for what you do. My question is a two-parter: dealing with a specific habit of my husband's that drives me bonkers, and more broadly, how to deal with general annoyance with him that I think is coming from too much stay-at-home togetherness. The specific habit is that he can't make a decision without changing it, often several times, after (in my mind) the decision has been made and its time to move on. The stress of having things changing things back and forth is worse to me than making a less-than-optimal decision. I really want to move on. Whereas for him this is almost a reflex that is part of his decision-making process and it's making me angry all the time. Any ideas to help me reframe this so I can avoid losing my mind? And more broadly, his annoying habits are definitely grating on me more than they should be right now, I'm curious to hear your thoughts on how much I should try to change vs. how to deal, when taking a walk around the block isn't taking the sting out of it anymore. Thanks for your help!

So. Much. Togetherness.

You don't say how big these decisions are, but, here's a try: Can you build into your expectations a period of mind-changing after every decision he makes? So, he says X, and instead of going off to the X races, you instead start the clock on the flipflopping period. Base your expectations on what your history with him has told you is his typical waffle duration. Then, at the end of that, start taking his decision as final.

This would work great if you could bring him in on it: say, you both agree he gets two mind-changes after a decision then you're taking it as final. If you've talked about this temperament mismatch before, then you can use that as a shortcut to, "What if we try this?:"

As for the general overexposure to each other's quirks, maybe adopting a few more solitary, "interior" habits or hobbies could help, like listening to audiobooks with headphones. Or, painting or crafts or tinkering. Limit the time so you're not completely disconnecting from home life, of course, but if you can get away with a daily 30- or 60-minute session, that could create a little bubble of self where you relax and regroup.

Hi Carolyn, longtime lurker, but this is my first question. This year, we planned to stay home for Thanksgiving. But, we have an extended family member who lives with us that decided to travel several states away visit the families we typically gather with. Considering that the hosts are OK with him coming, I reached out to ask about us coming and got a hard no. I get it, their house, their rules and we have small children currently attending school part time while the families we would be visiting are homeschooling. My husband is a hurt and I'm a bit perplexed that it's OK for someone in our quarantine pod to attend but not for us. Extended family member is also planning to leave a week prior to the holiday to stay with friends first (which is also OK with hosts). Anyway, I'm now relatively uncomfortable with family member seeing several families over a 10-day stretch, then coming back to our house. I know I don't have room to talk since I was OK with us all going, but it rubs me the wrong way that we're still bearing some of the risk of travel while staying home. FWIW, family member is a healthy, youngish and moved in with us recently. But, lives in our guest room / shares kitchen and bathroom space so there's no easy way to "quarantine" this person either before or after the trip. Both husband and I are relatively conflict averse and haven't really talked about all this with family member...I guess I'm wondering the best way to broach the subject without it seeming like sour grapes.

These are two separate issues.

And I beg you, please, keep them apart. The way you deal with your pod member's return needs to be utterly objective, no anger or other emotions involved. And objectively: Insist on quarantine, test, no budging. The shared kitchen and bathroom make that difficult but not impossible. It just means masking and distancing and cleaning and staggering use of the various rooms.

As for the exclusion issue, I think it's also possible to look at this without hurt feelings or sour grapes. One traveling youngish adultish person who visits is a very different thing from a family visiting with small children in tow. The one person is such a knowable, controllable entity, where the family brings chaos in both age and numbers. You automatically make it a big (and therefore ill-advised) gathering where the one person does not.

Please just breathe this one away with, "It's not the year." And it's not you.

If the person was shamed as a child for doing something "bad" or was raised in a shame-based religion -- even one that supposedly lets you make everything better through confession -- it can be hard to learn to apologize for one's wrongdoing. A lot of people were taught as kids that they should always do right, and if they do wrong, they have failed and should be ashamed -- not that they screwed up and can learn from it. Don't ask me how I know this.

This is the word my mind was reaching for when I read the "baggage from childhood" answer: shame. But my mind didn't find it, so I'm grateful yours did.

When I was 18, I told my parents that I love them but unless certain behaviors stopped, I could not be in contact with them. I expected so much pushback but they actually stopped immediately! Once in a while they revert a little bit but on the whole I am so grateful. If your father doesn’t do this then you’ve got to protect yourself and your kids. Good luck!! Rooting for you.

If you were brought up in a home where the most important thing was being right, about whatever was under discussion, then you'll find it very difficult to say you're sorry. I know I did. Finally I realized that the world wouldn't end if I happened to be mistaken, that it was possible to recognize that I had in fact been wrong and that I'd still live through it. Then it became much easier to admit my errors, and it's led to a much more peaceful life. I've seen family members bicker over whether something happened on a Wednesday or a Thursday, and besides the fact that it just doesn't matter to the telling of the anecdote, it's really not a good look on them.

My husband leaves the house and drives over to a nearby park and plays on his tablet for a few hours most days. This is his way of giving both of us space. In return, I give him our home every Saturday evening by going to the bedroom and staying there. He supplies drinks and other sustenance so I don't have to come out seeking them. Which also means I get to curl into a ball and stay that way for a while. It's a purposeful plan we hammered out after we were arguing over straight up dumb crap because we were getting on each other's very last nerve.

Rock stars. Thank you.

My husband does this, too. His "waffle time" expires only when the final decision *must* be made. It's taken me over 15 years to realize this, and I still get flustered by it. My only suggestion is to adjust your expectations and find a way to roll with it.

My husband does this. I've learned to ask, "Are you at 99% or only at 60% for this decision?" He'll usually answer me pretty accurately as to whether or not he's still thinking out loud or has really made the decision. I don't, personally, move on or rely on any decision until he's said he's at 99%.

This is so good.

... because, I'm thinking, it allows the waffler the thing that's so elusive--the sense of agency, since the likely driver behind the indecision is anxiety.

I agree with sending the items. Last year my stepmother called me to pick up some things of my father’s and grandmother’s when she was moving into assisted living. This was almost 45 years after my dad’s death. I was a little resentful that the items had been sitting in her basement all that time when I would have treasured them, but mostly just glad to have them.

I hope you were able to let go of the resentment. I could see myself having a 45-year standoff with boxes in my basement. Going through stuff is the worst, and it's possible to forget or not even know about what's in there.

I have a relative I haven't seen or spoken to ever really and they said they "felt weird" emailing me to ask if I wanted something of my grandfather's--I guess they were just hoping to go through my father and avoid talking to me directly. I was happy they asked, appreciated the gift, and said if they ever want to email me in the future they're more than welcome to.

Please send it to them! My dad's long term GF and I did not get along, but when he died, she took me to lunch and gave me a bunch of stuff. It was unbelievably kind because she did not owe it to me. And that is how I remember her.

I've always heard this from the old wives in my life, and try as I might to resist gender stereotypes in my own life, this one seems to ring true in my house. My partner has lived in our apartment for as long as I have, yet I feel like every single day I am answering questions about where we keep the cleaning supplies, how often we change the sheets, etc. If I ask him to take over basic tasks (like cleaning or changing the sheets), I still have to manage the whole operation at some level, and it never seems to get any better. Four years and counting! I'm getting sick of it. What is the simplest way to get him to start internalizing some of the details of how we (not I, but we) run our household?

Ewwww.

As with any ugly stereotype, it's a group effort to get rid of it.

Stop managing any of the operations that are rightly his to manage. 

Q: "Where do we keep the cleaning supplies?" 

A: "Are they not where they're supposed to be?" (Since, fair point, he may have looked in a usual spot and not seen something)

Q: "How often do we change the sheets?"

A: "Whatever. Do they need it?"

Q: [Something you're equally responsible for]

A: "I don't know, what do you think?" Or what I say to my kids sometimes, when I've made it clear they're over-shifting their work onto my agenda: "I trust you to figure it out."

This walks a fine line between talking normally to a fellow adult and being a raging snarkmonster. While there will be occasions where snark is absolutely appropriate--act helpless over basic self-care and/or treat your partner like your domestic help, and you get what you get--it's a seriously unhealthy attitude when that's all you have for somebody. It becomes contempt.

A good hedge against that is to have a preliminary, "Half of this management job is yours" conversation, where you hear each other out and set out your terms. Yours can be that when it's his job, it's his job entirely--not a situation where you manage it and he reports to you.

Then when you act on it by meticulously *not* taking over decisions for him, it won't be a mystery why.

 

My husband's sister basically abandoned her 4-year-old child with their parents so she could pursue a relationship with a (married) man a few hundred miles away. There are some known judgment/narcissism issues there but nothing that rises to the level of substance abuse or mental health, as far as we know. The parents have stepped up to the plate and are caring for the child very well. They originally tried to facilitate regular communication with the mom, but gave up on that when she flaked once too often and are now restricting the communication to once every couple weeks or so. As a result, my husband's sister now calls us up, "casually," on a regular basis to ask how her child is doing and for detailed updates she's not getting from the parents. We aren't sure how to handle this. As far as I know, no one has any active plans to reunite them, but if they did we would surely want her to keep informed about what her child is up to. We feel a bit like we're betraying the parents efforts if we provide her this access point to the child without their blessing, but also like we're betraying the child (and possibly the sister) if we don't. By "access" I mean updates, photos, details about how things are going. I also don't want to give her the satisfaction of making her feel that the child she abandoned is doing just peachy (though the child actually does seem quite happy and healthy).

Your husband needs to talk about this with his parents and come up with a plan. The triangulating--the "casual" contact to bypass her parents' boundaries--is not okay, it's unhealthy. 

And as the ones who are raising the child your sister abandoned--time to drop the "basically," no?--the parents are the people whose lead you and your husband need to follow. You're not betraying the child or the sister by respecting limits the parents felt they needed to set. Communicate, coordinate, hold firm.

It's also not up to you "keep her informed about what her child is up to" or "give her the satisfaction" or whatever else. That's being way too far in the middle here. The child's care is a matter between the parents, the sister and the child, and the child's well-being is paramount. To the extent you get involved, make sure it's with the child's best interests in mind and with transparency between you and the guardians.

Reminds me of the New Yorker cartoon of a boardroom with one woman at a table full of men, and the head saying, "That's a very interesting question, Miss Triggs. Perhaps one of the men would care to ask it."

HA HA HA sob.

I'm also struggling with potential regret regarding my father. However, my situation involved growing up with physical and verbal abuse from him. I got screamed at for the most minor things: answering the phone "too loudly," or having an inflection in my tone that he didn't approve, etc. I once got smacked across the face for putting up holiday decorations because my father thought I left my toys laying out, and another time for forgetting to turn off a light. I left home as soon as I was able. For a while, I tried to maintain an "adult" relationship with him, but his verbal abuse/yelling/gaslighting continued until I finally decided to cut off all contact in my 30s. I'm now in my mid-40s, and being free from my father has been the best decision I've ever made. However, I also have an 8-year-old who has only seen his maternal grandfather once, from afar, and has never spent any time with him. No holidays, no birthdays, nothing. While I'm sure I made the right decision for myself to have nothing to do with my father... how do I determine if I am making the right decision for my son? He's currently in the position to have both sets of grandparents still alive. Will I regret my decision to keep my father away from my son, even if he's not a good person? For what it's worth, my father hasn't expressed a desire to get to know my son, but he keeps trying to offer money and gifts through my mom.

What benefit do you think your son would get out of knowing his grandfather?

That's the question you need to answer, and then that answer would have to outweigh the answer to the other question, what harm would there be to your son knowing his grandfather. 

The "harm" column you describe is full. It's hard to imagine a benefit that would outweigh it.

Screaming, hitting, gaslighting--and not getting better once you were an adult, which sometimes happens--is a serious set of emotional crimes. Sometimes parents behave horrifically under the pressures of raising young children, just as they (the adults) are at the top of their physical power. In those cases, a parent who was a yelling monster at 35 can mellow into, if not a good grandparent, then at least a not-abusive one at 70. But you're describing someone who stuck to his awfulness till you were in your 30s and possibly beyond. I don't see where he has changed.

So I'm not sure where the possible regret would come from in protecting your son as you were finally able to protect yourself. But if it remains a nagging question, then I suggest running it by a therapist before you run your son by your dad.

Yes talk to the grandparents. What I read into this was the grandparents were limiting contact trying to prevent the sister from coming in and out of the child's life which is disruptive to the child. First the grandparents should, if they have not already, take legal action to retain control. Second they might be fine with brother and wife updating the sister. Their goal might be for sister to not be reaching out to them directly (because they don't want her accidentally reaching the kids directly) and they might be fine with her getting updates on their overall well being. You do not know until you ask.

It's also worth spending some time figuring out how the two of you got into this pattern. I find that, very often, "we are equally responsible for Task" combines with "A cares more about Task" to produce "in practice A has done Task 80% of the time and B doesn't really know how to do it." Maybe you should have fewer tasks that are shared and more that are assigned to one or the other of you.

Today's column and the first letter in the chat are from adult women whose fathers' still think the women can be controlled and intimidated by them. The answers to both women are good, but I wonder if it would be more effective for these women to put their thoughts to their fathers in writing and mail it to them. (Not email, but paper and pen.) Let these men read, reread and possibly mull over what they are being told by their daughters. Spoken words can be dismissed very easily, the listener bats them away, replies, argues, denies, etc. But, documenting the truth of their relationships has power.

I kept very limited contact with my parents because I didn't want my child to experience the abuse I got. Although I was vigilant in making sure my child was never abused, my child did see how my parents treated me. They know, they see. They'll make informed decisions. My child has expressed gratefulness that I've broken the cycle of what she's clearly seen.

Over the course of the pandemic, I've lost touch with a friend of about 20 years. We used to see each other about once a month. She texted recently to share some news and said "I know we're not on speaking terms right now, but..." I was pretty surprised. There was no fight or disagreement or anything... just life. I've been busy with work, taking care of my dad who injured himself pretty badly this summer, etc. I probably could have reached out more, but ... I didn't. Then I realized she has unfriended me on social media. I mentioned this to my husband and he showed me a text her husband sent to him a few months ago asking what he could do to reconcile my friend and me. (At the time, my husband casually mentioned this text to me and the husband reaching out to get together for dinner, which obviously we couldn't do because of COVID. Yes, pretty clueless on my husband's part.) I'm conflicted as to how to proceed. I don't want to throw away the friendship, but I'm also annoyed that she unfriended me... maybe it's juvenile of me, but I feel like that's a pretty punitive step to take without saying to me directly that she felt like our friendship was nearing that cliff. What do you think? Am I overreacting? Is she? If we do wind up talking again, any language I can use to convey my thoughts? Clearly, she's mad at me so I don't imagine this will be a very pleasant conversation...

So, if I read this correctly, you so successfully, effectively, forgot about a friend of 20 years for months during pandemania that she took your absence as giving her the silent treatment on purpose?

And you now want to chastise her for not understanding your months of silence weren't what she assumed they were?

I'd say everyone's overreacting, including me.

How about this. Call her, say you're so sorry for dropping off the face of the earth, but you were up to your earholes taking care of your badly injured dad, on top of the usual work and 2020-ness of it all, and never meant to give the impression you were upset with her. Say you'd love to get back into your old friendship habits, if she'll still have you.  Then see what she does, and deal with that accordingly.

 

I think an eight-year-old is old enough to be told gently that his grandfather treats people badly and that's why we never see him. It can be framed as "he doesn't know how to control his temper" or something similarly palliative, or it can just be straightforward.

I think it has to include the hitting and yelling and refusing to stop being mean, and doing so as an adult specifically, because a child can spin that in his young mind as, "If I yell or hit, Mom's going to leave me too," or, "If my friend hits me in the playground then it's okay if I never speak to him again." Just a couple of examples of the way a child's mind can interpret something that an adult thinks is straightforward. Best case, they have multiple conversations--with the understanding that all questions are in bounds. A movie or two can really help--just show the way the Dursleys treat Harry Potter over time, always, vs. the three friends supporting and caring about each other but occasionally falling out. Done.

If you did not behave badly yourself you have nothing to regret. I saw a friend struggle with a narcissistic father for years. He finally cut him off. When his father died unexpectedly he was sad for the father he never was and now definitely never would be, but not sad that he missed a few more years of distressing interactions with the dad he actually had.

What's your friendship superpower. Do you turn up with casseroles and pinch hit babysitting when there's an emergency, for example. Look at the broad nature of your friendship and how you are there for each other. You don't all have to to be good at the same friendship things - in fact, it might be better if you're not ... .

Okay, that's it for today. Thanks everybody, have a restful weekend, and we'll be back at it next Friday. 

For the parent wondering if their child is missing out on a relationship with a grandfather. My dad's father was emotionally abusive. Usually towards our grandmother and my parents, but occasionally towards us grandkids. He loved to parade us about to show his friends what a good guy he was. He died when I was a pre-teen and all I felt was relief. Also, it was illuminating to see how many people outside the family thought he was just a super guy. We hated going over to the house. When one of my aunts took over his job of being abusive, my dad finally cut off contact with his family -- and none of us miss the stress and hurt. It broke my heart to see my kind, decent father try to win his family's love over and over. Don't put your child through that. Find other, positive elders he can have a relationship with.

What industry is your husband in? I work in an intense job in health care administration where - COVID and all - we have decisions that affect an awful lot of people on our hands every day, all day. I can't get to 110% certainty on pizza vs. burger king as quickly because I am exhausted by deciding things all day long, and honestly wish I was getting a recommendation that I could follow and only adjust if really needed, instead of being pressed to drain more of the few Fs that I have left. Recommending your best outcome vs. asking completely open ended questions could help.

Decision fatigue is a real thing--yes. And thank you for the work you do, making tough calls for others.

In This Chat
Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997 as a weekly feature for The Washington Post, accompanied by the work of "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis. The column has since gone daily and into syndication, where it appears in over 200 newspapers. Carolyn joined The Post in 1992 as a copy editor in Style, and became a news editor before turning to writing full-time. She is the author of "Tell Me About It" (Miramax, 2001), and the host of a live online discussion on Fridays at noon on washingtonpost.com. She lives in New England with her husband and their three boys.
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