Dear Carolyn:

Any thoughts on dealing with parents who give well-intended but unsolicited advice about the "direction your life is taking"? I'm a grown-up and am pretty comfortable with where I'm headed, though I don't entirely know where that will be. But my parents are really concerned I'll turn out to be a loser, and they give not so much advice as commands about what I should be doing to secure my future. The worst is when they suggest my unwillingness to settle down and get a "real job" is a burden to them. I support myself, have a degree and am seriously considering a master's program -- and I'm really pleased with that. I just get so down when they make me feel like I'm not doing enough, or I'm not successful enough. Is it a matter of simply turning a deaf ear to it?

S.K.

The deaf ear has merit, as well as a long, respectable history to show for it; what kid hasn't heard a parent say, "Yes, Motherrr," when Grams was in town? It's the only version of covering your ears and saying "BLAH BLAH BLAH" that won't get you disinherited, for one. It also gives your critics no satisfaction from nagging you, and as such is a foolproof defense.

But it's not a very satisfying one for you. And it puts distance in what might once have been a close relationship.

That's why it's worth taking them on -- head-on -- with neither your blood nor defenses up.

Step 1: Inhale. Exhale. Gather parents. Sit.

Step 2: "What, exactly, would you do if you were in my position?" Declare that your mind is open, and mean it.

Step 3: Listen. No interrupting, defending, objecting.

Step 4: Thank them for being honest and/or giving the matter so much thought.

Step 5: If their suggestion is something you'd be willing to consider, then say so. If it's something you've already considered and ruled out, then say so.

Step 6: Explain that the most important thing they can do for you, now that they've clearly said their piece and you've clearly heard it, is to trust that they raised you well -- and therefore trust you to be smart enough, mature enough and responsible enough to find your way on your own. As they probably wanted their parents to do when they were young and in flux.

Step 7: Never go back to Step 1. Real limits can't be set twice. You can only reinforce them, which brings us to "Yes, Daaad" -- which, fortunately (and sadly), gains potency the more times you're forced to unleash it.

Dear Carolyn:

My ex recently asked me if we could remain friends. I don't think she wants me back or anything, just wants to stay in touch and maybe hang out some. I can't deal with telling her I don't want to be her friend, so I am thinking about blocking her e-mails and screening her calls. Do you think eventually she'll get the hint and stop contacting me?

Anonymous

She'll get the hint, yes -- along with the distinct (and not entirely inaccurate) impression that you're a coward. You can feel bad about yourself, or feel bad about one awkward conversation: "I'm sorry, I can't do this." Take your pick.

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