The Washington Post

Carolyn Hax: Giving a sibling a chance to stand on his own


Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

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

A year or two after high school, my brother joined the military. He has just finished his time in the service and is now talking about going to college on the GI Bill. I think it is a wonderful idea, except he wants to take a full course load (maybe more) right off the bat.

He barely, and I mean by the skin of his teeth, graduated high school. He didn’t do well enough to get into college right out of school.

My suggestion to him has been to take one, maybe two courses tops at first to get used to the workload. He believes that because he finished advanced training school with the military, he can handle the full course load.

However, he has never been good with self-scheduling, and I think military courses are MUCH more regimented than your average college course, where a professor can give you a syllabus at the beginning and not say another word about the tests, papers and homework.

I understand his desire to get in and get out before he is 30, but I know how hard it was for me to juggle a full course load, and I didn’t have 7-8 years between high school and college. He also doesn’t handle crashing and burning well. What else can I say to him?



Or, if you can say it honestly: “Wonderful idea, I’ll be rooting for you.”

Your brother is a grown man, one who found an effective and honorable solution to the problems created by his so-so high school performance. Show him a little respect.

And even if he’s on the path to disaster exactly as you’ve called it, it’s his job to avert, mitigate or clean up after said disaster — not yours. You get one, “Have you considered easing into this, to make sure you can adapt to academic life?,” suggestion, then you’re out of his business. That includes any cleanup operation if he is overwhelmed, unless he gets in serious trouble. The healthy extent of your involvement is to help him help himself.

Consider this: Maybe his difficulties with high school, self-scheduling, bouncing back from crashing/burning, and even with assessing how much of a workload he can handle, all extend from being over-meddled with when he was in his formative years. People learn to stand alone incrementally throughout childhood; did he get that chance?

Even when there are obstacles to self-management, such as ADHD or developmental delays, the attention of the child’s nurturing corps still needs to be on promoting self-sufficiency.

He might have some catching up to do still, but students who arrive at college after a trip around the block are known to be good ones; they’re less socially distracted. Respect his autonomy and accomplishments, and let him (learn to) stand alone.

Re: Brother:

The military teaches you to be organized and meet your schedules and commitments because if you don’t, there are consequences. To a person, everyone I know who has been in the military has retained those organizational skills after leaving the service. Don’t visit your own struggles in college on your brother.

Anonymous 2

Yes, yes — the discipline part occurred to me but I missed where s/he’s projecting self onto sib. Bravo. Thanks.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Sign up for Carolyn Hax’s column, delivered to your inbox early each morning, at .

Show Comments
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Close video player
Now Playing

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.