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Carolyn Hax Live: No Wedding, No Christmas? plus When Haves and Have-Nots are Friends, New Mom Not Feeling Hot and Grandmother's Not Welcoming the Stepgrandkids

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 14, 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, November 14 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 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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Washington, DC: I'm pregnant with my first baby, gender as-yet-unknown. Should I be worried that my husband keeps going on about how much he hopes it's a boy? I can't guarantee him a boy!

Carolyn Hax: 12:01 and already a forehead to the keyboard. How have you been responding to him?

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Sacramento, CA: A friend of mine is going through a rough year. Her mother passed away and now she's filing for divorce. My friend has started seeing an ex-boyfriend (started after the separation) but it's still a long distance relationship. I haven't met the guy, but the way my friend talks about him sends off warning bells that remind me of her ex-husband. (He seems very self-centered, even when she's talking about him in glowing terms, and isn't being supportive of her in rough times) When she was still with her husband, attempts to discuss his controlling behavior were met with silence and her not wanting to talk about it for six months. I don't want to add to my friend's pain, but this guy seems like bad news. She has said if I see the pattern of controlling and bad behavior again to say something, but I'm hesitant because of her reaction in the past. Any suggestions?

Carolyn Hax: Well, at least now you know her problem isn't that she, oopsie! just happened to get involved with two controlling men in rapid succession. She's got issues, bigger than any friend can zap away with the magic wand of Just the Right Words.

By all means, do point out that you're already hearing echoes of her marriage in her description of this new relationship. If she gets defensive on you, then can remind her 1. that your now knowing this guy means it's clearly not a personal attack on him, just an objective noting of a vibe you picked up; and 2. that she asked you to speak up exactly as you just did.

If she goes silent on you again, there won't be much you can do about that, except to confirm in your own mind that she is nowhere near ready to challenge her own worldview, which means she is nowhere near getting well.

That means being her friend (when she starts speaking to you again in 6 months) will involve watching her make self-defeating decisions. It's a tough spot to be in. But if you want to keep the friendship, such as it is, it isn't impossible. It just means that you limit your commentary to, "I'm happy to listen, but it's not my opinion that matters here," or, "I don't know, what do you think?" or, when you're feeling particularly exasperated, "Uh-uh, I'm not touching that one."

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Washington, DC: Dear Carolyn,

My boyfriend and I have been together for a little over two years. We spend a lot of time together and although things are not "perfect", we love each other and have a good time. However, recently things have gotten tense, (for me mostly) since we had "the talk" about where the relationship is going. At this point I think we are both unsure (although my apprehension arose after learning about his doubt). One part of me wants to remain together and hope that he sees us sharing our future together, but the other part does not want to risk the potential heartbreak which will only grow worse over time. My anxiety and sadness leaves me cold and distant, which I'm sure only perpetuates the problem.

I just don't know what to do, Anxious

Carolyn Hax: It's a tough thing to do--takes some mental discipline--but the most helpful approach would be to strip away your fears of the future and his doubts and whatever stray feelings are mixed in there (usually some combination of, "Where will I go, what will I do?" with apologies to Scarlett O'H.), and think only of what -you- actually want. The life you built together over the past two years--is that how you want your next 50 to look? If yes, is that realistic? And if no, is it realistic to think anything will change?

The only right outcome is the one that grows from the facts. You can't know his mind, but you can know yours, and those are the first facts you need to pin down. Once you have those, you can say to him with confidence, "I like what we've created together, and I'm comfortable giving you time to work out your doubts"--or, "It has dawned on me these last few days that the only nonnegotiable requirement I have for a man is that he love me without reservations. I'm glad you were honest with me, because now I know it's time to start over." Or even, "These past few days/weeks I've been so caught up in trying to save the relationship that I never realized that it hasn't been working for some time. Or something else--whatever your deep-thoughts endeavor turns up. When you're sure of your position, then you can find out from him where he stands.

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Carolyn Hax: Sorry guys, I fell down a rabbit hole on an answer. I'm abandoning it now and will post something else asap.

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No Wedding = No Christmas?: My parents boycotted my wedding earlier this year. Do I need to be apologetic that I will not be with them for Christmas this year? I want to be with my spouse on Christmas and they aren't welcoming to my spouse, therefore we are going to her family's house, not mine.

Also, for all my standing-my-ground/Principles talk, I am actually really sad that I won't get to be with my family over Christmas. How to deal?

Carolyn Hax: Have you talked about any of this with your parents? What was their objection, how did you respond, how did you leave things--resolved or hanging?

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RE: woman wanting to get married: I still never understand how women do not realize that it is a man's prerogative to not know if they want to get married when a woman knows. It's not a rejection of you, it's an act of where he is in the relationship. Ah, now I feel better.

Carolyn Hax: I don't. Do you really think this is a "man's" prerogative? If so, I might need to upchuck.

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Carolyn Hax: I can't believe I just did it again--got into a question that I think is bigger then the answer I'm giving it. I'm sorry. I'm going to have Elizabeth read my answers to see if she agrees. If she doesn't have the same reservations I do, we'll put them out there. Otherwise please accept my apologies for these long and terrible chat-outs. I really am feeling fine today, just not picking as well as I should.

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Re: No Wedding = No Christmas?: No, haven't really hashed it out with my parents. Talked to them some when we got engaged, invited them to be involved in the wedding (no response), sent them an invite (which they declined via email, not the RSVP card). Their objection was/is that we are a mixed-race same-sex couple.

I don't know if things were left "hanging". Certainly not resolved, other than that I understand they object and they understand that I got married anyway.

FWIW, the "gay thing" is not new. I've been out to them for over 15 years.

Carolyn Hax: Got it, thanks. Is it possible, logistically at least, for you to visit your parents solo to talk to them? Sort of a, where do we go from here? summit. You don't have to concede anything--if they won't accept your spouse, then you won't be spending much time with them anymore. But letting that be the outcome by default would be really unfortunate, given that you are in fact sad not to be spending Christmas with them. While it may go without saying that you feel strongly about the principle of your not going, the other feelings--missing them, for example--may need to be expressed.

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Vienna, Va: I had a baby four months ago, and everything's going well. But am I ever going to feel sexy again? I'm still overweight, of course--though taking steps--and I have this weird pooch and my breasts leak milk and I just feel really disassociated from my body. It makes me not want to have sex with my husband at all. Actually, I DO want to have sex, but not looking like this. Will I ever feel normal again?

Carolyn Hax: Does your husband want to have sex with you, looking like this?

Please don't pin your notion of "sexy" to your body's shape.

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Connecting: I've been told that if I want more friends, I need to take the imitative more with people. But I find it really hard to connect with people, both in friendships and romantic relationships. I don't have poor social skills (I don't think). But I am shy and when I do force myself to carry a conversation, I rarely find myself really connecting with people in a way that leads to a lasting friendship, etc. I moved to a new place a while ago and haven't made a lot of friends and the one close friend I did make, moved recently. So how does one move beyond small talk with co-workers and others you don't really know that well to actually forming real friendships? I don't know if it's my shyness or what but I never seem to really form a lot of meaningful friendships and I'm at a point where I'm sort of lonely. And looking for a relationship, although not connecting with anyone in that area either (except for one toxic habit I'm trying to break). Do you have any advice?

Carolyn Hax: My advice is actually the same as what I tell people who are having a romantic drought--invest your time and effort into cultivating interests that put you in regular, even scheduled proximity with the same group of people. If you go to a place once, you might make eye contact or even nod "hi" to someone, but you aren't going to talk to anyone, most likely (unless something strange happens to get you all talking. But I digress). If you go to the same place a few times, at irregular intervals, some of the regulars there might start to recognize you, but it's hit or miss.

Start going to that place the same time, the same day of the week, and stay for more than an hour, and by the third or fourth time people will start to recognize you and talking to you. For the very shy this might stall--when you've got your eyes on the floor, people read, "Back off"--but it can even work for the kinda-shy.

For those who just freeze up when they talk to strangers, pick a regular activity that forces you to talk to people in the course of business, or that just gives you a common thing to talk about.

One example would be a dog park. You go at the same time every day/week/whatever and you'll start to talk about your dogs. That is, if you have a dog. If you don't it would just be weird.

Anyway, it's a long and sometimes excruciating process, but it does work, as long as you choose activities that jibe with who you are.

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Arlington, VA: Can you help me do the right thing? My mom died a couple of years ago and after prolonged and very public grief, my dad has started dating. He is in his mid-70s and was considerably older than my mother. I know it's good for him, I know my mother would approve, and it's not like this has escalated to the point where he's bringing his lady friend to family events. Still, my gut reaction is to feel vaguely p*ssed off... of all the things he could have found to amuse himself at this stage of life - a book club, volunteer work, his grandchildren for pete's sake!! - why this? He keeps trying to connect his new friend to my mother, which only makes me more annoyed. I'd stake my life on the fact my mother would have thrown herself into a million other causes rather than the dating scene had the situation been reversed. I realize my feelings are petty, selfish and childish... but I don't know how to fake enthusiasm over this. Any advice?

Carolyn Hax: Why do you begrudge him companionship? Seriously. This is at the heart of your question. You can't say, "I know it's good for him," and then express anger that he chose a woman over "a million other causes." Which is the truth? Either people are more significant than activities, in which case I could argue your dad valued his relationship with your mom so much that it's only natural he'd seek companionship--and you should be happy he has found happiness, as opposed to a series of things to fill his time. Or, activities are a perfectly good substitute for emotional bonds, in which case I could argue that there's no cause to be upset--new woman, book club, volunteer gig, what's the diff?

If you look at it this way, you'll see that you're hoping your dad will live his later years less meaningfully just because you need him to make a show of loyalty to your mom. That may be a visceral truth, but the unfairness of it demands that you set these feelings aside and welcome the new woman into your life (and your family events), out of kindness and respect for your dad.

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Arlington, VA: For No Wedding = No Christmas

one option: if your husband agrees, invite your parents to visit YOU for a contiguous holiday, Thanksgiving, or Christmas Eve, or the Saturday before Christmas. This way they know you're not blocking them out of your life, just standing with your new husband (and also making other family plans for Christmas day, which is perfectly reasonable even without your folks' drama).

You don't have to apologize or explain. See how it goes. See how you feel about how you want to do it next year.

Carolyn Hax: I like this, thanks.

In other news, I posted one of my bulletins from the rabbit hole. Later on I'll see if i can salvage the other.

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MidWest: Ahhh, you dropped the ball with the response to Vienna Va. Of course you don't feel sexy if you are uncomfortable with your body...no matter what her husband says/thinks. You should have told what she has no doubt read a million times in all the baby books...odds are she will get "it" back. Took 9 months to get so messed up, it takes AT LEAST that to get back to "normal".

Carolyn Hax: Ahhh, the ball on the floor is yours, methinks. Of course you don't feel sexy if you are uncomfortable with your body. However, the answer isn't to hate yourself till you get your body "back"--since that's a myth anyway. Sure, you may get in shape, but things will have changed, shifted, stretched a bit. Plus, the trend line on bodies may wiggle a bit, but its (and your butt's) ultimate destination is straight down, thanks to that whole aging thing. So, the most precious gift people can give to themselves and their mates is a definition of sexy that has some complexity to it, that involves not just waist size but the way you carry yourself, the way you view your body (for example, as something that just gave life), the way you talk, the way you're honest about your emotions, the way you enjoy things, the way you throw yourself into the duties of family. Sexy is so much more than looking like some arbitrary idea of perfect.

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Non-sexy new mom again: Yeah, he wants to have sex. He's been reassuring and understanding and really great. It's more that I've always been pretty confident about my body (although I've had to work pretty hard to stay in shape) and now I just can't seem to get used to all the weirdness that happens post-baby.

Carolyn Hax: See above. Really, just surrender to it. Bodies are amazing things, and yours just acquired a mind of its own. Accept and enjoy.

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What?!?!: Invite THEM to your home after they did not attend the wedding because they do not approve of who you are?? You have GOT to be kidding me.

What they did was NOT okay. It was toxic. It was hurtful. It was mean. It was judgmental. It was selfish.

Why on earth would you let someone like that in your life? Because they raised you? That doesn't give them license to HURT you. But accepting their treatment does give them the license.

Carolyn Hax: I agree with everything you say, but I disagree that inviting them over constitutes "accepting their treatment." Making an overture of peace is an act of love and strength. If the parents choose to stick to their rejection of him and his marriage, then so be it--they won't be seeing much of their son any more. But letting them know they can make a different choice, that you're not going to hold them to their original ... "toxic, hurtful, mean, judgmental, selfish" choice forever, lays the foundation for reconciliation, if not by Christmas, then maybe some months or years down the road.

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Chicago: Hi Carolyn,

I'm seeing someone who only calls when it's convenient for him, doesn't directly respond when I express concerns about how we miscommunicate, barely acknowledged me when I was going through a really rough time last year, and he doesn't seem to know what he wants or where he's headed in life (he's 42). We have some fun together. But I think I should stop seeing him.

Thanks, I just needed to see this in print.

-Captain Obvious

Carolyn Hax: Sold.

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Washington, DC again (baby, gender) : So far I just keep telling him I'll be happy either way, and that I hope he will, too. I didn't realize that was a forehead/keyboard question; I guess I should have included the detail that I'm worried he'll be less excited and less involved if we have a girl.

Carolyn Hax: The question wasn't the keyboard crusher, it was your husband's attitude. Hello, 50 percent chance he's dissing his firstborn? Next time he goes off on how much he wants a boy, please point out to him that a little girl will want and need her daddy's love and attention just as much as a boy will.

If this is all because he's afraid he won't know how to act around a girl, or if he's excited to play ball and do "boy" stuff, then please tell him that plenty of fathers with only daughters (or mothers only of sons) will be happy to talk him off the ledge. And a potential daughter will probably be grateful to be taught how to throw a spiral.

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pronouns, please!: The wedding/Christmas duo is female, I think, per original post I'm cringing every time they are referred to as male.

Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: Sorry, a casualty of speed.

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Cleveland Park: Went out with a guy a couple of times, wasn't into him, told him that, almost a month ago. I get emails, texts, phone calls, none of which I answer because his behavior kind of freaks me out. I mean, I told him no thanks but he keeps going. Today he called me at work (to ask me to do something tonight that he already asked me via email earlier this week to do). I never gave him my work number, so he had to have Googled me. I told him not to call me again. Up until now, I just thought this was annoying. But the phone call at work freaked me out. Do I need to be worried that he knows where I live?

Carolyn Hax: Yes, it is worrisome, but you're about to find out whether it's something you need to report. You stated clearly that he is not to contact you again. Now, if he does contact you, DO NOT respond, no matter what; save everything--texts, e-mails, voice mails--and talk to the police. While you wait to see if you do have a legitimate concern, read "The Gift of Fear." It makes a clear, intuitive case for what is and isn't threatening behavior.

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Easy Street!: How do you deal with friends telling you that things that upset you/make you sad/stress you out are "no big deal" or some such variation.

There is something going on in my life that, while temporary, occasionally makes me deeply sad. I know that I have to persevere, and that it will eventually be different, but it's challenging for me at the moment.

When I express this to friends, they tell me that it's not a big deal, in awhile it won't matter, etc. I just want an occasional sympathetic ear and pat on the back.

Carolyn Hax: "It's a big deal to me." If your friends aren't completely insensitive dirt clods, that will shake them awake to your needing them.

The one caveat is that people hold different definitions of "an occasional sympathetic ear and pat on the back." If there's any chance you've gone on and on and they're starting to think you're (a) not even trying to fix the problem and (b) not ever going to stop talking about it, then "It's not a big deal" might be code for "Please move on."

Please note, I said "if."

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Miami, Florida: Carolyn: I am one of those people who has nice countertops and goes on fancy ski vacations. I am lucky that I don't have debt and my parents help me out and I make a decent living, too. What am I supposed to do when a friend asks me "what's up?" Not tell her about the ski trip? I understand that there are people who like to rub their wealth into others' faces. I am not one of them. But I do know that people are extra sensitive about money when they are having money troubles, so how is a friend with no money trouble supposed to respond about what's been going on? Lie and say I was home all week, even though I was really on the slopes? I think sometimes the snotty rich people give the un-snotty rich people a bad rap.

Carolyn Hax: They: "What's up?"

You: "Not much. We were away last week so I'm trying to catch up."

They: ... then have a choice. They can ask, "Where'd you go," and thus surrender their right to complain about the answer; they can say, "Yeah, I know what that's like," and you'll have both stayed on common ground without hitting any sore spots; or they can say, "Must be nice to get away for a week," and you'll know you're dealing with Eeyores who won't let you forget that you have everything to their nothing.

I'm sticking to my point from the column: Meaningful conversation can occur without the studious mentioning OR the studious not-mentioning of material things.

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for easy street: If they're saying it's no big deal in an effort to cheer you up, or to make sure you have the thing in perspective (as you said it will get better, etc) then you might try "I don't need you to try to make me feel better, I just need a sympathetic ear for a minute".

Sometimes it's hard to know which a person needs (cheering up vs. sympathy) from the listening side.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks.

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To No Wedding = No Christmas: Carolyn, can I offer my experience to the poster in the gay, interracial relationship? I'm in a mixed race relationship, and I went through the same thing when I moved in with my partner.

I had been out to my mom for 15 years, too. But I think the fact that I was going to be in a "relationship" freaked her out. My partner and I went to visit her for Memorial Day(Mom's in a different state) shortly after we moved in together. We stayed in a hotel because I knew it would be awkward for her to have us stay with her. However, we spent a lot of time together, and I thought the visit went well. Until during one of our weekly phone calls, she told me that I had scraped the bottom of the barrel.

I was so shocked and angry I couldn't say anything, which I think saved me from making the divide worse. When I finally got myself together, I replied, "I'm sorry you feel that way, and I know when you get to know M you'll change your mind." Then I rang off. But I kept up the regular calls, and when I went up to see her -- solo -- for Thanksgiving, she rode back with me to see the house and stay till the following weekend.

Bottom line: during that visit, she had a change of heart, apologized to me and said she had been wrong and was very happy for me and M.

I'm not saying that every parent would react this way, but I would encourage you to make the effort (and it is an effort; you will be doing most or all of the work).

M and I deliberately did Thanksgiving/Christmas separately that year, to send a message that we didn't want to cut anyone out, and made a big point to call frequently.

It's complicated. It would have been great if your parents had welcomed your new spouse with open arms from the get-go, but they didn't. But it's possible that if you keep the lines of communication open -- on terms you can live with -- that they may come around.

Carolyn Hax: Forgiving, and right on point. Thanks.

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Safe #: Do you have the contact number for domestic abuse? I can't seem to find it in chat archives, and I need to give it to a friend who is coming out of denial about her situation with her husband. Is it the same resource for emotional abuse as physical abuse?

Carolyn Hax: 1-800-799-SAFE, and, yes, the counselors can talk about emotional as well as physical abuse.

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San Francisco, CA : Hi Carolyn!

I am married for the second time, and my husband and I have a wonderful blended family (my two kids, his two kids and our beautiful new baby boy). I love all five children to pieces and I never think to differentiate between the kids.

Our youngest children would never even know the words "stepsibling" or "half-sibling" if not for my new in-laws, who insist on treating our blended family like a circus sideshow. When they come to visit, they demonstrate obvious favoritism toward their three biological grandkids, which hurts the other kids' feelings. My MIL arranges annual "ladies' days out" for her and her granddaughters, and has so far excluded my little girl, claiming she's "too little" (she's 7; the other girls are 8 and 10).

The last straw: We just had a family portrait done of all seven of us, and gifted it, framed, to the in-laws to display. They thanked us for it, but then asked my husband, in private, whether there were any negatives featuring just him and "his" three kids.

I know you're going to tell me my husband has to speak up about this himself, but there must be something I can do. The grandparents live nearby, so this becomes an issue fairly often. It's hurting my feelings a lot at this point, so I know the kids will become aware of it someday soon, if they aren't already.

Carolyn Hax: Horrible.

Yes, your husband is the better person to speak to his mother, but if he won't do it then you have to. You'll have to do it with his knowledge--which I hope will spur him to do it himself. The portrait is the perfect opening. One of you says to her that the message of that request is loud and clear, and so here's the loud an clear response: These children are all members of your son's/my family. Period. You/he would appreciate her not introducing distinctions between them that you yourselves don't make. This is not negotiable.

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I so disagree.: I usually agree with you, but I don't get playing down your experiences that cost money so as to not "brag" to friends. What kind of a friendship is that? In your scenario, I would evade the "what's up?" question casually instead of sharing with my friend an awesome trip I went on? That's crazy.

I thought being friends meant you share your stories, your excitements. Walking on eggshells because someone might get jealous is silly.

And this is coming from someone who is a Have Not, if you will. I have friends who are Haves, and sure, sometimes I think--or even say--"Man! I wish I could do X." But to let my own jealousy make the friendship less open and honest? No way.

Carolyn Hax: But I just argued against walking on eggshells! I understand how giving an example, as if it were scripted, would give that impression, but I'm not saying anyone should play anything down. I;m just arguing that it's possible to have conversations about ideas, not things. The example I gave was in direct response to (what I thought was) a canard that if you've just come back from a ski trip, it's inevitable that it comes out that you just came back from a ski trip, just because somebody says, "What's up?"

Certainly if you're close enough friends, the person asking would already know you've gone skiing--or would also be close enough to have talked openly with you before about awkwardness around the money issue. You'd also have shared each other's lives to such an extent that the tale of your amazing trip would be in the company of a lot of other anecdotes that didn't have a fab-life angle to them, so it wouldn't even resemble the problem that was in the paper today anyway.

I maintain that if everything your friends say has a fab-life element to it, then that's not a refusal to walk on eggshells, that's a failure to produce conversation.

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re: My MIL arranges annual "ladies' days out" for her and her granddaughters, and has so far excluded my little girl, claiming she's "too little" : Carolyn, I just don't understand people. Not at all. How could anyone deliberately hurt the feelings of a child, no matter who's daughter she is?

Carolyn Hax: I don't know. It really is a glimpse of humanity at its most hideous--this is just the rated-G manifestation.

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Rabbit hole: Is the other Rabbit Hole Q non-salvageable?

Carolyn Hax: haven't had a chance to look at it

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LI, NY: Hi Carolyn - I know it's late, but sort of a follow up to today's column. I have a group of about 6 friends that often get together for everything from movies to vacations. Some are more financially secure than others. If I'm sending out a group email suggesting an activity - trying a new restaurant, going to a show, a movie, i.e., should I edit who the email gets sent to, based on economics? If so, how do I know where to draw the line? I feel bad leaving anyone out of the invite, but also feel bad inviting those who I think probably cannot afford a certain activity. Thanks for any advice you may have

Carolyn Hax: Oh my, no, don't zone your invitations to include or exclude certain friends. Invite all, but be mindful of people's budgets and make sure that a fair number of the activities you plan are inexpensive.

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Blended family: Am not sure why San Francisco thinks that everyone else should be thrilled about her blended family. Unfortunately just because she made an instant family does not mean that the grandparents should automatically feel the same feelings they have for their grandchildren for the other children. Feeling like these grow with time. FYI.. the divorce rate for second marriages is higher than first marriages so the grandparent may be feeling that they is not reason to overly engage step-grandkids because they may lose them to divorce

Carolyn Hax: No NO NONO AGHHHH.

This mother is not asking the grandparents to have instant feelings. That's an awfully judgmental take you have on this.

The mother is asking that the family be treated as a family. In other words, if you're going to invite two girls, invite the third--they are, after all, sisters. That's how they see themselves, that's how the parents see them. That also happens to be the only way these feelings you talk about will develop.

Dissing a 7-year-old based on a statistic is as wrongheaded as it is heartless. Just because (for sake of argument) half of such marriages fail doesn't mean there's a 50-50 chance this marriage will fail. This marriage will succeed or fail on its merits and on its merits alone. And if it has no merit whatsoever, a kindly relative has the power to make a lifelong impression by choosing to show love and acceptance to a young child who is in a challenging situation. So the Grandma might get her heart broken if the couple divorces and the step-grandchild leaves the picture. Are you seriously arguing that the possibility of a grown woman's broken heart justifies the certain breaking of a 7-year-old's heart?

Wow.

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Washington, D.C.: I totally agree with you and the peanuts about how terrible it is for the grandmother to basically ignore her non-blood granddaughters. But my question is: is the grandmother truly just doesn't feel anything for her step grandchildren, why must she be forced to view her step grandchildren in the same light as her blood grandchildren? What if she just wants some alone time with the children who she feels she has an actual bond with? Not to say that she's right and it would be nice if she could open up her heart to include love for her step grandchildren, but what if it just isn't there for her?

Carolyn Hax: Then she does her best to find something to like. Teachers do it every day with children they'd rather not be teaching, and parents do it every day with kids they, say, get along with less fluidly than they do their other children. The need to show decency doesn't go away just because it's difficult to do so. I would argue the need goes up.

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Bethesda, MD: Hi Carolyn,

My mother called last week to tell me that Thanksgiving Dinner, for which I agreed at her request to fly home for with my toddler, will not be at home, as she promised, but at church with the needy. Last year I was able to be home for T-Day for the first time in 7 years, having been overseas. She told me several days before I came home that we would not do it at home, as she had said, but would go to a cousin's house. I want to tell her I'm disappointed but my sister doesn't think I should. I have always felt that I had to make all the overtures and maintain the adult relationship with my parents. My mother was not the nurturing type when I grew up, although she is very affectionate now. (The first time I remember her hugging me was on the day of my high school graduation. She once told me that it was her duty to feed and clothe me, not to care about my feelings.) As a mother myself now, I have greater compassion now for her maternal struggles but think that as an adult in this instance she has been inconsiderate.

Carolyn Hax: I hope you realize that your mother's way, if you're describing it accurately here, is way (like, way) outside the norm of maternal behavior. The Thanksgiving bait-and-switches are, on the scale she established by showing you zero affection during your entire childhood, pebbles at the base of the mountain.

The mountain is sad, but useful. Regardless of the scale of the problem, be it T-giving or something else, present day or in the past, the mind-set you bring to it is the one the mountain dictates: You are not to expect your mom to behave like a typical mom.

It might be healthiest, in fact, if you could find a way to expect the bizarre, or expect nothing, or expect not to get what you expect. All of these will help when next year you buy a ticket for you and your toddler to visit Grandma for Thanksgiving, and she declares two days before you go that you'll be celebrating Easter.

*** breaking advice *** I just noticed your follow-up that your mom didn't have a mom. So I guess that seconds the "sad." Have you ever talked to a counselor about your family dynamic, both then and now?

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Bethesda, MD: I forgot to add that I am usually reluctant to criticize my mother because her mother died when she was not even a year old. My mother has always told us how lucky my sisters and I are to even have a mother.

Carolyn Hax: This is the follow up I saw after the fact, and that was the other question I bailed on.

This just seems like a situation where you throw out the whole book and try to have the relationship with your mom that she's capable of having.

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I can't take it!: It's bad enough that there are grandparents out there being horrible to 7 year old girls, but someone is trying to defend them???? Is all hope lost? I'm serious, this is so frightening. Do you have a picture with only "your" children? I cannot imagine how it would feel to hear that. And someone is defending it?

Man, my Friday just got a lot darker.

Sigh...

Carolyn Hax: It isn't, but I do apologize for the hope-busting thread(s). I'd stick around to redeem myself, but I have to let Elizabeth go--she's out of town for, as it happens, Former Producer Lisa's wedding. So that's a happy thought.

By everyone, thank you for coming and for your patience on this strange day.

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