Carolyn Hax: Hesitating to share news with Mom


Dear Carolyn:

I’m in a bit of a pickle.

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

I recently signed a deal with a large publishing house to write a technical book for them. I’m super-jazzed, and I’ve told pretty much everyone about it . . . but I’ve left out my mother.

Why? Well, she has a downer way of looking at anything I get interested in. She told a young me, at 7, that even though I was good at art, I better do something else with my life or I’d starve. (Who says that to a second-grader?!) When I got interested in computers, she said I probably wouldn’t be able to pick up a new language every other year. (I’ve done just fine, thank you.) She doesn’t understand why I want to play with circuit boards on my weekends rather than go shopping with her. (I. Have. Enough. Sweaters.)

Et cetera. Et cetera.

Anyway, her negative attitude often sucks the enjoyment out of what I was doing, and it takes forever to get that momentum back. I can’t afford to be down for a week or two when I have a deadline.

But . . . what do I do when/if the book is being published? “Yeah, I was writing this book for the past eight months, but decided only to tell you now. Coming to the book party?”

She’ll be hurt, since she sees us as super close (I’d disagree on the definition of “close”), and I am beginning to see the fallout could be nasty.

Any thoughts on waiting? Fessing up? Soothing words?

D.C. Writer

When do you want your pain — now or later?

I’m hoping a technical writer will appreciate that useful words are often the most soothing ones.

You say you “can’t afford” to lose two weeks (!) of your allotted writing time, and if that’s true — both that your mom’s negativity will hobble you for that long, and that you will fail to meet your deadline as a result — then your decision has already been made: Write book, tell Mom, duck.

But neither of your givens is a given, I suspect.

You already know that your mom will be negative, and that expecting, hoping, asking, whatevering her to be different won’t work. And yet you’re ready to write as is, no?

In other words, you’re apparently in fine writing form now, fully aware that your mom will shoot holes in your accomplishment — so why would actually hearing her negativity change anything?

Rhetorical question, but with a pragmatic heart. Instead of continually granting Mother this power, of hiding in perpetuity, perhaps it’s time to adapt: to see her Eeyoreisms as just funny — funny odd or funny ha-ha, your call — or sad for her, or an obstacle to account for like traffic or bad weather, or something other than a reflection on you. Parents are powerful, yes. But they’re people, too. Schlemiels.

If you’ve tried to downsize Mom to no avail — self-improvement can be a hamster wheel of its own — then, okay, just write. Write until your momentum gains the strength to withstand even Mom. Then say, “Hey Mom, I’m writing a book.” You can even decline to provide details with, “It’s not a sure thing yet, so I’ll tell you as soon as it is” — and tell her as soon as it is.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Subscribe at



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