Hi, Carolyn: A close family member needs to quit smoking for serious health reasons and is finally ready to do so. Except I’ve already busted them cheating. I know it’s really freaking hard to quit. I’ve never smoked and my “encouragement” too often comes across as guilting to this person, which is not helpful, I know. Any tips about how to support this relative in a way that’s actually supportive?
Encouraging: Not only is it “really freaking hard to quit,” but “cheating” is so common that is it arguably part of the quitting process. It takes most people several relapses to break a habit — even human ones, like a bad relationship.
Meanwhile, you've never smoked, but you've had to retrain yourself into better habits somehow, no? So you know.
So draw on both when you offer support: “That’s okay. You’ve been doing great — and I know how badly you want this.” Gentle optimism reminds us our next decision is the one that matters most, and is a habit worth adopting.
Dear Carolyn: I have been a widow for 2½ years, dating a widower for almost one year. He says he loves me and he treats me well. I like him a lot but don’t think I’m in love yet. Am I treating him fairly?
— Not Sure of Anything
Not Sure of Anything: That may be my favorite signature ever.
Gentle transparency is the height of fairness: “I enjoy what we have but I am not ready to call it ‘love.’ I hope you are okay with that, but if not, I’ll understand.” Fairness is in each of you knowing where you stand, as much as anyone can.
Dear Carolyn: How do you handle siblings at a funeral who did not help care for a parent when their help was needed?
Anonymous: With every molecule of grace and forgiveness you’ve got left.
The funeral is for grief, not grievances.
Picture your siblings as children again, if you must, if that helps, or as whatever age you liked them best. Embrace them as they are in these memories.
Take a longer view of your family as a whole.
Take everyone’s choices toward your ailing parent as what each of you needed to do to hold yourselves together, for whatever reasons — with any consequences largely to be disbursed naturally over time. NO one gets off scot-free.
Meaning, you personally are not the one who must deliver these consequences. Not today, not at the funeral, and not ever, if you don’t want to. Instead, hold close what you did for your parent and why you felt you had to do it. That’s what you have. That’s what matters.
If any of these eases your mind, then adopt it as a mantra. Regardless, the funeral will quickly pass. The calmer person you are afterward can better say whatever still needs to be said.
Dear Carolyn: My 9-month-old daughter has a given name, and then a nickname that has many spellings (think Katie/Katy). We chose one spelling, then realized most of the world assumes it’s a different one.
I’d like to change to the more common spelling. Since it’s a nickname, this doesn’t require any legal paperwork; it’s mostly a matter of, “Oops, this monogrammed blanket from Grandma doesn’t work anymore,” and emailing everyone, “Hey guys, Katy is going to be Katie now.”
Is it dumb that I’m considering changing it, or dumb that I haven’t just done it already? I should just do it, right?
— Katie/Katy’s Parent
Katie/Katy’s Parent: Right, because whatever’s dumb, if anything, will get only dumber with time. Except the monogrammed blanket, whose story will improve with age.