The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Carolyn Hax: Child tires of mom ‘always defending’ her neglectful ex

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)
Placeholder while article actions load

Adapted from online discussions.

Dear Carolyn: My ex-husband and I split up three years ago. He was cheating and wanted to start a new life with his pregnant girlfriend.

He hardly sees or calls our 12-year-old daughter. When he first married, his excuse was the pregnancy, then it was the new baby. Then it was the pandemic. I try to arrange visits, Zoom calls, and so on, but he just doesn't make time for her.

I've been relaying all his reasons and trying to stay upbeat so her feelings aren't hurt and she doesn't turn against him. She finally broke down crying and screamed at me for “always defending him.”

I’m so tired of this. I’m furious at him. Behind the scenes I’m always fighting with him about his neglect. He says I’m jealous of his happiness and calls me a “Karen.” When do I get a break?

— Furious

Furious: Your daughter gave you one and you didn’t take it — plus a blueprint for what she needs from you. Your “trying to stay upbeat” is well-intentioned but not meeting her emotional needs.

She wants truth, not defenses:

“I'm so sorry. I know you wanted this.”

And: “Of course you’re hurt and angry. I think what he’s doing is wrong.”

Validate her. And, respect her, too: She knows the sunshine you’re blowing at her isn’t real, so stop. Focus on her — let her know she’s okay, blameless. If custody orders permit, maybe set her up for fewer of these disappointments.

Re: Ex: My ex is a terrible father. I finally stopped defending him to the kids — they know he’s a glassbowl — and said, yeah, I don’t think it’s okay either, and I’m really sorry. Or, yes, adults should not behave this way, and I’m sorry you have to see it. This was all done with help from a therapist. My relationship with my kids was a lot better after that.

— Anonymous

Dear Carolyn: At a happy hour, I met someone who has my dream job and seems to have lucked into it relatively easily. I am unhappy in my non-dream job and working toward changing it.

I reached out to her the day after the happy hour to ask more questions about the job, she gave me some more information, and then I reached out again to see if she'd be willing to meet for coffee and so that I can ask about possible inroads to a role in the same organization. She deflected and instead sent me a list of resources — like from the organization's website, which I had already found on my own.

Did I come on too strong? She said she’s tied up next week … would it be totally inappropriate for me to try one more time to meet with her?

— Am I a Creep?

Am I a Creep?: You have gotten as much from her as she is willing to give. Please take that for an answer. I’m sorry.

Readers’ thoughts:

· Are you a creep? Not at all. But next time, with someone else, ask if you can have 15 minutes of their time to find out more about the work they are doing or what changes they see coming in that career. Asking them to help you get hired imposes a burden most people want to avoid. You may ask, too, if there are other people you might contact. And don’t overstay your welcome.

· Only one more contact allowed. A thank-you note for the help she gave you, by snail or email. Ask for nothing more, just say thank you.