The Washington Post

Carolyn Hax: Keep your confidence(s), despite mother’s discomfort


Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi, 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

So Cousin No. 1 tells me in confidence that Cousin No. 2 had a miscarriage and asks me not to say anything to anyone, which I do not.

Fast forward a few months. My mom finds out about Cousin No. 2’s miscarriage and asks me if I knew. I say yes, but that it was told to me in confidence. Mom gets very angry and says I should have told her because she has a right to know about important things that happen in her family.

Cousin No. 1 is now pregnant and has asked me not to say anything. I know that when my mom finds out, her first question will be whether I knew, and the same thing will happen. What can I do about this?

(Nick Galifianakis for The Washington Post)

For what it’s worth, I think she sees my not telling her as her being excluded, but my cousins are like sisters to me, so I think it’s normal they would share this with me and a smaller group first before telling the family at large.

Dealing With Mom Guilt

Your response, if this happens again: “When I am told something in confidence, I will not share it. Not even with you, Mom. I do understand you feel bad when you’re out of the loop. Please know I treat your private information with the same care.”

Save your guilt for when you harm others on purpose. Living by your moral and ethical code, and in the process upsetting someone who wishes you had handled something differently, is not the same thing.

Dear Carolyn:

My daughter dated a guy in college for two years. Then they broke up. After a year and a half, he joined the Army and they started talking again. After four months, he came home, and they spent five days together. Now, not quite four months later, they are engaged and plan to marry when he comes home again in November. They want to get married so she can join him at his next assignment. Obviously, my husband and I are completely against this. We’ve told her our concerns that they haven’t spent enough time TOGETHER. Do you have any knowledge of marriages that begin like this and their chances of success?


There are examples to support every possible outcome — happily ever after, imploding instantly, a promising start and a slow unraveling, growing and learning together beautifully after a rough start, on-again-off-again hell — so don’t even bother to go down that road.

They’ve made up their minds, so trust them and love them and respect them enough as adults to bite your tongue. If it works, great; if it doesn’t, they’ll learn from it. You’ve said your piece.

Dear Carolyn:

My charming, irresponsible sibling is getting bailed out again (for totally failing to deal with a problem everyone else has seen coming for years), and I’m furious. There’s no solution here. I’m thinking of going with a primal scream. Or ice cream.

Ferris Bueller’s Sister

Why not both?

Even if you could live your life the way your sibling lives his or hers, you wouldn’t. Never lose sight of that.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at



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