The Washington Post

Carolyn Hax: Overprotection leaves lessons not learned

(Nick Galifianakis/The Washington Post)

While I’m away, readers give the advice.

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

On not raising a bully:

So often we hear about “helicopter” parents who, in the words of the old hymn, try with all their might to keep their little “special” darlings “safe and secure from all alarms.” Cannot be done and even should not be done. If one is not taught how to fight back or does not learn early on about the slings and arrows of misfortune (no, life is not fair), then he/she limps into adulthood and soon realizes that his/her parents did no great favors in their protection, not to mention for their friendship. (How smarmy that sounds: My parents were “the folks,” not my buddies.)

I was bullied in grammar school by two older boys who made my life hell. One day, I was walking down the street and saw them coming toward me from the opposite direction on their bikes. “Oh, [poop],” I thought. When they got close, I looked them in the eye and said, “Why don’t you just kiss my a--!” They stood there for a bit, shocked, and then began to laugh. As they rode off on their bikes, one of them said, “You know, W, you’re all right!” A lesson was learned that afternoon: Although I was no good at defending myself physically, making your bully laugh sometimes works just as well.

When I think of such stories, I am always grateful for having grown up when I did, with whom I did, and where I did. And for having parents and family who did not even try to shield us from reality. So many kids today enter life at a disadvantage.


On siblings who don’t help with an elderly parent’s care:

I am one of three sisters. When our father died 12 years ago, I became my mother’s lifeline, mainly because I live the closest to her.

Five years ago she was moved from her apartment into assisted living, and it was very hard for her being confined to one room. I became the “sole” family caregiver. My two sisters would simply say: If you need help, just let me know. I got angrier and angrier as time went on until my husband suggested (strongly) that I just let it go and give to my mom what time and effort I could. Her last two years were very special to me. We shared in little things, laughed a lot, cried some. I learned things about her life that I had not known before. On her last day we received a call that her death was getting close and my husband and I went to be with her. I called my sisters, who told me they didn’t need to come because they had said their goodbyes. I had the privilege of stroking her cheek, telling her I loved her and would miss her. I had the privilege of hearing her try to speak and to see a single tear run down her cheek.

My anger is gone now and all I feel is sadness that my sisters missed so much joy they could have had during Mother’s last days. I will never understand their behavior, but I guess I don’t have to.


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



Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
Sleep advice you won't find in baby books
In defense of dads
Scenes from Brazil's Carajás Railway
Play Videos
For good coffee, sniff, slurp and spit
How to keep your child safe in the water
How your online data can get hijacked
Play Videos
How to avoid harmful chemicals in school supplies
Full disclosure: 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, 1 ghoul
How much can one woman eat?
Play Videos
What you need to know about Legionnaires' disease
How to get organized for back to school
Pandas, from birth to milk to mom

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.