Columnist

Adapted from an online discussion.

Hi, Carolyn: It’s my birthday today, and my first since my mom passed away last year. I am lucky to have a lot of friends and family, so I’ve been getting birthday messages all morning, but every time I get one I’m feeling a pang because I know I won’t hear from my mom today.

I know you’ve lost a parent yourself; do you have any tips as to how to keep appreciating those things and people I do have today? I’m afraid I’m letting the pain outweigh all the good things, and I know she wouldn’t want that.

Not-So-Happy Birthday

Not-So-Happy Birthday: Sometimes the pain outweighs the good things. It’s okay. You don’t have to remain in balance every minute of every day. Sometimes the balance will tip toward joy and you will feel lighter than you thought you ever could again, having felt the weight of loss. Then the loss hits you in the jaw out of nowhere and you can’t believe you’re on the floor again after you thought you’d pulled yourself back up for good. It’s just how feelings go.

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)

The time to fight the push-pull of it is when you get stuck on the floor or when you hit such extremes that you’re having a difficult time keeping your life in reasonable order. If today is just a sad-reminder day, then be sad. And grateful, too, for your lovely friends, even though they’re stirring up sadness today. Be grateful, too, for having had the kind of mother that makes her absence so hard to accept.

And, happy birthday!

Pardon the cognitive dissonance.

Hi, Carolyn: I’m recently married, and we’re living with his parents for a few months. My mother-in-law worries as a hobby. I’m getting used to this, but sometimes it takes the form of criticizing her son to me — i.e. she’s worried we’re going to end up homeless and/or starving and/or poor because he procrastinates on job applications, or if he works from home he’s going to dawdle and not get anything done, etc.

When he was first applying for jobs, she tried, with an air of girlish cahoots, to enlist me in haranguing him. I’ve refused and generally say something mild like, “Well, I think all people struggle with this.” But it does bother me, and this kind of criticism is very demoralizing to my husband. What can I do or say that isn’t just trying to tell her how to run her relationship with her son?

Not in Cahoots

Not in Cahoots: In lieu of mildness, there’s always, “I’ve found that fretting to him backfires and demoralizes him more than it motivates.” Or just: “I’m not worried.” You can also turn it back as curiosity: “Do you think talking that way helps, or would trusting him do more in the long run?”

It’s nicer than “Step off, Lady,” and it’s your view vs. presuming to speak for your husband.

If she responds along the lines of, “He’s my son; I think I know what works,” then you smile and say you hope she’s right.

Otherwise, though, I suggest not trying to fix this. It’s their relationship to navigate, as your last line suggests, and it’s also a conflict whose circumstances will pass. For all your sakes, I hope soon.

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