Advice columnist

Adapted from a recent online discussion, and continued from Monday.

Dear Carolyn: Thanks so much for your response. Unfortunately, my husband won't be the one to [tell his parents to back off]; I've asked him to after I walked away from a conversation before and he declined, saying he wouldn't be comfortable doing so. He's much much much quieter than I am and really hates any type of confrontation/disagreement/verbal unpleasantness; he really does have fantastic qualities that outweigh this fault!

— Avoiding Questions again

Avoiding Questions again: I appreciate this follow-up, thank you.

I am also concerned, looking ahead, about your potentially co-raising a child with someone who “really hates any type of confrontation/disagreement/verbal unpleasantness.”

It sounds as if his parents created this with the same boundary problems you’re running into now, but that doesn’t mean he’s without responsibility. Their damage to him as a child is now his to acknowledge and fix as an adult.


(Nick Galifianakis/for The Washington Post)

I am completely on board with the idea that different people bring different strengths and weaknesses both to their romantic partnership and their partnership as parents, and often you’ll have to pitch in for each other when one is better able to accomplish something than the other.

But being able to express yourself during a difficult or awkward time is not optional — not in a healthy parent-child relationship. Raising a kid often feels like one difficult or awkward time after another:

“No, you can’t stay up late”;

“Where do babies come from? I’m glad you asked, here’s how it goes”;

“Yes, your younger brother made the travel team you got cut from, I know you’re feeling bad about that”;

“Mr./Ms. School Administrator, this accommodation for my child is required by law and I have the paperwork to support our request.”

So a more retiring co-parent certainly can be, say, the homework explainer and behind-the-scenes calendar keeper while the more outgoing parent takes meetings and makes phone calls — absolutely. I’m all for it. But the parent job automatically and regularly requires both parents at times to be able to hold their ground under sometimes overwhelming emotional pressure.

Do you know who exploits the gap when one parent won’t step up? The kids. And they’re on to you younger then you’d ever believe, walking all over the nonconfrontational parent at the expense of the spinier one. To the ultimate detriment of the child him- or herself.

Plus: What if, kids or no kids, you end up incapacitated in the hospital and he’s the one who has to speak for you. What then?

So it’s important for you and any future children that he and “verbal unpleasantness” come to some functional truce.

Mostly, though, he owes it to himself. Handing something of value over to fear is never a confidence builder.

Therefore, it would be absolutely fair for you to make the point that there are times in every marriage where “I wouldn’t be comfortable” is not a menu option.

When his mother — and his ongoing refusal to intervene — are causing you significant pain? That sounds like one of those times. But that’s up to you.

Write to Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com. Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at wapo.st/haxpost.