Carolyn Hax: Reader advice on parenting, dealing with old flames

Carolyn Hax
Columnist September 1, 2012

While I’m away, readers give the advice.

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

On resenting a parent for giving more to younger, step- or half-siblings than you ever received:

I watched my father refuse to help my older brother and me pay for college so that he could buy fancier cars and go on more expensive vacations. When he remarried, he and his wife did much more to help my stepbrother and younger brother.

Why? Because my stepmother wanted to do more for her children — ALL her children, including her youngest stepson. It had nothing to do with my older brother and me vs. my stepbrother and younger brother; that was just the timing.


I consider myself fortunate to have my stepmother in my life, and in the lives of my own children.

Anonymous

On protecting your spouse from hostile in-laws:

My mother was nasty to my wife from the time we got engaged until my mother died 46 years later. I never could really stand up to my mother. Fortunately, we lived about 650 miles from her for most of that time. After about 26 years of aggravation and calling her every week, I simply stopped.

The consequences: Two of our three children had nothing to do with her. Our oldest attempted a relationship and told her that if she ever said a bad word about her mother that she would never hear from my daughter again. I never had the nerve to say that. Even when my mother asked about peace, I told her that would happen only after she made peace with my wife. My mother was unwilling to do so. At her funeral, I said nothing.

The losers: My mother didn’t know most of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She missed their weddings, their college graduations, etc. My children and grandchildren missed the opportunity to hear the stories that only the elderly can tell. It’s their sense of history.

K.

On dealing with old flames who descend upon your marriage:

Wife has old flame, wants to go to lunch, no problem; she just needs to invite me. I invite my wife to any and every event involving other people.

If I am not comfortable with her presence there, I need to ask myself why, think about it, process it, and then talk to her, honestly and openly about it.

She is the most important thing in my life.

I share almost everything with her.

There is, however, a big difference between privacy and secrecy. Secrecy is not telling and not inviting. Privacy is not discussing the exact contents of a meeting. I can in good faith tell you that Jennifer is upset with her husband. I cannot tell you exactly why. That is a confidence that has been shared. I can tell you the outline but not the details.

And, really, if I tell you, I assume I have told your spouse; this is prudent, as I hope you have the same intimate relationship with yours as I have with mine.

M.

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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