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Carolyn Hax: Dad’s new wife; a yelling parent on the playground

Columnist

Hi, Carolyn:

My mom passed away suddenly in November. My parents had been married for 40 years. My dad started dating two months after her passing and just got engaged. I have met his fiancee three times total, and they have been together for about six weeks.

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

Is it okay that I am not thrilled about this? To soften it, they told me they would not get married for a year but also said they are basically living together. I think they expected me to congratulate them. I feel like I need more time to get used to this. Am I being mean?

Anonymous

I’m sorry about your mom.

And, in a way, I’m happy for your dad.

Of course it’s okay that you aren’t thrilled; you’re grieving, and this couple is moving stupid fast by even non-grieving standards.

But. There is a bright and clear line between what you’re entitled to feel (anything) and entitled to do (very little). Since the way you react to your father’s relationship carries potentially lifelong consequences on your relationship with him, keep your response within these boundaries:

1. It’s Dad’s life, not yours.

2. You grieve your way, he grieves his. There’s no one “right” way.

3. If you feel you have to speak up — say, to keep him from misreading your distress — then put yourself on a short leash. No finger-pointing, no speculation, just facts.

As a rule, don’t make any negative statements without two positives to balance it out. For example: “I want you to be happy (+), and I’m grateful to you both for being sensitive about the wedding date (+). I just worry about the speed of things (-).” And, speak as his equal, not his scold: “ . . . as I believe you’d worry if I got engaged as quickly.”

4. Don’t criticize his fiancee; you don’t know her well enough. When you do know her well enough, don’t criticize her then, either. Identify troubling facts when necessary, without assigning blame.

5. Articulate what you’re asking of him, and ask for realistic things. Insisting he break up or keep this woman out of your family, for example, forces him to take sides, your wants vs. his. Instead, request some time to adjust; that lets both sides coexist.

Pardon the cornball, but this can be hard to remember when a sense of loss and a fear of change preoccupy you: When in doubt, err on the side of love. Your dad can use that, and I’m guessing so can you.

Hi, Carolyn:

Recently at a public playground a parent literally yelled and screamed at me because my child was standing where older kids were running. She wanted me to move my child, but mine is old enough to do it on her own and she was never hurt. I just smiled and calmly told her it was none of her concern, but it seemed to fuel her fire more. She even brought in another parent. I just smiled more and told her she is fine and thanked her for her concern. My husband thinks I should have yelled back. What is the right way to respond?

Maryland

Yours. Unless you’re witnessing a street crime or warning passersby about a falling piano, in which case more yelling is the way to go.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com.

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