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Carolyn Hax Live: Can We Afford Kids? plus My Friends Don't Like My Mate, Concerned About Boy Behavior and Frankengroom

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 1, 2008 12:00 PM

In her daily column in The Washington Post Style section, Carolyn Hax offers readers advice based on the experiences of someone who's been there. Hax is an ex-repatriated New Englander with a liberal arts degree and a lot of opinions and that's about it, really, when you get right down to it. Oh, and the shoes. A lot of shoes.

Carolyn was online Friday, August 1 taking your questions and comments about her current advice column and any other questions you might have about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

A transcript follows.

E-mail Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com.

Got more to say? Check out Carolyn's brand new discussion group, Hax-Philes. Comments submitted to the chat may be used in the discussion group.

Carolyn's Recent Columns

Carolyn Hax Live Archives

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Carolyn Hax: Hi everybody. Last year, around the first of September, I started a team for the Walk to D'Feet ALS. The Hax Pack went on to raise $15,000, and we had a heartening turnout at the walk.

This year, I'm hoping that an Aug. 1 start will spur an even greater turnout. The Web site for the Pack is up, but it still needs some attention so I'll post the URL next week. In the meantime, check out www.alsinfo.org for details on the walk. The Hax Pack will be walking at the D.C. event on Oct. 12. If you'd like to volunteer to help out that morning, e-mail me at haxpack@earthlink.net. I'll also be selling T-shirts ($20 apiece, all profits donated to the cause) and giving them away to those who donate $50 or more to the ALS Association.

This is a great cause. ALS took my mother's life, and in a way I wouldn't wish on anyone. The more we rally, the sooner this illness will be behind us. Thank you, and a special thanks to those who made last year such a success.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: Please can the Word-O-The-Day be "Frankengroom"?? Someone in the online comments for today's column used it, and it's sooo wonderful. "Bridezilla and Frankengroom". Imagine the wedding pictures.

Carolyn Hax: I'm all for it, of course.

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New England Suburbia: New family in the neighborhood, at first play date, 5-year-old boy threatened to kill at least 3 other children there (all little girls) as well as their mother. Do we say something to the boy's mom? We don't know her, she seems so sweet, and it's a strange welcome to the neighborhood to be hit with this info. Also, she just had a new baby, maybe her son is acting out because of that? What to do? Now the little girls are afraid in their own neighborhood.

Carolyn Hax: Oh my goodness. Please tell her. Clearly you are sympathetic to her in this, so trust that to come through when you talk to her. In fact, your, "I realize it's a strange welcome to the neighborhood to be hit with this info," sounds pitch-perfect as an intro to dropping your news.

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Chico, Calif.: My boyfriend of four years just spent a good majority of his savings on a new car. We've talked about marriage and I know he wants to get married in the next few years, but cars are his passion. We're recently our of college and both work full time, so don't have a lot of cash to fall back on anyway. Meanwhile I've been saving as much as I can for a wedding and eventual house. Do I have the right to harbor resentment? How can I deal with this and not be so angry? I told him I disapproved of the purchase months ago but don't want to tell him what he can and can't do with his own money.

Carolyn Hax: Feel free to resent him all you want. However, stopping at resentment will only make you crabby. Instead, carry it forward to a conversation with yourself about who he is and what you can reasonably expect of him if you get married.

Are you ready to be a saver to finance your own dreams, while he finances his? After all, he could be content with a JOP ceremony in a courthouse office for the price of the marriage license, in which case he could be writing to me: "I've been saving since college for a new car--my passion--and now my girlfriend wants me to spend it on a wedding and a house. I'd be perfectly happy eloping and keeping my rental apartment."

I'm not saying this to make you sympathetic to him; on the contrary. If you want him to share your goals, then you need to admit that you want him to share your goals. I'm simply urging you to get very clear on what you want, and then be ruthless with yourself in determining whether this is the guy to provide it.

Part of that process involves seeing him for who he is and trying, in as informed a way as you can, to project what kind of life you would have together. It may not resemble the life you imagined, but that's not always the worst thing. The important thing is that you have a fact-based impression, and that you commit to it only if you believe in it. And if you can't believe in it, don't commit.

allow him to finance his passion? I know it sucks, but you'd be surprised at how many people are actually wishing their future could be determined by a simple yes-or-no question.

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Denver, Colo.: I was on a flight last week -- small plane with 13 rows. The father behind me was verbally abusive to his daughter who I estimate was about 5 years old. The abuse escalated throughout the flight and I was unclear on what I can/should do in an enclosed environment. This father's tone of voice and the things he was saying were terrifying -- can only imagine what goes on in there house. I did nothing and am haunted especially as I think on a speech by Elie Wiesel that said something like indifference is saying it is ok (he was referring to racism but still...). What does one do in such a situation?

Carolyn Hax: Terrible. I'm sorry. My best advice for these situations has come from readers. Many of them have written in with firsthand accounts of going up to the pair--under whatever pretext you can come up with, like stretching your legs in this case--and making a gentle fuss over the child. "Well, hello, what's your name," etc. Follow that with a comment to the parent who has lost his or her cool, "These aren't easy days, but it is a wonderful age," or whatever assurances you're able to form naturally.

A long-term solution it's not, but it can defuse a bad moment.

BTW, I made a point of crediting readers here because I have been paralyzed in this situation myself. You're right. It's haunting. I haven't had occasion to use this advice myself (good news) but I hope I'll have the presence of mind to.

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Arlington, Va.: My mother really likes my wife, and wants to be her best friend. My wife loves my mother, but is very different (a lot more reserved). I feel like my wife is very warm and friendly to my mother, but when my mother visits she feels like she is occasionally gets snubbed by my wife. (Also, my mother confronts me with things like my wife not returning phone calls, etc). I do not necessarily agree with my mother, but feel like I am getting caught in the middle. Is it appropriate for me to tell my mother that she has to handle her relationship with my wife herself?

Carolyn Hax: Well, yes, but without laying a foundation that's a bit of an abdication.

I think you owe it to your wife--and to a lesser degree, your mom--to explain to your mom that the things she's taking personally aren't personal. Explain that your wife is reserved. Explain that your wife is her version of warm and friendly to your mom--it's just not your mom's idea of warm and friendly. Explain to your mom that your wife will occasionally not return a call, and that there's no harm intended. Explain to your mom that your wife will never give her the kind of relationship Mom envisions, because that's not the way Wife is.

Then, once you have all this out there--with as many specifics as you can summon--you can say to your mom when she complains, "We've been over this. Wife is who she is." And, yes, you can also say, "If my explanation isn't enough, then maybe you should talk to Wife directly."

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Pittsburgh: Another approach for Denver, Colo.: Was there a flight attendant on-board to whom you could have expressed your concern over the verbally-abusive father? The attendant has probably been trained in defusing such situations diplomatically.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks.

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Chevy Chase, Md.: Thanks for your response to today's groom/bride to be. All these young couples think they're having something "unique and creative", if they have their nuptials on a beach. Folks, beach weddings have been done for decades. And, by coincidence, there are beaches in Michigan, while airfare to Florida would be at least $400- $500 per person. It doesn't take much to see that it's a huge inconvenience to expect people to give up vacation (that the couple decides on the place) and spend huge amounts of money. Thanks for the public service announcement today. Wedding guests will salute you.

Carolyn Hax: Doing my best, thanks.

And you've done a public service yourself by including the fact of Michigan beaches in your post, which means readers don't need to post that anymore, thanks!

I have a feeling this wasn't the beach scene he and his fiancee had in mind, but there it is.

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Hypothetical Invitation: A good friend of over 10 years recently bought a large beach house, with 4 bedrooms. We get together in the city for drinks or dinner and he tells me all about who he had down at the beach last weekend. He then throws out a hypothetical invitation, such as "You'll have to come down sometime" or "You should come down after your in-laws visit." I've received at least 5 hypothetical invitations, while all our other friends (we are part of a group of friends) have been down at least once, if not more. I've tried setting specific dates and keep getting put off until "next month."

It is obvious to me that my friend doesn't like my partner. But instead of admitting it, he is pretending we are welcome in his house, while never actually inviting us.

At what point do I confront him about not liking my partner? This game of being hypothetically welcomed into his house, but never being invited is wearing thin.

Carolyn Hax: Seems to me you have the makings of a great conversation. "Look, I'd love to come, but I also know you're not a fan of Frank/Francine. If that's standing in the way, I understand." Often the problem isn't just the insincerity of the "Come on down ...," but also the uncertainty of how to let people you know you like them a whole lot, you just can't abide the mate. Often the best route to getting that bit of truth out of the way is in letting a person know it's okay to admit it--you won't pitch a fit or stop speaking to anyone over it.

BTW, it might not be applicable here, but a "large" beach house near a city has a way of being invaded regularly, by invitation or not. It's quite possible that his invitations are sincere but he hasn't yet gotten into enforcement mode on his calendar. Just something to ponder.

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Anywhere, USA: Hi, The question in a recent column about a "blowhard dad" made me wonder: what does the child in this picture hear when s/he is playing at that family's house? I am asking because I am dealing with a situation at my daughter's preschool where she is being invited to play at the home of a classmate whose parents are very ignorant about race. At a recent classroom function, I witnessed this classmate's parents recounting (in front of our preschoolers!) "ethnic stereotype" jokes from a comedy club they attended. I worry about letting my daughter play at their house because I don't know what kind of racist attitudes and language she might be exposed to there. So far, I've avoided any more playdates at their house and only allow my daughter to invite her friend to our house or a neutral location. What do you advise in such a situation? Should I tell the classmate's mother why I don't want my daughter to play at her house?

Carolyn Hax: Certainly you don't want to send a child of any age, but especially a young one, to play at someone's house when you don't feel entirely comfortable. You're also under no obligation to explain why you don't feel comfortable. Just keep saying no, keep inviting their child over, and the other parents will either accept that or they won't.

Having said that, I think it's important not to get too worked up over your child's exposure to political incorrectness, or crappy dynamics in someone else's house, or crude language, or whatever. You can control only so much of what your kids see and learn. You can choose not to say [bleep], and you can be faultless in your self-control, and then you'll be standing in line at a ballgame and someone in the bathroom line will drop a string of [bleeps] right in front of your kid. Or, their classmate will use it every other word on the playground when the teacher's out of earshot.

The education you give to your kids is the one you deliver consistently. If they watch you (and other delivery systems of consistency messages, like a teacher) behave in a certain way, and they'll learn to distinguish that from episodes of a different, undesirable behavior.

And when they have trouble making the distinction, that's when you can step in and explain it (in as age-appropriate a way as you can cobble together).

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Atlanta: To mom with 'new' neighbor:

Carolyn, I know you have 3 boys, so I don't completely understand your comments.

We don't buy guns, we don't have guns, we don't model guns. The kids use their fingers to create guns. Or sticks, or whatever they have. They always say: we're going to shoot you.

We don't let them watch much TV (and PBS or tapes, in any event) and they don't see movies except for G rated ones.

Little boys do this (oldest is 6, so youngest has learned from him, who has learned from classmates).

I know it seems a copout to say that's what boys do. But they do. You can try to stop it, but I haven't seen much as to how it would work. And they don't mean anything menacing. My kids are constantly 'killing' me then 'waking' me up. Nothing bad there. Not necessarily what you want, but please, if this is horrible behavior, let me know what to do to stop it.

Carolyn Hax: It's because I have three boys that I would want to know. I have an opinion on whether they harmlessly act out the violence they've picked up by osmosis, and when they're crossing a line. When they're crossing a line, I like an adult to be on the spot to say so. It's usually one of us, but I hope teachers or other parents will take it upon themselves to nudge them back from the edge, too.

I would consider scaring other children to be crossing a line. I would also hope that if there's any question on where the line is, I;d be in on coming up with the answer.

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Re: Hypothetical Invitation: Your answer is correct, but as I read it, I realized I didn't ask the right question.

How do I deal with the fact that my friend doesn't like my partner? It is putting distance between us, I/we are being excluded from group activities (whether it be the beach house or events in town).

In short, I feel like my partner, the love of my life, is costing me my friends.

Carolyn Hax: It's extremely common, if that's any assurance. I think a new partner is almost always followed by friendship plate-shifting, and it's just the degree that gets people's attention.

If the shift you're experiencing is huge and unsubtle, and you really feel this partnership is costing you your friends, and if you value your friends--both their companionship and their opinions--then I think you owe it to yourself to take a hard look at your partner. Do they have a point?

If it's just a natural thing you could have expected--e.g., you have a versatile personality and you're accustomed to having different friends who don't mix well--then it's just a matter of figuring which friends you want to work to keep, by making the effort continue one-on-one plans. If it's unusual, then that can be an alarm. The "love of your life" can be that and a liability, too, unfortunately. Be as honest with yourself and your friends as you must.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi there Carolyn, love your column and chats. We may need updated pictures of the wee ones though... which leads me to my question.

How important is it to have all one's financial ducks in a row before having children? My parents and their friends seem exasperated with my generation for being too obsessed with achieving financial goals, particularly home ownership, before starting a family. My parents like to remind me that we rented for years before they were in a position to own a home. I like to remind them that they had children while in medical school, and (correctly) expected their financial prospects to improve substantially within a few years. Mine are not going to. Even if they did, there was always the persistent issue of my lack of a love life holding me back.

Well, that part did change. I met an awesome guy, and suddenly WHOOSH. Even the most hideous child seems delightful which I've heard can happen when you're thirty. But even more telling, I see how fun and loving and patient this man is and thinking to myself, "he'd be such a great dad."

Unfortunately we're in the same boat financially. Kind of scraping by, paying down debt, saving some, not really ready to buy a house. The economy is TERRIBLE. I can see things improving if we decide to settle down and combine households, but still, D.C. is so expensive. It seems like such a tough town to afford to raise a family (deplorable public school situation) - but maybe it's only tough if I have my heart set on raising a family in the same level of comfort I grew up with?

I guess my question is, do babies know or care if you are renting vs. owning, and how much does it really matter if you can't afford things like trips to Europe if your family has a lot of love? I mean, he and I are good people, even if our credit isn't (working on it by the way). So many of my friends are in this boat it seems, even having made good choices about education and jobs, we're still struggling and wondering when (if ever) we will be grown ups with a mortgage and kids. $60,000 just doesn't go that far after taxes. Is the only answer to move to a cheaper town? Because I like this one, and my job.

Carolyn Hax: Certainly you can do it; the "deplorable" public school situation includes some deplorable schools but also some good ones, and while they tend to be in expensive areas, that doesn't mean you can't find any affordable rentals in these districts, or can't work the system to get into a decent school, or can't find savings in your current habits that can accommodate childrearing expenses.

It just won't be easy, and will take careful planning, so it would make perfect sense if you were to start researching what child-care costs and where, and how far in advance you need to start arranging for it, and where the parks and community centers are, and where other parents find deals.

Short answer, if you have discipline, flexibility, love and straight priorities, you can certainly pull off staging a happy childhood for a child, even one without trips to Europe.

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Washington D.C.: How common and relevant are cold feet before a wedding? Last week my sister told me she was calling off the wedding (this weekend). Two days later, everything was fine. What do I do with this?

Carolyn Hax: Be glad you won't be on the honeymoon.

Also give her a nonjudgmental place to say anything she wants to say. If you're not close, then you're probably not going to get anywhere with this, but it can help sometimes if you say, "I'll love you if you go through with this, and I'll love you if you don't. Is there any reason you might not want to go through with this?"

The number of people who have the wedding, essentially, because they've already paid the caterer is stunning.

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Baltimore: My good friend has a 6-year-old boy (and I did get permission to post this) who recently wrote a story in school about killing people. Because this was a public school, he was sent to mandatory counseling. Long story short... the counselor sat down with her and her husband and explained that her son was identifying with the victims, and the scenario he wrote about was simply his way of exploring his ability to empathize.

Essentially, young kids need to explore their feelings (as do teens and adults), and for some boys, it might involve concerning situations. My friend sat down with her son and talked about his feelings, and he hasn't talked about killing anything since. I think moms and dads can use situations like this to help their young sons develop their (as Jennifer Aniston said) "sensitivity chip." This is just another example of how different young boys and girls can be.

Love the chats!

Carolyn Hax: Thank you, and I appreciate this thoughtful post. The details matter SO much in these situations. Which is, again, why I'd want to know. Kids who are exposed to death spend an enormous amount of time and energy trying to process it, and at the younger ages that mainly includes dramatic play. If you know about it, then you can ask simple, conversational questions to draw them out, and help them with the things that don't seem to add up.

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Creepy Uncle Reprise: Carolyn,

I wrote into the chat way back in the fall of 2006 about my creepy uncle who sent me a sexually threatening letter that also included a lot of explicit stuff about his wife, and you gave me a lot of good advice on how to deal with it and how to deal with the family stuff that would come later. I really appreciate your answering that question, and I'm hoping you can help me again now.

Since that letter, I've heard from Uncle Creepy one more time, with another letter, this one more a political rant than anything else. I'm pretty sure the guy is unstable. I told my mom, who told her sister (UC's wife) and it was made clear that any further letters sent to me would be unopened and returned to sender. Also, my boyfriend has moved in with me (not because of this, just because that's where life is with us) and is aware of what happened. So! What's happening now is this: My 19 year old cousin, who is the daughter of my mom and UC's wife's brother, recently moved in with aunt and UC to escape a gang in LA, where she lived before. We all live across the country from LA, and my aunt would do anything for her, but I'm worried about this situation. My cousin had (has?) a meth problem, was involved in at least one drive-by, doesn't even have a GED, and basically, doesn't have it together at all. Her mom died a few years ago of cancer. My non-creepy uncle, her dad, is... useless, in this situation. He's an alcoholic/drug addict himself and lives in a trailer in my aunt's back yard, but has nothing to offer his daughter. I'm the closest relative with a semblance of stability, but I'm also a grad student, and I live with my boyfriend who doesn't want someone gang-affiliated hanging out (not that I blame him one bit). I feel like I should at least offer to be a listening ear for my cousin, even though I can't help financially and she can't come live with me. My boyfriend's worried about me putting myself anywhere near UC, even if I only saw her when he's not there; he's not even sure she should call me when he might be around. I, however, am extremely worried about this young, beautiful girl living in the same house with this guy (my bf worries about this, too). I feel really torn about this whole thing. On the one hand, BF doesn't want to be involved, so I don't want to involve him. On the other hand, I don't think my aunt and UC are the best people for her to be around, and certainly aren't the most supportive types (aunt is very, very depressing to be around, and takes out her problems on everyone, which is a whole separate letter). Should I do anything? Nothing?

Sorry this got so long, but thanks. I always enjoy the columns and chats.

Carolyn Hax: Whoo. Okay. This is a lot to process, but my off-the-cuff thought is that you could really help a troubled 19-year-old cousin by finding a program for her that is tailored to her needs. A reputable place, with resident support and, ideally, access to education and job training, has to be better than her trying to regroup with a family that needs some, ah, regrouping itself.

I wish I had something mentally at the ready but I don't, so I'm going to steer you to a resource for children--CHILDHELP USA, 1-800-4-A-CHILD--to see if they can steer you to a program better suited to gang-involved young adults.

I hope this helps. If the nutterati (note pronunciation-friendly new spelling!) would like to weigh in, I'm all eyes.

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just askin': might it be a wee bit premature to start researching child care rates if she's not even engaged?

Carolyn Hax: On the surface, yes, but beneath, not really. For one thing, plenty of people who are "not even engaged" suddenly find themselves 8 months away from needing to know about child-care rates.

And, while most people don't plan this far ahead--not even close--the situation in D.C. (and I imagine other cities where crazy real estate prices have prohibited any growth in the local child-care offerings) makes it a smart move for people who hope to have kids to look into local child care availability -before- choosing a home. Not to rest their whole decision on it, necessarily, but to have it in mind.

Third reason is, she's asking. Which means she's plotting things out mentally. Which means, why not? Even if she doesn't use the info for another five years, it can sit there and be a foundation for financial decision-making. If you know it may cost you $12,000-$15,000 per year per kid for care until pre-K, you also know more about the relative value of things you might be buying up till then.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: The Job Corps (http://jobcorps.dol.gov/) could be very good for the 19-year-old with the meth problem. It takes in economically disadvantaged young people, teaches them trades and gets them high school diplomas.

Carolyn Hax: Thank you thank you.

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Being financially stable for kids: Washington, D.C.'s parents may have done well enough having kids in med school, but my parents were not financially stable when they started popping out kids, and it was miserable. Both had blue-collar jobs that allowed them to scrape by, and then after kid #3, Mom started having health issues that made her unable to work. We grew up below the poverty line eating incredibly unhealthy meals, freezing in the winter in bedrooms so cold you could see your breath, wearing completely through the soles of our ill-fitting shoes before we could replace them, and going without dentist and doctor visits unless it was a true emergency. It was something out of a Dickens novel, right in a Pennsylvania suburb. Financially, my parents should have stopped at one child. I do ok, but my sisters are following right in their footsteps, barely scraping by while planning on having kids, and my parents live in a decrepit house that's gradually collapsing in on itself (I contribute what I can to their emergency expenses, but they are in such a spectacular amount of debt that it's way beyond the limits of what I can help with.) I don't think new parents need to be homeowners, but if they don't have any kind of savings, then having kids is really risky. The worst part is probably that I have virtually no respect for my parents or their choices. I would, in fact, rather have never been born than been raised in/see them living in those conditions.

Carolyn Hax: Sobering, thanks.

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Confusion (how original): I hung out with this guy a couple of times. I'm currently out of work. He was teasing me about my "easy life" of sleeping late etc. At first I thought it was funny, then as finances started to dwindle I told him that I was really freaking out about my situation and to please not tease me about it. He had a really weird reaction - said he heard the first part (me freaking) but not the second part (request not to tease). So I repeated it. He said OK.

Since then, I've seen him a couple of times, and he has unfailingly commented on my sleeping until noon. I was a little shocked, but laughed it off. I accepted that that was how he was going to behave.

My question is, why would someone do that?

Carolyn Hax: Have you asked him? I would suggest it, point blank.

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Re: Hypothetical Invitation: To the Hypothetical Invitation poster - my best friends don't really like my fiance either. However, we made it work by having a pretty frank and non-heated discussion about why they don't like him (they don't hate him - they just have nothing in common - except me).

So we compromised - for every 2 times they hang out with me, they have to see him once. And I have let my fiance know that the girls aren't crazy about him (the feeling is mutual) - and he graciously declines every other invitation that they issue to him, as a gesture of goodwill (and plus he can only stand the girly giggling so often).

It's not perfect. It's not ideal. But it works, and no one is resentful or hurt because it's all out in the open. You can't expect all your friends to love each other right? So you just need to figure out a way to make things work.

Of course - I'm ever hopeful that eventually they will stumble upon something that will help them bond and end up friends... but if it doesn't happen, it's OK (after all, I dislike his softball/drinking buddies... so we have the same agreement when it comes to that).

Carolyn Hax: It's amazing what you can accomplish just by choosing not to punish people for their opinions. Like you said, it's not ideal, but it can at least function. Thanks.

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Re: Uncle Creepy Reprise: Get your cousin out of there now. The writer talks about how he was sexually threatening to her in a letter, and now he has a young, beautiful 19-year-old girl in his house. HELLO!?! Problem.

I understand the boyfriend's position of not wanting a gang-affiliated person living with him, but this is a cousin, one who has obviously had some very serious issues to deal with growing up, and one who will have even more serious issues should she be left in the care of uncle creepy.

If your boyfriend doesn't want to help, call your mother. But do whatever it takes to get her out of there before this girl turns to something worse than drugs and gangs to deal with the abuse doled out by her "uncle".

I was sexually abused in my teens by a family member. I didn't tell anyone about it, I was scared, confused, and didn't want to upset anyone. I figured that since no one else had ever mentioned it, and none of us had been warned that I was the only one who was affected by him. I was wrong. After his death, when I finally told someone about it (I was asked why I didn't cry at his funeral), I found out that I was not the only one, both of my sisters and several of my cousins had been abused. None of us had been willing to say anything.

Don't let your cousin suffer the fate your uncle threatened you with.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for weighing in. I think it's important for anyone who does take her in to be ready for it, and if the BF isn't ready for it, then it isn't much of a solution. But you're right to underscore the urgency here. The 19-year-old should be told, if nothing else, so she can protect herself and also so she doesn't question/blame herself for any strange behavior. The faster she can make those calls, too, the better. Thanks again.

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Washington, D.C.: Carolyn - Thanks for taking my question. My mother was the conduit through which I met the woman who became my wife. We've had a great marriage including wonderful kids. My wife is highly educated but has chosen to pursue a career unrelated to her education. I completely support her in this. The other day, while speaking to my mother, she said that she failed as a mother when it came to introducing me to my wife. I was so taken aback and still don't know how to react or respond. Their relationship has been a cordial one, although not very close. The conversation indicated that it was this choice of profession that's driving the current drama. As much as I love my parents, I think this whole thing is ridiculous. My relationship with my wife is no one else's business. Let alone my wife's career choices. Any advice on how to react to this and have some sort of constructive dialogue with my mother?

Carolyn Hax:"I'm sorry you think that. I completely support my wife's career decision--it's the least I can do for all that she's brought to my life." Then, if a constructive dialogue ensues, great, but I wouldn't expect one. There's a reason your relationship is "not very close," and apparently your mom just felt she needed to fire off a reminder of that.

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Washington, D.C.: RE: abusive father on plane. The other thing I always worry about is whether saying anything at all will backfire on the child, even if it's praise. The parent is obviously irrational. Will s/he see it as "Oh, now you've drawn attention to us, you'll pay for that?" Unfortunately, I'm not sure there's ever a good way to handle it that won't bring more grief to the kid. It is just so sad.

Carolyn Hax: I know. I worry about that, too. Here's why I err on the side of inserting oneself kindly and subtly on the child's behalf: The child will see that there are kind people out there, which is just one little glimmer of a chance for the kid to make the connection that s/he isn't the problem, it's the parent. If the parent is so abusive that s/he'd punish the child for attracting warm attention, then the abuse is happening, probably intensely, no matter what. But if by saying something nice a bystander can help lay a foundation, even in an incremental way, for that kid to seek outside help someday, then that will be better than nothing.

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Re: disappointed matchmaker mom: Holy crap, what does your wife do?! Did she train to be a social worker, and then decide on a career on the professional puppy kicking circuit?

Carolyn Hax: Needed a laugh, thanks.

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Maryland: The guy who keeps teasing his GF about sleeping until noon sounds like a jerk. The one non-jerk explanation I can think of is that work is SUCH a huge part of people's lives (especially in DC) that some people truly do not understand how to talk about things other than work -- or in her case, the lack thereof. It's like topics are 1. work, 2. relationships, 3. family, 4. friends, and 5. sports/hobbies/lamenting that work-centered life allows for no sports or hobbies.

I've been there. A friend of mine needed a year to find a job after grad school, and sometimes I did an imperfect job of dancing around it. Like, I'd complain about my job and then stop abruptly when I realized she'd love to be able to complain about annoying work stuff.

It's one of those weird have/have not things, like talking about your kids in front of someone you know has fertility problems. It sounds like he's handling it badly, especially if she asked him to stop. But he could be doing a spectacularly bad job of trying to make light of the situation, or say, "Hey, sleeping until noon sounds great! Enjoy it while you can!"

Carolyn Hax: Interesting take, thanks.

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Boston, MA: Americorps is another program for the cousin with the history of gang involvement. Some of their programs provide housing, all pay a small salary and help earn money for college. A lot of their kids (though by no means all) have at-risk history, and I've been very impressed with many I've met and worked with. Here is the link to their website. http://www.americorps.org/

Carolyn Hax: Thanks muchly.

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Nutterati...: Still makes the boys a little nervous...

Carolyn Hax: Well then talk to your boys and get them to chill.

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Carolyn Hax: A while back (year ago, maybe?) I posted a bunch of thoughtful takes on being the child of divorce, and the variety showed, I thought, that while every situation was different, it's a mistake to discount the differences in the beholders. I was reminded of this when I read these two posts about being raised without money:

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Arlington, VA: re: being financially settled before having kids. My parents had 5 children. They never had much money (still don't) and at times my father worked three jobs to support us. Our vacation most years was a visit to see our relatives who lived a few hours away, although some years we went camping. Going out to dinner meant fast food unless it was a major event.

I was in high school when I noticed my friends had nicer clothes than me, but it wasn't until I was in college that I realized just how small our house was compared to most people's. I was in my twenties when I made my first trip to Europe.

Our financial situation never really bothered me. On the contrary, I have great respect for how hard my parents worked and how well they budgeted so that we could have everything we needed as well as a few extras. I think we learned great habits from them and were well prepared to deal with adult life whether we had good-paying jobs or found ourselves unemployed or struggling financially. Most important, we have a happy family and I'd be lost without my brothers and sisters.

Carolyn Hax: And ...

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for the woman considering money and children: I was raised in an extremely affluent community that my parents could only afford by living in the small less desirable part. They wanted me to have a good education. I appreciate that. Now.

At the time, it was a mixed blessing to be surrounded by all that wealth and not have it for myself. I had a good school and safe place to grow up. But there was a constant reminder that I did not have as much money as the other kids at school. We could not afford to participate in some of what was common for kids to do in the community. I was often embarrassed to have friends over to our tiny home. It made me feel excluded and stigmatized, and that is the last thing any kid wants to feel like.

I hope this woman does not feel like she has to put her kids in the most extravagant school system for them to succeed, if she's going to have scrape very hard for them to do it.

Carolyn Hax: Thank you to both of you.

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Excuses: Why is it suddenly acceptable for boys to be violent? This culture of "it's just what boys do," is a cop out. My sisters and I would have loved to run around and act crazy, but my parents made us abide by rules and sit our butts down. I have a daughter and it's tough to always have to get her to calm down, my sister has sons and lets them run around like wild animals because "it's just what boys do." It seems to me that parents of sons like that excuse and use it instead of doing actual parenting.

Girls are not so different, the expectations that are placed on them are just higher.

Carolyn Hax: I would have gotten to this sooner except that I had to clean up after tearing my hair out.

Understanding that boys are more inclined to latch onto (as in, not guaranteed to latch onto, and not that girls never latch onto) violent images, games and characters is NOT interchangeable with letting boys run wild. Or, barf city, expecting "more" of girls.

The most physical kid I've ever run across was a girl. The most docile and task-focused was a boy. So I firmly object to blanket categorization. However, if boys aren't in general--repeat, in general--more physical than girls, then I need to trade in my eyes, ears and judgment for replacement sets.

That physicality sometimes means boys won't be able to hang on as long as girls in situations that require them to sit still. So parents who want to "do actual parenting" will have to build in some running around time, or some early exits, when sitting down is required. True of boys and girls, but more boys seem to lose it than girls. (Except when they're in packs--then they all seem to lose it.) And that running around, with boys, quite often becomes a super-hero rescue adventure game where bad guys get what's coming to them. Interested girls are certainly invited. Judgments not.

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angry parents: Just an anecdote to back up intervening positively with angry parents: I was on the Metro one morning with a young mom with toddler and an infant. She had her arms full with the infant, the toddler was being fussy, and I could see her fuse getting shorter and shorter.

I said hello to the toddler, asked her how old he was, and (completely spontaneously, with genuine surprise) said, "Wow, he's tall for his age!" She smiled -- a little bashfully, like she didn't want to brag on her kid, but it was evident she was genuinely proud of how he was growing.

Just a couple seconds' conversation completely flipped her mood, from being p---ed off at her child to proud of him.

I'm not trying to pat myself on the back -- I couldn't have known the conversation would go there and have that outcome -- but the unexpected positive result has encouraged me to always make the attempt.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. It seems odd to have to make an argument in favor of kindness, but I'm glad you did it.

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Religion and family: I am an atheist, a fact that would make my mother sad if she knew. Is this something I should tell her?

Carolyn Hax: Is it standing in the way of your sharing things with her about your life?

For some mother-child pairs, telling wouldn't do anything to change the relationship, and therefore would serve only to make her sad. For other pairs, it would break down this unspoken thing that had come between you, and so it would bring you two closer even while making her sad. Making this distinction involves projecting what someone would want, which is always fraught, but it's really all you have to work with in making your decision.

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Arlington, Va.: I made the majorest of email faux pas today. I wrote an email to roommate 1 regarding roommate 2's constant weaseling around, trying to sublet on a moment's notice to strangers, asking to reimburse for rent a month later, get security deposit back early, etc. and long story short, I sent it to roommate 2, instead of roommate 1. Disaster. Anyway, I realized immediately and responded with an apology and said it was nasty and I have no excuse and feel terrible, which is true. She isn't short on money or in any dire circumstances, so I don't feel bad for implying the weaseliness. Anyway, I feel horrendous that she read something I wrote to someone else about her that was not polite. However, while not worded in the the way I would have hoped, I still feel the content of the email is correct. Am I just going to feel awful forever as punishment for talking behind someone's back? Eeeeek. Beware reckless emailing.

Carolyn Hax: Sounds as if you don't like friend 2 much. And so yes, you earned your self-flagellation for the sloppy email management, it might be ... cleansing to say to this friend (presumably you have a first post-oops, in-person meeting to look forward to), "Hey, I just wanted to say again that I'm really sorry, I should have spoken my piece to you directly." Translation: Yes, I'm a jerk, but I meant it when I said I thought you were being one, too.

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Washington D.C., $$$ and children: Carolyn, thanks for taking my question and thanks to all the people who shared their stories. I think my biggest fear is that- get ready for a terrible analogy- the financial stress would take the wind out of the sails of our happiness, and then we'd all be out to sea. For example, now I think "it wouldn't be that bad... I'll just work five jobs!" But REALLY, how crazy, tired and resentful would we be if it came to that? Ugh. Well, whoever posted that it's early to worry about it is sort of right. I think it's a little early to worry, but not to early to think ahead. Thanks for your advice about looking into child care, that's a good idea.

Carolyn Hax: Jennifer Aniston quotes and sail-winds in the same session! But you're right, stress does cut into a parent's ability to be a good parent. So does not being there because you're working your five jobs, but that's the easier one to grasp ahead of time ...

This actually dovetails well with the when-to-butt-in-with-an-angry-parent issue. Sometimes parents who are stressed, about money or whatever else, will be short with their kids when they don't even realize it, and when the kids are just being kids. That's when a stranger who makes goo-goo faces at a kid is a sign of the Village in action.

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Denver: If you can tolerate one more wedding question...I'm getting married next year. Our parents have generously offered to help with most of the wedding expenses, and because we live in a different city than our hometown (where the wedding will be), they have also been helping with the planning. My parents took this to a new level when they booked a band that they know my fiance I don't like (they like this band very much). It was and is not negotiable with them. I am truly grateful for their generosity, but I want to be able to have a say in this wedding, especially about the big things (like music) without sounding like a huge brat. I can't seem to just let this go. Am I out of line?

Carolyn Hax: One ... more ... wedding ... question ... gah ...

I guess you either get used to the idea of dancing to elevator music (or whatever their crime is against your taste), or you go to your parents, checkbook in hand, and offer both to hire and pay the band of your choice--AND to cave into some other thing you know your parents want but that you've been resisting. In other words, you inoculate yourself against brattiness by framing your stand as a fair exchange, and not a straight-up demand.

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VA, 22181: So, I know that dating multiple people, non-exclusively, casually, and keeping it PG (i.e not sleeping with any of them) is supposed to be the healthiest, most mature way to date as an adult, but I'm finding more and more, as a 28 year old independent single woman, that I -hate- it. There always ends up being one guy out of the 2 or 3 I'm seeing that I like most and the others are just kind of stand-ins for when that one guy is on a date with some other woman or otherwise busy.

I tend to fall hard, and fast... and while I've learned to put the brakes on feelings that start careening out of control before it's warranted as I've gotten older, I still feel it. And wow, knowing that a guy I'm dating is out with some other woman, whom he must like enough to want to spend that time with her rather than me, stings so bad I can barely handle it. It levels me.

I try to adhere to the don't-ask-don't-tell policy, but I find myself always trying to keep conversations vague with men I'm dating so as to not inadvertently stumble onto the knowledge that they, say, spent the entirety of last weekend with some Malibu Barbie. Or be forced to tell them that I wasn't around Saturday because I was out with another man. That's always a fun conversation.

This is a double-edged sword -- I feel like I'm closing myself off and have my guard up so high that no man can get to know me, yet I'm so insecure about how I measure up to these other faceless women, that I almost don't want to talk about a guy's day/week/life. Instincts say, "ok, well don't date anyone that makes you feel this way" but, it's bound to keep happening, right? Everyone has the right to date multiple people casually, and I don't think I'd -want- to date someone that would demand to be exclusive with me after 2 dates... so how do I find peace and patience in this? Do I dump everyone that's not a serial monogamist and live my life alone? I feel like I'm pushing away the one man I really like because I like him too much and thus, am an insecure psycho. How can I just enjoy his company in the moment when I have it?

This feels hopelessly lonely.

Signed, "I like you too much, so please **** off."

Carolyn Hax: Argh, terrible thing to do, but I'm going to have to stretch this to next week. Because I have a question for you: What happens to your feelings for these guys you single out as preferable to the others? Do you eventually lose your feelings for them, to the point where you wonder what you ever saw in them? Do you still harbor feelings for them, even when something else forces you apart--say, his ultimate choice to commit to someone else? If this has happened, is there any pattern?

What I'm driving at here is, how well can you trust your feelings for these guys you come to prefer?

Somebody, if I forget to bring this up again next week, remind me please.

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Carolyn Hax: Hookay, that's it. Bye, thank you, have a great weekend, see you next week, AND thanks for considering my plea on behalf of the ALS-fighting cause. Look for the links next week, or give me a shout at haxpack@earthlink.net.

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