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Carolyn Hax Live: Do My Friend and Her Boyfriend Have to Be a Package Deal? plus Rejection Letter for the Mean Girl and Why You Should Lock the Bathroom Door at Your In-Laws'

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Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 21, 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 21 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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Sister: Carolyn,

I could be that sister in today's column. I feel like I'm constantly sacrificing my dreams for my husband's. This is the negative side of the veto power (that I generally believe in). I want another kid. My husband is firmly no. I want to move closer to family. My husband vetoes. I am not abused, but I am not happy. I think the sister who wrote in should talk to her sister - ask simply "How are you?" or "What's going on?" I would love to vent to my sister.

Carolyn Hax: What's stopping you? And, what's stopping you from saying to your husband that you understand both of you are free to say no to things you don't want, but that the net result of his two vetoes is that you are not happy?

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Carolyn Hax: I feel like I just walked up to all of you and started talking as if we were already mid-conversation.

So, hi everybody.

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Washington, D.C.: At our last family get-together my sister-in-law carried her iPod in her jeans pocket and laced the white cord under her shirt, between her ample cleavage and up into her ears. How do I avoid staring at that across the Thanksgiving table?

Carolyn Hax: "Hey, your cord is stuck in your, um. Thought you might want to know."

Pleeeeeeeease?

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Carolyn Hax: That "please" also applies to its being a real question. A girl can hope.

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Albany, NY: Long-time reader, first time poster. I know this seems childish, but I'm having some roommate problems. I live with a person whom I have always been friends with, but never "best" friends. Living together has brought out the worst in both of us. We recently had a talk about our living situation and deteriorating friendship, and since then things have improved. However, in order to accomplish this, I feel like I am walking on eggshells in my interactions with the roommate. To be honest, I feel that living with this person has shown me a new side of their personality which I simply do not like. We still have fun together, but there is no way for me to have a meaningful friendship with someone who possesses these qualities. Should I put on a fake smile and suck it up, tell the roommate how I feel, or find a new place?

Carolyn Hax: If it's realistic to, get a new place. Some people just aren't meant to share close quarters.

If it's not realistic, then try to figure out what situations bring out the worst conflicts between you. If you can see them coming, then you can also take steps to avoid them. That way you're neither fake-smiling nor having an emotional reckoning of things that are ultimately logistical. You don't specify what "worst" has been brought out, but usually it's a matter of one person feeling dumped on and the other feeling nagged at--which usually stems from different life- and home-management stuff. That can get emotional, but since the basis is practical, the better solutions are usually practical, too.

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iPods: Man, I'd trade my sister-in-law for that one. Mine is so completely New Agey, it's painful to watch. Last Thanksgiving, she communed with the spirit of the turkey that was sitting, cooked, on our table. She told us that the turkey was happy to have given its life for our meal; that it was satisfied that its sacrifice made our holiday more special.

More special, indeed.

Carolyn Hax: Wait wait wait--we need to save these for the Holiday Horrors Hootenanny. Which, as it happens, Elizabeth and I just scheduled for Dec. 12. Mark your Advent calendars.

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Washington, D.C. : My best friend has a serious boyfriend, and I do not. She and I are in our early twenties and live in different cities, so we have limited opportunities to see each other. The two of them, meanwhile, live together. The problem is that whenever I visit her, or vice versa, there is an unspoken understanding that he will come along. I like him, so this isn't really a problem, but it does become frustrating when I just want to see her, or want to have girl talk, you know?

Also, the fact that they are a package deal tends to stack the deck against me when it comes to making plans - their two votes easily override my one when we're deciding where to go for dinner or who should come to whom. (His vote, of course, always matches hers.) It feels kind of unfair, like I'm being punished for being a singleton, while she's being rewarded for having a devoted partner.

Even my limited experience has taught me never to take issue with the SOs of friends, so I am hesitant to complain about this. However, this is really changing the nature of our friendship and making me feel pretty hurt. Should I just chalk this up to the natural progression of things, or is there anything I can do to address it?

Carolyn Hax: You can speak your mind! The world won't collapse into itself. Just tell your BEST friend that you like her boyfriend just fine, but you'd also like to make time to see her one-on-one. And you can say, when they overrule you on group plans for the umptieth time, that you're sick of being voted down--actually, you can say pretty much anything if it follows the opening, "Cheez, guys ... ."

In other words, please see that you're tiptoeing around people and situations where it is completely appropriate to make your preferences heard. That means you're probably even less assertive in less friendly environments, which could hike the consequences a lot farther up the scale than just missing girl time with your friend.

The good news is that, because you have a forgiving environment in your best-friend visits, this gives you a great place to start taking small steps into the arena of recognizing your wants and needs as legitimate, and expressing them as such.

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Holiday Horrors Hootenanny: Oh come on, we can have a few Thanksgiving related ones today, can't we? Thanksgiving is next Thursday, and I'm guessing you'll be off on Friday, right?

Carolyn Hax: I'm a little off every day. But, you're right, will be completely off next Friday. Thanks for the reminder to remind you.

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St. Paul, MN: My mother and I have not spoken or seen each other in nearly 2 years, at her insistence. While I don't agree with her reasons for the estrangement (this is my punishment for not cutting my father completely out of my life when he cheated on her), I can respect that she needs some time to work out her feelings. With the holidays coming up, it has me wondering how she is doing, though I'm not sure exactly what to say to her. Would it be proper etiquette to call her, or do I just keep waiting for her to get over this since it was her idea in the first place?

Carolyn Hax: I'm glad you can respect that she needs time to work out her feelings, because I can't. That is highly controlling and punitive behavior, respectively, to demand that you worship at the altar of her victimhood, and then to cut you out of her life when you decline to do so.

Obviously infidelity comes as extremely difficult news, but this is your father we're talking about. It is not fair to expect a child to judge the worth of a parent based entirely on their worth as a spouse. On some occasions, of course, that will be appropriate--with abuse, say. Had your dad physically/verbally/psychologically abused your mom, she might have grounds to hope--I repeat, hope--that you'd take the principled stand of severing your tie with your dad, at least until he took some legitimate steps to show remorse and a desire to heal his own ills. Depending on the severity, that hope could rise to an expectation. One legitimate expectation, just to cover as many angles as possible, would be for molested children--I think they have a right to expect the non-abusive parent to banish the abuser. (I'm sure I'm missing a contingency, but will move on regardless.)

I'm spelling these out because of the point I'm about to make: Wrong as it is, infidelity can be much more complicated than your mom seems to be making it out to be. Given her demand for your extreme loyalty (and her extreme response to not getting it), I'm particularly inclined to believe there was a lot more going on in that marriage than two people who were doing everything Just Right until he ruined everything.

Just because your mom refuses to see complexities doesn't mean you have to ignore them, too. Your mom is still your mom, and while her punishing you so severely might be taken as proof that you're not the one who owes anything here, it could also be seen as evidence that she's not emotionally strong. Looking at it that way, reaching out to her would be a compassionate and generous thing to do.

Will it be effective? That's up to her. Will it make things worse? That's possible. But I think if you reach out to her in writing, not frequently but at regular and patient intervals, she will know you're there when she's ready to receive you, and she will be able to process your message in privacy and at her own pace.

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Negative Nancy, VA: I have a friend who lately has been all negativity. She starts her morning with a "I'm in a terrible mood" IM, followed up by a "why would you send me that" response to a cutesy joke email attempt to cheer her up. I ask her what's wrong and she says "nothing, I didn't realize I was being negative."

At this point, we are really good friends. I could see myself putting some distance between us should this remain unexplained. I don't think I should have to have my good mood ruined every morning, I'm happy to commiserate every other day but it's spiraling out of control. Should I just not talk to her? I also feel, as friend, that I should be there for her to talk to should she be in a bad spot. But she's a hard-nosed girl, she is not open with her feelings at all.

Carolyn Hax: The morning downer might be her (admittedly lame) way of venturing into the open. And since a cutesy cheer-up e-mail might also be just the wrong response to such a tentative venture, your best bet might just be to say, "I feel as if I keep saying the wrong thing lately. You seem to be in a funk--what can I do to help?"

If she gives up the usual "nothing," then there's not much else you can do. Yes, it's nice to be there for people, but you shouldn't have to chase after them to do it. For every "I'm in a terrible mood" IM, just send a "what's up" and get on with your day.

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Wheeling, WV: Hi Carolyn- My wife and I were visiting her parents a few weeks back. My mother in-law "accidentally" walked in on me while I was getting out of the shower. Needless to say- there's not much that she doesn't know about me anymore. Since then, to say it's been uncomfortable would be an understatement. Any advice on how to get over this? (although I must say she's been nicer to me)

Carolyn Hax: Is it uncomfortable because she introduced herself to your naughty bits, or because you have cause to believe she did it on purpose?

Time will take care of the former, unless you have a tattoo of her on your butt.

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Rehash: Hi Carolyn, thanks for taking my question. Very long story short: had a HORRID ex-boyfriend. Not physically abusive, but manipulative, insecure, void of emotion, insensitive, and he cheated. We started as friends, he was an excellent friend but a HORRIBLE boyfriend. Horrible. It hurt like hell, but in time I got over it.

He happens to be at my work now so we run into each other at many work functions, which involves banquets, socializing, etc. It's friendly/civil. On one such occasion he met a friend who went with me. They seemed to hit it off.

It's been several years since we've dated and I have no more anger toward him so when she asked if I'd be "OK with it" I bit my tongue to all the warnings I wanted to yell out (we're friends, but not very close) and told her I didn't mind. She was happy about the way things were going, and it's not my business.

Fast-forward a few months. He broke her heart. Shattered. Did the exact same thing to her he did to me, identical behavior, it's uncanny. I am at a loss.

Should I have warned her? I feel terrible about it. What can I do here? She and I getting together for coffee and I know she's going to want to rehash everything that transpired with him and me. I'd rather not... bring all this back to the surface again and relive it.

Carolyn Hax: Please do rehash it with her. If nothing else, it's a chance to make things right. I'm not saying you should have warned her, necessarily--it's an interesting question that I don't believe has a universal answer--but your feeling terrible suggests that -you- think you should have. One way to deal with those terrible feelings is to hear her out.

I also think talking to her might be a great way to explore the whole question of warning people. With benefit of hindsight, she might say she would have wanted to know--but after reflecting on her mind set at the time, would she have listened? Does she think it would have been your place to meddle? Will she now warn someone else?

As long as it doesn't become a self-justification session for you, and (obviously you can't control this part) as long as she doesn't redirect her anger at him onto you, this could be the beginning of a ... cleansing friendship.

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Washington, D.C.: When has a cutesy email joke EVER cheered anyone up? Please Carolyn, don't miss an opportunity to speak out against this misuse of the interwebs.

Carolyn Hax: So noted.

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Chicago: I have taken to calling up my friends with young babies, some twins, and ask if I can visit in a few days. I am starting to wonder, am I being rude?

I only started doing it because new moms never seem quite organized enough to call. I feel like it is unrealistic to invite them over to my house and, unless they suggest it, I don't want them to feel like we have to go do something exciting.

They always seem THRILLED when I am there; they repeatedly say how much they love adult contact and are so glad they get to see me. I like hanging out with them and their babies. And, especially in the case of twins, I do lots of baby work when I am there--soothing, feeding, burping. Want to call a friend to ask about stopping by on Monday. . .

Carolyn Hax: If you are imposing, a sure sign is that people give only vague responses to several of your self-invitations in a row. Otherwise, you're not just fine, you're possibly too good to be true.

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Washington, D.C. again : I guess what I'm nervous about (why I haven't brought this up with her before) is that anything I say will come across either as jealousy or as dislike for her boyfriend. We're at a phase in our lives where relationship always trumps friendships, so if I make her feel alienated, she'll just retreat further into him and I'll REALLY never see her.

Carolyn Hax: That just expands the scope of the shaky emotional health to include her, too (and possibly her BF by association). If you can't say you miss your one-on-one time without touching off accusations of jealousy and a huffy withdrawal into Boyfriendia, then what can you talk about, and what are the roots of this best-friendship?

Clearly I have little to go on, but what I have tells me your friendship consists of her whims and sensitivities, and your careful handling of her whims and sensitivities. Yes, no?

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Anonymous: Hi, Carolyn; I have a job application sitting on my desk. It's from my high school nemesis - meanest of the mean girls. She's not as well qualified as a bunch of other applicants, so she will get the generic thank-you-for-your-application-don't-call-us-we'll-call-you letter. Like the others, it will go out under my signature... which includes my (uncommon) maiden name. She'll know it's me.

My question is, am I a bad person if this secretly makes my entire week?

Carolyn Hax: I'll let you wrestle with your conscience, but I'm going to float this for public comment: Since she will know it's you, would there be any benefit (professional or karmic) to jotting a note for her to call you if she has questions about this? It wouldn't seem to put you in a tough spot, since all you'd have to say is, "There were more qualified applicants so the chances aren't good"--but it might be a small good deed that pays dividends later, especially if she is in the same field in the same geographic area.

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NOOOOO!: Don't tell her to send a personal note! That just invites her to call and make uncomfortable inquiries. She doesn't owe the mean girl anything more than any other unqualified applicant.

Carolyn Hax: Wait a sec--I didn't say she owed anything more than a form letter, and I specified that a matter of qualifications could be discussed without awkwardness: "We have five applicants with master's degrees in the field, so your not having one put you out of the running."

I'll be more clear about the type of objection I'm fishing for, i.e., the area where I'm afraid I'm not thinking strategically. I proposed the note because I think most of us have probably been in the we'll-keep-your-resume-on-file form-letter hell. And wouldn't it have been nice to have known someone in a position to say, "You need to do X and Y to get a job like this"?

Meanwhile, you have a HS mean girl, which could play out two ways: She's either reformed, and you will have gained one more ally in the world, or she's not reformed, and the note could be a small wager against her someday getting power over you (same field, same location, remember) and having a bad aftertaste from your dismissal by form letter.

So. Polls are still open.

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Wheeling, WV again: It's uncomfortable because she "gazed" much longer than what I feel is normal under those circumstances. What tops it all off is after I told my wife - she said "oh, she got you too? she's accidentally done that to a couple of my ex boyfriends as well."

Carolyn Hax: First, I have to set aside my disbelief that you made me beg before you gave us this part of the story.

...........

Okay. Now. I don't think there's any question that your mother-in-law has issues, so the question is whether your wife is aware of, and accepts the full scope of, her mother's issues.

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Carolyn Hax: I'm going to post a bunch of mean-girl responses without responses. The extremes are interesting.

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Mean Girl: Send the note. How is MG to know that everyone didn't get a personal note? Either she will be embarrassed and not reply, breathe a sign of relief that you don't hold grudges and perhaps become a useful ally (as Carolyn mentioned) or still be a B in which case, she'll just think your rubbing her nose in it. The response is on her. Being mature is up to you. FWIW, most meanies in high school were that way because they were simply insecure. God help us if high school is indicative to the world of how we eventually turn out....

Carolyn Hax:

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Personal Note to unqualified mean girl: Send it. The world is a small place and people hold grudges. I once burned a bridge, and was sorry. On the other hand, I have refrained from burning them several times when I was treated horribly, and as unsatisfying as it was to be mature, it limited the number of times I got stabbed in the back. You never know who your next boss or colleague will be.

Carolyn Hax:

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NO on the note!: Couldn't the "sorry, we have more qualified apps" sound a little... bitchy? A bit of a backhanded 'helpful' note?

Carolyn Hax: I think you read me wrong--I said the note should say, "Call me if you'd like to talk about this,"--not, "sorry, you weren't qualified." That info you save for if/when she calls.

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Rhode Island: Have to disagree about the Mean Girl, Carolyn. Many companies, mine included, are pretty strict about not going beyond a generic, thanks-but-no-thanks form letter to unsuccessful applicants. Doing otherwise opens you up to lawsuits and other unpleasantness (so says HR). Esp. in this case, if Mean Girl is now Mean Woman, she could make an issue of the fact that she had a bad history with the hiring manager and was not evaluated fairly. That polite note could blow up in hiring manager's face.

You really don't want to open the can of worms that begins with "You weren't hired because..." Seriously. I've wanted to, esp. when I've seen rookie mistakes by new grads, for instance, but HR strongly advises against it. Not just here; I think it's pretty common practice.

Oh, and hiring person? Enjoy. You've earned it.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. More coming ...

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RICHMOND: Rejection letter to a mean person you know: standard typed anonymous rejection letter, BUT you cross out "Ms. Meanie" with a pen and write in hand "Heather"--that is standard business letter format to someone you know by fist name. Otherwise, 'nuff said. The woman knows she was mean to poster and is learning a valuable lesson in what comes around.

Carolyn Hax:

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Chicago IL: Strongly disagree with the mean girl advice -- don't do anything other than the form letter. She's just another failed job applicant. The writer didn't like her then, doesn't have to like her now, and any sort of personalized touch that other rejects aren't getting will suggest the mean girl still has some sort of status. Just ignore her and she'll go away.

Carolyn Hax:

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San Diego, CA: Write the note. It demonstrates that you are any of these: (a) gracious and magnanimous; (b) forgiving; (c) vaguely recall her name but she was a very small blip on your radar back then; (d) have triumphed at long last, snickersnickersnicker.

Carolyn Hax:

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Hiring, USA: Carolyn

No, I would not advise any note on the rejection letter. Hiring and firing are filled with all sorts of legal implication. While "call me with any questions" is intended to be a nice gesture, the woman who receives the note may view it as, "if you are so stupid that you don't know why I didn't hire you, yes by all means call me and I will tell you what a bitch you are."

Carolyn Hax:

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Mean Girl: I'd act like I didn't know who she was... I vote no extra note.

Carolyn Hax: I think this about covers the range. Thanks, everybody.

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Whims/Sensitivies: No whims, but we're both very sensitive to each other and to everyone. All I meant was that if I make her feel uncomfortable being around both of us, she will choose him, not me (which I understand, they have long-term plans together).

To answer your question - we have been friends for years, but currently most of our friendship takes place over the phone. That's why our rare hangouts are so special.

Carolyn Hax: Um. Have you done any thinking about being so sensitive? Sounds like a difficult way to walk this earth.

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Catching People Naked: My grandmother once walked in my BIL taking a nap and then went around telling everyone what a big wang he had

Carolyn Hax: Dec. 12, people. Cheez.

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Meanie: Your company should have a conflict of interest prevention plan wherein somebody else signs the rejection note to an acquaintance.

Carolyn Hax: Ach. Right. Might trump all. Thanks.

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re: Rhode Island: The note doesn't open up (presumably now) Mean Woman to filing frivolous lawsuits or complaints about not being treated fairly, because HR woman in question is rejecting her app based on quantifiable deliverables that she does not possess, but all the other apps do.

Write the note; she won't know who else is getting what, and it is a gracious gesture.

Carolyn Hax: Really the last one. Maybe. Thanks.

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Anonymous: Anon again; The open position is for a job as my assistant, and she's missing the statistical experience I need. At least she didn't lie and say she knew the stat packages.

But as for her maybe having reformed -- This is the chick who ridiculed my best friend's clothes the day after her dad died, - and Mean Girl knew about the dad. If she's still toxic, then nothing I do/don't do now will change that. If she's reformed, then a generic NoThanks letter won't make her go nuclear, right?

Carolyn Hax: That is extremely mean. So extremely mean that it opens up the possibility that she was acting out some pretty bad damage of her own. Not to excuse it, just to put it into one possible context.

One thing I take away from this is that a trip to HR before you send her anything would make a lot of sense.

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I miss hearing the birds!: Hi, Carolyn - do you or the 'nuts have any advice about dealing with noisy children? A new neighbor moved in next door with her 4 kids (toddler thru about 6th grade).

I don't have a problem with the normal sounds of kids at play, but sometimes these kids just SCREAM. Very, very early in the morning. Outside, for the whole block to hear. For no reason. (It's not like they're being hit. I always look, b/c it sounds like a murder.) Last weekend one of them was playing with one of those toy-lawnmower thingies by simply dragging it back and forth over concrete. Two feet from our bedroom window. At the crack of dawn on a Saturday.

Please, please tell me if there's a way to deal w/this nicely without coming off as kid-hating. The mother (divorced - dad is elsewhere) seems nice but standoffish and we're private introverts ourselves. I miss peace & quiet!

Carolyn Hax: I'd say just to ask her nicely if they can keep the early a.m. noise down, but what I really think your situation needs is for someone to make a neighborly gesture to a no-doubt completely overwhelmed single mom. Bring her a banana bread. Ask if she needs anything. Stockpile goodwill. The noise won't last forever, but her sense that her neighbors want her to go away might stick around for a while.

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No no no no note (a lawyer's two cents' worth): From a legal standpoint, the rejections should ALL be the same. Because the fact that someone won't WIN a lawsuit for unequal treatment during the hiring process does not preclude them from FILING the lawsuit, particularly where there is clearly a conflict of interest. The mere filing of the lawsuit will cost your company money because they'll have to appear for it - even if it's just to file a motion for summary judgment. There's no reason to even go there.

Also, the original poster shouldn't be signing the rejection letter. It creates the perception of bias, founded or not.

Carolyn Hax: A last word (maybe) that covers it all (maybe). Thanks.

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Mean Girl: Better yet, follow the sensible advice (go to HR and explain the issue) then write the screenplay of the scenario in which you hire her as your assistant and get payback for all of her awful behavior in HS. U.S. employment law be damned!

Carolyn Hax: No wait--THIS covers it all.

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Brooklyn, NY: On the best friends with the boyfriend -- I think I'm probably the friend with the boyfriend. I encourage the single friend to be candid about needing girl time or one on one time. I love my boyfriend (now husband) and my best friend, and I love that they are friends, and I love hanging out with both of them. That's just such an easy default that unless my friend speaks up, I forget that the threesome is probably more comfortable for me than for her. But in that case, I would REALLY, REALLY want my friend to call me and say, "Hey, let's get together for a girl weekend," or "Let's go out to dinner, just the two of us." That's non-confrontational but still communicates the need for one-on-one time in a clear way.

And this all reminds me to call my best friend!

Carolyn Hax: ... and plan something for just you two, I hope.

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Not for me (Really): How would one go about becoming less sensitive? I always thought that was more of an inborn trait rather than a choice.

Carolyn Hax: A good education trains people to approach problems from many different perspectives, instead of just their comfy habitual ones. By the same process, sensitive people can train themselves to wait out their initial reactions and look for other possible explanations for things that happen. For example, the initial reaction might be, "She wants alone time with me because she hates my boyfriend"--but someone who is aware of her own tendency to see things from a limited perspective, and who is willing to entertain other perspectives, can give a non-committal answer to buy some time, and then think for a while on what the friend's reasons might be. Such as, liking the BF just fine but wanting some one-on-one time.

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Babies in Chicago: I am not too good to be true: I won't change diapers. Dialing. . .

Carolyn Hax: Sorry, you're still a saint.

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Holiday Horrors Hootenanny question: Will we get a 2008 'Twas the Night Before Christmas from your dad then?

I look forward to that every year.

Carolyn Hax: I'll have to tell Pops that. He's toiling away at this year's, and for two weeks' work has two stanzas. Two very special stanzas, polished to ... whatever state he's going for. I won't presume to name it.

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Chronic Frustration-ville: Here it is in a nutshell: my husband of nearly 8 years never does anything he says he will do. I have tried various ways to communicate how important it is to me, how let down I feel when I know that I can't count on him, etc. I am very near a breaking point - he just returned from a weeklong trip and I realized that I managed myself, the household and the kids just fine without him; now that he's back, I'm frustrated all over again! He is a sweet, gentle guy and a fabulous father, but I cannot get him to remember and/or follow through on anything. I feel like the household "manager" and it's wearing on me. Help?

Carolyn Hax: 1. Have him checked for brain-wiring issue. ADD/ADHD, for example, can produce the result you describe.

2. Figure out what he does do well, and see if you can build a set of responsibilities around that.

3. In the meantime, find a way to structure your household-management job so that it doesn't deplete all your love and goodwill. Don't skip this step, because if 1 and 2 yield nothing, it'll be less demoralizing if you've already adapted.

Good luck.

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and!: we'd like to see the annual picture of your kiddos-- we didn't get one last year!

Carolyn Hax: I know. They're getting too old for that--meaning, too easy to recognize. When they were blobs, it wasn't really an issue, but I feel that now I owe them their privacy.

Maybe I can get "Uncle Nick" to draw something.

Thanks for asking. I'm glad you liked the pics.

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Boyfriend. Friend: I can't believe you let her comments (both times) about "just being at an age when relationships are always more important than friendships" go by!

Carolyn Hax: I know. I wasn't sure what to make of it, since I have no idea what she meant by that, and then in my gnat-like way I forgot about it and made my answer about something else. That something-else being that there's a bigger issue here. I think I need a rubber e-stamp with that phrase on it ...

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still miss the birds: Screaming kids' neighbor here again: I should have specified that the kids are all at the father's place about half the time. (That's the time I get my sanity back.) So, she's a "single mother" only half the time.

Carolyn Hax: That does make it easier on both of you, then. But it doesn't make her circumstances much easier when she's sole caregiver of four kids under 12. Even if you do choose to start by asking her to steer the kids away from your bedroom window in the early a.m., I would still go the reaching-out route. Compassion just seems like a winner here.

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Arlington, VA: For the frustrated wife, another reason to check into the ADD/ADHD thing is that if he is diagnosed, odds are good that at least one of the kids may have inherited the tendency. If so, recognizing the child's "issues" early can help you understand your child better and prepare for his/her school years, which can be a challenge. I speak as one who knows firsthand, and wish the poster luck.

Carolyn Hax: Good point, thanks.

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Washington, DC: Carolyn,

My kids are 18 months and 5. My wife never weaned the 18 month old. She keeps pushing the weaning process off onto me. When the baby begs and begs she'll nurse him again and so, with regularity, he wakes up after 4 hours of sleep screaming. Our other child slept alone in his crib at 10 months. This kid has, with regularity, woken up the household every night around 1-2 am for the last 6 months or so. My wife has demanded that I am in charge of getting him to sleep through the night while she gets to play good cop. I cannot stand to hear the screaming for more than 45 minutes. Every night I go downstairs, I put a pillow over my head, I watch TV, but after about 45 minutes I have to go pick him up. I'm not capable of letting him scream longer. We're not talking about crying or whimpering, we're talking about full-blown screaming for 30 minutes. then when I break down, as I do every night around 1:30-2 am, I bring him into our bed and my wife gets to both comfort him and criticize me for not letting him "cry it out." This is nothing like our first child who would cry for 20 minutes and fall asleep. This kid is capable of climbing out of the crib, throwing all the bedclothes on the floor, throwing a full red-faced screaming tantrum for 30 minutes in the middle of the night. I'm lost.

Carolyn Hax: You guys have to get on this, now. A demanding child can take over a household if allowed to, and really strain a marriage if the parents aren't in agreement on how to handle the process of teaching limits and self-discipline.

If you have a pediatrician who's good at the family-health part of the job, please talk to him or her. Call, and if necessary set up a dedicated appointment. Even a pediatrician who doesn't have the knack for it can refer you to good literature on both the minutiae of sleep training, and the general themes of not surrendering your lives to the whims of a toddler.

I think you also need to address the good cop/bad cop issue specifically with your wife. It is not kind or mature to hoard the good-cop role and let the other parent do the hard work. Not only does it make for an unfair burden to the other parent, but it also skews the relationship with the child. Kids will seek the softest spot in the house, and if you're not allowed to be soft, you get the heartbreak of watching your child always reach for the other parent.

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Re: Frustrated Wife: Yep, that really does sound like ADD. On the other hand, she also may need to look at her relationship really closely. I have ADD, but my father (not related to me biologically) does not. He was a fabulous father, while offering my mother no back-up whatsoever. He is a narcissist. He was a great father because my uncomplicated love for him was a great motivator for his ego. There was no better father when I was a kid. Now that I deal with him as an adult, it's not so easy. My mother was in denial over his true nature for years.

Carolyn Hax: This will look awfully familiar to a lot of people, I think. Thanks.

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Cutesy email joke: I would just like to say that I have, at least once, been cheered up by the Cutesy Email Joke.

Carolyn Hax: You were very brave to step up to the microphone.

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For Chronic Frustration-ville: I don't know if your husband just gets off-task or doesn't actually want to do stuff, but if it's the former, this has been my experience:

I constantly amaze myself at my capacity to forget at least 2 tasks off a list of 8 of things that I do DAILY. (Sadly, I didn't do enough drugs to explain this, it really is my natural brain chemistry working).

So, I have a 3-ring binder, with sheet protectors in it. I have a separate sheet for morning, after-work, and before bed, with a list of things to get done at each time. I have a list of things that should be done at that time ("Start load of laundry") You could further modify this for routine tasks for each day of the week too. I have a highlighter and mark off what I've done, which gives me a sense of progress. The next day I wipe the sheet protectors clean and start again.

The advantage with this system is that I have to remember ONE thing: check the folder. No one has to nag me, I know what needs to get done, and it's easy to see what's left to do.

Carolyn Hax: I would forget to check the binder, but for those less hopeless, this might do it, thanks.

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RE: miss the birds: Oh, please, don't make your first knock on that door being about asking her to do you a favor. With or without the issue of being a single mother, it's a horribly un-neighborly thing to do. LSS- my downstairs neighbors did this to me @ 6 in the morning, no less, to complain about me "walking on the floor too loud". (I was in stocking feet FWIW) Left a bad taste in my mouth forever afterwards, because this was the first time they had ever bothered to make an effort to talk to me. Please, be that nice neighbor that doesn't start with a complaint- but starts with a getting to know you gesture.

Carolyn Hax: Said it better than I did, thanks.

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For missing birds: Parents become inured to how loud their kids are. This was driven home to my son's dad in a very polite way when the kid was drumming on something in a bookstore, disturbing others, and his dad didn't even notice. Someone who worked at the bookstore gently said to the kid's dad something along the lines of "Parents get used to their kid's noise and learn to block it out, but other people aren't quite so lucky. Might I ask you to please have your son stop his drumming? It's bothering others."

Can't remember the exact words, but my exhusband was grateful to be told the kid was being too noisy, and was even more grateful for the gentle way he was told. It's more than a decade later, and he, a man who doesn't remember his own birthday, still remembers the kindness of the store clerk and the tactfulness of her request.

Carolyn Hax: It's an act of true grace to give people the benefit of the doubt, and assume that any offense/rudeness/exposure of others to hideous noises is certainly not intended. Thanks.

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Arlington Gay: Re the Mean Girl. Of my Facebook friends from high school, the vast majority are people I didn't know all that well (and the MG clique types). I've had more donations to my charities from these online rekindled friends than from the close friends I rarely hear from 25 years later. People really do change as they grow up.

Carolyn Hax: Or, grow up as they change. Tx.

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So, I have a 3-ring binder, with sheet protectors in it. I have a separate sheet for morning, after-work, and before bed, : W. O. W.

Carolyn Hax: Nooooo! Mock not what could save an astonishing number of marriages. Seriously. There are people out there who would weep with joy if their spouses showed that much dedication to keeping things fair. No matter the cause of the imbalance, that always ends up being the issue--why is s/he so okay with watching me work so hard? There's more love in a buck-fifty binder than any gem, vacation or car.

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Ann Arbor, MI: Hi:

My son was sick with what turned out to be a tumor early this year. The tumor was removed and we got back to normal. He has just been diagnosed with another debilitating problem and I am just so angry I can't stand it. I screamed at someone in a parking lot this week and I am constantly on the verge of crying.

I am taking this much worse that the last problem. I don't know what to do.

Carolyn Hax: Talk to someone, asap. Consider it essential emotional health-care. Ask your son's doctor for a few names of reputable therapists who specializing in guiding families through serious health problems.

I'll keep a good thought for your boy.

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Carolyn Hax: Okay, that should do it. I stuck around a little longer so I could find the name of a particular DC-area sleep expert, but I'm going to have to look it up and post it next week ... eek, no, there is no next week. I will post it to Hax Philes, where people can also post advice for this couple, how's that? I know there are a lot of ideas/war stories on sleep training.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone, and see you in December. Oh, and I will go through some of these outtakes and re-post to the holiday chat since you guys were rolling for a while. Bye ...

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