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Carolyn Hax Live: Holiday meals for picky eaters, self-diagnosing abusers, Christmas custody shenanigans

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 23, 2009; 10:00 AM

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 Wednesday, December 23, 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.

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

Past Carolyn Hax Live Discussions

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Bored in DC! : Thank goodness you are on today. I'm one of three people in my office and I'm going batty with boredom. I can't wait to read your chat!

Carolyn Hax: Me neither! Oh wait.

It does seem strange to be on in the morning--like running without warming up--but the time and this week are just weird enough that it might work.

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Washington, D.C.: Dear Carolyn,

A close friend of mine -- single, accomplished and attractive, early 30s -- observed that "most people settle." I'm confused as to what she means by this. I mean, technically I understand, but I'm wondering what she thinks all of these people should have held out for. With respect to our other close friends, all of them are in healthy relationships and/or are married to people who seem to be very good for them (educated, similar life goals, attracted to each other, loving).

I understand that she is not happy with her own situation, but doesn't the comment about "settling" seem to be a bit personal in the grand scheme of things? I'm in a relationship, but I try not to take these comments to heart.

What would you have said in response? (I said something to the effect of what I wrote above.)

Carolyn Hax: If she means it as, "No one has been as strong as I have in resisting society's pull," then she's really saying, "I feel bad and so I'm going to step on everyone else to make myself feel better." It's the universal message underlying any dismissive generalization, particularly those about people who have made choices different from one's own. A decent response to that would be, "Whatever gets you through the day." The trick there is that it can mean, "Yes, everyone settles because, hey, we all do whatever gets us through the day," and it also works as, "If you need to think that to get you through the day, then you go ahead and think that."

Now, since tis the season of solstice celebrations, we could also give her the benefit of the doubt and propose that she speaks not just of romantic pairings, but in all things--that life is a slow-motion act of settling, in job, romance, friendships, family, goals, emotional evolution, and just about everything else that matters. In that case, your friend might be in a particularly pensive mood and ripe for a good conversation on What it All Means. The response to that is to pour something appealing and have a seat.

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Washington, D.C.: My husband is going through a very difficult time at work. I want to be supportive. However, I find myself repeating trite comments like, "that sucks, I'm sorry" or baseless comments like, "it'll get better soon." I'd appreciate any thoughts about how to help a loved one through a tough time when you (and he) have no control over the situation. Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: How about adding to the repertoire, "What can I do to help/make it better?"--as long as you're prepared to hear, "Stop asking me about it," or something surly like that, which is not okay but is still pretty typical backlash against concerned observers. You can also try, "Can you think of anything you could do that would make it easier on you?"

Neither one is easy to hear, but when posed nicely (as opposed to unctuously, which is a fine distinction that's hard to make in writing), these types of questions can orient a sufferer's thinking toward action, which is always better than reactive bitching and moaning.

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Agnosticville: Is not going to religious services with religious family petty? Or should I suck it up and go?

Carolyn Hax: Too much depends on context. More?

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Georgetown: Reading your posts about identifying an abuser, I immediately recognized my husband. He constantly pick pick picks at me, unless he wants something and then he's Mr. Charming. I am in a constant state of anxiety trying to meet his standards.

I have talked to him about the constant criticism, and for a few days he won't say anything but will react with eye rolls or deep sighs when I make a "mistake." He then protests that he "didn't say anything!" If I ignore the criticism and do things my way, he barely speaks to me for days at a time. This will happen over dumb stuff, like the way I cut vegetables or load the dishwasher. I hate our life and I kind of hate him.

We have a young child, and shockingly, he is an amazing father. Loving, supportive, completely involved. But when it comes to me, he's a giant tool. What should I do? I know this environment will be toxic for our kid (he's too young to pick up on the situation now). I truly don't have time to see a therapist. I work full time and we don't have money for a babysitter every week. We also don't have money for a divorce. I don't know what to do. I have tried to talk to my husband about how miserable I am, and he just says "Fine, leave. You're the one with the problem." I feel trapped and without options. Please help.

Carolyn Hax: Please call 1-800-799-SAFE just to get the conversation started with people who can help you. The support you can get from counseling is too important to dismiss as impossible, without at least finding out what accommodations are available--including help at low or no cost, or help by phone, during your lunch break, whatever. Try. Whenever you're seeing something as impossible, remind yourself that the only thing that can't happen is for things to remain exactly as they are.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn! As you know, the DC area got snowed in last weekend. So, my in-laws' flight this past Saturday to CA to see their son (my BIL) was rescheduled for the day after Xmas. Because they were not going to be in town for the actual holiday, my husband and I made plans to drive Christmas Eve to spend the holiday and weekend with my parents in Ohio. We decided to leave at 8PM Christmas Eve so that my 2-year-old could sleep during the 7 hour drive. Well, now my in-laws are giving us a major guilt trip that they will have to spend Xmas "alone". They want us to leave for Ohio Xmas afternoon so that we can all spend Xmas morning together. They don't get that a 7 hour drive during the day turns into a 10-11 hour drive because my son will protest sitting in the car for that long. Plus my parents made preparations for a multi-course dinner on Xmas. My in-laws think I am being unreasonable and a regular old Scrooge. Am I?

Carolyn Hax: Your in-laws are acting like spoiled children. Is your husband standing up to them, or is he wavering?

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Re: picky Christmas eaters: I'm in the exact same situation as the writer in today's column. Are you really saying I really have to make the same 5 bland dishes from the 1970s that my family has always had for xmas? Isn't there some way to be a good host without pandering to childlike eating habits (refusing to try new foods, etc)?

Carolyn Hax: You're in the exact same situation, and you're asking the exact same question, seeking the exact same permission. And I have the exact same answer: If you are hosting, you serve what your guests will enjoy. Unless they're your minor children, it's not your place to judge their palates or force their tastes toward "adult" eating habits. Cooking food they won't enjoy isn't as bad as putting nuts in something to be eaten by a guest with a nut allergy "because it's all in her head," but it's on the same continuum or presumptuous hosting. Either serve what they want; make their staples and introduce one new thing to satisfy your own yearnings (without displacing anything out of spite, though displacement out of necessity is fine); or excuse yourself from the celebration (next year) and spend Christmas with more like-minded people.

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Philadelphia: Hi Carolyn, My boyfriend was laid off in May. He was able to see the writing on the wall, so he applied to graduate school and was accepted the day after he lost his job. Since then, he hasn't told anyone except me and one or two other people what happened. He said at first that he was waiting for the right time to tell his mother, but that turned into never. He's happy to let everyone infer that he quit to go to school, which is what he was planning to do anyway. I'm just wondering: is this an honesty issue he might have, or is he simply keeping his personal matters private?

Carolyn Hax: I don't know. What does he say? How's his relationship with his mom, and the rest of his family? How do they operate? How is he with his friends? How's his relationship with the truth otherwise?

I am always skeptical when people appear not to own their circumstances and decisions--but the operative word here is "appear." I'd like to know whether his family is typically punitive and his adaptation to that is to give them nothing to feed on; I'd like to know whether his chosen field is one where positive spin is necessary to survival. These would be mitigating factors.

On the other side, aggravating factors, I'd like to know whether he shows other signs of having a fragile ego, a need to be in control, a tendency to want to art-direct his life so that people see what he wants them to see, as opposed to what's really there. If, for example, he overhears you talking to someone, and takes non-playful exception to the way you describe something to someone, then that kind of context would point to an honesty issue.

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Spoiled In-Laws: What is it that people don't get about previous commitments? I deal with this a lot in my work, though nothing as egregious as this woman's situation.

There seems to have been a huge change for the worse recently in keeping commitments and I suspect it links with our advances in communications technology. Or something!

Carolyn Hax: No, I think you're probably right. The ability to work toward, wait for and appreciate delayed gratification is possibly (I'm qualifying it only because I'm saying it on the fly), unto itself, the foundation for lasting happiness--and it is the quality in us that is taking the biggest hit from the cultural and technological developments of the past 25, but especially the past 10, years.

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Picky Eater Displacement: Put your gourmet urges into table settings, presentation, and plating. Or make a couple of out-there sauces or garnishes that YOU can enjoy if the others just want beige food. There are ways of doing this that make you happy and them happy at the same time.

Carolyn Hax: Ooh, like the idea of add-ons/ins. Thanks.

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re: abusive husband: My father acted this way towards my mother -perfectionist w/his way, constantly criticizing and belittling her. He always had a way to make things seem like they were her fault. Same petty tasks like washing the dishes or folding towels. After 25 years, she finally started talking to our pastor about the problems and his temper. She read a book called "Boundaries" and started learning how to react to my father and not to internalize the criticism. Dad still acts out towards her but he's definitely gotten better and mom is more assertive. Please, reach out to someone and get help - support, counseling, whatever. Sometimes people fall into patterns - your husband may not even realize he's being an insensitive, manipulative, abuser.

Carolyn Hax: Right, thank you. There isn't just one path here marching the couple straight to a nasty divorce. As you say, abuser X and victim Y aren't acting in a vacuum; they affect each other with their behavior. So (unless it has come to violence, in which case, safety first), Y can get some lessons from qualified and experienced teachers that will shape Y's reactions to and behaviors with X. Just by doing that, Y can change the dynamic between X and Y, without actually trying to change X.

From that bit of progress, Y can then make a much more educated decision on possible futures with X. Can X learn, too, and break possibly ancient family patterns? Will X dig in, or even escalate the problem? Not only will the now-better-informed Y be able to see X better, Y will also be in a stronger position to make and act on decisions about their future.

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Washington, D.C.: Carolyn,

Have a wonderful sister-in-law just graduating college this May. She's completely unsure of what she wants to do with her life, and is leaning toward going home (small town) to "work and save money" while she figures it out. This is-- trust me-- a dead end. She won't have an opportunity there (because of family pressures and geography) to interact with anyone stimulating...to explore options...to become fired up by anything. Family is not connected professionally, so in this job market (with a lackluster resume) she's likely to wind up working retail. Perfectly fine-- but not a recipe for saving significant money, or for getting inspired.

My husband and I are in a position to offer her a place to live temporarily, and to help her get a job. We're both well-connected in different professional spheres, and can help leapfrog her to the top of some resume piles. Our interest is both selfless (we love her) and selfish (we want her to become a person we can identify with as the years go on-- not the case with all of the family). We would also love to hang out with her as we all age.

Question is, how do we urge her to accept our offer, without unduly pressuring her? Her mother won't play fair-- will guilt her about family health issues and will generally encourage her to come home, knowing she'll likely never leave. We want to support her-- but we don't feel comfortable supporting a decision that we truly feel is stunting her emotional and professional growth.

Thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: You can certainly make the offer, and make it tempting. And you can say, "If returning home is what you really want, then we support you, and our offer will remain open should you change your mind at any point. If returning home is what you feel pressured to do, then please consider our offer carefully, because it's your life and no one else's." Naming the pressure problem for your sister-in-law in without pointing fingers at anyone specific is the emotional equivalent of pointing out the ocean, and throwing her a rope. Her choices will be clear.

Having made those choices clear to her, though, you need to shut up and let her make her decision. Otherwise you just become part of the family-guilt-and-pressure problem.

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Am I an abuser?: My partner cannot remember or does not remember where stuff goes in the kitchen cabinets, and similar minor things. This drives me batty. She does not remember that you have to wash the outside of a pot as well as the inside.

I remind her where the stuff goes. I let her know when I have to re-wash a pot. I try to do it gently. I've offered to let her decide the cabinet arrangements. I've let go of some of the stuff, but not all. I won't let my pots be ruined by incorrect stacking that scratches up the insides.

So I end up saying critical things a lot. I honor her in lots of other ways, and am gentle about the criticism.

Is this abuse? She does let me know when it is too much.

Carolyn Hax: I'm not going to make that call, but I am going to ask you, is it working? Are your "gentle" criticisms teaching her how to wash and stack pots after a childhood that failed to educate her in the practical, day-to-day business of home life?

Or was she just as exposed to housekeeping as anyone else but the lessons never stuck, do perhaps to an absentminded nature, despite a conscious and avowed desire not to do things that would upset you, the person she loves?

If you're not getting anywhere, then all you're doing is making someone feel bad, and coming away with absolutely nothing to show for it.

And that's when you need to ask yourself, which would I rather do, live alone/with someone else, or live with this person knowing it's going to cost you a couple of pots over the years? Sure, it's frustrating to have to go on a scavenger hunt for your stuff when you're trying to cook, but when you KNOW she's going to misplace things, you accept it and make accommodations: either you put the dishes away, or you start every day/cooking session/whatever putting things back in their places. Or you let her rearrange the shelves her way over time, by noting where she puts things and making that their new proper place.

In other words, if you've been at this for a while and she still leaves drips uncleaned from the outsides of pots, it's time to know that isn't changing and to get off her back. Being with the right person emotionally, and caring for that person, means letting some stuff go logistically--unless the logistic and emotional are one and the same for you. Then, she isn't the right one for you.

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Philadelphia (again): My boyfriend said he was ashamed of being laid off and wasn't eager to share the news with many friends. As for his mom, he has a very healthy relationship with her, but she is a micromanager who we are sure would have taken his layoff as a problem for her to solve. I don't know whether withholding this news was the right thing to do, but I understand his reluctance. Overall, I've never heard him mischaracterize an event, and he can bring up difficult subjects when they have to be addressed. Just last night we had a serious discussion about marriage and he was able to articulate some of his concerns and worries. I think he just doesn't like to share his personal problems.

Carolyn Hax: How is he with your sharing your personal problems with other, particularly when they (inevitably) also involve him?

As for the mom, I think a good sign of maturity for him would have been for him to face his mom, and deal with the resulting micromanagement push by standing firm against it. "I appreciate your concerns, but this is something I have to work out on my own." Repeat as needed. Avoiding issues is sometimes a necessary second step, but as a first step it's cowardice.

I'm not sure if you said, "I've never heard him mischaracterize an event," as a statement about his general honesty, or as a response to my question about overheard conversations.

If it's the former, that's good news. If it's the latter, then I think you may have misread my question: I was asking if he ever takes angry exception to the way you characterize things to others--say, when you're out with others, or when you're on the phone with someone and he can hear what you're saying. If his sense of shame crosses over into needing to manage the way you speak of him to others, then I think you're looking at a bigger problem.

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Alex., Va.: If after several years "she" cannot stack the pots right, or wash the outside of the pots, why does "he" have to give in? Why can't "she" suck it up, make the effort and get it right?

Carolyn Hax: Because "she" didn't write to me, "he" did. No good answer involves changing the behavior of someone else. We can change our own behavior, period.

That means: When we don't like a situation, we then change our approach to it, period.

If we still don't like the result, then we make another change, and so on, until it becomes apparent that the only sensible change is to get out of the situation entirely, because there's no way to make it satisfactory to us.

The moment you start viewing a situation as someone else's fault, and (this is key) take that to mean that the other person has to change to make it right--and then you stick around demanding and demanding and demanding change, without changing your own behavior--then you've taken the first step toward being an abusive person. You're standing fixed while expecting others to bend to you. It just doesn't work that way.

Should "she" wash the outside of the pots, and learn to stack them right? Sure, of course, but "should" is a fantasy word, not a reality word. There are two possible realities here: either she chooses not to wash the pots right (in which case the partner is entitled to dump such a petty and inflexible person), or she's just not mentally there come pot-washing time (in which case the partner needs to stop thinking "shoulds" and start thinking, are there chores she is good at to balance out my doing all the dishes all the time, or are there pots she can't ruin, or is life with an airhead too irritating for me to pursue?)

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W. Bethesda, Md.: To Washington who's husband is going through a very difficult time at work, unless it is too difficult for her, try listening without commenting, just to let him blow off steam. He may not want feedback, just someone to talk to. Also, as someone who has been in this position, the last thing I wanted to hear was "Can you think of anything you could do that would make it easier on you?" When I was going through this, I know that I did try to find ways to make it easier...the comment just comes across as somewhat supercilious and really can be annoying.

Carolyn Hax: Then you answer, "I've tried it all and all that really helps at this point is a sympathetic ear." People who are in these crappy situations aren't holders of get-out-of-obnoxious-behavior-free cards. If you're going through the ringer and that's what you're bringing home, endlessly until it ends, then you need to know that you're putting your designated listener through hell, too.

AND, in resenting the efforts they make to shift the dynamic and/or break the monotony of complaints, you're also disempowering them both from taking care of you and from taking care of themselves. You may be powerless to change your situation, but how cruel is it to then to spread that powerlessness around to others who touch your life?

If you want something specific from them, then be specific: "Advice just makes me feel worse, even though I know you mean well. I would just like to blow off steam." For their part, they owe it to you to respect that.

And if they want something from you, then encourage them to be specific, so they feel invited to say something like: "I do want to help, and am glad to listen while you blow off steam, but I'm watching you swirl into a gloom spiral, and it's dragging me down, too. I would feel better if you at least tried to rally for me, even if it's just 10 percent of the amount I rally for you." For your part, you owe it to them to respect that.

The "rough patch" is a staple of relationships, in two general forms: the one that tears people apart, and the one that brings them closer. Closer means being clear in what you think, feel and want, and accepting such clarity from others; tearing apart means expecting minds to be read, and getting angry when someone falls short.

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St. Paul, MN: Every Christmas my bro-in-law and his wife pull the same power play on the ex-husband: he gets the kids on Christmas Day, but as soon as his designated time is up (not a minute after!), they immediately pick up the kids. Even if it's during our Christmas Dinner. My MIL insists that the rest of us wait, with dinner on the table, until they come back. Sometimes this won't happen for hours, and at that point it's 8pm, the kids aren't even hungry for the now-cold food but are tired and cranky from all the shuffling.

Since they're not open to scheduling this day any differently (like giving the ex a couple extra hours with the kids), what can the guests who drove 2 hours to be there do to avoid being a part of this? Stop for a meal on the drive down so we won't be hungry and just go to bed early if they keep us waiting?

Carolyn Hax: Don't go. Obviously it won't go over well, but the whole point of parents is both to civilize children and to give them resources for dealing with whatever life throws at them, so they can go on to be independent adults. Subjecting them to a rigid, rude and co-dependent mess every year without saying, "Hey, don't worry about us, we'll just have our own roast beast this year," is teaching the kids to sit quietly while unreasonable people hold them hostage. Wrong message.

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Carolyn Hax: By the way, could be the morning fog, but I'm still not sure who's related to/divorced from whom and how in that last question. If any bored cube dwellers want to take a crack at a family tree, I'd be much obliged.

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Green Bay, WI: Actually, I think "he" has another choice. "He" can do his own dishes, instead of micromanaging the way "she" does the chore.

Carolyn Hax: Didn't I include that option? She does other chores while he does the dishes?

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picky eaters : It's me again. I have a really hard time swallowing that advice given that no one in my family cares a bit about what my husband and I might like when we go to their homes. Not only that, we're likely to be served wine that's been open in the fridge for a week, canned vegetables, etc. Food is very important to me and geez, it would be nice for once to have an edible holiday meal.

Carolyn Hax: Then celebrate them with somebody else. Just because others aren't considerate hosts to you doesn't mean you get to be inconsiderate hosts to them.

I could also say, they're doing their best to please you. Can't you do your best to please them? And can't you see that "doing one's best" has nothing to do with the provenance of the veggies?

If food is important to you, then, that's great--you are, as I always point out, entitled. But you need to figure out which is more important to you, food or family? If being with family forces compromises that make you this resentful on a regular basis, then it's time to admit that your attachment to family might be purely ceremonial and it's time to schedule your holiday celebrations with a bit more emotional honesty. E.g.: I wouldn't like these people if I weren't related to them, so I would rather honor them X out of Y holidays per year, instead of all Y. The rest (Y - X, for those calculating at home) I will celebrate my way with my non-blood "family."

And if the family is what holidays are all about to you, then realize the price of that devotion (bad food) is but a small price to pay for the pleasure of their company.

Whichever way you go, just get off the fence. It sounds as if it's, forgive me, up your butt at this point.

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St Paul, MN: I have come to the conclusion that it is much easier to sustain the illusion that my family cares about me, if I don't see them. Thanksgiving and Christmas tends to topple my house of cards every year. So, along with wrapping the gifts and preparing a few dishes to bring, I must prepare my psyche for the insults/critcism/disrespect. Last year, the only thing one brother could come up with to say to me was "so, your fat now, huh?". I am in my mid-forties, so I don't see this dynamic changing. Any advice?

Carolyn Hax: Your mid-forties sound like a fine time to take out your house of cards once and for all, with your own forearm, in one giant sweep. before you do it, ask yourself, what would look nice on that big table you're about to clear off? Don't torture yourself by answering, "A loving family." That's why you waited till your mid-forties to do this--so you could come to the problem with 40-plus years of training in managing reality, where someone younger might come at it with 17 or 18 years of schooling and a few years of dream-testing. Stick to reality, and figure out what you want on the table. Charity, exotic travel, close friends, bubble bath and bonbons? Your holidays are yours, your unwitting gift from your family and your now conscious gift to yourself. What would a rewarding one look like?

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RE St. Paul: I think the kids belong to the brother's wife and her ex-husband. The brother, then is the stepfather to the kids.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks, you got it (see next).

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St. Paul, MN again: Sorry if the family tree was confusing - my question involved my husband's family: his brother, his brother's wife, her kids and her ex-husband.

Luckily my husband and I don't have kids to subject to this. We're just two annoyed adult guests at my MIL's house, if this changes your answer at all.

Carolyn Hax: That's okay, it's a complicated connection anyway.

Since you wouldn't be subjecting kids to this, you do have a bit more leeway here. You could, for example, agree to go, but your husband can talk to his mom beforehand to try to come up with a better solution than cooking early and waiting. This is where the brother's wife stupid rigidity (or, I should say, rigid stupidity ... and this is her doing, I did read that right?) can actually be useful. If there's a fixed pickup time, then dinner is scheduled for X hours after that, and it goes on whether they're back yet or not. Surely she'd have to appreciate that to-the-minute mindless mind set, after all, as a perpetrator of it herself.

And if your MIL won't budge, then you excuse yourselves from the festivities entirely. Not as a statement about the cold food, but instead as a principled protest to the awful way the brother's wife is treating her children, and to the way your MIL is enabling it.

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Bacon Pants? : Anybody? Sneaking pot in the bathroom? Anyone else remember when these chats were FUN? Sure, the advice is usually good, but boy this place has gotten gloomy.

Carolyn Hax: Wow, tough crowd. We had two weeks of bathroom pot this year instead of the usual one--Dec. 4 and 11. Eating human ears! Jewish carpenters cooking reindeer sausage on Christmas!

I'd like to think I just know when not to try to top myself.

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Settling, USA: I laughed out loud about the settling girl because it reminds me (41 and still single) what my Korean step-mom said in her broken English last year: "Sweetheart, you don't need to wait for 100%. 60, 70% is fine."

But I know her well and I know she didn't mean for me to settle, she meant that nobody's perfect and we all make concessions for the imperfections of the people we love.

Carolyn Hax: Nicely said, whoever said it, thanks.

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"Home for the Holidays": For the picky eaters, the writer with the family who only gives her nasty comments for Christmas, I offer up the following two lines:

First, from the movie "Home for the Holidays," Robert Downey's line to his partner and their friends, who are celebrating without him while he's dealing with his hostile sister who's so upset that he's gay/has married: "How's my real family doing?"

And second, from a book by Elizabeth Berg, "Home is only where you start from."

Family, home, what's the true holiday dinner - these are all definitions we can play with, once we become adults, and match to the people, places, etc., that really fit those definitions - which takes a lot of pressure off of everyone, including those who can't quite measure up to our picture of who they are supposed to be.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks, but seems to me you can skip the movie (though I'd see it, just for the scene with the Holly Hunter character in her mother's coat) and the book, and just read your last paragraph.

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Georgetown, again: Thanks for the encouragement to seek some help. It all just feels so insurmountable and exhausting - calling places, finding a counselor who is both inexpensive and flexible, time-wise. I just keep thinking that if I were nicer or less sensitive or more generous or forgiving, I wouldn't be so unhappy with my husband. Maybe he's not the jerk, maybe I am. Maybe I should be trying harder and should cut him more slack.

Carolyn Hax: That's how controlling people control--by sapping them of the will to resist.

And this is how people who work against this awful, dehumanizing (for both of you) dynamic: By giving you the smallest possible hurdle to helping yourself. A phone call. That's it. Dial, and spill. Whatever comes next is not your concern right now. You'll get to that when you're ready to, and not a moment before.

Take care, and check back in sometime, if you'd like.

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@Georgetown: If your husband hit you, would you leave? Even though it would be financially difficult, and complicated to figure out?

If the answer is yes, then find one hour sometime and get out a pen and paper. Pretend your husband hauled off and slugged you last night. Write down all the steps you would take to get your child and yourself to safety. Memorize that list. You can destroy it when you are done.

Now, go and do what Carolyn suggested, but keep that list in the back of your mind. It's your escape hatch, and you'll be surprised how much more powerful you will feel if you know you really could get out right now if you had to.

Carolyn Hax: This is excellent, thank you.

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Washington, DC: Carolyn

Any tips for surviving driving my sister from one parent's house to the other this weekend? It's a three hour trip and she commandeers my radio, criticizes my driving, and generally drives me nuts every time we're in the car. Plus, she'll be ready late and want to stop at every Starbucks we pass, which will make her have to pee. I'm anticipating the three hour drive will take roughly 4.5 with her in the car. How do I do it so we arrive at parent no. 2's house with me still in the holiday spirit?

Carolyn Hax: Read this, see how funny this is, and treat yourself to a foofy hot somethingorother on one if not all of the stops.

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Carolyn Hax: That's it for today, and till Jan. 8. Thanks for stopping in at this odd time. Merry Christmas/merry Chinese food, happy New Year and hope to see you back here on the 9th.

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Sis's chauffeur: Better yet--make HER buy you a foofy drink every time she wants to stop at Starbucks. It's only fair.

Carolyn Hax: Yeah, but I didn't want to send her off with any expectations that might be unmet. This trip will be long, it will be funny, and it will pass through at least one 'bucks. That's something she can build on.

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Alexandria, VA: I think you really missed the boat with the Starbucks-peeing sister. Obviously, the best solution is for this sister to take the trip in the trunk, bound and gagged if necessary.

Carolyn Hax: Can't believe I missed that. Thanks!

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he is an amazing father: No he is NOT. HE is showing his son how to abuse women, or he is showing his daughter she only deserves abuse. Either way, it is abusive to show a child that is the way to treat another human. He is abusing his child by teaching them abusive standards and telling them they don't deserve anything better.

Carolyn Hax: Yes, yes. I was focused elsewhere, and this is -so- important. Thank you.

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Boot Shopping: My gift to myself is getting boots and not shovel snow off the sidewalk boots. Any suggestions?

washingtonpost.com: There were a lot of boot suggestions in the fashion chat yesterday.

Carolyn Hax: There you go.

And now I'm really going. Thanks, Andrea.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.

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