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Carolyn Hax: Judging parents through their kids’ lenses, or our own?

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)

Dear Carolyn: Not a question, but an observation: At work, I spend about an hour with tour groups giving interactive lessons on historic activities. The groups are typically parent-chaperoned kids in fourth or fifth grade. I often overhear the kids’ conversations as they chat and the subject comes up often of parents who aren’t present in their lives to the degree they would like. Here’s a recent conversation:

Girl 1: (says something I didn't hear).

Girl 2: “Yeah my Dad is always off somewhere on the phone working.”

Sure enough, I scanned our lesson area, and a man with our group was off to the side having a focused conversation on his phone. While I don’t know for sure, it seems likely that the man was the subject of the girls’ chat. So, all that is to say, kids notice everything. Be present as much as possible.

— Casual Observer

Casual Observer: Not an answer, but an anecdote: One school vacation week, we took the boys on multiple day trips. City walks, trampoline park, mall with an Imax theater, children’s museum. The last day, exhausted, we had a movies-and-pajamas day.

For his writing assignment on how he spent his vacation, one of them wrote, “We watched TV.”

Your conclusions are unimpeachable — attention is paramount, phones can be a massive attention-suck, kids notice everything. Yes, yes. But your evidence gives me the yips.

Please be careful whom you judge and why. Pre-phones, that dad may not have been able to leave the office at all to serve as chaperone, and the call you witnessed may have been what freed him up for the rest of the field trip.

Kids, like the adults they're watching so closely, sometimes tell the truth, and sometimes tell only part of it to create a certain effect.

Dear Carolyn: I’m in a wonderful, solid relationship with my boyfriend and we’re planning to get married. I have an inner conflict that rears its ugly head when I’m socializing with my boyfriend’s workmates, who are extroverts like my boyfriend. They’re high-energy, feed off each other’s energy and talk endlessly. I’m quieter and not “entertaining.”

In the earlier days of our dating, he talked about his “work wife” (his words). She is the polar opposite of me. They're still besties now.

I feel insecure that 1) he connects in a special way with his workmates that I don’t with him, 2) I fear I’m boring compared with them.

I'm reluctant to share this with him because it's not my place to control his social life, and why should he change when he's done nothing wrong?

How do I shift to a healthier mind-set? Lean on my own friends and hobbies to take my mind off this?

— Conflicted and Sad

Conflicted and Sad: Never marry an unsolved problem.

That's Rule No. 1 for preventing relationship misery. Don't proceed even one more step toward marriage until you've addressed your doubts.

Rule No. 2: Don't rely solely on your own explanations for other people's behavior when they are available to explain it themselves.

For all you know, the “work wife’s” extroversion is the reason he doesn’t love her romantically. Why not just point out to him the obvious differences you’ve noticed in your temperament and the temperaments of his friends? And ask him if he’s noticed too? And whether he’s thought about why he chose an introvert as a partner? And whether that was deliberate in some way or purely coincidental? And whether it ever bothers him that you’re more reserved, even if he prefers it?

Not as an interrogation, just a conversation. It’s not about control or change, it’s just about your getting to know each other (much) better. And understanding your relationship. You chose him, after all, despite his “other”-ness; he could just as easily feel insecure because you connect with other introverts in a way he never can with you, and feels shallow compared with them. Which brings us to:

Rule No. 3: Don't assign negative values to things that are merely different.

This applies even to ourselves. Have you thought about why you’ve applied the worst interpretations to your own nature? “Not ‘entertaining’"? “Boring"? Expressing concern is “control"?

Rule No. 4: Hold out for true intimacy — which means saying the things that scare you, not hiding out in your like-minded friends and your hobbies.

If you don't feel safe enough to be vulnerable, then either you're not ready for an intimate relationship or you're not with the right partner. Or both. All of which are fine, as long as you're honest with yourself about that and adjust your relationships accordingly.

You and your boyfriend have a lot of important things to talk about, and marriage isn’t one of them — yet. Own up, then see what you get.

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