Dear Carolyn: I am religious and generally conservative. A good friend who is a “free spirit” commented on the fact that I do not allow my son, 24, and his longtime girlfriend to sleep together in my house, saying this could contribute to delaying his becoming a fully functioning adult. He lives at home, is working on finding a job but has no prospects at the moment. His girlfriend also lives with her parents. And just to give you a fuller picture, I have another son who lives with his girlfriend of many years, and I do not allow them to sleep together when they visit, either.
Do you think I am doing any harm by maintaining this rule in my home?
— My House, My Rules
My House, My Rules: “Harm”? That’s too blunt an instrument here.
Your approach, arguably, could come to harm your relationship with your sons, as they accumulate distance between themselves and their childhoods and lose patience accordingly for morality policing and rules. What if they have children with these women? What then?
And certainly your absolutes leave logic a little bruised: You know they are adults making adult decisions to do or not do adult things, but you want to cordon off a couple thousand square feet as adult-thing-free for any adults you happened to raise? Okeydokey, then.
The word I'd choose over harm, though, is “disservice.” Here's why. Your sons are no longer children. They are grown men. (Take a bow, it's not easy.)
That your younger son is stuck in the launch process doesn't make him any less grown or less of a man. It just means he hasn't found his entry point yet into a complicated economy.
So whatever you decide — and it is your decision, I’m with you 100 percent on the “my house” part — please preface it with an unspoken, “I am deciding this for a grown man.” And whenever you say something to them, preface it with an unspoken, “I am saying this to a grown man.”
Why? Because if it sounds good to you only if you use “my son” — as in, “I decided that my son ___," or “I told my son ___" — then there’s a good chance you’re still parenting them, if not outright infantilizing them.
You’re still their parent and will always be, of course, I’m not pulping the family tree. This is just about understanding that the audience for your opinions, rules and expectations comprises grown men (and women). Rule your roost accordingly.
Dear Carolyn: How do I stay on the high road and not take it personally when my neighbor regularly acts passive aggressive and snarky with me? We live in a close neighborhood and our kids share a school, bus and activities. I dread having to interact with her but will for many years. I want to change my thinking.
— Trying to Relax
Trying to Relax: I’ve had that neighbor. Tell her I don’t say hi.
Just as wearing clothes means laundry and eating food means trips to the bathroom, living near her means conversations that aren't the brightest spots on your schedule. So be it.
You don’t have a personal relationship with this person — you have a stuck-ship. Treat your dealings with her accordingly, and expect the snark, anticipate the passive aggression. Complete every logistical transaction and none of the emotional ones. If she’s oblique, be direct; if she’s snarky, be kind; if she’s impatient, be still water, warm sand, soft clay.
Seriously, this could be fun.
Whether you win her over or drive her crazy, measure your success only in your ability to get your kids where they need to be and to resist the temptation to stoop.
Dear Carolyn: My kids are 10 and 13. I’ve been decluttering during the pandemic, and I’m finding it excruciatingly painful to get rid of their little-kid artwork, the scrawled “I love you mommy” notes in shaky handwriting, the Mother’s Day gifts made out of pipe cleaners and buttons. I start to go through these things and end up in tears every time.
I used to roll my eyes when people told me kids grow up fast, but they were right. Even now, thinking of their formerly pudgy hands, I'm in tears.
Is this normal? I know I can take pictures of their artwork and then get rid of it, but how do I get past this pain?
— In Tears
In Tears: You don’t have to get rid of the artwork. You can declutter everything but the little shaky-scrawly things — especially if you declutter everything else.
You also don’t have to “get past this pain.” Unless it’s keeping you from things you enjoy — in which case, a depression evaluation, please — your wistfulness and nostalgia can coexist with your joy in watching your children unfurl into whomever they’re going to be. Have yourself a great big fat cry when you need one. And give thanks that you’re not still rolling your eyes. Pudgy little hands are the best.
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