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Columnist Carolyn Hax

TELL ME ABOUT IT ®

By Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 30, 2005; Page C12

Hi Carolyn:

My paycheck goes straight into our joint account, where it is strictly budgeted. My wife is at home with our kids, but she picks up a few thousand a year from various projects. She treats this as "her" money. Am I out of line to expect this to be shared equally?

Michigan

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No, you're right. And out of line.

Since you contribute all your money, I can see why you wish she'd give hers.

But that thing that's right in your face? That's called the surface. Look past it, and you'll see that you're not sharing the experience, job continuity, up-to-date technological skills, income toward Social Security, possible credits toward a pension, and whatever else you're accruing that I'm leaving out, equally or otherwise. Call that "your" "money."

Your wife, in return for taking on an unpaid career, loses her place in her workplace hierarchy, watches her skills erode or fall out of date or both, lowers her Social Security income, cuts her ties to benefits and, if she returns to the workforce, faces competition from candidates who didn't take several years off. (This from someone who believes in setting career aside for family.) Yes, she gets to bond with your kids. But what if you leave her, or die?

And I didn't get into self-worth, or that her projects could be construed as a second job. In practical terms alone, her pocketing a few bucks is a small hedge against total dependence on you, and no substitute for the workplace credibility you've stockpiled while she's been home. Until it amounts to real money, try to applaud, not begrudge.

Hi Carolyn:

My mom died about a month and a half ago, and it was very unexpected. I have some days where I'm sad and drained, but a lot of the time, I'm doing okay -- able to maintain my relationships, go to work, do some research for school . . . but everyone keeps acting like I should just be staying in bed and crying and only talking about my mom. I'm starting to worry that I'm not sad enough -- I know I cried a lot more when my dad died (unexpectedly, also) seven years ago. Am I a terrible kid? I can't seem to get a sense of what normal should be.

How Sad Is Sad Enough?

If you're looking to "everyone" as a measure of normal, then maybe you should take a moment to check out what normal wore to work today. Or, wow, what it does when it thinks nobody is looking.

This was your mother, and these are your feelings, and there is no right or wrong.

That you're managing okay could mean you're terrible, I suppose, or that you're numb and the worst is still coming. But if you don't believe so, then I don't either.

One of the (many) cruelties of sudden death is that you don't get to say your goodbyes, or resolve your arguments, or establish that you're a good kid -- and that's the kind of thing that can send you to bed crying and obsessing.

So your not being tortured could just mean that you ought to give yourself credit -- for being seven years wiser and at peace with your place in Mom's life. One kind of grief is enough.

Write to Tell Me About It, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com, and join Carolyn's live discussion at noon Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com/liveonline.


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