Carolyn Hax: Mother’s constant bragging has friend biting her tongue

Carolyn Hax
Columnist January 21, 2013

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

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

I have a friend whose one-upper tendencies have gotten UNBEARABLE since we both had children. Whenever a group of us are talking about our kids (mostly challenges we’ve had and solutions that have worked), this friend can only brag about how 3-year-old “Sophie” is so brilliant, so advanced, so unlike the other children at her preschool, always shocking her parents with her first- and second-grade skills.

Carolyn, I’ve met Sophie, and she is a cute and definitely sweet little girl, but average.

Maybe this is pure spite on my part, but I really feel like I’m going to burst if I don’t put Sophie’s mom in her place. Is there a better way to put an end to this? I know how hurt I would feel if someone insulted my children, but it seems wrong to let her live in obnoxious delusion, too.


Maryland

Poor Sophie.

Humor and hyperbole might be the only rational response: “Yes, well, Homer reproduced the Sistine Chapel ceiling in his playroom.” Then give your friend a soft chuck in the shoulder and change the subject. In other words, declaring Sophie average is the last thing you want to do, because, as you’ve almost come around to seeing, this has nothing to do with Sophie and everything to do with her mom’s insecurities. So, the message you want to send is a playful, “There you go again, but I love you anyway.” Assuming it hasn’t gotten to the point where you no longer do.

Dear Carolyn:

How do you convey to people that being their support line is taking a toll on you? I’m traditionally the more “mature” of my siblings, so my parents often come to me to discuss fights, health issues, etc. My girlfriend often leans on me about things, as do her friends. Even at work, I’ve had people tell me I’m the only one on my project they “can trust.” It’s flattering, but it’s also exhausting! How do I tell people I need to be more selfish for my own sanity without sounding, well, selfish?

Everyone’s Therapist

First, you stop calling it “selfish” to want more say in the use of your time. People who want your attention will call you that, but they’ll be saying it just to get what they want and not because they’re right.

Then, you step back on a case-by-case basis. When one of your parents calls to discuss a health issue, for example, you express sympathy, and then deflect further discussion — “I really don’t know a whole lot about [ailment in question]; your doctor’s the one to ask.” And when they respond with excuses for not asking said doctor, you’re ready with, “Yeah, I hear you, I’m sorry.” Then, “I’m sure you’ll handle it the right way — how about those Caps?”

Adapt as needed to fights, career issues, etc.

The key is to think first about why you shouldn’t be involved and next about who should be. So, “I’m not a doctor/ask your doc,” or “I wasn’t there/talk to the person who was,” or “I’m not comfortable talking about this without Colleague 2 here/Please talk to Colleague 2.” It’s actually a responsible way to advise people — and being flattered into it isn’t — so use it guilt-free.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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