Carolyn Hax: Baby’s name isn’t solution for family’s guilt


(Nick Galifianakis/The Washington Post)
Carolyn Hax
Columnist September 2

Hi, Carolyn:

My husband and I are expecting our first child. We have been receiving a lot of family pressure to name him after my uncle “Ben.” Ben suffered from severe depression and bipolar disorder his entire life; two years ago he committed suicide.

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

There was quite the family drama 10 years ago, and our relationship with him was severed. I never knew the whole story (family refusal to explain) except that the incident was “unforgivable.” Out of respect for my mom, I discontinued my relationship with my uncle and did not pry.

Understandably, the entire situation is surrounded by “what-ifs.” There is a lot of shared guilt over my uncle’s death.

Everyone seems to think the solution is to name our future child after my uncle. My mom is constantly asking if we’ve made a decision. (Mom is relentless and has a long history of not taking no for an answer.) Mom thinks my grandfather is in a “very bad place” and something may happen to him if nothing changes­ soon. She says he mentions this idea of “grandbaby Ben” during their every conversation.

This puts me in a very awkward position. I have calmly expressed my discomfort to the family. I feel it’s unfair to place all of the burden on our shoulders. To my relief, Dad asked Mom to stop bringing it up every time we see them (once or twice a week).

My husband has said he will stand by me in whatever we decide; however, I can tell he is approaching the limits of his patience and is ready to tell my family, “If you bring it up one more time, the answer is no.” I’m not opposed to the idea of using a family name; however, I disagree with the collective assumption that I will do so because everyone thinks I “must.” This is our child. It’s starting to feel like we have no say in the name. Am I being unreasonable? Help.

Confused

Has even one of these people thought about how they’re going to explain to a young child the origin of his name?

You’re not being unreasonable, you’re being a parent. Welcome to the roughest part of the job, where you have to do what’s right for your child even knowing it will come at considerable cost to you.

You do it, though, because your family is placing “all of the burden” on his shoulders. Just his. They’re looking to dump all this historic freight on a baby — blackmailing you with your grandfather’s life! — just so they can keep dodging that painful trip to the mirror. Shame on them.

You needn’t say that, though. Just this: “I agree we all need to heal. It is not a baby’s job, though, to heal us — he comes into the world just as himself, with a clean slate. I owe him that. I think we owe him that. I don’t expect you all to agree but hope you’ll respect our decision.”

If (when?) the [blame] hits the fan, don’t explain yourself. Just step back — “I’m sorry to hear that” is your new best friend — until the fan gets tired of its own [blame]. Lean on your husband and dad, your allies here, and on confidence that boundaries with your family are apparently long overdue.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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